If you take a long look at your favorite NFL team's schedule in 2012, what would be the one game that would be the worst possible loss?
Maybe it is a division foe that you hate to see your team lose to. Perhaps it is a geographical rival that you can't stand to see beat your team. Maybe there is an old star player returning in a different uniform to try to upset your favorite team. What about an up-and-coming team that is trying to prove that it has earned some respect?
Which loss could be a crushing loss to the collective ego and self-confidence of your favorite team?
We are going to study the 2012 schedules of every NFL team and predict what their worst losses will be. Check it out to see if you agree with our assessments.
The Arizona Cardinals in 2011 turned a 1-6 start into an overall record of 8-8. They would like to take the momentum they created by going 7-2 down the stretch into the 2012 season and prove that they are a team worthy of contending in the NFC West.
There are some key early tests to measure how good the team is, as they draw New England and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks.
How well the team fares in these two games may lead some to question if the Cardinals chose the right starting quarterback.
Or, it could be an endorsement that the right man was selected.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Arizona Cardinals
Week 8 on Monday Night Football, playing at home against the San Francisco 49ers.
How big is this game? You are playing at home, in prime time, before a national audience and going up against the defending NFC West champions.
If they win the game, it would be a huge boost for the franchise, but a loss at home would deflate all the air out of the Cardinals' balloons.
The Atlanta Falcons have reached the playoffs for the last two years but don't really have anything to show for it, going 0-2 in the postseason. They lost once at home and once on the road, so home-field advantage didn't apparently mean that much.
Hopefully they have learned something from each of those experiences and will be able to take the next step forward.
For the 2012 season, there are a number of NFC teams that appear to be improved and will be threats to make the playoffs. So, the best way for Atlanta to guarantee a return trip to the postseason is to win the NFC South.
The key rival that they will have to beat to give them the best chance to capture the division title is New Orleans. I realize the Saints have a number of issues this year, but Drew Brees is signed, and the offense has most of its weapons returning.
The Falcons will have to wait until November to see the Saints. They will have a home-and-home series in November in Week 10 and Week 13. Week 10 is in New Orleans, while Week 13 is in Atlanta.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Atlanta Falcons
Losing to New Orleans could mean the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home. The worst loss would be the Week 13 game at home against the Saints.
The Baltimore Ravens are scheduled to appear in four prime-time games during the 2012 NFL schedule. Of those four games, three are against the rest of the AFC North, as Baltimore will play Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in front of national audiences.
Since Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati all went to the playoffs in 2011, I can easily see why football fans would be likely to select one of those contests as the worst projected loss in 2012. But I instead want to go in a different direction.
By the way, in case you are wondering, no, the Harbaugh brothers are not scheduled to square off again in the 2012 regular season.
Instead, I am thinking about the remaining nationally televised game. This game will serve as a revenge game for Baltimore. The team that prevented them from making another Super Bowl appearance. The team that the Ravens thought they had beaten with about 30 seconds left to go in the game, until the ball was knocked out of Lee Evans' hands.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Baltimore Ravens
Week 3, at home, on Sunday Night Football, against the New England Patriots.
If the Patriots defeat Baltimore, it will be another painful reminder that they are the better team in the AFC.
If the Ravens win, it gives them some measure of revenge and will make a statement that the Ravens aren't going away.
This is a huge game for Baltimore.
I believe that Buffalo is still searching for its true identity.
The Bills started out 5-1 in 2011 and then went 1-9 the rest of the way. They need to go on a winning streak early in 2012 to build team confidence that matches the preseason hype that came with the additions of Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Vince Young and the new draft class.
The Bills open the 2012 season with the New York Jets on the road and close out the 2012 season at home, again against the Jets. Each of these games is going to be very important for the Bills' chances to end the longest current playoff drought in the NFL.
For the Bills to make the playoffs, they simply have to play better in the AFC East, where they have been beaten up lately. The Jets have won five straight games against Buffalo, so if the Bills are to leap frog over New York this year, they will at least have to split the series. But the preferred outcome would be a sweep.
If the Bills happen to drop the season opener, they will still have a number of weeks to rebound from that game.
If the Bills drop the season finale, it could either eliminate them from the playoff picture, or it could deflate whatever momentum they had been trying to build up if they already have clinched a playoff berth.
