2012 NFL Schedule Highlights

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The upcomng NFL regular-season schedule is out, here are some things that caught our eye

<p> Athlon Sports offers its observations and impressions of the 2012 NFL regular-season schedule</p>

The 2012 NFL season is still more than four months away from kicking off, but the path to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans is set. The NFL released its 2012 regular-season schedule on Tuesday. Here are some highlights of the upcoming slate.

Heavy is the Schedule For the Team That Wears the Crown
Seven teams have won consecutive Super Bowls in NFL history, the last being the New England Patriots in 2004-05. The New York Giants will aim to accomplish this feat this season, but the road back to the Super Bowl will be anything but easy. The Giants open the 2012 season by hosting the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 5. Besides their NFC East division games against the ‘Boys, Eagles and Redskins, the G-Men’s schedule includes games against seven teams that made the playoffs last year.

The Giants’ other games against NFC opponents include trips to both Atlanta and San Francisco, and a home game against Green Bay, the three teams they defeated to get to the Super Bowl last year. The Giants also host New Orleans, who won its division last season, and all four AFC North teams – Baltimore (road), Cincinnati (road), Cleveland (home) and Pittsburgh (home).

Rough Ride Ahead for Manning, Broncos
Welcome to Denver Peyton. I hope you are taking full advantage of the uninterrupted offseason to get acclimated with your new surroundings and team because the league sure didn’t do you or the Broncos any favors schedule-wise. Year 1 for Manning in Denver opens in Pittsburgh. The Steelers would like nothing more than to exact a little revenge for last season’s stunning overtime playoff loss in Denver. That’s followed by a trip to Atlanta and a visit from Houston, Manning’s former AFC South divisional foe who are coached by former Bronco assistant Gary Kubiak.

It just wouldn’t be right if Manning and Tom Brady didn’t face one another at some point during the season, and this year’s match up comes Oct. 7 in New England, where the Broncos’ 2011 campaign ended unceremoniously in a 45-10 playoff beat down provided by the Patriots. The Broncos then fly back west to meet Phillip Rivers and the Chargers in San Diego on Monday Night Football in their last game before their Week 7 bye.

After the bye, the Broncos host the Saints on Sunday night, and go to Cincinnati and Carolina the next two Sundays. The final seven games include four divisional contests, including trips to Kansas City and Oakland, along with a Week 15 visit to Baltimore to play the Ravens.

Welcome to the League Rookies
Barring something unforeseen happening, quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are fully expected to be the first two picks in next week’s NFL Draft, where they will be taken by the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins, respectively. It's also possible that both will be under center starting in Week 1. So what lies ahead for the two first-year signal callers?

The Colts took Peyton Manning No. 1 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft and inserted him as the starter in Week 1. If history repeats itself in 2012 the former Stanford star will need every bit of Luck he can muster as he will make his NFL debut in Chicago against Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and the rest of the Bears defense. Luck also will have the opportunity to observe some of the league’s premier quarterbacks in action as the Colts’ schedule includes a home game against reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers and his Packers on Oct. 7 and a Nov. 18 visit to Gillette Stadium, home to Tom Brady and the defending AFC champion Patriots.

Luck’s other inaugural NFL road tests include games against the Jets in the Big Apple, the Lions in Detroit and the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Colts and Steelers also have the earliest bye week, coming in Week 4, meaning Luck’s first season will have him dealing with a stretch of 13 straight games. Luck and Stanford played 13 games in 2011, but not in a row, and nearly 40 days separated the Cardinal’s regular-season finale from their appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.

If Redskins coach Mike Shanahan inserts RGIII as his starting quarterback right away, the Heisman Trophy winner will start his NFL career on the road in New Orleans against the defending NFC South champion Saints. His home debut would come in Week 3 against Cincinnati and the Skins’ three games leading up to their bye in Week 10 have them on the road in back-to-back weeks facing the Giants and Steelers followed by a home date with the Carolina Panthers in a match up featuring the last two Heisman winners – Griffin and Cam Newton.

