NFL Schedule 2014: Winners and Losers of This Year's Release
The 2014 NFL season still is a long way away, but on Wednesday the league pulled back the curtain and revealed each team's schedule to the world. It's nice to take a break from the nonstop—sometimes overwhelming—NFL draft coverage to focus on something else for a second.
Like every year, the NFL knows exactly what it's doing.
Matching up some of the league's most prestigious franchises in prime time always leads to colossal ratings. Those ratings should see another significant boost thanks to the NFL's February announcement that CBS will broadcast eight Thursday Night Football games.
Checking the upcoming schedule, we're able to decipher which teams are in a great position to be successful and which ones will have a monumental task ahead of them in 2014.
From stretches of tough games to teams missing out on the prime-time coverage, it's now time to examine the biggest winners and losers of this year's schedule release.
Winner: Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos' quest to get back to the Super Bowl starts off with a bang.
Opening up the season at home against Andrew Luck's Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football, the Broncos will be looking to avenge last season's 39-33 loss on national TV.
Things don't get much easier for the Broncos in September as they battle the Kansas City Chiefs at home and then travel up to Seattle to play the Seahawks in a rematch of Super Bowl XLVIII.
However, despite a tough start, the Broncos have a chance to put themselves in a great position to get home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs once again, starting in November.
After locking horns with the New England Patriots in Week 9, the Broncos play the Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills in succession.
Manning's Broncos will then wrap up the 2014 season the same way they did last year: by going up against the Raiders in Week 17.
If the Broncos can stay afloat after a grueling opening month, they should be able to easily navigate their way back to the playoffs next season and make another Super Bowl run.
Loser: New York Giants
History will look back on Eli Manning's time with the New York Giants with an eccentric pair of glasses.
Throughout his 10 years in the NFL, Manning has won two Super Bowl titles in dramatic fashion. At the same time, he's completed just 58.5 percent of his passes and averaged slightly over 17 interceptions per season over his career.
Aside from statistics, Manning will forever be linked to head coach Tom Coughlin—both men arrived in New York in 2004. And once again, it will be up to Manning and Coughlin to turn things around in 2014 and give this Giants team a chance to get back to the playoffs.
But that road won't be easy by any means.
New York opens its season under the bright lights of Monday Night Football against Matthew Stafford and the high-flying Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
Then in Week 2, Bruce Arians and his Arizona Cardinals head to MetLife Stadium for the Giants' home opener.
The Houston Texans come to town in Week 3. Despite their 2-14 record in 2013, the Texans are loaded with talent and just a season removed from a playoff appearance.
The real tragedy for the Giants starts in the month of November.
Three consecutive games against powerhouse teams—the Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers—followed by a Sunday Night Football showdown with the Dallas Cowboys at home is a brutal stretch for any team.
It's going to be an uphill battle for Manning and Coughlin to find a way back to the playoffs in 2014. But if we've learned anything in years past, it's that you can never count out the Giants.
Winner: Houston Texans
The table is set for new Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien to make a playoff run in 2014.
Opening things up at home against the Washington Redskins, the Texans' first five games are against teams that missed the playoffs in 2013.
Although it's been said countless times, it remains true that the Texans weren't your typical 2-14 team in 2013. Stalwarts like J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster make up a unique core of talented individuals who should be able to help right the ship immediately.
If you go by Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) advanced metrics to judge how well a team performed last season, the Texans were just two points worse than the Indianapolis Colts and actually ranked higher than the 10-6 Arizona Cardinals.
The best tidbit of information to come out of the team's 2014 schedule is that the Texans only play three teams that reached the playoffs last season—the Colts in Weeks 6 and 15, the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 9 and the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12.
Get ready, Texans fans, because your team is a prime candidate for a massive turnaround in 2014.
Loser: Oakland Raiders
Fresh off consecutive 4-12 campaigns, the Oakland Raiders didn't receive any favors in their schedule this season. Their 16-game slate is all sorts of brutal.
After opening their first two months of games by playing just two playoff teams from a season ago—the New England Patriots on the road in Week 3 and San Diego Chargers in Week 6—things take a turn for the worse once November rolls around.
In November, the Silver and Black play the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos in consecutive weeks, and things don't get any easier after that.