The other key games are the pair with New England Patriots, as such games are still the measuring stick in the AFC East to see how good a team really is.
The Bills return to prime time in 2012 as they will host the Miami Dolphins on a Thursday night game on the NFL Network, giving the country a chance to see where the team is right now in terms of talent and performance. They should be very excited about that game.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Buffalo Bills
Week 11 at home versus the Miami Dolphins on the NFL Network.
The Bills are still trying to boost their national image to the rest of the country and to the NFL players at large.
Signing free agents like Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and Vince Young probably opened some eyes around the NFL to the fact that Buffalo is an up-and-coming team.
The Bills need to win this game to continue spreading a positive image. A loss to Miami would blemish everything.
It's bad enough that the Carolina Panthers have to face the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints twice a year each, but in 2012 they also have to play against every NFC East team.
There aren't very many easy games for Carolina in 2012.
But if you ask Cam Newton, he will be up for the challenge, as the Panthers look to the upcoming season to determine if the team has made progress and is heading in the right direction.
Since the NFC East happens to contain the Washington Redskins and rookie sensation Robert Griffin III, there will be a number of curious football fans that want to see who is the better quarterback between Newton and RG3. The Redskins' faithful fans will be looking to promote RG3, while those of the Panthers will be citing Newton as the real deal.
That should make for a pretty exciting contest.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Carolina Panthers
The Panthers will want to defeat Washington to make the statement that their guy, Cam Newton, is the best quarterback of the new wave of mobile, athletic signal-callers that is sweeping into the NFL.
Losing to Griffin would have to put a dent in Newton's ego.
The Chicago Bears close out their AFC South portion of the 2012 schedule by Week 10, which means their final seven games are against fellow NFC teams.
Each of these contests will have some bearing on the final NFC standings and could very well determine the Bears' fate, as they attempt to return to the playoffs.
Included in those seven games will be a contest against each of the Bears' NFC North foes.
The game that I am most interested in is the game that will be played in Chicago during Week 15, when the Bears will host the Green Bay Packers.
After 14 weeks, all of the new elements that were introduced to the Bears offense in 2012 should be fully integrated.
The Packers defense will no doubt have improved from its showing in 2011, when it ranked No. 32 in overall defense and No. 32 in passing defense. If there is one defense the Bears want to test to see how well their own offense is performing, it is that of the Packers.
Projected Worst Loss for the 2012 Chicago Bears
Week 15 in Chicago versus the Green Bay Packers. This game will be meaningful for the NFC North title, but also will have wild-card implications.
A loss in this game could be devastating for the Bears' season.
The Cincinnati Bengals are trying to go back to the playoffs in 2012, and they will face a tough road, as there are a number of AFC teams that seem poised to take their place in the playoffs.
The Bengals have two huge games to close out the season, traveling to Pittsburgh in Week 16 and hosting Baltimore in their final regular-season game.
Those two games combined will probably determine who wins the AFC North, who is in as an AFC Wild Card and who is out.
I understand the importance of those contests, but for my money there is one other game on the schedule that stands out to me as being just as important, if not more so.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Cincinnati Bengals
Week 12 at home versus the Oakland Raiders, also known as the "Carson Palmer Homecoming Game."
Palmer showed disrespect to the team, to the city and to the fans that previously supported him. Beating Oakland sends a message to Palmer that what he did to the Bengals was wrong and would be a boost to team unity and loyalty.
A loss would be humbling.
The Cleveland Browns won just five games in 2010 and followed that up by winning only four games in 2010. When you have gone 9-23 over the last two years, is there really such a thing as a worst loss?
The Browns are trying to turn a corner with their current franchise and establish that they have some true weapons on offense that will allow them to be more competitive in the AFC North.
The defense has been playing inspired football, as they finished in the top 10 in the NFL in 2011.
Now it is time for the offense to start pulling its own weight.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Cleveland Browns
Week 15 at home against the Washington Redskins.
This contest features the two teams that were in it at the end in negotiations with the St. Louis Rams to trade for the rights to draft Robert Griffin III. The Redskins stepped up with a more aggressive package of draft picks that met the Rams' high asking price.
