Ramifications of the 2007 NFL Schedule
by Robert Ferringo - 04/24/2007
Alright boys and girls, the 2007 National Football League schedule was released with much fanfare a few short weeks ago. I've reserved comment until now because I actually took some time to pour over the match-ups and meanings of this carefully crafted plan for the fall. I'm not here to tell you to mark your calendar for annual Regular Season Super Bowl between Indianapolis and New England like some simple hack. But instead I'm here to point out some teams that have more (or less) favorable situations than the public is giving them credit for.
The preseason strength of schedule ratings aren't a set-in-stone indicator of which team will end up playing the most tedious slate the following season. It's like a weather report - trust it at your own risk. Last preseason Cincinnati was set to endure the toughest road in the league, but their actual SOS ended up being 12th. New Orleans had the No. 3 SOS heading into the year but the 27th heading out. The preseason rankings aren't a complete waste of time, but it certainly wasn't a perfectly accurate indicator last season.
However, there was still a lot that could be gleaned from the rankings before the regular season began. Last year I predicted that Chicago was going to advance to the Super Bowl in part because their schedule was a cakewalk. I figured they would win 13-14 games, ensuring home field advantage, and that it was incredibly unlikely that they would lose two straight Divisional Round games at Soldiers Field. After that I just assumed that there was no other dominant NFC team, and certainly not one good enough to go into Chicago in January and tear down the Bears.
I also predicted that the Bengals wouldn't return to the playoffs - drawing the ire of Cincy fans everywhere - and that the Giants wouldn't finish above .500, partially because depth concerns would be exploited by the most difficult schedules in the league. These preseason schemas had a direct impact on my wagering throughout the season and helped me get off to a great start in the NFL's first month.
Obviously there is something to be learned from analyzing a team's preseason schedule and here are a few things I noticed about the NFL's 2007 architecture:
1) The Titans are screwed.
This is a theme I'm going to touch on more as we get closer to the start of the season, but if this schedule is any indicator, it looks like Vince Young's sophomore campaign is going to be a letdown to those predicting a playoff run.
Tennessee drew the league's fifth-toughest schedule according to last year's records. Even if you throw out four grueling games against Super Bowl champ Indianapolis and dark horse Jacksonville, seven of their other 11 games are against teams that finished .500 or above. They have trips to New Orleans, Denver, Cincinnati and Kansas City as well as home games against Atlanta, Carolina and San Diego. That's bad news - and when they drop back to 6-10 this year it's going to have nothing to do with the Madden Jinx.
2) I hope the Jets didn't get used to the playoffs.
New York starts the season by hosting AFC favorite New England and it doesn't get much easier from there. Five of their first eight games are against teams .500 or better and the other three are interdivision rivalry games with Buffalo and Miami. As if that start wasn't enough, four of their last six games are on the road. The Herm Bowl takes place in Week 17 but I have a feeling the only thing the Jets will be playing for by then is pride.
3) There's no place like dome.
One of my favorite December angles is always dome teams leaving the cozy confines of their home stadiums to battle the elements in cold-weather climates. There are six dome teams in the league, and of their 30 total December games only four of them are in harsh atmospheres. Three of those games - New Orleans at Chicago, Minnesota at Denver and Detroit at Green Bay - take place in Week 17 when starters may or may not even be suiting up.
4) Let's hear it for the 'Boys.
Dallas has one of the quirkiest schedules of recent memory. They have three short weeks, two Thursday games, a random Monday nighter in Buffalo, three straight home games to close November and three of their last four on the road in December. It's a whirlwind. Also, three of their Sunday games are primetime 8 p.m. kickoffs. It's a bit too early to tell if their schedule will be that difficult from their opponent's standpoint - who knows how good the East will be and they get a favorable draw against the NFC North - but just the fact that they won't be in a normal routine all year has to work against them.
5) The Patriots are the new Bears.
What I mean by this is that last year's Chicago and this year's New England are both teams that would have been devastating even before getting the gift of a great schedule. This year's setup - maybe more than the bevy of free agent acquisitions - is what makes the Pats Super Bowl favorites in the AFC like last year's paved the way for the Bears in the NFC.
According to last season's records the Pats have the league's third-toughest schedule. Um, they don't. The AFC East is still one of the worst divisions in the league and after Nov. 4 they don't have to travel further west than Buffalo. This slate has 13-3 written all over it.
6) Speaking of which, Chicago isn't in Kansas anymore.
After their gift-wrapped 2006 schedule the Bears have an increasingly trying test this season. They bang heads with three playoff teams (San Diego, Kansas City, Dallas) right out of the gate and preceding two divisional road games. Four of their last six are in Soldiers Field, but five of their last seven come against teams that finished .500 or above this season. Their over/under for wins on the season will likely be 11.0. The 'under' is a lock as I see 10-6 staring them in the face.
7) Three for the road.
Washington closes the season with three consecutive road games. Not good. That's after hosting Chicago and with two of those three roadies against division rivals. Jacksonville also has a stretch during the season where they play three consecutive as the visitor. Fortunately for the Jags all three of the games (at Tampa, at New Orleans, at Tennessee) are short flights.
8) The Broncos will break out of the gate. Again.
Denver begins the season with five of their first seven coming in Mile High Stadium. Of course, that means that four of their last six are on the road but we'll worry about that later. With a new opening day starter the home crowd will be imperative to ensuring a fast start. Denver has also been one of the NFL's premier September/October teams over the past five years, going 24-6 in their first six games of the season during that time.
9) Not much longer before Tuesday Night Football takes the nation by storm.
Why not? We have football games on every other day of the week, so why not get it going on Tuesday? If divorce rates inch up over the next few years you can at least partially blame the NFL, which has taken its game from Sunday and Monday and spread it out over Saturdays and Thursdays throughout the final month of the season.
I will say that the NFL did a fantastic job at setting up the schedule late in the year. They added the Saturday and Thursday games - which I could do without but I don't mind - without putting any of the teams in a really bad position as far as travel plans go. The same goes for the Giants-Dolphins game in London. With the setup of the bye weeks as well as home games before short weeks the NFL has done everything it can to maintain competitiveness while branching out to absorb not only other countries but other days of the week.
10) Week 1 Best Bets.
You didn't think I'd leave you without some early - that's four-plus months early, but who cares I like Denver (-2.5) over Buffalo, Jacksonville (-1) over Tennessee, San Diego (-6) over Chicago, and Pittsburgh (-7.5) over Cleveland. Those are my own projected lines and these are the strongest favorites I could find. God I can't wait for football…
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