The NFL has done a tremendous job, for the most part (more on this in a second), of building anticipation toward seemingly every date of their league's calendar, regardless of how consequential they are.
Free agency begins on March 11! Holy cow, we need a free agent tracker and let's get some talking heads onto the network!!
Offseason workouts are starting! Wow! Let's set up shop at the facilities of the seven teams with new head coaches!!
The 2014 schedule is about to be announced! Hey, let's hold off on doing this for another week to build even more anticipation because....well, because we can!
It's truly amazing.
(SIDEBAR: Misses are rare when it comes to NFL marketing calculations, but they misfired on this move of the draft into early May. The additional two weeks were ostensibly placed here because of a scheduling conflict at Radio City Music Hall, but if the move of the draft to the second weekend in May had made for better, more expansive coverage, it would've been a lock to remain in place. It has not. All it has done is expose just how inane many of the arguments and debates become in the media leading up to the draft, and just how manipulative much of the "news" really is this time of year. And I say all of this as someone who loves draft season. A rare fail by the shield.)
So, yes, the new schedule is out (cue Navin Johnson dance) and here is what the 2014 slate looks like for the maiden voyage of the S.S. O'Brien:
WEEK 1: Sunday, September 7: WASHINGTON WEEK 2: Sunday, September 14: at Oakland WEEK 3: Sunday, September 21: at New York Giants WEEK 4: Sunday, September 28: BUFFALO WEEK 5: Sunday, October 5: at Dallas WEEK 6: Thursday, October 9: INDIANAPOLIS WEEK 7: Monday, October 20: at Pittsburgh WEEK 8: Sunday, October 26: at Tennessee WEEK 9: Sunday, November 2: PHILADELPHIA WEEK 10: BYE WEEK 11: Sunday, November 16: at Cleveland WEEK 12: Sunday, November 23: CINCINNATI WEEK 13: Sunday, November 30: TENNESSEE WEEK 14: Sunday, December 7: at Jacksonville WEEK 15: Sunday, December 14: at Indianapolis WEEK 16: Sunday, December 21: BALTIMORE WEEK 17: Sunday, December 28: JACKSONVILLE
And now a few of my piping hot, fresh out-of-the-oven takes on this schedule:
1. Unsettled quarterback means we are throwing darts With this being the first time really in franchise history that the Texans have gone into a season not knowing who their starting quarterback would be, it's the hardest schedule ever on Release Day (my proper noun for the schedule coming out) to assess in terms of "How will they do?". Before 2014, there would be teams with holes at quarterback on the schedule, but with the decent-to-above-average version of Matt Schaub you would generally pencil those in as wins and then assess the remaining games. Now, the Texans are one of those teams, and the difference between, say, five wins and nine wins really rests in large part on the QB decision.
2. Good schedule to break in a rookie Still, we are in the conjecture business (and business is good!), so let's examine this. If the Texans do draft and start a rookie quarterback, the schedule lines up nicely for that youngster to not get his brains bashed in for the first month or so of the season. The first five opponents (Washington, Oakland, NY Giants, Buffalo, Dallas) ranked 14th, 18th, 29th, 3rd, and 32nd in sack percentage (and the best one, Buffalo, is a home game). Also, they ranked 19th, 27th, 10th, 6th, and 30th in passing yards allowed (again, the best one, Buffalo, is at home).
3. Road trip assessment Each year, there are eight road trips. Three of them are the same every year, division games in Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Indianapolis. As a potentially traveling fan, the most intriguing and anticipated part of the schedule for me is where and when the other five road games occur. This season, the three other AFC road trips are intriguing football venues (if not tourist hot beds) -- Oakland (Schaub!), Pittsburgh (on a Monday night!), and Cleveland (in November!). After a season last year that included trips to San Diego and San Francisco (places you could actually rationalize as "taking a vacation" trips as well), "good football venues" is what we will hang our hats on. Cool?
4. The schedule layout People complaining about quirks in their team's schedule is always funny to me. It's a puzzle the league has to put together, and nothing is perfect. Every team has a few sort of schedule related obstacles, so you deal with them. Teams also get a few gifts as well. For the Texans, here are my quick hit gifts and obstacles:
GIFT #1: The Texans' two primetime games are actually in back to back weeks, and with a Thursday-Monday double dip, it almost creates a quasi bye week between Weeks 6 and 7, three weeks before their actual bye week. Nice balance there.
GIFT #2: If, by the grace of the football gods, the Texans are in the mix for a playoff spot (and yes, I know this post may look really stupid in October now), the stretch run is not impossible, assuming Jacksonville remains Jacksonville. Of course, in Jacksonville on talk radio today, the five Jags fans are chalking up two wins against the Texans in their schedule assessment segment. So there's that.
OBSTACLE #1: Back to back road trips in Weeks 2 and 3 to the West Coast then the East Coast seems like kind of a hard deal with jet lag and what not. (This was confirmed by my co-host on 610, Ted Johnson, who played a decade in the NFL. It is a hard deal.)
OBSTACLE #2: The middle portion of the schedule has a short week of games on the road (Pittsburgh, Tennessee) sandwiched between home games against Andrew Luck and Chip Kelly. That feels one of those stretches where we will be glad the bye week gets here.
5. Quarterback assessment Remember back to 2012 when the Texans went 12-4? Feels like 20 years ago, I know. Well, remember that schedule and how many games were on there against great or near-great quarterbacks? Manning (the good one), Rodgers, Brady, and Andrew Luck late in his rookie season when he is essentially not a rookie anymore? Well, we all know how those games went, for the most part. Not really well. 2-3, and the three losses were blowouts. Thank God they caught Peyton in Week 3 that year.
Well, this season the quarterback slate is very manageable. If we say that the top tier of eliteness (BUZZ WORD!!) at the quarterback positions is Rodgers, Peyton, Brady, Brees, and throw in Wilson, Luck and Kapernick as capos to those bosses (with downward trending Big Ben, prolific but scary Philip Rivers, and Cam Newton on the next tier), then here's how this schedule shakes out:
ELITE CAPOS (2): vs Luck, at Luck KNOCKING ON ELITE DOOR (1): at Big Ben
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Other than that, it's this...
ELITE SKILLS, SCHAUB TENDENCIES (1): at Romo POSSIBLE ONE HIT WONDERS (1): Foles INJURED PLAYER WITH SKILLS AND ATTITUDE ISSUES (1): vs RG3 FOREVER TIER THREE (1): vs Dalton SUPER BOWL QBS WHO ARE ACTUALLY AVERAGE (2): at Eli, vs Flacco YOUNG QB'S RIPE FOR PICKING (6): vs Manuel, at Cleveland's QB, two games apiece versus Tennessee and Jacksonville SCHAUB (1): at Schaub
Very manageable. Let's do this!