As you know by now, the NFL will officially release its 2012 schedule tonight at 7 p.m. ET. ESPN will cover this event with a three-hour prime-time special during which our NFL analysts will break down each team's schedule in astoundingly thorough detail. Here are a couple of things to look for from the NFC East perspective.
The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants have the most difficult schedule in the league, based on the 2011 winning percentages of their 2012 opponents. As we have already discussed here, I consider this a poor measure of schedule strength, since the teams that were good in 2011 aren't guaranteed to be good again in 2012. However, it's worth noting that, according to ESPN Stats & Information, only one team in the past six years that's had the league's hardest schedule based on the prior year's winning percentages finished with a winning record. That team was the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers, who went 12-4 and won the Super Bowl.
From a travel standpoint, the Giants' schedule could be fairly easy. They will leave the eastern time zone only twice -- once to go to Dallas, and once to go to San Francisco. Obviously, since they play Dallas at home in the Sept. 5 season opener, they can't expect to play them again in Week 2. But if the San Francisco trip is in Week 2, the Giants likely would welcome that. They have 11 days between their opener and their second game (12 if their second game is on a Monday night), and to take their only long trip of the season at the end of such a break and to have it out of the way that early would be a nice feeling.
By the same token, the Cowboys, who have that same long break between their first two games, would welcome a Week 2 trip to Seattle, which is their longest road trip of the year. The Cowboys don't play a single road game in the central time zone, which is the one in which they play their home games, but their travel schedule is tame other than the Seattle trip, with games in Atlanta, Carolina, Baltimore and Cincinnati, in addition to the road division games.
The Philadelphia Eagles leave their time zone three times, to go to Dallas, New Orleans and Arizona. After their disastrous Thursday Night experience last season in Seattle, Philadelphia's biggest hope is that they won't have to make any of those trips on a short week this time.
Teams generally don't want to see early bye weeks. The Washington Redskins and the Cowboys were both off on Week 5 last season, and it's safe to say neither appeared very strong at the end of the season. Perhaps the league takes this into account and will give the teams that had early bye weeks in 2011 the later bye weeks in 2012. Ideally, players like to have that bye week as close to the middle of the season as possible. The Giants and Eagles had theirs in Week 7 last season.