If Washington wins this game and RG3 has a big day, it will wind up being a jab at the Browns front office for the direction it went, as opposed to Washington, which made sure it landed the franchise quarterback.
In looking at the Dallas Cowboys' 2012 NFL schedule, I see a really rough stretch that starts in Week 6 (their Bye Week is Week 5) and continues up to Week 10.
In that stretch of games, the Cowboys play on the road twice (at Baltimore and at Carolina), return home to face the Super Bowl champion New York Giants and then go back on the road for two more games (at Atlanta and at Philadelphia).
It is bad enough that the Cowboys have to play on the road four out of five weeks, but to have the only home game in that stretch against the New York Giants, an NFC East rival, makes this a very imposing stretch.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Dallas Cowboys
If the Cowboys split the two road games in Week 5 and 6, then they have to win at home against the Giants to give them some confidence playing at Atlanta and Philadelphia.
If they lose that home game to the Giants, they could easily go on a three-game losing streak before they know what hit them.
The Week 8 game at home against the Giants would represent the worst loss of the 2012 season.
While Peyton Manning has an interesting, friendly rivalry with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a rivalry that is based on two highly productive, competitive quarterbacks, that really doesn't have all that much to do with Manning's new team, the Denver Broncos.
So instead for the worst loss, we will turn our attention to one of the Broncos' five prime-time games in 2012.
The biggest question on everybody's minds is whether Manning will be able to take some big hits and come out of the collisions okay. That should result in a huge national audience for the season opener, on Sunday Night Football, when the Broncos host the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers, of course, played their final game in the 2011 season at Denver, where the Broncos won an exciting game in overtime.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Denver Broncos
If the Broncos lose to Pittsburgh in Week 1 on Sunday Night Football, it won't be the end of the world.
However, if Manning takes a big hit in the game and gets injured, the Broncos' season is basically over.
So, there is a lot riding on the Week 1 contest.
The Detroit Lions in Week 11 of the 2012 NFL regular season will start up a key four-game stretch that sees them hosting three straight games.
First up is the Green Bay Packers, followed by the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football and then hosting Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Finally, the Lions will hit the road to play Green Bay again.
Looking at the those four games, the one that sticks out to me like a sore thumb is that with the Indianapolis Colts. The Lions will be fired up to play the Packers twice and the Texans, two very solid contenders for the Super Bowl.
This is a classic setup game, as the natural tendency is to look past the Colts.
Since this marks the Lions' third straight game at home and they are coming off of a Thursday night game, Detroit will have 10 days to prepare. Expect a few days off for the team and maybe an arrest or two, because they are the Lions, after all.
There will be some very comfortable players that might not be ready to take on a young and hungry team that doesn't know that it's supposed to lose.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Detroit Lions
There is the little matter of the Lions playing the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2 at San Francisco, where coach Schwartz and Harbaugh may or may not exchange some pleasantries.
If the Lions lost to the 49ers, I could live with that, because the 49ers are loaded.
Losing to the Colts in Week 13 would be far worse.
In 2011 the Green Bay Packers started out by winning 13 games to open the season, only to go 2-2 over their final four games, which included losing their first and only playoff game of the postseason to the New York Giants.
The Packers went a very strong 6-0 to sweep the NFC North, so they have every right to be viewed as the best team in that division until another team is able to come along and prove that it is better.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Green Bay Packers
So, we are going to revisit the playoff loss from last year and dial up some good old revenge.
The Packers beat the New York Giants by a field goal in the regular season in 2011 but lost by 17 points in the playoffs. In Week 12 of the 2012 season, the Packers will travel to play the Giants, and they need a win in this game to demonstrate that they are the best team in the NFC.
A loss in that game tells the rest of the NFC that the Packers are still vulnerable to the pressure that the Giants are able to dial up, so that to me would represent their worst loss in 2012.
The Houston Texans must have it in their heads that they simply can't win football games in Indianapolis.
Ten times the Texans have traveled to Indianapolis, and 10 times they have returned home with another loss on their record.
I can understand in the beginning of the franchise, that they had to learn how to compete against Peyton Manning. That makes sense.
But if you look at the 2011 game, Manning was watching in street clothes while Dan Orvlosky beat the Texans and their vaunted defense.
