Washington Redskins 2012 Schedule: Ranking Games from Easiest to Toughest

Scott FitzGerald@scott_iCorrespondent IApril 22, 2012

Washington Redskins 2012 Schedule: Ranking Games from Easiest to Toughest

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    The 2012 NFL Schedule was released on Tuesday and, while the Week 1 rosters are yet to be set, I'm going to take you through the Redskins' games from easiest to hardest.  

    Looking back at the 2011 season, with a  5-11 record, the Skins underperformed with the fourth easiest schedule based on strength of schedule. Going into the 2011 season, Redskins opponents had a combined record of 121-135 in 2010. 

    Heading into 2012, Washington is tied for the seventh easiest schedule based on their opponent's 2011 record.  

    But don't let that stat fool you. The schedule is full of talented teams whose 2011 record may not have truly reflected their talent and ability. There are few, if any, easy games on this year's schedule.

    However, the roster is and will be improved over last year and should be much more competitive than the 2011 version of the burgundy and gold.  

    Let's take a look at the 2012 schedule based on difficulty.  

16: Week 15 at the Cleveland Browns

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    Let's face it—the Browns just aren't a good football team. They were 4-12 in 2011 and haven't made any significant upgrades throughout the offseason.  

    The team lost out on the RGIII sweepstakes and isn't in love with their current quarterback Colt McCoy.  

    Peyton Hillis fell out of favor quickly in Cleveland and many analysts have the Browns taking running back Trent Richardson with the fourth overall pick.  

    They do have a top five defense. However, at Week 15 with nothing to play for, I don't see this game as much of a challenge for the Redskins.

    This game is the only relief for Washington with their final seven games of the schedule: the Eagles, at the Cowboys, the Giants, the Ravens, at the Browns, at the Eagles and ending the season against the Cowboys.  

    Even though it is the easiest game going into the 2012 campaign, it may not matter all that much by Week 15. We'll know well before kickoff in Cleveland how good the Redskins could be in 2012.  

15: Week 2 at the St. Louis Rams

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    The only reason this game isn't the easiest is that it comes in Week 2 in St. Louis. Certainly by the second week of the season the Rams can't be out of it. Right?!

    The 2011 season came to a dreadful end with a 2-14 record for Jeff Fisher's new team. You'd think with a record that poor, Sam Bradford must have been out most of the season.  

    He played in 10 games before succumbing to injury and just realizing that it was pointless to try and keep playing.  

    The Rams had the worst offense in the NFL last year but do have eight picks in the draft this year and a few extra No. 1s for '13 and '14 thanks to the Skins.   

    At Week 2, Fisher and company will still being trying to find their identity on offense and defense.

    This matchup provides a potential rebound opportunity for Washington after their Week 1 battle versus the New Orleans Saints.

    It also marks the fifth consecutive year the Rams and Redskins will play one another. The last four games in the series have been split evenly.  

14: Week 4 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    We take you from the last-ranked offense in the Rams to 2011's last-ranked defense: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After suffering through a 4-12 season and taking a monumental step back from the 10-6 2010 campaign, the Bucs have sent Raheem Morris to D.C. and are starting over with Greg Schiano as head coach. 

    Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks stand out as Tampa's biggest moves so far in 2012 and the team looks to build off of that with the fifth overall pick in the upcoming draft. Numerous mock drafts have cornerback Morris Claiborne heading to Tampa.  

    For the Bucs to make a move back towards a .500 record, QB Josh Freeman needs to step up and return to his 2010 form. Freeman finished last season with 22 interceptions and a 74.6 QB rating.  

    With a first time NFL head coach in a Week 4 matchup, I've got the Skins taking this game. 

    This Week 4 matchup is sandwiched in-between two tough matchups for D.C., Week 3 against the Bengals and Week 5 against the Atlanta Falcons.  

13: Week 6 Home to the Minnesota Vikings

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    The 2012 campaign for the Minnesota Vikings will mark their first in the post-McNabb era.

    How laughable is that sentence?

    To say McNabb was a disappointment in Minnesota is an understatement. But then again, as Redskins fans, we knew there was nothing left in the tank after 2010 for McNabb.  

    But now the Vikings will have Christian Ponder as their starter for his first full season. He had some impressive games down the stretch last year and the team managed to beat Washington in their home finale.

    The two teams have met five times in the last seven years and D.C. has come away victorious only twice. 

