The NFL released the entire 2013 schedule on Thursday evening, providing a clear picture of each team's journey in the coming season. Yes, it's only April, but it's impossible to pore over schedules without considering how things could play out. With that in mind, which team is set up for a magical run in 2013?
Schedule shakes out very nicely for Chiefs to return to playoff chaseThe Kansas City Chiefs have a talented roster, with six players earning Pro Bowl nods last year and a new quarterback in Alex Smith. That base should only increase with the No. 1 pick. With the unveiling of their schedule on Thursday night, success could come quickly.
The opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars is a welcome development, even on the road. The Dallas Cowboys game, not easy, comes at home in Week 2. The following week is a short one, with a Thursday nighter on the slate. But that game comes against the Philadelphia Eagles, a team Andy Reid knows quite well, even with their changes. Before the Chiefs' bye in Week 10, they play seven teams that did not have winning records in 2012.
All that leads up to a possible hot start for the Chiefs, putting them in the playoff hunt. From there, they've got a chance, and the schedule helps.
Falcons have favorable schedule away from Georgia DomeMeasuring the strength or weakness of a team's schedule and predicting wins/losses is a fun thing for fans to do. As a member of a team -- player, coach, executive, etc. -- you look at the schedule for a minute and do the same thing, but really it means little. Too many times we've seen teams not live up to preseason predictions or expectations.
That said, a team I believe has a favorable schedule is the Atlanta Falcons. My reasoning? On paper, outside of their NFC South slate, their two toughest road games do not come until December, when they visit Green Bay (Week 14) and San Francisco (Week 16). The reason I looked at the road games outside of the division is because winning those is what separates great teams from lesser ones.
It's also important to note that great teams take care of business at home, winning seven or eight games. And the Falcons have been dominant at home under Matt Ryan, going 33-7 in the Georgia Dome since 2008.
Keep an eye on the AFC West beyond just the BroncosThis might sound like a cop-out, but I don't have a team. I have a place. Follow me here.
There is an opportunity for the second-place team in the AFC West to surprise. It's not a difficult division overall, which is a nice start. The out-of-division schedule (AFC South, NFC East) is manageable. Denver is the heavy favorite in the division, but there's a great chance for a surprise team -- the Chiefs, Chargers or Raiders -- to emerge as a playoff contender.
Chiefs, under Andy Reid and Alex Smith, could challenge for AFC crownWhen you look over the schedule, it's impossible to not think about which team will make a magical run deep into the playoffs this season. That team is the Kansas City Chiefs.
Yes, I was high on the Chiefs heading into the 2012 season, and for good reason if you look at the number of Pro Bowlers on the team. I look at Andy Reid as a modern-day Marty Schottenheimer -- a guy who can come in and instantly stabilize a struggling franchise, getting it to be competitive almost immediately. With Alex Smith as the starting quarterback, I do like the Chiefs to challenge the Patriots and Ravens as the top team in the AFC. (But ultimately, the Patriots will win the AFC.)
On the other side, it comes down to the 49ers, Seahawks and Packers. I don't see what the Packers did during the offseason to match the moves the 49ers and Seahawks made. And those latter two teams only improved. I thought the Seahawks were the best team at the end of last season, and they will go to the Super Bowl this year.
Broncos' schedule sets up for big things in 2013The Denver Broncos have a very friendly schedule. First of all, they play in one of the worst divisions in the NFL. The Chiefs will be much better, but the Chargers and Raiders are teams in flux. Denver should have a very real shot at sweeping those six games.
If the Broncos can reach their bye in Week 9 with a strong record, they should be able to cruise in the second half of the season. Only two of their final eight opponents had a winning record in 2012. If Peyton Manning stays healthy, this team should breeze to a bye in the AFC playoffs.
This is the year Cam Newton's Panthers break through and win the NFC SouthLadies and Gentlemen, say hello to your 2013 NFC South champion Carolina Panthers! Since Cam Newton joined the fold, the statistics have been great, but the winning has been stop-and-go. This is a team that ended 2012 on a hot streak (winners of their last four games) and can carry it over to this year. Yes, the Panthers are mentally fragile, but this works in their favor. We've seen how, when they lose, things spiral out of control. I've always been curious how they'd respond if they ever started out hot, playing a fun-loving style of football with confidence, believing they can do it all. This is their year to do just that.
The tipping point for this philosophy comes in Week 1. Carolina opens up with a home game against last season's darlings, the Seattle Seahawks. If the Panthers win that game, which will have a ton of attention on it, they use that as a springboard all the way through to November. Carolina won't be a huge underdog in a game until it hosts Atlanta on Nov. 3 and then visits San Francisco a week later. Imagine a 7-0 Panthers squad entering that two-game stretch. Not hard to figure for a team that has always had the talent to be extremely dangerous.