The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

Schedule Day!

Posted by Blake Murphy on April 19, 2008

This article has been submitted by Don Allan.

One of the few negatives about professional football for the well-rounded sports fan is the brevity of its season. Almost three quarters of the year is spent festering over draft picks and off-season acquisitions rather than watching the game itself. Off-season lulls are known to fans of all other leagues, but certainly the plight of the football fan demands some sympathy. Or, perhaps labeling the short season as negative is more a reflection of my impatience than a shortcoming of NFL fanhood. As they say, good things happen to those who wait, and I guess the time off makes the keynote events of the off-season all that much more exciting.

To begin, let me confess that I love “Schedule Day.” As one of the most anticipated events of spring, Schedule Day allows me to make some bold pre-emptive decisions about the year ahead in the NFL. Now, to supplement buzzing draft discussions, the 2008 season schedule allows us all to get a better idea of what everyone is up against. To be completely honest, past schedule releases have been used solely as a planning tool for my road trips to Buffalo. This year my pilgrimages to live football events for the fall were not the only cool things to consider. Perfectly placed within a week or two of the draft, Schedule Day allows us all to add a new element to the equation of 2008 predictions. The following are some of the notable characteristics of this year’s schedule that my housemate Pat Tye brought to my attention. We had some insightful discussions that we thought we would share with everyone at The ODC to ignite some pre-draft pondering.

The following are co-written insights into five teams whose schedule could determine their fates this season:

If I told you that the Patriots would go 18-1 this year, would you laugh at me? I’m sure you would have last Schedule Day, but considering this insanely dominant season and the 2008 schedule, realizing this record consecutively is no laughing matter. Firstly, the AFC East is a dump and annually translates to an easy 6 wins for New England. In total, the Pats play 8 teams who won 5 games or less last year. I thought the best teams were supposed to get the toughest schedules? The only teams they play with winning records are Seattle, Indy, San Diego and Pittsburgh. Tough competition, but not nearly as tough as themselves. This, combined with minimal off-season losses and a respectable placing in the draft, and New England will once again be a dominant force in the league. Patriot loyalists will certainly be content with this schedule. Pittsburgh will be the only team they play at home with a winning record last season. My advice - buy seasons tickets in Foxborough this year, because Gillette is the best a man can get. This schedule suggests that this may be more than a clever marketing slogan for fans who want to see their team win.

It Will Be Tough to “Steel” a Win in Pittsburgh
At almost the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Steelers’ fans must have been devastated when their team’s schedule was released on Tuesday. Coming off a disappointing play-off loss to Jacksonville, Pittsburgh was handed the toughest schedule of 2008 as their opponents won nearly 60% of their games last season. Competing in the AFC North, Ben Roethlisberger and crew begin their season on the road against the vastly improved Cleveland Browns before traveling to both Philadelphia and Jacksonville in three of the season’s first four games. Although two divisional match-ups against both the declining Ravens and the struggling Bengals will help, the rest of the Steelers’ schedule reads like a Who’s Who of perennial (or potential) play-off teams: the Super Bowl Champion Giants, the Redskins (away), Indianapolis, San Diego, New England (away), Tennessee (away) and Dallas before closing out the season against the Browns once again. Plagued by off the field issues and free agent loses (see: Faneca, Alan) during the off-season, Pittsburgh could be in trouble this year. Although they are always strong defensively, their tough schedule might be enough to allow the Browns to take over top spot in the AFC North.

Are the Playoffs in the (Wild) Cards for Buffalo?
The excitement of choosing which Bills games I will be attending is simply overwhelming. Obviously, the excitement over the December 7th game at Rogers Center fronts most media discussions regarding the Bills schedule. I won’t discredit its significance, but will choose to disregard patronage. As a starving student and tailgating enthusiast, the price for tickets and probable disregard for proper tailgating atmosphere is enough to keep me riding right down the QEW. There are better Bills games to see this year, because Christmas comes early - November 17th to be exact. The Bills managed to score another Monday night’er in Orchard Park against the Browns in what should be a great game. A rumor circulated that suggested someone among the political hierarchy in Western New York helped orchestrate last year’s match up with the Cowboys. Citing troubling economic hardship, this was a bit of a sympathy game for Buffalo. This year the Bills may have gotten the game on their own merit. Cleveland is up and coming in the league and hopefully the Bills are too. In a good follow-up to the blizzard in Cleveland, the Bills will get a chance for redemption on national television. November 17th promises to be a beer-fueled night of mayhem in Orchard Park.

