Arizona Cardinals schedule analysis

Breakdown: It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish, right? Arizona will be able to cut its teeth on a slew of non-division games during the first half of the season starting with San Diego on "Monday Night Football" in Week 1. The only division game the Cardinals play before Week 10 will be at home against San Francisco in Week 3. But their first half isn’t all gravy, either. Playing at the Giants and then home against the Niners before visiting Peyton Manning in Denver after a bye will be tough. Then add in three NFC East games -- home against Washington and Philadelphia, then at Dallas -- before the majority of their NFC West slate begins, and the Cardinals will either be fighting for their playoff lives or battling for a better seed in the final eight games. Their season ends with the eyes of the NFL on them. Two of Arizona’s final three games -- Thursday night at St. Louis and Sunday night at home against Seattle -- are on prime time followed by a season finale in San Francisco. The tides in the NFC West could turn late in 2014.

Complaint department: Regardless of how the Cardinals do early in the season, their fate could be decided in five of their final eight games. There are simply too many high-stakes games packed into a small window. The Cardinals thought playing Seattle and San Francisco twice in consecutive weeks was tough last season, they play half their division slate in their final three games. Too much can go wrong with that many division games that late. And while the NFL made the right decision to make the final weeks matter, this year it’s just going too far. The Rams come to Arizona in Week 10 before the Cards head to Seattle in Week 12 to finish the first round of West games. Then Arizona is at St. Louis, home against Seattle and end the year at San Francisco.

A lucky 13? Having a bye week in Week 4 isn’t conducive to a successful second half of the season, especially with an older roster like Arizona has. After just three games -- two of which are at home -- the Cards have a week off before going to Denver. The only benefit is getting an added week to prepare for Peyton Manning. But with 13 straight games without a weekend off, Arizona can be stammering and struggling into Week 15 when it plays what could be the three most important games of the year.

Strength of schedule: 8th, .547 | Vegas over/under: 7.5

Cardinals Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Monday, Sept. 8, San Diego, 10:20 p.m.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, San Francisco, 4:05 p.m.

Week 4: BYE

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at Denver, 4:05 p.m.

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Washington, 4:25 p.m.

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Oakland, 4:25 p.m.

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Philadelphia, 4:05 p.m.

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Dallas, 1 p.m.

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, St. Louis, 4:25 p.m.

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Detroit, 4:25 p.m.

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Seattle, 4:05 p.m.

Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Atlanta, 4:05 p.m.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Kansas City, 4:05 p.m.

Week 15: Thursday, Dec. 11, at St. Louis, 8:25 p.m.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Seattle, 8:30 p.m.

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.