Following the bye, Griffin will familiarize himself with his NFC East rivals as the Redskins will play five of their six divisional games in the final seven weeks of the season. Their post-bye slate opens up with the Eagles on Nov. 18 with a trip to Dallas just four days later. The Giants come calling the first Monday in December followed by the Ravens that next Sunday. Washington concludes the regular season with a trip to Philadelphia and a Dec. 30 home date versus the Cowboys.

Turkey Day Trifecta
Thanksgiving and football go hand in hand. This season the NFL has done its part, serving up three mouth-watering match ups for fans to feast on. The appetizer will be Houston at Detroit. Not only will this game feature two of the league’s up-and-coming teams, but it also will have two All-Pro wide receivers named Johnson – Calvin and Andre – in action.

The main course, if you will, is a NFC East showdown between Washington and Dallas in the house that Jerry Jones built. This is always a tasty match up, regardless of the records, but the presumed presence of the aforementioned Griffin in a Redskin uniform only adds to the intrigue. Griffin won the Heisman last year playing for Baylor and went to high school in Copperas Cove, which is about three hours away from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington making this somewhat of a homecoming for him.

And to finish things off, the NFL Network will serve up New England at the Jets on Thursday night to round out this football feast. This won’t be the first time these AFC East divisional rivals will have met during the regular season, but still it’s the Patriots vs. Jets, Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan, Tom Brady vs. Tim Tebow, oops, I mean Mark Sanchez. What better way to end a day that’s all about family, friendship and food than to watch two teams that absolutely, positively can’t stand one another leave it all on the football field?

Monsters of Monday Night
The Chicago Bears have already reunited wide receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler through an offseason trade and the duo will get plenty of chances to showcase their chemistry in a coveted time slot. The Bears are the only team scheduled to make three appearances on Monday night. Contrast that to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants and the New England Patriots, who the Giants defeated in Super Bowl XLVI, who each have just one Monday night game on tap.

Chicago will travel to Dallas on Oct. 1 to play the Cowboys, host Detroit in a key NFC North match up on Oct. 22, and face off against former Bear and current San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers on their home turf on Nov. 19.

Coach, I Don’t Think You’re in Piscataway Anymore
Tampa Bay reached into the collegiate ranks to fill its head coaching vacancy, luring Greg Schiano away from Rutgers. The Bucs then presented free agent acquisitions Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright as housewarming gifts to their new coach.

Once the season starts, however, the Bucs’ early season opponents will be more than willing to pull the welcome mat out from under Schiano’s feet. He will make his NFL head coaching debut at home against NFC South foe Carolina and then instead of the Big East, he will get a full helping of the NFC East, as Tampa Bay’s next three games are on the road against the Giants and Cowboys, followed by a home date with the Redskins.

Schiano and the Bucs will get to catch their breaths in Week 5 with a bye, which also will allow them the chance to prepare for the rest of their slate which includes home games against the Chargers and Eagles, along with a trip to Denver and two games against both Atlanta and New Orleans. There isn’t a Tulane or Howard, Rutgers’ first two opponents this season, anywhere to be found on this slate.

What We Won’t See
Those who were hoping for a New York Giants vs. New England Patriots rematch this year are out of luck. Next January? We’ll have to wait and see. Speaking of Luck, while Andrew and RGIII will most likely go Nos. 1 and 2 in the upcoming NFL Draft, they won’t get the chance to size each other up on the field as the Colts do not play the Panthers in 2012.

The Jets and Broncos don’t meet up in the regular season either, meaning any Tebow reunion with his former teammates will have to wait until the playoffs, if it even happens at all. We also won’t see Sean Payton on the sidelines this entire season as he serves his one-year suspension handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in the Saints’ defense’s bounty system.

What you will see is a full 17 weeks of NFL action that will carry you from September to the end of the year and set the stage for another exciting postseason starting in January. Now we just have to wait a mere 140 days for the games to begin. Sept. 5 can’t come soon enough.

— by Mark Ross, published on April 18, 2012

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