The NFL Draft is almost here but the recent release of the NFL schedules will be more important to the success or failure of any NFL team. The schedules are not created equally and with just 16 games there can be great disparities between the various paths to the playoffs. Here is a look at the NFC East and the upcoming schedule for each team.
Dallas Cowboys: After a very disappointing 8-8 season that soured further with the rival Giants winning the Super Bowl, Dallas looks to regroup with the always elevated expectations. It only took a 9-7 record to win the East last season in what looked like a down year for the entire division before the great playoff run from New York. Dallas technically finished third in the division which makes for a slightly easier schedule in 2012 but the East teams have a tough draw with the NFC South and AFC North teams on the schedule.
Dallas is the only team in the East that has to play the Bears and the Seahawks and that draw is certainly preferable to that of the first place schedule the Giants will face. Dallas will open the year on Wednesday night in New York and then will fly across the country for a game in Seattle the following week. The next two games are at home and the Cowboys should be favored to go 3-1 into the early week 5 bye week. Things will be difficult in the weeks after that however with four of the next five games on the road and dangerous opponents in every game.
Dallas will close the year with five of the final seven games at home but the final two home games will be very difficult affairs with the Steelers and Saints visiting. Dallas went just 2-4 in the division last year and a much stronger record against its rivals will be necessary for an improved season. The Cowboys only play two road games against teams that were better than 9-7 last year so they could improve on a 3-5 road mark from 2011 but all in all the Cowboys and the rest of the East division will face tough schedules, making a wild card spot likely very difficult from this group.
New York Giants: With the great playoff run to the Super Bowl championship it is easy to forget that the Giants were just 9-7 last year. Betting 'under' the total wins at the beginning of the season netted a winning ticket and yet this team still won the Super Bowl. The schedule played a big role in the tough regular season and it will again be a very challenging slate this year. The Giants will be the only team in the East division that has to play Green Bay and San Francisco, the top two seeds in the NFC last year and with both of those teams being bounced by the Giants in the playoffs they will surely be big games on the calendar for the Packers and 49ers.
The Giants have a favorable first half schedule as they will only play one 2011 playoff team in the first eight weeks of the season but New York will need a good start to survive a difficult second half. New York was just 3-3 in the division last year so early season games with Dallas and Philadelphia will certainly be more challenging than they look based on the 2011 records. New York has to play three of four on the road in weeks 3 to 6 and New York has the latest bye week possible in the league in week 11.
The final six games of the season will be very difficult, playing Green Bay at home before a division game at Washington. In week 14 and 15 the Giants have the top two teams from the NFC South New Orleans and Atlanta in back-to-back weeks and the week after playing at Atlanta the Giants have to play at Baltimore. The finale is at home but it will be against Philadelphia in what could be a critical game in the standings. Only nine teams finished with ten or more wins in the 2011 season and the Giants will have to play six of them this season in one of the league's absolute toughest schedules.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles made a ton of noise last summer with major acquisitions and the Eagles were also dealt a very promising schedule last year. It didn't matter as Philadelphia got off to a terrible start to the season before rallying to finish 8-8 with wins in each of the final four games of the season. Having technically finished second in the NFC East last season the Eagles have to play Detroit and Arizona although that is certainly preferable to the draw that New York has and a case can be made that the third place Cowboys may even have a tougher draw.
Philadelphia was just 3-5 at home this season and they will be tested at home early in the year with elite teams visiting in the first half of the season. Baltimore, the Giants, Detroit, and Atlanta will line up the first four home games of the season for the Eagles. Philadelphia also has road games at Pittsburgh and at New Orleans in the first nine weeks so it will be tough for this team to live up to its expectations in the first half of the season and won't be a surprise if this is a losing team through eight games. Last season the losing early seemed to really effect the mentality of the team and they definitely dropped a few winnable games, seemingly caving to the expectations.
The second half schedule is very favorable however and Philadelphia could make a late season run. Only two of the final eight opponents made the playoffs last season. Philadelphia will play five primetime games this season as the expectations are again high but injuries will be a key factor as the Eagles will need to keep Michael Vick on the field. Value could be on Philadelphia in the second half of the season if they start poorly again but expecting double-digit wins through this slate is probably optimistic.
Washington Redskins: The Redskins had a schedule that lined up wonderfully for a great start last season and Washington took advantage with a 3-1 start that could have easily been 4-0. The Redskins would lose each of the next six games despite only playing one team that eventually made the playoffs in that span. That skid helped to put Washington back in the basement of the NFC East, finishing just 5-11 on the year. Washington can say they beat the Super Bowl champions twice however as they won both meetings with the Giants by double-digits.
At this point it appears that Washington will be playing with a rookie QB this season and the early season schedule should actually enable some success with a young team in transition. The opener is at New Orleans but this year that may not be as difficult given the nightmare off-season for the Saints and the suspensions that may be in play. Three of the first four will be on the road but games at St. Louis and at Tampa Bay could be promising situations as those teams are also going through major transitions. The early season home games are not overly challenging with Cincinnati, Atlanta, Minnesota, and Carolina. Five of the first eight games will be on the road but Washington won more away games than home games last season.
Five of six division games will be in the final seven weeks of the season for the Redskins and Washington was 0-4 against Dallas and Philadelphia last season. With the AFC North teams and the NFC South teams Washington has a tough overall schedule with several quality defensive teams so it won't be easy for this team to improve its record and there are certainly big questions with what the Redskins plan to do with several personnel decisions. Washington likely won't be favored in more than a few games this season and if the Washington can't take advantage of a few favorable early season spots it could be a long season.