Early observations on the 2008 NFL schedule

Top 10's usually are reserved for late-night talk show hosts and college football poll voters. But today, they come here, at NFL.com, in the top 10 observations of the NFL schedule:

1. New England's schedule is soft as Cottonelle. Go ahead and try to find an early-season game in which New England will be upset. The Patriots open at home against the Kansas City Chiefs, travel to play at the New York Jets, return home for the Miami Dolphins, take their bye, then travel to San Francisco for a game versus the 49ers. What does Dick Vitale say? "Cupcake city, baby?" New England's first compelling matchup of the season finally arrives on Oct. 12 at San Diego. But the Patriots haven't lost a regular-season game since Dec. 10, 2006. They have won an NFL-record 19 straight since then. The mark easily could grow to 23. At least.

2. Cincinnati is adamant about not trading wide receiver Chad Johnson. But if it happens to change its stance before or on draft day, the three most likely trade partners are Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington –- each of whom plays the Bengals this season. Cincinnati plays at Dallas on Oct. 5, at home versus Philadelphia on Nov. 16, and at home versus Washington on Dec. 14. Johnson hopes to be playing in only one of those games. The Bengals insist it will be in all three.

3. Chicago is upset and pleased with the NFL schedule-making kingpin, Howard Katz. The Bears are the only team in the league with a stretch of three consecutive road games -– Nov. 16 at Green Bay, Nov. 23 at St. Louis, Nov. 30 at Minnesota –- which is always a difficult assignment. The upside to those three straight road games is three straight home games to open December –- Dec. 7 versus Jacksonville, Dec. 11 in a Thursday night game on NFL Network against the New Orleans Saints, and Dec. 22 in a Monday nighter against the Green Bay Packers.

4. Interesting schedule for Philadelphia, which will have a significant voice in who wins the NFC East. Three of the Eagles final four games are against NFC East foes –- Dec. 7 in New York against the Giants, Dec. 21 at the Washington Redskins and Dec. 28 against the Dallas Cowboys. The only non-division game the Eagles play in their own personal Final Four is a Monday nighter at home against the Cleveland Browns.

5. No team is going to travel as much as the San Diego Chargers, who play in London, Miami, Buffalo, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay. All together, the Chargers are scheduled to travel a preposterous 33,516 miles. Fortunately, the schedule places them in Buffalo the week before their game in London. Now the Chargers can fly east, play in Buffalo and proceed straight to London.

6. Speaking of Buffalo, the Bills' first regular-season game in Toronto is on Dec. 7 against the Miami Dolphins. Something tells me Toronto is going to embrace the NFL with the same type of enthusiasm it reserves for the NHL. Buffalo is going to have a big-time homefield advantage in two cities -– its own and Toronto.

7. The Detroit Lions host their football brethren, Tampa Bay, on Nov. 23. With all the Tampa Bay players that former Bucs and current Lions coach Rod Marinelli signed, it is going to seem like old home week. The Lions roster is littered with former Buccaneers that have defected to Detroit, including cornerback Brian Kelly, safety Kalvin Pearson, defensive tackle Charles Darby, safety Dwight Smith, defensive end Dewayne White, and defensive coordinator Joe Barry.

8. For the first time since the third game of the 1992 season, the Packers are expected to start a quarterback other than Brett Favre. Aaron Rodgers is tentatively scheduled to start Sept. 8, in a Monday night game at home against the Minnesota Vikings. Rodgers is hoping to fare better than the successors of Dan Marino in Miami, John Elway in Denver, and Troy Aikman in Dallas –- none of whom has advanced to or won a Super Bowl.

9. When Washington opens the season on Thursday night, Sept. 4, it will get to watch the work of two of its coaching finalists, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and new Redskins head coach Jim Zorn. In fact, Spagnuolo and Zorn will match wits twice this season, the second time coming Nov. 30 in Washington.

10. New Raiders cornerback DeAngelo Hall couldn't create a schedule that is any more motivating than Oakland's. The Raiders will host Hall's former Falcons team on Nov. 2 and then host Hall's least favorite player, Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith, the very next week. Smith is the player who began to set in motion the events that landed the Pro Bowl cornerback in Oakland.

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