Now we move to the 2012 version of the series, and the Colts have stated very clearly that they are going to rebuild their team. Andrew Luck and a number of rookies are being placed in key positions to learn how to sink or swim on the fly.
This is the first time that the Texans should have a high degree of confidence that they can end the losing streak.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Houston Texan
Then again, there is a reason that teams are asked to actually play games.
If the Texans lose for the 11th straight time in Indianapolis this year, that will easily qualify as their worst loss of the year.
After the Indianapolis Colts lost their first 13 games of the 2011 season, said good-bye to legendary franchise quarterback Peyton Manning and announced that the team was going to reconstruct itself, it is somewhat difficult to judge the 2012 Colts team as we are most of the other teams in this presentation.
Of course it helps that the Colts will have Andrew Luck to step in and run the offense going forward.
But there are a number of rookies in key spots in Indianapolis that will be making a number of rookie mistakes. As such, expectations should be kept reasonably low for the team's first year of rebuilding, with hope for some signs of progress and consistency as the year progresses.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Indianapolis Colts
In reviewing the Colts' 2012 schedule, I believe the game that the Colts can't afford to lose is the Week 7 contest at home against the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns have a young offense pretty much across the board, so this is one matchup in which the Colts can get a better idea of how they are progressing. If they beat Cleveland, that is a good sign that they are progressing, but if they lose, it means that they are much further away from advancing than they thought.
The Jacksonville Jaguars made the conscious decision to part ways with David Garrard in 2011 and go with then-rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
The decision helped head coach Jack Del Rio lose his job.
Things haven't begun that well for Mike Mularkey in his debut as head coach for the Jaguars in 2012. His star running back, Maurice Jones-Drew, is threatening to hold out of training camp and maybe longer. The Jaguars' No. 1 draft pick, wide receiver Justin Blackmon, was arrested for a DUI, and the team hasn't been able to sign him to a contract yet.
With Jacksonville's 5-11 record in 2011, I really don't see anybody expecting the Jaguars to make a playoff push this year, so expectations aren't very high. They want to see Gabbert take a step forward this year in his development, and if he fails to do that, the Jaguars may have to invest another high draft pick in a franchise quarterback and start over.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 10 features the Jaguars at home in a prime time game (their only one of the year) against the Indianapolis Colts. The upstart Colts will have played enough games by then that their rookies should have a better idea of what is going on without hitting that proverbial brick wall yet. For the Jaguars, losing this contest in front of a national audience would be an embarrassment for the team and would illustrate that they drafted the wrong quarterback.
Looking at the AFC in 2012, the best way for the Kansas City Chiefs to secure a place in the postseason is to win the AFC West, as the competition for wild-card berths looks as though it will be fierce.
Right out of the gate, the Chiefs have three games that will be good tests to prepare them for their first AFC West game, in Week 4 at home against the San Diego Chargers. Those first three games are at home against the Atlanta Falcons and on the road against Buffalo and New Orleans. The Chiefs had their hands full with Buffalo last year, getting blown out in the home opener 41-7.
The Chiefs expect their injured stars from the 2011 season to be back and ready to play from Week 1, so they hopefully will have knocked the rust off by the time the Week 4 game against San Diego rolls around.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs need to maximize their opportunities against every AFC West foe if they are going to make the playoffs.
The first AFC West game against San Diego will set the stage for the season, so it is imperative that the Chiefs take advantage of playing at home and knock the Chargers down a peg.
If they lose that game, it could be another long year for Kansas City.
The Miami Dolphins have been battling a perception around the NFL that the franchise lacks direction and is basically lost. It began with the team's trying to recruit then-Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh while Tony Sparano still had the job, and the poor-image issues continued when Peyton Manning passed on joining the Dolphins.
Since the Dolphins have agreed to become the NFL team that will be the subject of the HBO series Hard Knocks this year, they will get plenty of national exposure.
Once the show ends, so does the Dolphins national exposure, though, since they are slated to appear just once on prime time in 2012.
That nationally televised game will be Week 11 at Buffalo on the NFL Network's Thursday Night Football. In the 2011 season, the Dolphins went 3-3 in the AFC East, largely because they swept the series against Buffalo.
