The NFL season is still months away, but the world took a step back from draft talk on Thursday night for the annual schedule release.
As the scheduling was analyzed, a few trends became readily apparent. First, the NFL clearly has a handle on which teams fans want to see the most of. Secondly, the NFL did some teams no favors.
Football is not always the most important factor in creating a schedule. Sometimes, other sporting events like baseball games (for both stadium use and parking availability) take precedence. Other times, ratings concerns force lower-profile teams into a rough situations.
Which teams came out on top with their schedules, and which are going to have an uphill climb?
The Cowboys get four prime-time appearances in 2013—par for the course for an NFC East team that has long been known as "America's Team," whether or not that moniker is actually true. They face the New York Giants on next year's first Sunday Night Football and will be nothing if not visible following Tony Romo's contract extension.
Dallas is a real winner, however, because its schedule is one of the easiest in the league. The only truly tough out-of-division matchup on the docket is a home matchup with the Denver Broncos.
It will be an uphill climb back to playoff contention for a Cowboys team with so many moving parts this season, but with an easy schedule, they could find themselves playing a few more nationally televised games in January.
The Eagles are one of the two teams that have to play three road games in a row this season. The first of three comes against the Broncos, while the next two come on the East Coast against the Giants and the Buccaneers.
That third game is a pretty easy matchup, but the Broncos and Giants could have Chip Kelly's crew worn out by then.
Perhaps even worse for the Eagles, they play two prime-time games (their only two) in the first 11 days of the season. Oh, and there's a game in between. They'll start on Monday night against the Redskins, before hosting San Diego for a Sunday game and then Kansas City on Thursday Night Football in Week 3.
The NFL season is already a marathon compared to the college season, but Kelly is getting an even ruder welcome to the NFL than normal.
It's never easy to play in the same division as Peyton Manning, but the Chargers don't have to worry about a strong non-divisional slate.
Sure, every week in the NFL could be a tough game in one way or another, but a year without having to face teams like the Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens or San Francisco 49ers is a pretty good one.
Even better for the Chargers is that they get three nationally televised games, and two of them (Houston Texans and Indianapolis) are at home.
Mike McCoy is in his first year as San Diego's head coach, but he has the season just about gift wrapped for him. The Chargers could find themselves in the hunt for a wild-card spot in the AFC if they take advantage.
The AFC South is set to go up against the AFC West and NFC West this season. First off, that's a tough slate to have from a travel perspective. Teams like Jacksonville and Tennessee have to fly clear across the country for multiple road games.
Also, that means that the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans all have the following teams on their schedule: Houston Texans (twice), San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos.
That's a murderers' row if there ever was one.
Heck, throw in the St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs matchups as potential trap games with the improvements those two teams have made.
Coming out of the AFC South is always tough, but it's even more difficult this season than it would normally be.
Of course, the positive to the AFC South needing to play the AFC West is that the teams in the AFC West get to play Tennessee and Jacksonville. Thus, it's no surprise that all of the AFC West teams are among the teams with the easiest schedules, at least going off last season's records.
While the early- and late-season stretches for the Chiefs could trip them up, the entire middle of the season is an easy slate of games. They travel to Tennessee in Week 5, then host Oakland, Houston and Cleveland before traveling to Buffalo and getting their bye week.
It is conceivable that the Chiefs go 4-1 during that stretch, and 5-0 isn't even out of the question.
After the bye week, they get the Denver Broncos coming off a matchup with San Diego. It's not exactly a great indicator of a win, but two weeks to prepare for Peyton Manning is certainly better than one.
Mathematically, the Panthers have the toughest schedule in the league this season, as six of their opponents went to the playoffs last season. Add to that the return of Sean Payton in New Orleans and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that may be adding Darrelle Revis, and all of a sudden the Panthers look like they may not have a moment to breathe in 2013.
It starts with Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks coming to town in Week 1.
In addition, they have a Week 4 bye, which is about the worst time to have one. Teams prefer to rest later in the season when nagging injuries and major soreness is more likely. It's wasted with an incredibly winnable road game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5.
Perhaps most egregious is that the league almost set them up as a lamb to the slaughter in the final weeks of the season, giving the New Orleans Saints two games against them in the final month and the Atlanta Falcons the last crack at them in Week 17.
It's as if the league has paved the way to the playoffs right through Carolina.
The Broncos have the statistically easiest schedule based on last season's records. Together, their opponents only managed a .430 winning percentage in 2012. Part of that is because of the AFC West's woes last year, and the rest has to do with getting the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles on the docket.
No schedule is without a few challenges, though. The Broncos start by hosting Baltimore on Thursday Night Football (get ready Rahim Moore!) before hitting the road to play the Giants in Week 2. They also have to head to Dallas and New England—the latter of the two for Sunday Night Football.
But with five prime-time games, the Broncos are going to get a perfect opportunity to showcase the Peyton Manning-Wes Welker combination. With such an easy schedule, it's almost certain that they'll be favorites for a No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.