Posted 07/18/2011 at 05:09 PM
With the NFL lockout negotiations looking a bit more promising in recent weeks it is time to start dissecting the upcoming season. Here is a look at the schedules for the NFC East, generally regarded as the most popular and often best top-to-bottom division in football. The schedules have not been created equally and those advantages and disadvantages will shape the final standings.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys were certainly one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL last season with Super Bowl expectations opening they year. Injuries played a role but the defense was the worst the NFC, allowing 436 points. Dallas finished the season 6-10 and those late wins may have hurt the Cowboys for 2011 as they take a 3rd place schedule into the season. That means facing Tampa Bay and Detroit instead of Carolina and Minnesota. The Buccaneers and Lions are both up-and-coming teams that should be very competitive in 2011 and Dallas also received a tough draw with the road schedule. The NFC East faces off with the AFC East teams and the NFC West teams but Dallas will be on the road for the toughest of those games, facing the Jets, Patriots, 49ers, and Cardinals away from home. The closing schedule is very difficult with the Giants twice in the final four weeks as well as games with Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Dallas also has an early season week 5 bye week which could be problematic for a team that has a history of fading late in the year. Expectations will again be elevated for the Cowboys and with the four NFC West teams on the schedule an improved record is very likely, but Dallas will have trouble moving up in the division.
New York Giants: The Giants were 10-6 last season but missed out on the playoffs. The late punt return score allowed to DeSean Jackson in week 15 changed the season immeasurably as the Giants would have likely won the division. The Eagles would have put more into their game against the Vikings the following week and the Super Bowl champion Packers would likely have not made the playoffs. New York has suffered some recent disappointments but still has the talent in place to be an upper tier team. The schedule in 2011 will cause some problems however. The Giants share the road schedule that the Cowboys have with the AFC East and the NFC West, making it a much tougher slate than the Eagles or Redskins will face but it also means that the Giants will play nine games in their home stadium. The second place schedule brings games against the Saints and Packers as well, clearly two of the elite teams in the NFC, while none of the other teams in the division will face them. New York opens the season with three of the first four on the road which could be difficult given the shorted camp time that is likely ahead. The Giants also have to make two west coast trips on the season and in both instances it will be a second consecutive week on the road. Overall New York has a very difficult schedule relative to the rest of the division and the Giants could be in for a tough year even though the talent on the rosters qualifies the team as a playoff contender.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles were supposed to take a big step back in 2010 in what looked like a rebuilding season. Michael Vick changed everything as the Eagles managed to win the NFC East with a 10-6 record while being the only team with a winning record in the division. The Eagles lost their first playoff game to the Packers at home but it was a game that they had a chance to win. Philadelphia is likely to be involved in several trades once teams are allowed to so this roster could look differently but Andy Reid should not be doubted given his remarkably consistent track record. The first place schedule brings tough games with Chicago and Atlanta but those match-ups are likely preferable to the games that 2nd place New York has to face. The Eagles also get the Jets and Patriots at home as well as a favorable draw with the NFC West teams. The Eagles only play one game on the west coast and overall the road schedule is favorable with very few games where the Eagles will likely be underdogs of more than a few points. The Eagles do have to play the first two weeks on the road with four of the first six away from home before a bye week but if Philadelphia survives that run in good order they should be the clear favorites in the division. The Eagles went 6-2 on the road last season and with this schedule a similar road record is possible which will carry the Eagles back to the playoffs.
Washington Redskins: The Redskins had a favorable schedule last year and through the first half this looked like a possible playoff team. Washington faded late in the year however to fall to 6-10 but the benefit is a more favorable slate this year. The Redskins get games with the Panthers and Vikings unlike the rest of the division and with both of those teams in major transition Washington should be expected to win those match-ups. Getting all four NFC West teams also provides great opportunities for wins and they will face the 3rd and 4th place NFC West teams from last year at home to create two more favorable situations. Washington does have an early season bye week but with a manageable first half schedule Washington could be in position for a great start. 5-3 or better is a real possibility in the first eight games and while the final five weeks will be very tough the Redskins will have a better opportunity for upsets getting both the Jets and Patriots at home. Washington could be a sleeper in the playoff picture as with the NFC West on the schedule the NFC East is more likely to produce a wild card team this year. The Redskins should produce an improved record this year and will have a shot to really make a move and get above .500 if they are able to win a few of the close games they let get away last season.