    I don't see the Vikings finishing 3-13 again this year with the No. 3 overall pick presumably being tackle Matt Kahlil out of USC and with Christian Ponder getting his first full offseason under his belt in the NFL.

    The Rams, Buccaneers and Vikings games mark the three easiest on the schedule for D.C. before the bye week. All three of these games are must-wins. It is hard to say that by Week 7 a team will have played in three must-win games. But when you look at the post-bye week stretch of games to finish of the year, winning these three games could position Washington for a wild-card spot.

12: Week 9 Home to the Carolina Panthers

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    What happens when you combine the NFL's fifth-best offense with the 27th-best defense? You get the 2011 Carolina Panthers.  

    Rookie head coach Ron Rivera didn't shy away from revamping the Panthers offense to suit Cam Newton's strengths. Watching their offense last year, you saw a lot of spread formations, designed draws for Newton and a high-scoring unit that was a stark contrast to Carolina's ground-and-pound offense of years past.

    DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart saw their roles change tremendously with the new Newton-friendly offense.  

    Thinking back to when these two teams met last season, I still cringe. 

    In Week 7, the Skins defense allowed only 175 yards rushing to the Panthers and managed to turn the ball over three times.  

    Hopefully for 2012, Newton has put enough on tape that Jim Haslett can game-plan against. If Newton suffers from a sophomore slump, Washington's chance of winning would increase dramatically.

    Carolina added Mike Tolbert this offseason to further congest their backfield, although he may be used more as a fullback in 2012. Yet the team still has not upgraded a weak defensive unit that will continue to hold the franchise back.

11: Week 5 Home to the Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons are a good team when playing at home. However, they were exposed by the New York Giants in their playoff loss. Maybe their postseason hangover will linger into the first part of the 2012 season. 

    Matt Ryan and company had the league's seventh-best offense with the addition of rookie receiver Julio Jones. But their defense ranked 18th overall.

    The Falcons were 4-4 on the road last year and got off to a slow start heading into their Week 8 bye with a record of 4-3.  

    With the Skins improvements in the defensive backfield, playing the Falcons at home early in the season, the team could potentially pull out a key early-season victory in Week 5. A win against Atlanta along with the three games before the bye week that D.C. should be favored in would yield a 4-5 record at worst. Add another surprise upset and the burgundy and gold would be over .500 heading into the bye.

10: Week 11 Home to the Philadelphia Eagles

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    The only game the Skins have played in the 2012 calendar year was a New Year's Day loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The burgundy and gold were outscored 34-10 in the final game of the 2011 season.  

    The Eagles had finally started to play up to their talent level towards the end of 2011 and there was chatter on the field between teams about how Philly should have been playing for a playoff spot.  

    It's hard to think that as bad as the Eagles were early last year, at 8-8 they were right behind the Super Bowl champions for the NFC East title. 

    Facing Michael Vick and company in the middle of the year at home should increase the Skins odds at winning versus their Week 16 matchup in Philadelphia.

    After their Week 7 bye, the Eagles will have to go through the Falcons, the Saints on Monday Night Football and the Cowboys before their game in D.C.  

    Going back-to-back weeks against NFC East opponents, I'd look for Vick to be out for this game or injured heading into it.

    This game kicks off a brutal three-week tour of the NFC East and comes less than a week before the Thanksgiving day showdown in Dallas.

    If the Skins weren't coming off their bye, I would have ranked this game as more difficult. However, Shanahan can use the prior nine games to rework any glaring weakness and prepare the team for the final stretch.

9: Week 3 Home to the Cincinnati Bengals

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    This may be my biggest reach in the power rankings but I think the Bengals have a good team. Finishing 9-7 last season, rookie QB Andy Dalton made great strides in building a successful passing tandem with fellow rookie A.J. Green.

    As good as the two were together, the Bengals only had the NFL's 18th-best offense. Cincy's defense held up their end for the rookie QB earning a top-10 ranking for the year.  

    With Cedric Benson out and BenJarvus Green-Ellis in as his replacement, plus Green and Dalton's first full offseason together, I'd look for the Bengals offense to improve.

    I wrestled with putting this game higher up in difficulty ranking, but at Week 3 in D.C., the Redskins' roster should be relatively injury free and it would be the team's (and RGIII's) first home game of the season. 

    The Bengals defense should provide RGIII with his first quality test. The Saints and Rams each had poor defensive units in 2011. They could certainly rattle the No. 2 overall pick but I anticipate Cincinnati being this year's first test. 

