The 2012 NFL schedule has officially been released.
Like every season, all schedules are not created equally.
Some teams have a difficult schedule (based on last year's winning percentages) like the Giants, whose opponents sport a combined .547 winning percentage from last season. Some teams are set up for the season with an easier schedule, like the Patriots (.453 winning percentage).
For NFL teams, getting off to a hot start is crucial to having a successful season. Opening the season with a couple wins is a great way to get the momentum going, and every year we see teams ride hot starts all the way to a playoff berth.
Here's a look at some teams that should get off to a hot start in 2012.
First Five Weeks: vs. Redskins, at Panthers, vs. Chiefs, at Packers, vs. Chargers
Given what the Saints have been through in the offseason with the bounty scandal and the subsequent suspension of head coach Sean Payton, no team needs a hot start to the season more than the Saints.
Fortunately for the Saints, the first five weeks of the schedule lend themselves to a hot start. They start with a home opener against the rebuilding Redskins—likely to be starting rookie Robert Griffin III at quarterback—and only play one 2011 playoff team in the first five weeks.
As long as Drew Brees doesn't hold out and plays at the beginning of the season, the Saints should be favored in every game except a road visit to the Packers.
A Week 2 matchup with division-rival Carolina could be an intriguing matchup, since the Saints ended 2011 by thrashing the Panthers 45-17. Unless Carolina's defense is vastly improved from last season, the Saints should be favored to win.
A 4-1 start for the Saints should go a long way towards shifting the focus from the negativity that has surrounded them this offseason to a successful campaign in 2012.
First Five Weeks: at Ravens, vs. Browns, at Redskins, at Jaguars, vs. Dolphins
Last year's biggest surprise team could find itself in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons if it's able to ride the momentum its early schedule should provide.
The Bengals open the season with a tough test against the defending AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens, but follow up that game with four very winnable ones.
Each of the Bengals' next four opponents lost double-digit games in 2011, and the Bengals will get to play two of them at home. Throw in another game against the Cleveland Browns in Week 6, and it is very likely that the Bengals will be standing at 5-1 or 6-0 heading towards the halfway point of the season.
For a young team like the Bengals, a quick start like that will be huge in repeating the success the team enjoyed last year.
First Five Weeks: at Chiefs, vs. Broncos, at Chargers, vs. Panthers, at Redskins
In a scheduling oddity, the Falcons will alternate between home and away games all season. Winning early on should help the team ease into the schedule, as the Falcons only play one playoff team in their first five games.
In 2011, the Falcons got off to a slow start in carving out a 2-3 record before recovering to finish the season at 10-6 to earn a playoff berth. In 2012, the team should improve its record by not digging a hole to begin the season.
All five of these games are winnable, and a home game against the Peyton Manning-led Broncos will be the team's biggest challenge to starting off the season at 5-0.
First Five Weeks: vs. Dolphins, at Jaguars, at Broncos, vs. Titans, at Jets
The Houston Texans finally had a breakout season in 2011, winning the AFC South and earning the franchise's first playoff victory despite losing starting quarterback Matt Schaub for the season in Week 10.
The Texans will seek to win the AFC South once again and establish themselves as a true contender with Schaub returning to the helm.
The Texans will have the opportunity to build momentum, as the first five weeks are very kind to them. Despite playing three of five games on the road, the Texans should have no issues in starting the season hot as Weeks 1 and 2 are against teams coming off seasons with double-digit losses.
The Texans then travel to Denver—a team hard to gauge until we see what Peyton Manning has left in the tank. The Texans then play division-rival Tennessee in a game that will set the tone for the division, as these two figure to battle it out once again for AFC South supremacy.
A hot start for the Texans will give them the momentum to post the most successful season in franchise history.