In 2012 the Dolphins will be engaged in a battle at training camp to determine who their starting quarterback is.
Regardless of who winds up winning that battle, the offense will be hard pressed to generate a dynamic passing attack due to its lack of a true No. 1 wide receiver, since the Dolphins traded Brandon Marshall away to Chicago.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Miami Dolphins
The Week 11 game at Buffalo is an important one for Miami. Playing in prime time for the only time this year, they will have the chance to show how far they have progressed from the conclusion of Hard Knocks.
Or the opposite could also be true. They just don't want to be embarrassed on national television.
If the Bills defensive line is as good as advertised, though, this game could wind up as a blowout.
I thought it was rather interesting that the Minnesota Vikings are scheduled to face the Jacksonville Jaguars at home to open the season and then travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts in Week 2. A battle of two young quarterbacks in each of the first two weeks, playing for teams that struggled for wins in 2011: You have Christian Ponder against Blaine Gabbert and then Ponder against Andrew Luck.
How the Vikings fare in those two opening contests will be a good indicator of what we can expect from the team in 2012.
Are they ready to take a step up as a team with improved play this year, or will 2012 be an extension of 2011, with the team struggling to find a way to win games?
Obviously, one of the key elements of how well the Vikings play will depend on the health of Adrian Peterson. For anybody to say that he will be 100 percent for Week 1 or Week 2 would be nothing more than a guess at this point.
But, the way that Toby Gerhart ran with the ball last year (4.9 yards per rush), it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom if Peterson isn't able to be active for the early part of the season.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Minnesota Vikings
I could go with either of the first two games I mentioned above, but for the presentation I am going to go with the Vikings' only nationally televised prime-time game. That will be in Week 8 at home against Tampa Bay, another team that struggled to win in 2011.
By Week 8 Peterson should be good to go, so there would be no excuses at that point for the Vikings offense.
If they lose that game at home to Tampa in front of a national audience, that would be a hard pill to swallow.
The New England Patriots have enjoyed a stranglehold on the AFC East during the past decade and would prefer to keep it that way.
Their run might be challenged by the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills this year, depending on how much the Patriots defense has actually been able to improve. We won't know that for sure until we have seen some regular-season action.
The Patriots start out 2012 as road warriors, as three of their first four games are away from home.
That also means that the Patriots have their own stretch of home games to look forward to, as they close out the season playing three of their final four at home.
New England has enjoyed particular success against the Bills, especially in New England, where the Patriots have won the last 11 straight meetings. There were some blowouts in there, as well as some real nail biters, recalling the 2009 season opener on Monday Night Football, in which a late special-teams fumble by Leodis McKelvin handed the Patriots a gifted 25-24 win.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 New England Patriots
Given the Patriots dominance over the Bills at home, a loss to Buffalo at home in Week 10 would have to be considered the worst loss.
For one thing the Patriots will be coming off of their bye week, so they have two weeks to prepare for the game. Secondly, the Patriots need to send the message to the Bills that they still control the AFC East.
Losing the game sends the message that they are far from superior and can be caught.
The New Orleans Saints have obviously had one of the most trying offseasons in the history of the NFL.
While nobody knows yet how all of the suspensions affect the overall performance of the Saints, most people still expect that New Orleans will be in contention for the NFC South title.
The Saints have an interesting pair of home games in Week 9 and Week 10. In Week 9 they play host to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football. That means that the Saints will have less preparation time for their Week 10 opponent, the rival Atlanta Falcons.
These two games will probably be key in determining not only who takes control of the NFC South but who is looking like they are starting to take the upper hand in the race for the final wild-card spots.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 New Orleans Saints
I think New Orleans could live with losing to the Falcons on the road, but they especially want to beat the Falcons at home.
If the Saints lose to Atlanta at home in Week 10, that could be a very difficult obstacle to overcome in their plans to win the NFC South.
The New York Giants, reigning Super Bowl champions, will be wearing a big bull's eye on their backs all season. Teams circle the Giants game on their calendars, as defeating the champions will be a noteworthy accomplishment for any NFL team in 2012.
Because the Giants were only 9-7 in the regular season in 2011, there are still questions about how good this team is, despite their tremendous run in the postseason, which resulted in winning Super Bowl XLVI.