8: Week 16 at the Philadelphia Eagles

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    At the second-to-last game of the season, I'm anticipating the Eagles to be competing for a playoff spot while the Redskins will be hoping to reach a .500 record.

    Washington is 1-5 against Philly over the past three seasons and won't be in the same position as the Eagles heading into Week 16.  

    I don't believe the Eagles will have the same sort of up-and-down season as they did in 2011. But again, like the Week 11 matchup in D.C., the game hinges on Michael Vick's health.  

    If for some reason the New York Giants rebound poorly after the Super Bowl and aren't in contention for the NFC East title, Philly could potentially rest their starters at this point in the season. It is highly unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

    However, I'd look for a dog fight (no unfortunate Vick pun intended) between Philly and New York for the division title making this a decisive matchup.

    The Redskins will be coming off of their Week 15 game in Cleveland who's outcome will determine the Skins chances in Philly. If Washington can't pull out a much-needed victory against an inferior opponent in the Browns the week before, I don't see them getting up for this game against the Eagles.

    Remember when the Eagles scored 35 points against the Redskins by the second quarter of the Monday night game in 2010, we could be in store for a similar show if the team is coming off of a loss in Cleveland. 

7: Week 17 Home to the Dallas Cowboys

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    My rankings for the games in 2012 against Dallas are in no way a reflection of the Cowboys' talent.

    In fact, I think their roster is over-hyped and they won't be serious contenders for the NFC East title in 2012.

    That being said, anytime the Redskins and Cowboys play it is a close game. The two teams could have records in complete opposition, one fighting for a playoff spot with the other hoping to finish 4-12 and still the game would end with a margin less than six points.  

    The 17-0 shutout by Dallas in December of 2009 is the only time in the last five years that a game between the two ended with a touchdown margin or greater.  

    Regardless of the talent either team possesses, the Cowboys and Redskins either play up or down to each other's level respectively. 

    I've ranked this season finale easier than their Week 12 matchup in Dallas because the only thing at stake in this game will be pride. Neither team will be competing for the NFC East title and it's unlikely that either will have a shot at the Wild Card.

    Nevertheless, a Redskins and Cowboys game will always be a knock down, drag-out brawl.

6: Week 12 at the Dallas Cowboys

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    Look at this slide as a continuation of the last. Dallas won't be a contender late in the season in 2012 but Week 12 will be an intriguing one.

    This game will be a Thanksgiving day matchup with each team coming off of a short week.

    Four days prior, the Cowboys will presumably have dismantled a poor Cleveland Browns team. The Redskins will be two weeks removed from their bye but coming off of a game at home against the Eagles.  

    Thanksgiving day marks the middle of a three-game swing through the NFC East for Washington. The 15-day stretch will see Philly at home, the Cowboys in Dallas and the Giants coming into town for a Monday night matchup.

    With a national audience and the Cowboys playing for a playoff spot they think they'll have come January, look for this game to be highly competitive and a nice compliment to your turkey overdose.  

5: Week 1 at the New Orleans Saints

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    Finally, Week 1 has arrived. No doubt, all eyes will be on this game.  

    The matchup on paper isn't the most compelling, the two teams are not close in talent and will finish the season far apart in the standings.

    But that is not what this game is about.  

    The 2012 opener is overrun with backstories. For the Saints, this will be their first game without head coach Sean Payton who is the first coach in NFL history to be suspended for a full season.

    How will the revamped defense look without Gregg Williams and in the wake of the Bountygate scandal? What sort of moxy will Drew Brees show with all of the offseason drama surrounding his franchise tag?

    For the Redskins, will Mike Shanahan allow RGIII to start the season opener? If so, how NFL ready is the Baylor prospect?

    Will Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan become instant impact players on offense? How will Roy Helu fair in his first season opener as a starting running back?

    The anticipating and buildup for this game started on January 2nd of this year and has only picked up steam with all of the offseason headlines.  

4: Week 7 at the New York Giants

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    Until February 2013, the New York Giants will be defending Super Bowl champions. You can argue all you want about the Giants record last year and the fact the Redskins swept the series in 2011. Go ahead, see if that makes a difference. 

    When it mattered most, the Giants rose to the occasion. Look back at their playoff run and tell me they didn't deserve to be Super Bowl champs. 

