Wednesday April 21st, 2010

Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we digest the NFL's just-released 256-game regular-season schedule....

• It has become an annual rite of spring for the NFL to fall head over heels in love with one upwardly mobile franchise and bestow it with favored-son status on schedule-release day, but has the league and its omnipresent TV cameras ever swooned for anybody like the brash-talking Rex Ryan and his chest-thumping New York Jets?

If you surmised we all might be suffering a little Jets fatigue by the time New York's preseason run on HBO's Hard Knocks reality series wraps up in early September, well, you ain't seen nothing yet. Get ready for a major dose of prime time exposure for Gang Green, with an NFL-high five night games, including three in the regular season's first five weeks: Week 1 at home on Monday night against Baltimore, Week 3 on Sunday night in Miami, and Week 5 at home on Monday night against Minnesota.

All told, the Jets have three Monday night games, the Sunday night date against the Dolphins, and a Thanksgiving night showdown at home against the Bengals, their opponent in last year's first-round of the playoffs. Mix in four more games that are currently slated for late-afternoon Sunday kickoffs, and thus eligible for mass distribution as a network's second half of a doubleheader, and the Jets will seemingly be everywhere, all the time in 2010.

"I think the league is smart,'' the never-bashful Ryan said on ESPN Tuesday night, only half joking. "They're not going to put just an average team on prime time. They know what's up. It's an opportunity for us to shine on prime time and show the country what we're all about. We're ready for it. We're excited about this opportunity and I think the country is going to be glad to watch the New York Jets.''

We don't disagree, Rex. New York's late-season resurgence and playoff run was as entertaining a story as there was in the league in 2009. But one reminder is worth mentioning: The past two years, the NFL has shined its brightest spotlight on Cleveland (five primetime games in 2008) and Miami (four in 2009), and neither the Browns nor Dolphins lived up to that show of confidence by the league office. They both finished with losing records and missed the playoffs.

• I applaud NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for trying to do something to breathe more meaning into more Week 17 games, so the move to make all games in the season's final week division matchups is a good first step. But from the vantage point of mid-April, I'd say only the Cowboys at Eagles, Titans at Colts, Chargers at Broncos and Cardinals at 49ers have a decent shot to be very important in terms of division races.

Falling under the not so much category would be Bears at Packers, Dolphins at Patriots, Bills at Jets, Bucs at Saints, Bengals at Ravens, Rams at Seahawks, Vikings at Lions, Panthers at Falcons, Giants at Redskins, Raiders at Chiefs, Steelers at Browns and Jaguars at Texans.

But that's just my guesswork. Your results may vary.

• If you're working on the presumption of a four-game suspension being the over-under for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, as I am, I'd say Pittsburgh is probably looking at being 2-2 without its starter in the season's first month.

I can see the Steelers finding a way to win at home in the opener against Atlanta, and in Week 3 at Tampa Bay (especially now that they have acquired ex-Bucs starter and Steelers backup Byron Leftwich). I can also see tough games and potential losses at Tennessee in Week 2 and at home against powerful Baltimore in Week 4.

The NFL might have done Pittsburgh a favor with a Week 5 bye, if the Steelers are in position to get Roethlisberger back and ready to play against visiting Cleveland in Week 6.

• I know we underestimate Brett Favre at our own peril at this point, but if you're a Vikings fan you can't be real excited to see Minnesota's Weeks 5-9 schedule. The Vikings should be at least 2-1 heading into their Week 4 bye, but then comes at the Jets in Week 5, home against Dallas in Week 6, at Green Bay in Week 7, at New England in Week 8, and the Cardinals at home in Week 9.

That's a grind for a guy who'll be 41 by the end of that run.

• We're a little short on coaching reunion/revenge games this year, because there are only three new head coaches and nothing real juicy lines up. Washington's Mike Shanahan doesn't face Denver or Oakland, Seattle's Pete Carroll won't see New England or the Jets, and Buffalo's Chan Gailey isn't getting any payback against Jerry Jones and his Cowboys in 2010.

About the best subplot we've got is Kansas City's Todd Haley getting a crack at Arizona at home in Week 11, the team he helped lead to the Super Bowl as an offensive coordinator a couple years back.

Yawn.

• While we don't get the pleasure of seeing Carroll compete against the two NFL teams that hired and hastily fired him in years gone by, his Seahawks do face the Cardinals twice (Weeks 7 and 10) and the Saints once (Week 11). And that means two chances to defense the passing of ex-USC quarterback and Heisman winner Matt Leinart, and one opportunity to slow down the big-play skills of ex-USC running back and Heisman winner Reggie Bush.

Personally, I was rooting for Seattle vs. the Jets so Carroll and Mark Sanchez could have headlined the "Should Have Stayed in College Bowl.''

• It's Cowboys-Eagles in Week 17 for the third consecutive year, and this one shapes up as the rubber match, in Philly. In 2008, Dallas was drubbed by the Eagles in Philadelphia in the regular-season finale and missed the playoffs, nearly costing Wade Phillips his job. In 2009, the Cowboys returned the favor at home against the Eagles, beating them badly and setting the tone for their first-round playoff matchup the following week -- which Dallas also won comfortably.

• Looks like Thanksgiving Day might actually be worth some couch time for the first time in what seems like quite a while. The NFL obviously prioritized getting more of its glamour teams to play on the holiday, as New England at Detroit, New Orleans at Dallas, and Cincinnati at the Jets illustrates.

Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer and Sanchez -- not a bad quarterbacking lineup for Turkey Day.

• The Bengals are my early choice for the 2009 playoff team that will definitely take a step back in 2010. Cincy has the league's fourth-hardest schedule, facing opponents that went a combined 138-118 last year, good for a .539 winning percentage.

The Bengals have seven games against playoff teams from last year, and that doesn't count their two always-tough division games against Pittsburgh. Cincy also draws San Diego at home and the Colts on the road in its two intraconference games, and that's what you get with a first-place schedule. The Bengals travel to New England, the Jets, and Atlanta, and get visits from Miami and New Orleans.

That spells 7-9 to me.

• The other 2009 playoff club that will have a difficult time matching last year's success is Minnesota, which went 12-4 last season. The Vikings have eight games against playoff teams from a year ago, and they play Arizona and are at New Orleans in their intraconference games -- two of the five teams to beat Minnesota at some point last year.

• If Houston is finally for real and intent on shedding its reputation for wilting in its biggest games, then 2010 will provide an excellent chance to prove it. The Texans on paper have the NFL's toughest schedule, with a 140-116 opponents record (.547). Houston has seven games against playoff teams from 2009, 11 games against clubs that finished at .500 or better last year, and its two intraconference games are against Baltimore and the Jets -- two pretty good second-place teams in 2009.

It's a very good thing that Texans head coach Gary Kubiak got that contract extension last December.

• Just wondering, but will Jake Delhomme still be the Browns starting quarterback when the Panthers come to town for the Week 12 game he has circled on his calendar?

Will Michael Vick be much of a factor in the Eagles offense when the Falcons visit Philly in Week 6?

Will it be Kyle Orton versus Alex Smith when the Broncos and 49ers play in London in Week 8? Or will it be Brady Quinn versus David Carr or Jimmy Clausen?

More Coverage

View complete team-by-team schedules | Weekly BANKS: The 17 must-see game of the 2010 season VIDEO: What McNabb can expect in Philly return VIDEO: Vikings' Super Bowl hopes to get early test VIDEO: Peyton, Eli will renew rivalry in prime time

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