The Eagles better be ready early. After playing the Browns week 1, they play 2011 playoff teams in six of their next seven games this fall. Their only non-playoff opponent in that stretch is Arizona, but the Eagles have a long flight to face them. (They do get a bye in there, as well, after week 6, so that should help).
The past two seasons the team has started slowly. Last year it undermined late-season improvement. If they’re not in top form from the jump in 2012, things could get ugly fast, which won’t do Andy Reid any favors given the lingering bad taste from 2011. On the other hand, if they come through those games strong, the schedule released tonight shows what looks like a softer stretch run, at least for now. The Eagles took advantage of a similar arrangement last year to nearly squeak into the postseason. Below is a closer look at what we might expect in the coming season.
(A quick disclaimer first: analyzing an NFL schedule in April is pure speculation. Every year someone that looks soft ends up being tough and a preseason favorite flops. Match ups often depend on injuries, timing and a host of other factors we can’t possibly know right now. We haven’t even had the draft yet. So if you want concrete answers to anything regarding the Eagles, you’ll have to wait until September at least. If, on the other hand, you want something NFL-related to chew on besides the 8,000th mock draft of the spring, this at least offers something to talk about).
Toughest Stretch: Starting week 2 the Eagles go: vs. the Ravens, at Arizona, vs. Giants, at Steelers, vs. Detroit, bye, vs. Atlanta and at New Orleans. Even if the Saints are diminished by suspensions, that’s a tough place to play and a rough early slate. With the Giants, Steelers and Lions all in a row, something tells me Mike Vick will be happy for that early bye.
Easiest Stretch: Starting week 10 the Eagles play vs Dallas, at the Redskins, vs. Carolina, at Dallas and at Tampa Bay. No 2011 playoff teams there, though that does include three games against division rivals. Still, it might be a chance to gain some ground.
Best Road Trip: New Orleans, Nov. 5. With the game on Monday night, you’ve got that much extra time to enjoy the food and drink in one of the most fun (and crazy) cities we’ve got.
Here are some more thoughts on the week-by-week schedule:
Sept. 9 at Browns: The Eagles open on the road against a not-very-imposing opponent for the second straight year. Last season the blow out opening week win over the Rams was fool’s gold. Even if the Birds romp in Cleveland, something tells me the reaction will be a little more cautious this time. These two teams play Aug. 24 in what will be the Eagles’ third preseason game. That’s usually a real tune up, but now I can’t imagine either team will show much of anything.
Sept. 16 vs. Ravens: The Eagles home opener promises to be bruising. I just said you never know, but with the Ravens you can usually be pretty sure: they’ll be a solid team at least, if not one of the AFC’s elite. John Harbaugh comes back to face mentor Andy Reid. Probably Ray Lewis’ last trip to Philly.
Sept. 23 at Arizona: Maybe we get that Kevin Kolb reunion we missed out on last year. This time, the Eagles have a full week’s rest heading into their longest trip across the country. Last year’s Thursday-nighter in Seattle was a debacle. For road trippers (and reporters) it might have been nice to get this trip in the winter months, when we East Coasters are craving sun, but I’ll take the visit to Arizona any time.
Sept. 30 vs. Giants (Sunday night game): Hard to pump this game up more than it already will be. Giants-Eagles is always heated. Throw some prime time attention on top of that. This game begins a run of opponents that can get after quarterbacks. Demetress Bell better be ready.
Oct. 7 at Pittsburgh: Another physical game looms here, the second of three in a row.
Oct. 14 vs. Detroit: Lots of people will have the Lions as a team to watch this year after reaching the postseason last season. After playing the Lions in 2010 Vick said they had the toughest front four he had ever faced.
BYE: It’s an early bye, but after the beginning they have, I’ll bet the Eagles will be happy to have it.
Oct. 28 vs. Atlanta: Seems these guys play every year. Once again we get to trot out the Matt Ryan “hey, he’s from Philly, now he’s playing against Philly” angle. Awesome. Combine that with the “Andy Reid is undefeated after a bye” stories and this week’s coverage will feel mighty familiar.
Nov. 5 at New Orleans (Monday night): No telling what the Saints will be given the suspensions. This will be interim coach Joe Vitt’s second game in charge of the Saints in place of the suspended Sean Payton. The Superdome should be deafening on Monday night regardless.
Nov. 11 vs Dallas: Second division game doesn’t arrive until Week 10. Lots of NFC East from here on out, though.
Nov. 18 at Washington: First look at RGIII. We’ll get a chance to get our first impression on if the Redskins have finally found the guy who can turn them into contenders.
Nov. 26 vs. Carolina (Monday night): The Panthers were vastly improved in 2011 but still not a playoff team. Will they move up? Or will Cam Newton have a sophomore slump? Sean McDermott and Ron Rivera come back to town.
Dec. 2 at Dallas (Sunday night): Seems the Eagles go to Dallas late every year. Fans will be hoping there’s more at stake this time around than there was on last year’s Christmas Day non-event.
Dec. 9 at Tampa Bay: On paper (for what little it’s worth) the Bucs round out a softer portion of the schedule before a couple tougher tests to end the season. Road trips to Florida in December always appreciated, too.
Dec. 13 vs. Cincinnati (Thursday night): This time the Eagles host on a short week.
Dec. 23 vs. Washington: The Eagles close with two NFC East rivals, which could make things ultra-meaningful and competitive. Or not. (See: 2011).
Dec. 30 at Giants: The Giants have a brutal-looking stretch to close out their season. If this game means something to both teams, it could be a thrilling end of the season. Or the Giants could be out of gas after a long 2011 and tough finish to 2012. Or Philadelphia could be gathering pitchforks if the Eagles aren’t looking forward to the playoffs as 2012 ends.