The Giants were only 3-3 in the NFC East in 2011, and while that was good enough to get them into the postseason last year, there is no guarantee that it would be good enough for a repeat appearance in 2012.
Recognizing that the Giants had their own struggles in 2011 within their own division, we should also note that the 2012 schedule includes games against seven other teams that qualified for the 2011 playoffs: San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Green Bay, New Orleans, Atlanta and Baltimore.
The deck looks to be stacked against the Giants in 2012.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 New York Giants
With the tough schedule that the world champions drew, there are a number of projected worst losses in 2012.
For the sake of this presentation, I will pick the worst loss to be the season finale, a Week 17 home game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
If the Giants have a shot at either winning the East or securing an NFC Wild Card, they will need to win this game.
A loss at home against the Eagles could very well make the Giants just one more example of a Super Bowl-winning team that failed to reach the playoffs the following season. The Giants will have their backs to the wall to prevent themselves from becoming another footnote in NFL history.
The New York Jets appear to be in kind of a weird place.
After two straight trips to the AFC Championship Game, they hit a rough patch at the end of the 2011 season that led to their falling out of the playoffs and resulted in some real concerns about chemistry on the team that needed to be addressed.
The Jets brought more controversy to their team due to the addition of quarterback Tim Tebow, who will be viewed as the next starter should Mark Sanchez struggle during the year. Tebow will be bulking up to be effective in the red zone and running the Wildcat.
Rex Ryan has stopped making promises and guarantees about his team, as they were too often scoffed at as being nothing more than hot air. Ryan is now also a shadow of his former self, as he has lost over 100 pounds since last year.
Is Ryan on the hot seat in 2012?
Well, at least he is healthier, so he has that going for him.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 New York Jets
The opening game of the season, at home against the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills feel they are ready to contend for the playoffs, and the Jets stand directly in their path. A loss to Buffalo would give the Bills early confidence and momentum, while doing the exact opposite for the Jets.
In addition if Mark Sanchez has a rough game in the loss, the amount of pressure to play Tim Tebow more would only intensify from Week 2 on.
This is just about a must-win game for the Jets.
The Oakland Raiders in 2012 are all about change.
Change in ownership due to the passing last year of Al Davis, RIP. Change in coaching, as Hue Jackson is out and Dennis Allen is in. A new general manager was named in Reggie McKenzie. New offensive coordinator in Jason Tarver, and a new defensive coordinator in Greg Knapp.
The Raiders lost some key personnel due to a miserable salary-cap scenario, and their 2012 draft class was stripped away off their top picks due to prior moves from the old regime.
So, what exactly does the 2012 Raiders team have going for itself, and what would be its worst potential loss this season?
The Raiders offense is going to have to carry this team, as I suspect that the defense will not be very strong this year.
Due to Michael Bush's signing elsewhere, if Darren McFadden goes down again this year to injury, the Raiders will at that point officially be in trouble.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have two prime-time games in 2012. Both are at home, and both are against AFC West opponents. The Raiders open up the year at home against the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football. The other prime-time game is Week 14 versus the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football.
If the Raiders are still in the thick of the AFC West race, then that Week 14 contest at home against Denver will be huge.
It is a contest of the old gunslingers, Peyton Manning versus Carson Palmer.
The Raiders still will face Kansas City and San Diego over the final three weeks, so this game against Denver, I believe, would set up their final run of the season.
I project the game against the Broncos as their worst loss.
The Philadelphia Eagles have a really rough stretch of games in the 2012 season, beginning with Week 4. They host the Super Bowl champion New York Giants in a game that will help to establish early bragging rights in the NFC East.
But the schedule that follows is going to be intense: Pittsburgh (Week 5), Detroit (Week 6), bye week, Atlanta (Week 8), New Orleans (Week 9). NFC East rival Dallas (Week 10) and then another NFC East rival in Washington (Week 11).
Looking at that schedule, I believe that those are six high-pressure games in a row, with the benefit of the bye week helping to break it up a little bit.
Once those six games conclude, there is a matchup set up to be a classic let down, as the Eagles host the Carolina Panthers in Week 12 on Monday Night Football.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Philadelphia Eagles
If the Eagles come out of that six-game stretch going at least 3-3 or better, they are going to be well positioned to contend for the postseason.
