With football finally in the air in 2013, the NFL preseason schedule is about to finally kick off. After the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, teams will begin a grueling four-week evaluation period aimed at selecting players engaged in position battles.
Solidified starters will play sparingly to help prevent injury and to allow for those fringe players to compete for jobs.
Now that we’ve officially crossed the threshold and the preseason has begun, you’ll begin to hear a lot different voices about teams’ strengths of schedule.
The thing about strength of schedule, though, is that it’s incredibly difficult to predict. That’s due to the turnover that occurs each offseason as a result of injuries, coaching philosophy shifts, progression and regression by players and various other factors.
The moral of the story is that anything can and will happen from one NFL season to another.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what we think we know about the NFL preseason schedule. Which teams have the toughest road to the regular season?
For comparison’s sake, a full 2013 NFL preseason schedule is included below.
Teams With Toughest Preseason Schedules
The Arizona Cardinals are a team that ended their 2012 season with question marks across the board. A quarterback carousel due to injuries, inconsistency and just flat out poor play at the position has plagued the team since former MVP Kurt Warner retired.
Now, veteran signal-caller Carson Palmer has been brought into the fold to help turn things around. Can he provide a late-career surge as Warner did to lead the Cards back to the Super Bowl?
It will be tough to gauge the team this preseason as they will have a tough path to Week 1. An opening date at Green Bay followed by a return home against Dallas isn’t a favorable start as the team evaluates its roster.
They’ll get some apparent relief in the third preseason game, often thought of as the most important, as the San Diego Chargers come to town. The Chargers aren’t the same powerhouse they once were, but are a relative unknown under new head coach Mike McCoy.
The Cards’ final tune-up before the regular season will be in Denver. While the starters will play sparingly in this one, it’s safe to say the Broncos have adequate depth across the board to make Arizona’s final preseason test a difficult one.
The term overhaul normally applies to an organization that rebuilds by shedding bloated veteran contracts and adopts a new philosophy. Sometimes it’s referred to as “blowing it up” in order to rethink approaches and rebuild the roster.
In Oakland last spring, the organization nuked their current blueprint and started again from ground zero.
Oakland acquired Matt Flynn, a Green Bay and Seattle castoff, and will likely empower him with the charge of playing the guiding light of their rebuild. Flynn, signed by the Seahawks last season to be their starter, was supplanted by rookie Russell Wilson.
He’s battling another Wilson (Tyler) in training camp this season in Oakland. Even if it’s Flynn who comes away with the job, there are multiple voids across their roster. Filling those spots with top-tier talent is going to take some time.
Sometimes that’s what it takes at this level.
Watching their young talent go to battle against the likes of Dallas, New Orleans, Chicago and Seattle this preseason might not be pretty either. Those organizations are all very deep talent-wise and will provide significant preseason challenges for the Raiders.
The Tennessee Titans weren’t awful last season, but their defense definitely took a thumping at times. Inconsistency at the quarterback position was also maddening for a coaching staff that was and is attempting to support Jake Locker as the face of their franchise.
How was the team rewarded after struggling through last season? Well, they’ll have to face four playoff teams in four preseason games while preparing for the 2013 campaign.
You might look at that as a good or bad thing.
That goes for all of these teams. Having a tough preseason schedule against teams with deep rows of talent can help weed out players that don’t belong.
The term “battle-tested” comes to mind. With the schedule they’ve been dealt, Tennessee will be tested by opening day, that’s for sure.