    After their 2007 Super Bowl win, the Giants took the league by storm in 2008. Heading into Week 13, the Giants were 10-1 and coming to FedEx field to play the Skins.

    Unfortunately, for the defending champs, Plaxico Burress would shoot himself at a night club accidentally (Plaxidentally if you will) and derail the rest of the 2008 season for the Giants.  

    New York would finish the season going 2-3 and ending with an overall record of 12-4. With a first-round bye, the Giants wouldn't advance in the playoffs losing their first game in the divisional round to the Philadelphia Eagles.  

    While the Giants have lost some players from last year's Super Bowl team, I expect them to repeat as NFC East champions for 2012. 

3: Week 14 Home to the Baltimore Ravens

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    As much as I hate to say it, the Baltimore Ravens are a good team. And in Week 14 of the season, good teams should be playing at their highest level. After winning the AFC North title in 2011, the Ravens would go on to lose in the AFC Championship game to the New England Patriots.

    This season marks a crucial point in Ravens' history. With injuries slowly creeping up on them, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis could both potentially be in their last season. While each player has had a Hall of Fame career, 2012 could be the year the productivity dips as they have to give in to injuries. 

    All elite athletes want to go out on top and if the Ravens can't make it to the Super Bowl this year, Lewis and Reed may be done.

    More uncertainty surrounds Joe Flacco and his status as the team's starting QB. He is in the final year of his contract and very little progress has been made to extend the Delaware grad's deal. Flacco and his camp think he deserves top-five money while the Ravens and the rest of the world know that isn't true.

    And speaking of contracts, Ray Rice recently received the organization's franchise tag. Unlike Flacco, talks are reportedly progressing well.   

    All of these factors will increase the pressure on the Ravens heading into Week 14. The Redskins represent the one easy game in the final seven weeks for the Ravens' 2012 season. The team goes into the final seven-game stretch facing the Steelers, Chargers, Steelers again, Skins, Broncos, Giants and Bengals. 

2: Week 8 at the Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Oh, what could have been were it not for Tim Tebow's overtime pass. The ending to the Steelers' 2011 campaign left a bitter taste in everyone's mouth.  

    That is unless, of course, you're a Tim Tebow fan, in which case I hope you savored the moment because your favorite backup has peaked.  

    While the team finished 12-4, they were swept by their bitter divisional rivals the Baltimore Ravens.

    The two storied franchises have only played each other six times in the last quarter century and Washington is 2-4 against the Steelers.  

    The last time the two teams faced off was in 2008 and don't let the record books fool you. The schedule may have recorded the game as a home game for the 'Skins but it was far from it. In the second half, the Redskins offense had to go into a silent snap count because of crowd noise.

    Big Ben went down with an injury and D.C. native Byron Leftwich came in and put the game out of reach. The box score shows a final score of 23-6 but the game may as well have been a shutout. 

    The league's top-ranked defense, in a cruel twist of fate, would end up costing the Steelers a shot at the Super Bowl last year. But Pittsburgh's offense, ranked 21st overall, was held back by a hobbled Ben Roethlisberger and uncharacteristically bad running attack.

    For Washington, the Week 8 matchup is made worse by their prior week's matchup against the Giants in New York. I wonder how much will be left in the tank when the Skins arrive in Pittsburgh. 

1: Week 13 Home to the New York Giants

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    The Week 13 matchup against the New York Giants highlights a tough stretch of games for the Skins after their bye week.  

    For their final seven games, five of them are against NFC East opponents. Week 7 at the New York Giants is the only divisional game before the bye. 

    Fortunately for Washington, this matchup follows an extended break between games because of their game on Thanksgiving in Dallas. Nevertheless, playing the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants in three consecutive weeks will be daunting.  

    After this game, Washington will host the Ravens and finish the season playing at Cleveland, at Philadelphia and then home to Dallas.

    The bye week marks a clear division in the Skins season. If the team is able to manage a good record heading into the bye, they may be able to make it through the home stretch without falling too far back. But if Mike Shanahan and company enter the bye week with only a handful of wins, there's not much hope in the last seven weeks of the schedule.  

    If Washington is going to improve on their 5-11 record from 2011, the post-bye week schedule will make or break the season. Week 13 at home against the Giants will be a defining game for the 2012 season—do the Redskins use it as a catalyst for a stretch run or does it signify the beginning of the end for 2012?

    For more by Scott and his cohorts, check out The Recap.