But that also means that, despite all warnings from Andy Reid, they could be looking past Carolina as they will be facing Dallas the following week.
You know full well that Cam Newton would like nothing better than showing a national audience who the best mobile, athletic quarterback in the league is.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2011 season lasted just one play into overtime of the first round of the playoffs, when the Denver Broncos ended the game in very sudden fashion.
The 2012 Steelers will be looking to incorporate Todd Haley's philosophies, in addition to a desire by team management to return to the physical style of Steelers teams from the past, by running the ball down opponents' throats.
Pittsburgh is still one of the elite teams in the NFL, according to media demand, as they have a whopping five games in prime time.
For a team that is supposedly older and slower, they will either find a way to step up and stay competitive, or they will find a way not to be in demand so much in 2013.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers
While a loss in the season opener at Denver would be a tough way to start out the season, the worst loss we can project would be for the Steelers to lose their Week 11 game, at home against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens swept the Steelers last year, and the Steelers need to win at least one of the games this year to have a shot at winning the AFC North and to continue to feel as though they can do more than just compete with Baltimore.
The San Diego Chargers are giving head coach Norv Turner one last year to see if he can take the Chargers and turn them into a playoff team again.
The Chargers have been missing from the playoffs for the past two seasons, so Turner is sitting squarely on a very hot seat.
As we saw with Pittsburgh in the prior slide, the NFL and the media likes the Chargers, as they will be appearing five times in prime-time games in 2012. In those five contests, there is one game against each of their AFC West division foes, one game at New Orleans and one at the New York Jets.
Interestingly enough, the Chargers never have any back-to-back games against AFC West rivals. Before all of their six AFC West games, they have a break of at least one week and sometimes more than one week, giving them chances to do some serious preparation.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 San Diego Chargers
It seems more often than not that the Chargers' postseason chances usually come down to the final weekend of play.
This year they close out the regular season at home against their rivals the Oakland Raiders.
The playoffs and Norv Turner's job could both be on the line, so we will project the game against Oakland as the Chargers' worst loss of the 2012 season.
One of the quirks I discovered in looking at the San Francisco 49ers' 2012 schedule is that they will be playing all three New York teams in three straight weeks, from Week 4 to Week 6.
The 49ers travel across the country to play the Jets in Week 4, then stay home and let the Buffalo Bills fly to face them in Week 5, followed by the Super Bowl champion New York Giants coming to San Francisco in Week 6.
The 49ers, as of this point in time, appear to be the favorites to repeat as NFC West winners, so if we can reasonably agree on that point, the next big issue is where will they be seeded in the NFC playoff picture.
When it comes to home-field advantage, which is still a big deal for most teams, the New York Giants defied the odds by winning three straight playoff games on the road to reach the Super Bowl last year.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 San Francisco 49ers
The game against the New York Giants in Week 6 will let the 49ers know if they have improved enough against the team that eliminated them last year.
Beating New York would give the 49ers a shot in the arm.
A loss would reaffirm that they aren't the best team in the NFC, so that is what I project to be their toughest loss.
The Seattle Seahawks got some bad news when it was revealed that Marshawn Lynch was arrested for a DUI. While there is no definitive word yet on a suspension, it could very well mean that Seattle will be without their top weapon on offense to start out the year, which is not the way you want to begin a new season.
As far as the schedule for 2012 Seahawks goes, they have two games in prime time, but with the opponents they drew, the NFL schedule-makers didn't really do them any favors.
The first contest is in Week 3, a Monday Night Football game in Seattle, as they host the Green Bay Packers. Seattle's defense will be severely tested by Aaron Rodgers and company.
Next up is a Thursday Night Football game on the NFL Network in San Francisco, facing the 49ers.
Those could be two tough games to watch.
Seattle's games in the NFC West are spread around pretty well during the first time through the division, but the second time through, they are crammed into three games over the final four weeks.
That's the bad news.
The good news? All three games against the NFC West in December are games at home.
If the Seahawks are to grab a wild-card berth, they will have to finish strong in December.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Seattle Seahawks
If the NFC wild-card berths come down to the final week or two, as most people expect, it will be imperative for the Seahawks to defeat both the Cardinals (Week 14) and the Rams (Week 17).
