The 2012 NFL schedule is going to be released this evening at around 7:00 PM eastern time, but until then, fans can speculate what their team's schedule may look like.
First off, certain parts of the schedule are self-explanatory. Each team will face each of its three divisional opponents twice. For example, the New York Giants will always play the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins each once at home and once at each of their stadiums.
There is rotation between which intraconference division that each division will play in a given season. For the 2012 season, each AFC East team will play each AFC South team, the AFC North teams will play the AFC West teams, the NFC East teams will face off against the NFC South teams, and the NFC North teams will face off against the NFC West teams.
As for the interconference games in which each division plays each team from another division in the opposite conference, the matchups will be AFC East vs NFC West, AFC North vs NFC East, AFC South vs NFC North and AFC West vs NFC South.
The only area of the schedule left to determine would be each team's final two games against a member of each of the other intraconference divisions. These games though can be a huge difference as to whether a team has a tough or easy schedule. So it will be fascinating to see how the schedule itself unfolds.
Here are five NFL teams that should be praying for an easier 2012 schedule.
The team that would more or less represent the "Drama Queen" of the NFL would definitely be the New York Jets and their attention-seeking head coach Rex Ryan. Even if they are in the shadow of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the Jets have always found ways to make headlines with both on-field and off-field topics quite frequently in the local news.
After a very disappointing finish to their 2011 season, the Jets went out and acquired Tim Tebow to give themselves a utility back that could play quarterback, running back or fullback. Tebow could also be quite valuable in potential "Wildcat" plays due to his running speed.
Most of the Jets' core players will return for 2012 and the Jets are one team that can really hope for an easier schedule, mostly because of the interconference teams they play are in the AFC South, which is one of the weaker AFC divisions. They also play the NFC West teams in their interconference games, which is by far the weakest division in the NFC, with the San Francisco 49ers being the only real threat in that division.
While those divisions might not be too challenging, the Jets will still have to face their rival New England Patriots twice, as well as the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, but those two teams will not worry the Jets as much. As for the teams they play from the AFC North and AFC West, if the Jets get to face the Browns or even the Bengals, plus the Chiefs from the AFC West, they will have by far one of the easiest schedules in the league.
After the way their 2011 season ended, the Jets will need everything to go their way in 2012 in order to redeem themselves and get back to the postseason. Hopefully, a relatively easy schedule will help them along the way.
The Cleveland Browns are unfortunately stuck in one of the strongest divisions in all of football. The AFC North includes the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, both of whom have long been defensive powerhouses. In addition, the Cincinnati Bengals are on the rise with their young team. As a result, the Browns are basically not expected to do much this year simply based on their division rivals being that much better.
The Browns, of course, will play the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals twice each, plus they will face each AFC West and NFC East team as part of the scheduling rotation. As if facing their division opponents was tough enough, the Browns will also be stuck with playing the teams from the best NFC division, including the perennial defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
None of the NFC East teams is an easy pushover, so that will not make the Browns' schedule any easier. However, the AFC West is one of the weaker divisions and is widely known for its teams being rather inconsistent. Thus, the Browns might be able to get a few wins from those teams, especially the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, both of whom will not be expected to contend for the postseason.
The Browns would then have to hope to play the Miami Dolphins or Buffalo Bills from the AFC East in order to have an easier schedule, as they should be able to beat any of the AFC South teams besides the Houston Texans.
All in all, the Browns are most likely screwed for the 2012 season, but with a somewhat easy schedule, they could make the AFC North standings look rather interesting.
The Cincinnati Bengals are another AFC North team that could benefit from an easier schedule, especially when having to compete with teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens within their division.
With two games each against the Steelers, Ravens and Cleveland Browns, the divisional matchups for the Bengals will not be easy, but the Browns should give the Bengals a potential breather. However, the NFC East teams the Bengals will have to play will not be easy opponents, with the Washington Redskins being a potential exception.
But, the teams from the AFC West should look favorable to the Bengals. The Bengals could potentially defeat at least three of those teams, with the Denver Broncos being the biggest challenge from that group.
If the Bengals are able to play either the Miami Dolphins or Buffalo Bills from the AFC East, plus any team other than the Houston Texans from the AFC South, they will be in very good shape to contend once again for a postseason berth.
One NFC team that could benefit from an easier schedule would be the Washington Redskins.
Being that they are in one of, if not the most competitive division in the NFL, the Redskins could have the potential to compete, but due to the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys all being clearly more talented, it will be tough for them to win a lot of games if they cannot consistently defeat their divisional rivals.
The Redskins will play each of the NFC South teams, and that will not be an easy task either. The Atlanta Falcons are projected to be one of the more solid teams in the NFC, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers are both rebuilding and on the rise. Furthermore, although the New Orleans Saints are currently going through all their internal issues, they will still be one of the better teams in their division, so it would not be wise to take them lightly in light of recent events.
The Redskins will also have to play the AFC North teams, which include the defensive powerhouse teams in the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, plus the Cincinnati Bengals, who also made the 2011 postseason. This won't help their schedule too much, but the Cleveland Browns are one team that the Redskins should be able to defeat.
If the Redskins get lucky and play the Minnesota Vikings from the NFC North, plus any of the NFC West teams besides the San Francisco 49ers, their schedule could potentially help them finish with at least an 8-8 record, which is likely to be the best record they can hope for in the upcoming season.
With all the bounty-related controversy, their head coach Sean Payton suspended for the entire season, and their quarterback Drew Brees' contract discussions still unresolved, the New Orleans Saints have a lot of work to do if they want to contend for a Super Bowl in the 2012 season.
Of course not having the head coach around will be very tough for the Saints to deal with, but for some reason, if Brees does not return, the whole team could fall apart, and that would be disastrous for the Saints. Assuming Brees gets the extension he deserves, the Saints should hope for an easier schedule, mostly so that they can win and put the distractions behind them.
The Saints will face the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers twice each. None of those games will be easy, as the Falcons are a top team in the NFC and the Buccaneers and Panthers are both getting better and developing their young teams. Nonetheless, the Falcons should be the only real challenge for the Saints going forward.
The Saints will also have to play all of the NFC East teams, which includes the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. None of those games will be easy, but the Saints should still have enough talent to defeat at least the Washington Redskins and maybe even one of the other teams as well.
The Saints also get to play each of the AFC West teams, which is one of the weakest divisions in the league. The Denver Broncos could be a challenge for the Saints, but the Saints should still be able to defeat all four AFC West teams.
If the Saints can avoid playing the San Francisco 49ers and get one of the other NFC West teams on the schedule, this will make their schedule easier. If they can also get the Minnesota Vikings as the NFC North team that they play, this could definitely help the Saints ensure themselves of another postseason berth. And after everything that has not gone their way recently, the Saints could really use their schedule to go their way.
The Saints might have a lot of work to deal with right now, but even Sean Payton's season-long suspension should not prevent the Saints from making the postseason, especially when they have one of the most explosive offenses in all of football.