I posted as close to a real-time reaction to the release of the Eagles schedule last night. I restated the obvious, that at first blush the schedule looks significantly tougher than last season.
I also had an initially positive reaction to what I saw in print. Those positives would be the fact that the Eagles play consecutive road games only once, that they have a week 7 bye and a mini-bye in December after a Thursday night game against Cincinnati, along with the fact that their Thursday night game is at home.
There is also the acknowledgement that Lincoln Financial Field will likely be hosting the best group of visiting quarterbacks in the NFL. Eagles home games will feature Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Robert Griffin III. That’s steep.
On the road it doesn’t get a whole lot easier as they face Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees along with the previously mentioned NFC East quarterbacks. This looks like a tough schedule and the Eagles will truly be challenged on a weekly basis.
Now in going more in depth I looked at the schedules of Eagles opponents and found some disturbing quirks in the schedule that greatly outweigh the few advantages pointed out earlier. The most egregious of which is that the Eagles face four teams coming off a bye.
While that is the worst of the anomalies, there are more that Eagles fans are likely to be perturbed by. On to the breakdown, which won’t include predictions because it is just way to early to realistically do that.
Week 1: 1:00 Sunday, September 9 @ Cleveland Browns
The Eagles open on the road for the third time in four years. The previous two road-openers were successful as the Eagles topped the Panthers and Rams by a combined score of 69-23.
Those two games can’t really be used as a template for 2012, but it’s a trend that at least looks good. Even better when you consider the Cleveland Browns as the opponent.
Cleveland isn’t completely terrible despite last year’s 4-12 finish. The Browns have a good defense and an offense that simply has to improve. They had the 10th-ranked defense in the NFL including the No. 2 passing defense.
There is a good chance the Browns will select running back Trent Richardson in the draft and he would be a good test for the Eagles run defense in the opener. He is shifty and physical and it will give fans a good look at what DeMeco Ryans would do.
Considering the overall level of talent and the fact that Colt McCoy is one of the lesser quarterbacks the Eagles will face in 2012, it is a pretty favorable opening matchup.
Week 2: 1:00 Sunday, September 16 vs. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore finished last season the exact opposite of Cleveland at 12-4. The Ravens were also the AFC runner-up in 2011.
For some reasons Baltimore rarely seems to be viewed on the same level as teams like the Patriots, Steelers or even the Eagles. It’s hard to figure out because over the past four seasons the Ravens have a .671 winning percentage including the playoffs.
Joe Flacco doesn’t get nearly the respect of his peers because he benefits greatly from a good running game and great defense. Flacco may not put up gaudy numbers but he wins and Baltimore will be a stiff test in the home opener.
In 2012 the Ravens had the No. 3 defense in football along with a mid-level offense at 15th. The Eagles have the type of pass rush that can give Flacco trouble but Terrell Suggs can do the same to Michael Vick.
Week 3: 4:05 Sunday, September 23 @ Arizona Cardinals
It’s doubtful that Eagles fans forget Larry Fitzgerald’s seven-catch, 146-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 21-17 defeat to the Cardinals last year.
This was one of the games that pretty much defined the frustrations of the 2011 season as the Eagles led an inferior team in the fourth quarter and found a way to blow it.
Hopefully this season DeSean Jackson will be in the lineup, Michael Vick won’t have broken ribs and Juan Castillo will find ways to keep Jaiquawn Jarrett from lining up against Fitzgerald.
Arizona wasn’t overly impressive on either side of the ball but they can unleash one of the league’s most dangerous return men in Patrick Peterson. They also finished the season winning 7-of-9 but the Eagles are a superior team.
The cross-country trip makes things a little more difficult for the Eagles but they’ll still likely be the favorite going in. It’s another rare game against a mediocre quarterback so the Eagles would do well to take advantage.
Week 4: 8:20 Sunday, September 30 vs. New York Giants
Here it is, the first grudge match of the season. Eagles fans can’t wait to get a piece of the champs, especially after finding a way to beat them in November with Vince Young as the starter.
A side note to this game is the first slight advantage to an opponent. The Giants play a Thursday night game the previous week so New York comes in with an extra three days of rest and preparation. That won’t make things any easier.
Eli Manning has proven to be one of the top quarterbacks of the game but the Eagles have a way of being able to bring out both the best and worst in him.
No team has repeated as NFC East champion since the Eagles did it in 2004. That means the odds are in the Eagles’ favor and this would be a great place to start the process of dethroning the G-Men.
Manning is formidable as is a healthy Giants defense but now they are without Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham. Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck will always be hard to deal with but the Eagles have to be more hungry for their games against the Giants than any other team.