If they lose either of those two games, it could very well be the final nail in their playoff coffin.
The St. Louis Rams are entering their first year with new head coach Jeff Fisher and will be looking to make some progress in fielding a more competitive team in 2012, but nobody is expecting any huge turnaround in the win-loss column or in the standings.
Instead the Rams want to see the overall level of play improve on offense and defense, and they want to become a team that can compete against anybody deeper into the fourth quarter of every contest.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 St. Louis Rams
Another team that seems to be in a similar boat to where the Rams are now would be the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings come in to St. Louis to pay the Rams a visit in Week 15.
Of the many Rams rookies that are going to contribute this year, they should all be comfortable in their respective roles by Week 15, although some of them may be crashing into that rookie wall by then.
Figure this is a good measuring-stick game to see how far the Rams have progressed in 2012.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a very strong offseason with some of the free-agent players that they signed. They also had a good draft and made a smart hire in calling on head coach Greg Schiano to bring some discipline and direction to a team that was lacking in both last year.
The Bucs are another team that probably would be hard pressed to be in the running for the playoffs in 2012, but if they can take a step up and have a record that approaches .500, that would be a positive development, considering that they lost their final 10 games in 2011.
While some fans may not want to see just slight levels of improvement, that is the realistic approach.
Expect to see continued growth as Schiano gets a better handle on what kind of talent he really has to work with.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another good measuring-stick game here. This time it is the Week 16 contest against the St. Louis Rams.
The game will be in Tampa Bay, and if the Bucs are already out of the playoff picture, then this is a great game for Schiano to see who really wants to play and who really wants to play for Tampa Bay.
These are the kind of games in which players' true colors come out and you learn some new things about your team.
The Tennessee Titans are still trying to determine who their starting quarterback will be in 2012, as Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker look to battle it out in training camp.
Maybe they will start one of the two quarterbacks and switch to the other guy based on how the team fares over its first six weeks of the new season.
The Titans have a killer early schedule. They open at home against New England, travel to San Diego, are home to Detroit, are at Houston and then travel to Minnesota before the Week 6 game against Pittsburgh at home.
Like I said, that is a tough schedule.
If the Titans come out of this group of games with a 2-4 record, they might have to go to plan B at quarterback.
While most of the attention in the AFC South is placed on the Houston Texans, the Titans have been kind of overlooked, which should be fine with them. Chris Johnson is back and is ready to play as he did three years ago. He is committed, which is a great sign.
Too bad the same thing can't really be said for Kenny Britt.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Tennessee Titans
If the Titans are to have a realistic shot at an AFC Wild Card, they will have to sweep teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars.
If they can't complete the sweep and win those four games, the schedule looks too difficult to envision them making the playoffs.
Worst loss would be a loss at home to either Jacksonville (Week 17) or Indianapolis (Week 8).
The Washington Redskins are scheduled to play only two games in 2012 in prime time.
The first game is on Thanksgiving at Dallas in Week 12, and then, the following week, the Redskins will host the New York Giants on Monday Night Football.
We will get to see how mobile Robert Griffin III is when the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Pierre-Paul are chasing him around.
It might be wishful thinking to consider the Redskins a playoff-contending team in 2012, but I think they will improve this year and will make another jump in 2013 as RG3 gets more NFL experience, which can only help his game improve.
The Redskins will have a more dynamic offense, so pulling a clunker like getting shut out against Buffalo in 2011 shouldn't be happening anymore.
RG3 has some intriguing matchups with other quarterbacks this season. He begins with Drew Brees and then he has an interesting stretch of games that begins in Week 7, during which the Redskins defense will face in succession Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Tony Romo and then Eli Manning again for good measure.
Griffin can learn a ton by watching what his counterparts are doing.
Projected Worst Loss for 2012 Washington Redskins
I think the two prime-time games—at Dallas and then at home against the Giants—are two of the most critical games of the year. The Redskins will have established their offense by then and will have a very good handle on what the plays are that Griffin is best at running.
If the Redskins get blown out in front of a national audience in either game or both, it will drop the team down a few pegs on a national level, as well as for free agents in 2013 that might have been considering playing for them.
Thanks for checking out the presentation.