Week 1 against the 49ers is going to be a battle between one of the top offenses and top defenses in the league. The Packers and Bears is one of the best rivalry matches in the NFL. You would think the Seahawks would be an easy game, but with Aaron Rodgers' former backup, Matt Flynn, running the show in Seattle, it should make out to be an exciting game. At the end of this four-week stretch is the New Orleans Saints. These two teams played in one of the best games all of last season. Rodgers and Drew Brees, what more could an NFL fan ask for?
If the Packers can make it through this stretch with a winning record, then they should be set to win the NFC North.
Despite having the easiest schedule in the NFL, the Patriots still have some difficult obstacles to deal with.
In Weeks 12 and 13, the Patriots will have back-to-back games against division rivals, the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins. Division matchups are always tough, and you can guarantee that Rex Ryan will be dying to get another shot at the Patriots.
Weeks 14 and 15, the Patriots have to take on two potential Super Bowl candidates in the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers. The Houston Texans matchup could be for the No.1 seed in the AFC.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints are going to have a very difficult year. They won't have Sean Payton, and Drew Brees still does not have a new contract. On top of that, the Saints have a pretty difficult schedule, especially during Weeks 8-14.
Throughout that seven-game stretch, the Saints will play the Broncos, Eagles, Falcons (twice), Raiders, 49ers and Giants. All of those teams finished with at least a record of .500 last season and should still be some of the better teams in the league. This stretch will be the Saints' true test of the season and will show how much of an impact Payton has.
A lot of buzz is surrounding the Texans after their impressive run last season with rookie quarterback T.J. Yates. With Matt Schaub back from injury, some people think the Texans have a shot to make a Super Bowl run. They also have an easy schedule because the AFC South is going to be one of the weaker divisions in 2012.
If the Texans want to prove they are a contender, then they will have to show it in Weeks 5-7. The Texans will take on the Jets, Packers and Ravens. If the Texans win at least two of those games, then they will show they are not pretenders.
Coming off a disappointing season, the Eagles are still considered a Super Bowl contender. The Eagles are going to have their work cut out for them in 2012. Not only do they play in the NFC East, which is one of the toughest divisions, but they have a very tough schedule.
In Weeks 4-13, the Eagles play the Giants, Steelers, Lions, Falcons, Saints, Cowboys (twice), Redskins and Panthers. If the Eagles want to show that last year was a fluke, they are going to have to win at least six games during this stretch.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers start the 2012 season off with two tough tests. They have to take on the Packers and Lions back to back. The 49ers could start the season off 0-2, and that could hurt their confidence for the rest of the season.
The Ravens' most difficult part of their schedule comes in Weeks 11-13. Week 11 they play the Steelers, which is by far the most violent matchup in the NFL. Week 12 the Ravens travel to the West Coast and play the Chargers, who killed them last year. Week 13, guess who the Ravens play again?
The Steelers again.
The NFL messed up here. The Ravens and Steelers is the most physical matchup in the NFL. There is no way these two teams should be playing each other twice in three weeks. If the Ravens can get through that three-week stretch with two wins and stay healthy, then they should be one of the top AFC teams again.
The defending Super Bowl champions have the toughest schedule in 2012.
After Week 5, the Giants' games are against either a division rival or a team that made the 2011 playoffs. If the Giants want to avoid a Super Bowl hangover, they are going to have to play their best football 11 games in a row.
The Steelers' biggest obstacle will be the same as the Ravens'. Playing your biggest rival twice in three weeks is way too much to ask for. That three-week period will determine the 2012 AFC North champion.
2012 is the return of Peyton Manning, and we will figure out if the Broncos are contenders or pretenders right away. The Broncos first eight games are against either a division rival or a 2011 playoff team.
Week 1 will be a test for the Broncos and Manning. They will take on the Steelers, who boast one of the best defenses in the league.