In true "read and react" fashion, what follows is a very preliminary reaction to the schedule released tonight. In the weeks ahead, we'll all have a chance to think longer about this but, for what it's worth, here goes. First thought out of the box: our friends at the NFL offices at 280 Park Avenue did us few favors with this schedule. It will take a MUCH better team than the one we had last year to navigate this slate and get back to the playoffs.
- First question: "why do we play the Colts again in Indy..." NO, NO, NO. Not this year. Sorry, that old complaint from the past 17 or so seasons when we've traveled to Indiana is a hard habit to break. It sure will feel strange to have a HOME game against the Colts.
- Only one long road trip. At San Diego comes fairly early in Week 7, two weeks after the bye week and wrapped in between two home games. The rest of the road games are basically a tour of the Great Lakes region (Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago) with Miami being the second longest trip. After four west coast games in 2008, this schedule is more travel friendly, more like the 2007 slate which didn't have the Patriots leaving the northeast after early November.
- Toughest games (mostly) at home. An astonishing six of the eight home opponents were 2009 playoff teams (Bengals, Ravens, Vikings, Colts, Jets, Packers). The only home games vs. non-playoff teams are in the division (Bills, Dolphins). The Patriots will need a little of that old Gillette magic to get through this schedule.
- Road schedule looks comparatively easy by contrast. But what wouldn't, measured against that home lineup. Games at the Jets, Dolphins, Chargers, and Steelers are challenging but the Browns, Lions, Bears, and Bills don't seem too forbidding. Imagine the added difficulty if we had to play the home schedule on the road.
- How tough an opener? The Bengals were division champs last year but they fell apart late and they didn't fare well the last time they did well. After their 11-5 record in 2005 they went 8-8, 7-9, 4-11-1 before last year's resurgence. The Bengals might be really good again, but they might revert to form
- Potential trap games. Given the tough games, I see several possible trap games where a seemingly "easy" game comes tucked between two seemingly "tough" games. Sep 26 at home v. Buffalo is between road dates with the Jets and Dolphins. Nov 7 v. Cleveland is the middle of a ridiculously tough schedule sandwich that has us playing Ravens, at Chargers, Vikings before and at Steelers, Colts after. That Browns game has "trap" written all over it. Also Dec 12 v. Chicago. It comes on a short week following the Jets Monday-nighter and before a home date with the Packers.
- 1 p.m. games. Players and coaches are said to love these because of their predictability--you just wake up, go the stadium and get ready, play the game and then have the rest of the day to treat injuries, rest up, and get back home at a decent time if you play on the road. The Patriots have seven 1 p. m. start times--actually eight if we count the 12:30 Thanksgiving day game (although flex scheduling in weeks 11-17 may change some of those). They also have four 4:15 starts and four prime time slots on Sunday and Monday nights.
- Network breakdown; or expect lots of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. CBS will cover the Patriots in 11 games, NBC and ESPN twice each, and FOX once. Again, flex scheduling may change some of this.
- Odds and Ends. There's an old NFL adage that teams all want to open at home, close at home, and have no extended road trips. Check. Check. Check. The Patriots do all those things this year and have back to back road games just once (at Browns, at Steelers in early November). All the other games alternate home and road. Also the Patriots will avoid the typical short weeks that follow playing on Monday night since their Oct 4 game with Miami is followed by the bye week. They then get 11 days between the Turkey day game and the Monday nighter with Rex Ryan, but then do have a short week for Chicago.
- Personal slant on the schedule. The Patriots will be visiting Detroit which means that I, a resident of the northern suburbs, will get to watch the Pats in person with my family while enjoying turkey and a glass of holiday cheer. How cool would it be if Professor Todd could bump into Coach Belichick at some point?
That's all for a quick wrap on the 2010 schedule. I know we'll all have plenty of time to kick this around in the next six months. But for now, it's on to the draft and to reviewing Richard Hill's excellent profiles.