The 2012 NFL schedule has been unveiled. Looking through the slates for all 32 teams, which organization was dealt the toughest hand?
Cleveland Browns can't catch a breakMan, the Cleveland Browns can't catch a break. What a schedule. Tough enough to have three legit Super Bowl contenders in their division -- that's six tough games right there. But then to have to face the NFC East, too? Look out. And even the AFC West games, especially with Peyton Manning now in Denver, won't be easy.
If this team does in fact stick with Colt McCoy, whether by default or otherwise, I'm suspecting he'll be out of a starting job by the late bye week with this gauntlet to navigate.
Broncos have brutal start; Giants face tough closing stretchConsidering they will have a new QB, new offensive system and new defensive coordinator, I think the Denver Broncos have the toughest schedule. They have a brutal start to the year. It's definitely the toughest six games to start the season -- Pittsburgh, at Atlanta, Houston, Oakland, at New England and at San Diego.
Conversely, the toughest closing schedule is the New York Giants. The defending champs' final six games: Green Bay, at Washington, New Orleans, at Atlanta, at Baltimore, and Philadelphia.
Peyton Manning faces daunting taskPeyton Manning would like to ease his way into this situation, using an offense based on familiarity. Um, good luck with that.
Coming off a neck injury that ruined his 2011, the newest Broncos quarterback is welcomed back with a game against the nasty Steelers defense in the opener. The Broncos have four playoff teams in their first six games, including a trip to Foxboro. The light at the end of the tunnel is a Week 7 bye, but Denver comes out of it to play the Saints and the playoff-contending Bengals.
The last time Manning fought back from an injury was in 2008, and he began 3-4 with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He might face a similar fate in 2012.
Texans are a trendy answer, but AFC West teams have it the worstThe Texans will be a popular answer, but how hard can a schedule be in the AFC South? Houston only plays four teams coming off a winning 2011 campaign. I'm rolling with the Broncos.
The entire AFC West faces a brutal schedule. The division has to deal with the three playoff teams from the AFC North. They face the best division in the NFC -- the South. And the Broncos face the Patriots and Texans on top of that. Denver doesn't encounter a team that had a losing record last year until Week 13. Peyton Manning has an uphill climb to the playoffs.
Chargers got hosed with late stretchThe league has placed an emphasis on divisional games over the past couple years, though Chargers fans won't likely notice. Check out the closing stretch for the Chargers after a Week 11 game at Denver: Baltimore, Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh, Carolina, at New York (Jets) and home for Oakland. And it should be noted the Jets game will be in prime time ... in December. There's no reason to send a West Coast team to the East Coast that late in the season.
The Raiders also have a minor complaint, as their bye comes in Week 5 -- the seventh time in the past 12 years the Raiders have had a bye in Week 5 or sooner. By comparison, it's only happened to the Patriots three times during that stretch.
Titans stare 0-4 in face; Jets will start Tebow in Week 6There are two schedules that can break teams before they get started, like the St. Louis Rams of a season ago. The Titans' slate is one. Tennessee opens up with New England at home. Then the Titans travel to San Diego, return home for Detroit and then play at Houston. That's four games against four teams that are much better than Tennesse, with quarterbacks who are light years better than who Tennessee has. That's also 0-4 staring you in the face. The Titans' season might never get off the ground.
You want to know when Tim Tebow could start as the Jets QB? I disagree with Michael Irvin that it would come Week 3. After a Week 1 game at home vs. the Bills, New York has a tough opening stretch: at Pittsburgh, at Miami, and then home for the 49ers and Texans. Rex Ryan has already admitted that will be hard to navigate. If they start out 1-4, the Tebow frenzy hits a fever pitch and Mark Sanchez is finished. Even if the Jets find themselves at 2-3 or 3-2, it will be evident that Sanchez can't beat good defenses. Then it's Tebow time regardless. If that happens, I'm looking at Week 6 against Indianapolis for Tebow to make his Jets debut. (Tebow vs. Luck?!) Even if Sanchez is bad the first three weeks, New York won't feed Tebow to the 49ers and Texans.
Cowboys face NFL's toughest schedule ... but could be NFC's best teamI've got good news and bad news for Jerry Jones and Dallas fans. First, the bad news: The Cowboys have the NFL's toughest schedule in 2012. They start off in New Jersey as the Giants' presumed sacrificial lamb in the kickoff game, which in eight years of existence has been won eight times by defending Super Bowl champs on their respective home fields. After that, Dallas will likely be a comfortable favorite in only one of its next eight games (at home vs. Tampa Bay in Week 3), with potentially tricky road games against rising teams like Seattle and Carolina. What else? The season's home slate includes Super Bowl contenders Chicago and Pittsburgh; they've got rough out-of-division road games against 2011 playoff teams Baltimore, Cincy and Atlanta; and, of course, the Cowboys are still in the NFC East with the reigning champs, the Redskins (who always play Dallas tough), and the Dream Team: Part Two.
Now, for the good news: The Cowboys will beat the Jints on September 5th, breaking that eight-year streak of the road team losing the kickoff game. They'll get through the brutal first half of the season with a winning record -- and will edge out the Eagles for the division title. Matter of fact, if Romo and his receivers can just stay healthy, they're nothing less than my pick to play in New Orleans next February.