Last season the Bills were said to have the toughest schedule in the league based on match-ups with playoff teams from the previous season. They managed to pull out 7 wins, and Jauron/team heart has been attributed to this surprise ‘success.’ This season the schedule is a little more manageable. Aside from the usual ass-kickings from the Pats, there is relatively clear sailing for the Bills. Only four other opponents had winning records last season, the toughest being San Diego and Jacksonville. Oakland, St. Louis, Arizona, the Jets, Miami, San Fran (making their first appearance in Buffalo in almost a decade), Kansas City, Denver and Cleveland fill out the remainder of the schedule. Very good potential for wild card positioning exists this year for the Bills. Go Bills.

Can the Raiders Cash In on an Easier Schedule?
Thanks to a questionable spending spree, Al Davis made it clear to Radiers’ players, coaches and fans that the “Just Win,” philosophy is still alive and well in the Black Hole. Davis spent millions of dollars this off-season brining in DeAngelo Hall, Gibril Wilson, Kwame Harris and Javon Walker, amongst others, but it is yet to be seen if big spending will lead to big results on the field. Playing in the AFC West, Oakland has two games each against bitter rivals San Diego, Kansas City and Denver. While LT beats the Raiders himself every time they play San Diego, neither Denver or Kansas City made significant off season moves this year so this might be an opportunity for the Raiders to make up some divisional ground. The Raiders also have a decent out of conference (thank you AFC East) schedule this year, playing the Jets, Atlanta, Carolina, Houston and New England (who they won’t beat but at least it’s in Oakland) at home while traveling to Buffalo, New Orleans, Miami and Tampa Bay. Despite the influx of free agent help however, Oakland will struggle with their schedule as they play a number of teams (i.e. New Orleans, Houston) who, despite disappointing seasons, have the talent to improve this season. Expect the struggles to continue for Raiders fans, and look foreword to the next couple of seasons when salary cap, not scheduling, problems prevent the team from taking the next step.

No T.O’s in Dallas’s Schedule:
If Dallas wins the Super Bowl next year as many people are already predicting, their schedule will ensure it is not easy. First of all, Dallas plays in arguably the toughest and most competitive division in football, the NFC East. Don’t believe me? Look at how much hype all six games the Cowboys play against the Eagles, Redskins and Giants receives from the football media! Every NFC East game is a war between hated rivals and there are really no easy games in this division in 2008. In terms of the Cowboy’s out-of-conference schedule, Dallas visits Cleveland, Green Bay, Arizona, St. Louis and Pittsburgh while hosting playoff teams in Tampa Bay and Seattle in addition to Cincinnati, San Francisco and Baltimore. Aside from a couple of easy games, Dallas has a difficult schedule as its opponents won 52 % of their games last year. Although I do not doubt the potential for a great season in “Big D,” the Cowboys need to trade (Pacman or Chad Johnson anyone?) and draft (two late first round picks) wisely in order to overcome a difficult schedule.

The preceding are simply some of the more notable considerations to make when reviewing the 2008 schedule. With the imminent draft sure to alter the characteristics of team dynamics at least minimally, it is difficult to accurately predict where teams will be at this point. If the NFL has taught us anything, off-season predictions are as predictable as the weather. There are four more months left for a lot of things to happen. Ocho wants out of Cincy, Pacman could be heading to Dallas, and Roethlisberger got a new Harley. So really, Schedule Day may be insignificant in the long run, but it is certainly effective in keeping us entertained while we wait for September.

This article has been submitted by Don Allan.

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