Scheduling frustrations fly in NFC West

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The NFL schedule makers were kind to the Cardinals and not so kind to the rest of the NFC West.

We pick up the conversation in Kurt Warner's hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Rams fan Jeff, weighing in via Facebook, knows his team faces long odds this season:

"I've always kinda felt like a team needs to earn its respect, like you mentioned, Mike ... but man, 4 cross country road games in the first six weeks? And the first three home games are short little trips for Midwest teams? It's the NFL, every week is tough ... go get 'em, Spags."

The Rams' status at the bottom of the NFC West food chain left them vulnerable even before the NFL sent them on the road for three of their first four games. But with the 49ers and Seahawks each drawing the maximum six 10 a.m. PT kickoffs, Rams fans aren't alone in feeling as though their team could have fared much better in the schedule department.

"Shafted again -- this is a bigger deal than the league wants to admit," Jesse of New Mexico wrote, also via Facebook. "I have to think the only other interested party (other than depressed Hawks and 49ers fans) may be Vegas oddsmakers. That might be an interesting expression of the problem: Track the over under, and the spread for the last 5 years for West Coast teams playing early n the East [Coast]."

The Seahawks play only one game in the Eastern time zone this season, a 10 a.m. PT kickoff at Indianapolis in Week 4. But each of the five remaining road games eligible for the earliest possible start time will indeed begin at 10 a.m. PT.

The 49ers play two games in the Eastern time zone, visiting Indianapolis in Week 8 and Philadelphia in Week 15. Those games and four others also begin at 10 a.m. PT.

West Coast teams lobbied the NFL to cut down on the early starts, but to no avail. Owners did pass a resolution adjusting the scheduling rotation so that teams drawing the AFC West and NFC West would not play San Diego and Oakland in the same season or Seattle and San Francisco in the same season.

As 49ers president Jed York put it March 23: "I understand the inequity of the Patriots playing two games back-to-back on the West Coast [as the case was last season]. We need to come together as a group of West Coast teams. You've got [five] teams that are literally traveling 3,000 miles for one game two or three times a year. If it is playing a later game, I think it makes sense."

Is the NFC West suffering from an inferiority complex? Might complaints from fans and teams qualify as whining? Shouldn't teams in this division worry about scheduling perks after fielding more competitive teams for several years?

"We might be a small market, but we do have the loudest stadium in the NFL and our owner is one of the richest men in the world," Seahawks fan jlee1998djt protested. "I think it is about time Paul Allen started pushing his weight around with these old boy who keep shoving losers like the Cowgirls (no playoff wins in a decade) down our throats!!!!"

Jlee1998djt mockingly suggested the league relocate home games to Moscow in the interests of expanding the game worldwide, asking, "Why not, they think we live there anyway!"

"Sando, I love the NFL and I am realistic enough to know there is no real East Coast bias," wrote KC, a Seattle sports fan and former SuperSonics employee living in Phoenix. "Still, this is one issue that ticks me off more than almost anything regarding the NFL. They go to great lengths to have parity and supposedly give every team equal footing; then they go and do this and NOT even acknowledge that it might be an issue.

"To not even give credence to West Coast teams and not bother looking into issues like these really turns me off of the NFL. It's like they don't care, kinda like what David Stern and the NBA said to Seattle ... screw you. Thats how I feel."

The league has acknowledged potential issues without acknowleding those issues' legitimacy.

"We have not seen specific information to show us that there is an advantage," commissioner Roger Goodell said at the recent NFL owners' meeting. "It's something we'll continue to evaluate. Hopefully, if it is necessary, we'll make the proper changes."

Not this year.

"I still don't get how they can make a rule change in the offseason to benefit East Coast teams traveling West then unload a schedule like this on the Hawks," Sean, another Facebook commenter, wrote.

The NFC West's plight, save for Arizona, made easy targets of fans.

Steelers proponent and regular NFC West blog contributor SteelT0wnR0ckerz, commenting in an item showing how poorly NFC West teams have fared in early starts, couldn't resist the opportunity:

"Wow, only 2 Monday night and 3 Sunday night games for this whole Division total. There are single teams that have 5 Prime Time games this year alone (hint think Steelers). Goes to show what the league thinks of this Division I guess. I would have thought Arizona would have gotten at least 4"

The Cardinals did draw three prime-time games. They also avoided likely cold-weather games, which have been tough for Warner, while loading up on home games to start and finish the season.

Arizona stands as the only team in the division with legitimate star power. The Cardinals were the only NFC West team with a winning record. Those factors make them the only team in the division with any significant appeal beyond their own fan bases.

"How is it that the Dolphins make the playoffs one time in the last how many years and get two primetime games?" NFC West mailbag contributor Jon from Seattle wrote, wondering why the Seahawks' success in recent seasons didn't translate to a prime-time reprieve for 2009. "Who do I need to call to get this fixed?"

My theory goes like this: The Dolphins and several other teams have large enough followings to command interest even during tougher times. For that reason, the networks would rather feature a struggling Browns team than a struggling or even moderately successful Seahawks team -- particularly one without star power.

"It's good that we don't have a national game," hawkeyes669 wrote. "We'll fly under the radar."

Indeed, the Seahawks and Rams know they'll play every game on a Sunday. They know they'll avoid the prime-time glare. They'll be able to play the no-respect angle internally. And if they win a few games and manage to
entertain while doing so, perhaps the 2010 schedule will recognize them as teams worth watching.

Until then, NFC West fans, there's always the Cardinals.