Examining the NFL Schedule

When the NFL schedule was released last night, it brought back memories of Raiders owner Al Davis.

Davis would commence draft meetings with coaches and scouts two weeks before the draft, beginning at 9:30 am, which was unusually early for Davis. Davis was a night owl—he worked late, slept in, and didn’t start his day until at least 10 a.m., ending after midnight. So this meeting time was a huge sacrifice, one he was willing to make for the draft because he loved it so much. It wasn’t until the tired Davis got the remote control in his hand and football was on the big screen that his mood shifted, and he became tolerable. Football was Davis’ comfort food. He needed it to settle down and be somewhat normal. But Davis wasn’t the only one who needed football. We all do.  

 

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We aren’t much different than Davis in the morning hours. We need the games. We crave the season. In 112 days (if you are reading this on Thursday, May 16), the little brown ball will be kicked into the air signaling the start of another NFL season. Smiling faces will be found everywhere. With the NFL schedule release, our moods have changed because we know football is on the horizon, with matchups to handicap and lines to assess

Fans are looking at the NFL schedule to ensure no mandatory wedding appearances conflict with the home games of their favorite teams. (By the way, who schedules weddings on a fall Sunday? That ain’t right; that’s why we have June brides.) Fans optimistically count their wins, not worrying about what team improved or other factors that might make a seemingly easy game hard. For the record, in the NFL, there are no easy games. All of them will be hard, coming down to the last ten minutes to decide the winner. 

And this season, it’s even harder to find the god-awful teams. NFL teams never tank and never try to lose. Therefore, each Sunday on the NFL schedule offers an opportunity to pull an upset. The will to win and the determination of all coaching staffs make even picking a straight-up winner for your survivor pool challenging.

Recently, I have been asking everyone on our shows, The Lombardi Line and The GM Shuffle, who will get the first pick in next year’s draft. Carolina, New England, Las Vegas and the Giants were the early favorites in the polling. Arizona wasn’t, because many feel they will be improved and capable of pulling off more than one upset.

It’s a hard question to answer. One factor to consider is the steamroll effect. If a team gets off to a bad start, things begin to steamroll badly, with no viable way to correct it. Viable means replacing the starting quarterback with a rookie who shows promise.

For example, the Raiders open on the road in Los Angeles against the Chargers and Jim Harbaugh as a 3-point dog. Then they travel to Baltimore to face another Harbaugh as a 7-point dog. Then home for Panthers and Browns, before traveling to Denver, home for Pittsburgh, back to LA to face the Rams, then home for the Chiefs and on the road for the Bengals before their Week 10 bye. How many of those games can the Raiders win? Raiders fans will believe they can win them all. Me, not so much. If they get three, it would be a great start, but 3-7 going into a bye with no future hope at quarterback makes me believe they might be in play for the first pick overall.

The Patriots open the season in Cincinnati, then face Seattle at home, the Jets and 49ers on the road, then home for Miami. If they are 1-4, do they go with Drake Maye? Is he their viable option? Or do they continue with Brissett, who can adequately function in their offense? Then they face Houston at home, Jacksonville on the road, Jets at home, Tennessee and Chicago on the road, home for the Rams, then at Miami (one of the few times the Patriots have been granted a cooler, less humid Miami game), before coming home for the Colts, then their bye in Week 14. Unless they show a strong improvement in the kicking game and offensively, the Pats will be a favorite to pick against in survivor contests for over half of their 13 games. What could their record be at the break? 3-10?  Five or more wins would have to feel like great progress.

How about the G-Men? Start at home against Sam Darnold, or a pure rookie JJ McCarthy from the Vikings, which won’t be an easy game as Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores will throw the kitchen sink at the Giants’ offensive line and attack whoever is the Giant starter. Then it’s off to Washington and Cleveland, before facing the Cowboys in a short week. Then travel to Seattle, home against Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Pittsburgh on the road, Washington at home, then travel to Carolina before the bye. Can they win five of those 10 games? Seems ambitious. Remember, we picked these teams because of a huge void at the quarterback position, with no alternative plan, other than the Patriots putting in a not-ready-for-prime-time player in Maye. None of these games will be easy for the Giants, including Carolina, which will be played in Germany.  

Carolina opens on the road in New Orleans and will be the team (along with New England) most picked against in survivor contests. Then they host the Chargers, travel to Vegas, home for Cincinnati, at Chicago, home for the Falcons, travel to Washington and Denver, before heading overseas to face the Giants. Getting three wins will require vast improvement on the Panthers’ part. Improving what they did last year won’t be hard, and new coach Dave Canales will help their offense and Bryce Young. Still, they are the early favorites to have the first pick next year. 

Week One Lines That Jump Out to Me

Pittsburgh as a road dog is tempting. I know they were bad in the opener last year vs. the 49ers, but who believes Atlanta is elite?  There might be more Steelers fans at the game than Falcons fans as they welcome former coach Arthur Smith back in Atlanta. 

I like Seattle, but giving 4.5 to Denver seems too steep. Yes, I know this line is predicated on a rookie quarterback, Bo Nix, but openers tend to be unpredictable and tight. 

Much like Al Davis, I feel better knowing football is close.