Editor’s note: Brien is a well-traveled Houstonian and Army Combat Veteran with an extremely wide range of talents and interests including the NFL (Packers), Irish History, and writing. Follow him on twitter @ODonalsVanguard
By BRIEN O’DONAL
Last night was a pretty big deal. The NFL regular season schedule was released and of course there were multiple shows that spent hours breaking down every team’s schedule. They predicted their records, told you why you should be excited, and who you should be excited for. Well; if talking about the schedule gets ratings then hopefully it will get website hits, too. I hope it works because it took a lot of work for me to break it all down and give you my own thoughtful insight.
I’ll start with the games each week that I think will be worth watching. I hope that over the course of the season there become more and more each week that are not listed here. The way it looks so far, I wonder if the schedule maker was told to limit the number of exciting games each week so folks will stay more interested in their regional action. Well, here we go.
Week 1–Chiefs at Patriots, Titans at Raiders, Seahawks at Packers, Giants at Cowboys
Week 2–Patriots at Saints, Packers at Falcons, Lions at Giants
Week 3–Saints at Panthers, Falcons at Lions, Texans at Patriots, Giants at Eagles
Week 4–Titans at Texans, Panthers at Patriots, Giants at Buccaneers, Raiders at Broncos, Redskins at Chiefs
Week 5–Packers at Cowboys, Chiefs at Texans
Week 6–Steelers at Chiefs, Colts at Titans
Week 7–Chiefs at Raiders, Saints at Packers, Seahawks at Giants, Falcons at Patriots, Redskins at Eagles
Week 8–Panthers at Buccaneers, Cowboys at Redskins, Broncos at Chiefs
Week 9–Falcons at Panthers, Colts at Texans, Buccaneers at Saints, Lions at Packers
Week 10–Seahawks at Cardinals, Cowboys at Falcons
Week 11–Patriots vs. Raiders (Mexico City), Eagles at Cowboys, Falcons at Seahawks
Week 12–Giants at Redskins, Buccaneers at Falcons, Titans at Colts, Broncos at Raiders, Packers at Steelers
Week 13–Redskins at Cowboys, Panthers at Saints, Texans at Titans, Giants at Raiders
Week 14–Saints at Falcons, Raiders at Chiefs, Lions at Buccaneers, Cowboys at Giants
Week 15–Packers at Panthers, Eagles at Giants, Patriots at Steelers, Cowboys at Raiders, Falcons at Buccaneers
Week 16–Buccaneers at Panthers, Falcons at Saints, Seahawks at Cowboys
Week 17–Packers at Lions, Texans at Colts, Redskins at Giants, Cowboys at Eagles, Saints at Buccaneers, Chiefs at Broncos
Now that I’ve given you my list of games to watch, here is my explanation of how I think the schedule will contribute to the divisional races.
AFC North–In my mind this is one of those divisions that isn’t as close as it seems. The Steelers are still the best team and I just don’t think the Ravens or the Bengals have done enough to close the gap. It should be competitive but even with a few tough games at the end of the season I still think Pittsburgh takes the top spot.
AFC South–This is one of the divisions I think will be interesting to watch as the season goes on. The Titans are the most balanced team, the Colts have the best quarterback, and the Texans have the best defense. In my mind that sets up nicely for a season long slugfest. The Texans and Titans have schedules pretty evenly spaced out between challenging games and ones they should win. The Colts have a far more favorable schedule and if they can get it together this season the divisional race should be close at the end. I think the Titans edge out the Texans for the divisional crown because of their balance and the fact that Mariota is better than anything the Texans have at the position.
AFC East–There’s not much to say here. The Patriots are far and away the best team in this division, and really, the league. Their schedule only looks tough because they are playing the AFC West, but other than that it’s smooth sailing. I don’t think any of the other teams did nearly enough to compete. Maybe next year.
AFC West–This one will be exciting. The Raiders, the Chiefs, the Broncos. The Raiders have a reasonably favorable schedule early on and it should allow them to get on a roll when they hit a tough stretch later on. The Chiefs have a tough schedule all season but if that defense stays strong and the offense clicks they should be in a good position late. The Broncos look like they have a schedule they can survive with hope that they can be in the mix late. These divisional games are always hard fought so it may come down to the team with the best record in those games that takes it home. And don’t sleep on the Chargers either, they could easily jump a level or two this year and blow everything up. Right now I still have to think the Raiders are the best team and they will rectify the problem caused by Carr’s injury in 2016.
NFC North–We all know this will come down to the Packers and the Lions. Without Bridgewater, the Vikings can’t get there and the Bears are still a few years away. The Packers have it rough the first few weeks but if they can survive that with a good split they should be able to march all the way to week 17 where they will face the Lions, likely for the division crown a la 2016. The Lions will get there by making it through a very balanced schedule of games. They have a number of difficult games but none too close together to knock them out of it. In the end I see a repeat of last year with Aaron Rodgers willing the Packers to victory, and possibly a first round bye.
NFC South–Another of my divisions to watch. It’s easy to pick the Falcons here because they had Tom Brady on the ropes for a half in the Super Bowl; but they face the Packers, Patriots, Cowboys, and Seahawks all while still battling in a tough division. The Panthers should have a bounce back year and Drew Brees should still put up numbers like he does especially well in divisional games. I like what the Buccaneers have done in the offseason and they were close last year; but in the last six games of the 2017 season they face Matt Ryan twice, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford, Cam Newton, and Drew Brees. That’s a recipe for disaster that may ruin their chances. I want to watch any divisional games with these four teams because they should be highly entertaining. I give the edge to the Falcons but only slightly. I think it may not be quite so easy.
NFC East–Of course I love these games. The NFC East is the most competitive division year in and year out. I know the Cowboys ran away with it last year but only because of their non divisional record. Don’t forget they did lose twice to the Giants. This year the Cowboys have a rough last half of the season which includes five divisional games. Overall they have seven games against 2016 playoff teams. They will need some defensive help if they don’t want to take a step back. On the other hand; the Giants, Redskins, and Eagles will all look to dethrone the Cowboys with Washington and New York the most likely candidates. The Giants have it tough both early and late but if they can make it out alright early, win the games they should in the middle and get favorable results at the end they should be right there in week 17. It will be interesting to see how the Redskins do with their toughest games in weeks three through nine, but they have shown promise and they might be able to make a run. If the Eagles improve as well it should really be the most exciting division to watch. In the end I think the Giants edge out the Cowboys.
NFC West–I like the Cardinals defense and their offensive skill positions but Carson Palmer will have to really step it up before he’s washed up. The Seahawks manage to put together a solid team every year and if Russell Wilson and the defense stays healthy this division should be theirs to lose. The Cardinals have a more favorable schedule but I think the Seahawks edge them out by a game or two.
So there you have it. My analysis of the 2017 NFL schedule. Take some time and go over everything yourself, it can only help you appreciate it more. I know it’s too early to make predictions but I have based mine on where the teams are at this point in the offseason and how their schedule looks on paper. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong. Only time will tell.