This rivalry keeps getting better and hopefully the Eagles can come out on top this season. The Eagles lost to the Giants at the Linc last year so a win would be huge in the early part of the schedule.
Week 5: 1:00 Sunday, October 7 @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The Eagles come into Pittsburgh with the Steelers fresh off a bye. That is generally a huge disadvantage, especially when you consider the Eagles don’t always save their best performances for AFC road games.
One thing in the Eagles’ favor is the fact that Pittsburgh’s usually vaunted defense showed signs of age and deterioration last season.
The Eagles had tremendous difficulty taking care of the ball in 2011 and when you have that problem, Troy Polamalu isn’t a player you want to see on the other side.
The Eagles have arguably the NFL’s speediest and most explosive offense and if the offensive line can keep Michael Vick upright, there should be matchups to exploit.
The Steelers will never be an easy win, especially with an extra week of rest and game planning but the Eagles do have some serious advantages in this game.
Week 6: 1:00 Sunday, October 14 vs. Detroit Lions
For the second consecutive week the Eagles play a team coming off a bye as they host the Detroit Lions. It is the third straight week their opponent will have at least three extra days off.
It’s a huge disadvantage for the Birds but at least they are hosting a team that plays in a dome.
Dome or not the Lions will pose a significant threat to the Eagles’ won-loss record. With Matthew Stafford heaving deep balls to the incredible Calvin Johnson the Eagles could have a Larry Fitzgerald flashback on their hands. Especially with the question marks at safety.
A lot of fans may overlook the Lions because they backed into the playoffs last season but this is a dangerous game and the Detroit pass rush can do some serious damage to Vick and the offense.
Week 7: Bye Week
After a pretty rough three-game stretch the Eagles get a bye of their own.
There isn’t much to say about that except for the fact that Andy Reid is a perfect 13-0 following the bye.
It is never a guarantee but it definitely bodes well as the Eagles will finish up the first half of the schedule the following week.
Here is hoping the Eagles can cash in for the 14th consecutive season.
Week 8: 1:00 Sunday, October 28 vs. Atlanta Falcons
The good news is that the Eagles are coming off a bye and are hosting another dome team outdoors. The bad news is Atlanta is also coming off a bye.
It’s always an advantage to have that extra week heading into a game but this year the Eagles lose that advantage in a really unfortunate turn of events.
Last season the Falcons poked the first hole in the “Dream Team’s” armor, as they overcame a 31-21 fourth quarter deficit to hand the Eagles their first loss.
Unfortunately the biggest holes were Michael Vick’s health and a spotty run defense, both of which Atlanta took full advantage.
The Eagles failed to score a single point after Vick left the game and Michael Turner pounded the defense for 114 yards and a touchdown.
This year should be different though as the game will be in Philadelphia and the Falcons have a lot to prove after an epic collapse to end the season.
Week 9: 8:30 Monday, November 5 @ New Orleans Saints
The Eagles have their first Monday Night Football appearance of the season and they have to go down to the Superdome to face the Saints.
Some are writing off New Orleans after the loss of Sean Payton but after half a season they should have things pretty much figured out. You also can’t discount Drew Brees who is a tremendous quarterback and the type the Eagles struggle most with.
The Eagles have always thrived on pressuring quarterbacks and forcing them out of their comfort zone. Brees has such a mastery of his offense and such a quick release that it is really tough to achieve.
The loss of Payton is a huge one and the Eagles have every chance to win this game but winning in that dome is a tall order especially with Drew Brees at the controls.
Week 10: 4:15 Sunday, November 11 vs. Dallas Cowboys
In the second big rivalry game of the season the Eagles host the Dallas Cowboys.
With the Eagles coming off a Monday night game it will mark the fifth time in six games that the Eagles will get at least one less day of rest than their opponent. It may not seem like much but in close contests it can make a difference.
More than the extra day these games seem to come down to Tony Romo. In his career against the Eagles Romo is 6-6 with a 57.6 completion percentage with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
These numbers are very fitting because it seems like against the Eagles he is either spectacular or horrible with almost no in between. When he is great the Cowboys win and when he is bad the Eagles do.
Last season Romo was owned at the Linc in one of the most impressive wins of the season and was then knocked out of the second game almost immediately. He will be looking to settle those scores. Don’t expect the Eagles to sweep them again but they should be able to split the series.
Week 11: 1:00 Sunday, November 18 @ Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin is a player that Eagles fans think very highly of and this is the first of many times they will get to see him. Expect RGIII to be a fixture in the NFC East for many years to come.
