NFL has Dolphins in prime focus; Falcons facing tougher schedule
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we peruse the NFL's just-released 256-game regular-season schedule....
• The Dolphins look like the league's new favorite feel-good story, much like the NFL schedule-makers bestowed that title on Cleveland in 2008 with five prime-time games coming off its 10-win season in '07. The upstart Dolphins went 11-5 and won the AFC East in historic fashion last season, and they've been rewarded with four prime-time games -- including two home Monday nighters -- and the league's toughest opponents strength of schedule for their trouble (.594 winning percentage).
Miami won't sneak up on anybody this season, and
The Dolphins benefited from no prime-time games last season, playing for the most part in the relative obscurity of 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. But that's over, because Miami has those two Monday night games at home in the season's first five weeks, and it's at Carolina on a Thursday night in Week 11 and home against the Patriots on Sunday night in Week 13.
• The NFL obviously approved of the
• I like everything
The Falcons have no time to catch their breath this season, because they open up at home against the Dolphins and Panthers, and travel to New England in Week 3. Those three finished a combined 34-14 last season. All told, Atlanta has the fourth-toughest strength of schedule in the league this season, with a .588 opponents winning percentage.
• Don't look now, but I see yet another late-season Cowboys collapse coming. In the last five weeks of its schedule, Dallas is at the Giants, home against San Diego, at New Orleans, at Washington and home against Philadelphia.
• Who'd the Giants tick off in the league office? New York has one of only two three-game road trips in the NFL this season, but the Giants get theirs in Weeks 2-4, playing at the Cowboys (in the new Dallas stadium opener), at the Bucs and at the Chiefs.
And in a weird twist, the Giants finish the season at home against Carolina in Week 16, and at Minnesota in Week 17 -- exactly the same quinella with which they ended last season.
• If you like coaching reunions, the 2009 season is not for you. Detroit's
• Whatever happened to the idea of the defending Super Bowl champion getting a tough schedule? I know Pittsburgh had a difficult slate last season, but the Steelers will have one of the four easiest schedules.
Pittsburgh has just six games against 2008 playoff teams, and eight games against teams that lost in double digits.
• Arizona thankfully isn't being asked to make five trips to the Eastern time zone like it did last season, because that storyline got so old, so quickly. The Cardinals only have three ET games this time around. But here's the next big travel story for Arizona: How will it fare in the Central time zone?
That probably won't generate as much sympathy, will it?
• Your results may vary, but I know which 17 games in the NFL's 17-week regular season I can't wait to see in 2009: