According to the 2011 records, the New York Giants have the toughest schedule for the 2012 season. I am here to tell you the road to a repeat will be tough, but the schedule will not be as bad as you think.
A couple of incidents have made two of the teams on the schedule not as good as advertised, and some of the teams that performed well last year will take a step back.
A lot of it also has to do with how the Giants did in free agency and the draft, which I'll get to. Here are five reasons why the schedule may be easier than it seems at first glance.
What is the easiest way to make your schedule easier than it looks on paper? Be a better team than you were the year before. I fully expect the Giants to improve after the moves they made this offseason.
Not only did they go out and get a playmaking linebacker in Keith Rivers, but they also replaced Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs—their biggest losses this offseason—with their first two picks in the 2012 NFL draft.
Combine that with getting Terrell Thomas back and you have a better product than you saw in the 2011 regular season.
The Baltimore Ravens took a huge blow when their top pass-rusher, Terrell Suggs, tore his Achilles tendon. He is trying to say he'll be back this season, but the average recovery time from this injury is 11 months.
The loss of Suggs makes Baltimore much less of a threat. They are still a good team, but not as dangerous as they are with him.
The New Orleans Saints were devastated by the league when Roger Goodell suspended middle linebacker and leader Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season.
This is a killer for the Saints' defense that would likely have taken a step back without Gregg Williams anyways. Now that they do not have their leader and quarterback of the defense, it makes things much more difficult.
If you watch Saints games from last year, a lot of what they did defensively came from before-the-snap adjustments from Vilma. He reads the field incredibly well and it will be nearly impossible to replace his contributions.
Let me preface this by saying I do believe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers will each improve from 2011. However, given that the Giants get both of them early in the season, it makes the task of beating them that much easier.
Tampa Bay lost Da'Quan Bowers to a torn Achilles and is going through a coaching change. Typically, teams under new management do not come flying out of the gates the way Jim Harbaugh did with his San Francisco 49ers last season. No, they will take a while to get going, and honestly still have issues on defense to fix.
The Panthers will be much better offensively with a full year under Cam Newton's belt, but Luke Kuechly is not going to solve all their problems on defense.
Many are expecting these two teams to go from doormat to playoff contenders. I will not argue with that, but it will take some time for them to get into a groove.
The Giants are fortunate enough to have extra rest leading up to these games. They play the Panthers in Week 3 on a Thursday night, then have until the next Saturday to prepare for the Eagles in Week 4. That's eight full days of rest and preparation. I like those odds with Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning.
Similarly, they play the Packers coming off their bye week, giving the Giants a full 12 days to recover from any injuries and prepare for the 2010 world champs.
It may not seem like much, but with the schedule as tough as it looks, any extra advantage helps.