By Caleb Bailey, Staff Writer
Okay, it’s April. I got that. But that just means there are less than five months until the NFL regular season kicks off and I could not be more stoked. The schedules were officially released last Monday and I think it is high time that we take a look at them, shall we?
Let’s start off with the defending Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots. It is a known fact that the defending champs always open the regular season with a night game all to their own. For the last few seasons the defending champs have played on Thursday night, three days before everyone else gets their shot at the first game. The Patriots this year open the season against at home against six time Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers won the AFC North division crown last season after an improbably comeback in the season finale against Cincinnati and after being down in the division by three games near the end of the year. The Steelers have the weapons on the offensive side of the ball to make a lot of noise with league-leading rusher Leveon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown, they are sure to be a powerhouse this season, but they have to get through New England first.
The Patriots were handed the Super Bowl trophy by Seattle Seahawks’ coach Pete Carroll last season and it does look like their schedule is going to be fairly tough. With road trips to Dallas and Indianapolis in the first six weeks of the season and a trip to the Mile HIgh CIty in late November, if the Pats are looking to repeat, they are going to have to be on their A game.
Speaking of the Denver Broncos, what does their schedule look like in what could be Peyton Manning’s final season? Pretty promising if you ask me. Right now, their toughest game is on the road against Pittsburgh in mid-December. Not only will it be in the mid-20s about that time, but it will surely hold playoff implications near the end of the season. The rest of the Broncos’ schedule looks relatively easy.
They go on the road to play Oakland, who hasn’t been good since The Tuck Rule, San Diego, who may or may not have Phillip Rivers to start the season, Kansas City, which is in the second week and the usually don’t get going until Week 5 anyway, and Indianapolis, Peyton’s old stomping grounds. Right now, the road to the AFC Championship goes through Denver, or possibly Indy. I don’t know just yet.
Enough with the AFC, let’s look at an old favorite. The NFC. Since 90% of my readers are Falcons fans (ugh) I guess we can look there first.
The Falcons finished a tumultuous season at 6-10. which was still only one game out of first place in what was arguably the worst division in football in 2014, the NFC South. The Falcons open the season with a Monday NIght Showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles, the new-look Eagles I might add. Without their “piped-in” crowd noise, the Falcons fans could be outnumbered come September 14.
The Falcons’ two toughest matchups are without a doubt on the road against San Francisco and New Orleans. The Niners may be without coach Jim Harbaugh, but it is never easy to play in the same place that just hosted WrestleMania. They also play in New Orleans in mid-October. This game could be the game that decides the NFC South champion before the season really even gets going. The Falcons have a relatively tough schedule, but with road games against Jacksonville and Tennessee, it should equal out.
Now let’s look at the schedule that has been hailed by many as the easiest this season. The New Orleans Saints. They begin the season on the road against the Arizona Cardinals. Now, it is really early for Vegas to put out lines, but they already have the Saints as 2.5 underdogs. That is really surprising considering we haven’t even had the Draft yet.
Why is the Saints’ schedule the easiest? Well, they are the only team that doesn’t play consecutive road games. The only time this team plays on the road twice in two games is when they have an off week in between the games. They play on the road in Washington DC on Nov. 15. and then on the road in Houston on Nov 29.
As long as I have been a fan of the Saints, I know they don’t play well in cold weather. They play two cold-weather teams on the road this season: Philadelphia and Indianapolis and both of those games are played in October. This could be a scary season for the Saints, even without leading receiver Jimmy Graham.
My way too early Super Bowl 50 prediction? New Orleans and Indianapolis, a repeat of Super Bowl 43.