In the timeless Steve Martin comedy The Jerk, there's a famous scene where Martin's character Navin R. Johnson sprints across the parking lot to snag a copy of the new phone book to confirm that, indeed, his name and phone number are included.
When he is able to find his name, he screams that inclusion in the phone book is the "type of spontaneous publicity that makes people!" While inclusion in the phone book is nice, Navin was probably slightly overstating its importance.
I bring this scene up because the collective reaction of football fans to the release of the 2012 schedule is a flavor of Navin-esque exuberance that probably supersedes the importance of the event. (And yes, I was hunkered down at 5:59 p.m. yesterday giddy with excitement. I'm part of the problem.)
The 2012 NFL schedule is here! The 2012 NFL schedule is here!"
Some media outlets will gauge a team's schedule difficulty through the misguided, contextless method of adding the collective won-loss records from the previous season of a team's opponents and declaring their slate to be the x-th most difficult.
In the NFL, while the "who" is certainly the most important facet of forecasting just how hard a schedule a team has, the "where" and the "when," the ebb and the flow of the season matter just as much.
That's why yesterday has become a red-letter day on the calendar. That's why the NFL Network and ESPN had multi-hour shows running last night specifically to dissect said calendar's most glorious 17 weeks.
On that note, here's what I've learned in the last 24 hours:
Random Texans Mop-Up Thoughts If you're looking for a bang-up overview on the hand that the league has dealt your Houston Texans, Ben DuBose does a nice job of hitting on all the sweet spots (primetime games, sweet spots and Andrew Luck). My only add to it would be that October has a chance to be the greatest month ever to be a Texans fan or the worst month ever to be a Texans fan. Each one is firmly in play. The October schedule looks like this: 10/8 at Jets (MNF), 10/14 vs Packers (SNF), 10/21 vs Ravens, and then a bye week that leads into the return of Mario Williams to Houston.
The best-case scenario: The Texans head into October 4-0, win two primetime nationally televised games against the Jets and Packers, and avenge last season's playoff loss to Baltimore, leading into two weeks of "Holy shit, the Texans are 7-0!" and "Suck it, Mario!" talk on the radio leading up to Williams's return on November 4. This would unequivocally be the best month in Texans history, better than every other month combined.
The worst-case scenario: The Texans limp into October 2-2 and lose all three October games in soul-crushing, circa 2009 fashion (two of them on a national stage), leading to two weeks of phone calls to talk radio asking, "How could they let Mario go?!?" and "What's Kubiak's home address again?!?" This would be the worst month in Texans history.
Again, neither of these scenarios is totally outlandish. In fact, one of them feels very real. I'll let you decide which one.
Denver Broncos: Better Team, Same Record? Last season, thanks to an improved defense, an emphasis on ball protection, and a little divine intervention, the Denver Broncos finished the season 8-8. Having done that with a quarterback who couldn't complete 50 percent of his passes, conventional wisdom says that the Broncos with Peyton Manning at quarterback should be considerably better than 8-8. However, two things:
1. The Broncos point differential last season (a better gauge of how truly talented a team actually is) was -81, which was only slightly better than 4-12 Cleveland's -89 and 5-11 Jacksonville's -86. It was worse than 5-11 Washington's -79. So it's not a reach to say that with Tim Tebow, this was really more of a 5-11/4-12-ish outfit. In other words, the baseline off of which Peyton is launching this season is actually lower than we think, realistically.
2. We knew the "who" of the Broncos schedule would be tough (AFC North, NFC West, Houston, New England), but the "when" that was unveiled yesterday...I mean, OUCH. The first eight games involve two division foes and six -- SIX -- playoff teams from 2011? You'd think the Broncos had an underground bounty system working or something.
These two items, along with a general question over what exactly Peyton Manning has in the tank this season, are why I think there's a decent chance the Broncos have the same 8-8 record as last season. To my earlier point, this is a better team than the 2011 Broncos without question, but the unlikelihood of a streak of luck like 2011's and a slew of tougher opponents in 2012 will mute the improvement.
R.I.P. Sunday Ticket? Last November, there was a quarterly report that DirecTV's stock was up 5 percent based largely on continued acceptance of its exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket package, which gives customers every NFL game of the weekend in their entirety. The NFL product is so strong right now that the Sunday Ticket is probably somewhat attrition-proof, so the customer base for that offering shrinking is unlikely, but what about growth?
If you're a DirecTV subscriber who doesn't already get the Sunday Ticket, is it logical to say that the advent of the "hop around the league" Red Zone Channel (for a few bucks for the entire season) and the new schedule of Thursday games every week make it less likely you'd ever order the Sunday Ticket? Seriously, how necessary is it when you have access to nearly half the games every weekend already, and the Red Zone channel fills in the blanks? To me, it's just not worth a couple hundred bucks to make sure I have every minute of every game at my avail when I get every minute of my team's games, every minute of the really important games, and the important minutes of the rest of the games for less than ten bucks. Save the Date! Here are the five games that don't involve the Texans that I'm most looking forward to:
10/7 - Broncos-Patriots (Week 5): Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, together again! 10/14 - Giants-49ers (Wk 6): Rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game. Let's not forget that before the Gregg Williams "pep talk" tape leaked, it was the Giants who were openly saying they were targeting Kyle Williams's head. This should be good. 11/18 - Ravens-Steelers (Wk 11 -- Sunday Night Football): A "throw out the records" staple on the schedule every season. 11/26 - 49ers-Saints (Wk 12): They should just go ahead and put this one inside a 15-foot-high steel cage. 11/26 - Panthers-Eagles (Wk 12 -- Monday Night Football): Assuming Vick survives this deep into the season, this will be the video game quarterback matchup of the season.
Wagering Season! It's never too early to start looking at Week 1 lines, is it? Rhetorical question, we know the answer.
Courtesy of covers.com, here are some way too early lines on Week 1 NFL games:
Sept. 5 Cowboys at Giants (-3.5), 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 Eagles (-6) at Browns, 1 p.m. Redskins at Saints (-6), 1 p.m. Bills at Jets (-6), 1 p.m. Jaguars at Vikings (-3.5), 1 p.m. Colts at Bears (-7.5), 1 p.m. Dolphins at Texans (-6), 1 p.m. Patriots (-5) at Titans, 1 p.m. Rams at Lions (-7.5), 1 p.m. Falcons (-1) at Chiefs, 1 p.m. 49ers at Packers (-5), 4:15 p.m. Seahawks at Cardinals (-1), 4:15 p.m. Panthers (-1.5) at Buccaneers, 4:15 p.m. Steelers at Broncos (-1.5), 8:20 p.m.
Sept. 10 Bengals at Ravens (-6), 7 p.m. Chargers (-2) at Raiders, 10:15 p.m.
Too early? Maybe. But go ahead and give me the Texans -6 over Miami right now.
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Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.