The Raiders head out to San Diego to take on the Chargers in Week 11, followed by the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football. Next, it's back-to-back games against the St. Louis Rams the San Francisco 49ers.
Even though the Buffalo Bills will make their way across the country to play the Raiders at home in Week 16, head coach Dennis Allen will have to gather his troops and head to Denver to finish the season against the Broncos.
Give Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie credit. He brought in a bevy of free agents this offseason to fortify his roster.
But in the end, a tenacious schedule over the final two months of the regular season may prove to be too much for the boys from the Bay Area.
Winner: Washington Redskins
First-year head coach Jay Gruden comes to the Washington Redskins with aspirations of getting the team back to the top of the NFC East.
After a tumultuous 2013 season under Mike Shanahan's watchful eye, the NFL's schedule-makers have put the Redskins in an interesting position heading into 2014. Their season starts out with three very winnable games in the month of September.
Although the Texans still have a great roster to utilize, the Redskins will have a chance to steal one in Houston in Week 1.
After that, FedExField will get all dolled up for the team's home opener against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that hasn't had a winning record since 2007.
October brings some potentially troubling times. The Redskins will battle the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football in Week 5, followed by a tough matchup in Arizona against the Cardinals.
Of all the games on the Redskins' schedule, a Week 13 showdown with Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts could prove to be the most appealing game of the 2014 season. Two young gunslingers who were taken back-to-back in the 2012 draft will get a chance to strap on their shoulder pads and battle for supremacy in front of a roaring crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium.
There's no doubt that the Redskins' 2014 schedule isn't a cakewalk. But the team will have a chance to finish strong in December with three consecutive games against NFC East rivals.
Closing out strong against the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and finally the Dallas Cowboys could put the Redskins in a great position to walk away with the NFC East crown in 2014.
Loser: Cincinnati Bengals
For the third year in a row, the Cincinnati Bengals will get the chance to play three nationally televised games.
Unfortunately, two of those three games will be against the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos. The Bengals also play the Cleveland Browns in Week 10 on Thursday Night Football.
The Bengals will have a tough stretch in November, when they play three consecutive road games against the New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While the Texans and Bucs both had losing records in 2013, having to travel to Houston and Tampa Bay isn't going to make the Bengals' job any easier.
In the end, head coach Marvin Lewis will have to march his team through a rugged December if he wants to procure another playoff spot.
It should be noted that December starts and finishes with games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, with the Browns and Broncos wedged in between for good measure.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
Of all the teams in the NFL, the Indianapolis Colts may have the easiest schedule of them all.
As noted earlier in this article, the Colts will battle the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football to kick off their 2014 season. But after playing the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2, the Colts should be able to hit their stride up until their bye in Week 10.
From Week 3 to Week 9, Andrew Luck will get to sling the pigskin against six teams that missed the playoffs in 2013. That spell of winnable games should give this team a great shot at making a return trip to the playoffs in 2014.
The Colts having such a fruitful schedule this year has to do with the division in which they play. The Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans will all be picking in the top 15 of the upcoming draft.
As the good people over at IndyStar.com pointed out, playing all of those teams twice this year has paved the way for the Colts to wind up with the "NFL's softest strength of schedule."
Andrew Luck has a great opportunity to take his team back to the playoffs for the third season in a row.
Loser: New York Jets
Training camp is still a few months away, yet the New York Jets have once again managed to find a way to be embroiled in a quarterback controversy. When the team signed free-agent QB Michael Vick this past offseason, it added a 33-year-old signal-caller who has made it abundantly clear that he still believes he can be a starter in this league.
But putting that narrative aside for a second, the Jets' problems are bigger than who will be taking snaps under center this season.
The league has given Gang Green an arduous schedule in 2014.
Things start off on a positive note when the Jets open their season at home against the Oakland Raiders. Unfortunately, from that point on, the road gets incredibly challenging for Ryan's team.
Starting in Week 2, the Jets have the pleasure of taking on three NFC North teams in a row: the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions. Things don't let up after that, as they travel west to play the San Diego Chargers in Week 5, followed by a home game against the Denver Broncos.
But to put the icing on the cake, Week 7 is the first time the Jets will get a look at Darrelle Revis, Tom Brady and the ever-worrisome New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football.
A rough patch like that could put the Jets in a big hole heading into the second half of the season.
All NFL team schedules and stats courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise noted.