The Eagles are notorious for for making life miserable on young quarterbacks but Griffin is an electric player who could rise above it.
For all that Griffin can do on a football field though, he is not in the best situation to start out. His team isn’t really explosive on offense and the Eagles have had their way with the Redskins defense.
The Eagles swept Washington last year but the Eagles survived by a touchdown in the first game and were leading just 13-10 in the fourth quarter of the second game against Rex Grossman.
Can Robert Griffin be enough to offset the talent gap?
Week 12: 8:30 Monday, November 26 vs. Carolina Panthers
Long gone are the days of Jake Delhomme in Carolina. A new day has dawned and it is the day of rookie record breaking quarterback Cam Newton.
Newton is an electrifying athlete who surpassed all possible expectations as a passer in his first season. Now with a full year under his belt he is ready to take it to another level.
The Eagles defense will likely have some trouble with him but the Michael Vick and the offense will have a lot to say about the outcome.
In the second Monday night game of the year the Eagles will be involved in one of the most anticipated matchups of the 2012 season.
Maybe Juan Castillo will have something special cooked up for him or maybe the Philadelphia crowd will be too much to handle.
Week 13: 8:20 Sunday, December 2 @ Dallas Cowboys
This is the second meeting with the hated Cowboys and the second time the Eagles are coming off a Monday night game. It’s also the second time the Eagles face Dallas with one less day of rest.
Oh wait, that’s right, the Cowboys play on Thanksgiving so the Eagles actually get four fewer days to rest and prepare! This is the one that I think will bother Eagles fans the most. It’s also the sixth time in the span of nine games that the Eagles have at least one less day off than the opponent.
Now that the scheduling anomalies are over with this could be a huge, huge game. It’s into December which is when the Cowboys usually fall apart. Tony Romo especially.
For the Eagles to win this game they will likely need to keep a player like Felix Jones in check. He has had some huge games and backbreaking plays against the Eagles in the past.
This could be the type of game that turns the entire season and the Eagles may be catching Dallas at the right time, extra rest or not.
Week 14: 1:00 Sunday, December 9 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Eagles visit Tampa Bay for the first time since the ridiculous Matt Bryant 62-yard field goal that gave the Eagles a 23-21 loss in 2006.
It’s also the only time the Eagles play consecutive road games on the season.
Tampa Bay is a team that is pretty hard to figure right now. They were atrocious last season but good the previous year. It will really all come down to whether Josh Freeman can rebound from a 22-interception season in 2011.
If Freeman can get back to his 2010 form, which saw him throw 25 touchdowns against just six interceptions, the Bucs will be a much better team than anticipated.
As bad as some thought Michael Vick played last year, Freeman had him by leaps and bounds. It’s a game that seems easy now and hopefully it stays that way.
Week 15: 8:20 Thursday, December 13 vs. Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Bengals are another team that surprised last year and probably won’t get the respect they deserve.
With a rookie quarterback and a rookie wide receiver in A.J. Green the team won nine games and managed to play their way into the playoffs. The Bengals were throttled by Houston but getting there was a great accomplishment for such a young team.
Complimenting a blossoming offense is a solid defense that ranked in the top 10 in both rushing and passing defense.
The Eagles are fortunate to be hosting this game on such a short week and they have a big advantage in this game. This is the type of game the Eagles have blown in the past but it’s a game they should win handily.
Week 16: 1:00 Sunday, December 23 vs. Washington Redskins
The Redskins come into town and Robert Griffin III makes his debut appearance at Lincoln Financial Field.
If Griffin has anywhere near the type of season Cam Newton had last year, this will be an incredible difficult game. There is a good chance RGIII will already have 14 games under his belt and he should be significantly further along in his development.
The Eagles are the better team with more talent across the board and they should be able to take both games from Washington, but the days of the Redskins being pushovers is probably over.
Week 17: 1:00 Sunday, December 30 @ New York Giants
This has the potential to be an incredibly important game. Perhaps the most important thing is that is isn’t the final game of the season.
There could very well be playoff and NFC East championship implications in this game. The Eagles have had pretty good success in North Jersey against the Giants and last year Vince Young, yes that eyesore of a quarterback knocked them off.
Yes the Giants got their act together, got healthy and won the Super Bowl, but the Eagles will be doing everything in their power to reverse those fortunes.
Eli Manning has had some of his worst games against the Eagles but the Giants pass rush has had some of its most dominant performances against the Eagles.
There really is no clear cut favorite at this point because nobody knows how the season will shake out. If there is a football God, hopefully he will allow this game to be for the NFC East title. Philadelphia vs. New York is a great football rivalry and this would only make it better.