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Taking a look at the Cardinals’ schedule

The NFL released its schedule for the 2012 season. Fans,
players and analysts all over the country eagerly gathered
around the Matrix, staring at their computer screens. The
annual occurrence has turned into a celebration of what
the league has become, an acknowledgement of offseason
greatness – even though the huddled hordes knew what they
were going to see.

The Arizona Cardinals players, coaches, fans and analysts
were no exception. Most agreed, the Cardinals’ schedule
looks dubious considering that eight of the possible ten
opponents a team can face in a season had a .500 record or
better in 2011.

But that’s the thing about strength of schedule: it’s
unreliable and, thus, a preface.

Teams are so different from one year to the next. The NFL
is the league of hope where it’s a common occurrence in
the 21st century to see teams go from worst to first
within a year’s time. A team that may have been on a roll
in 2011 might struggle to continue that roll in 2012.

Teams change so much in a calendar year, dynamics change,
coaches come and go, players pack up and leave, sign
contracts that steal their desire, become salary-cap
casualties, get hurt or arrested, don’t play as well, get
old quickly, and/or lose their leadership capabilities. An
NFL team is in a state of flux from one year to the next
unless that team is built around a strong core group that
brings stability and consistency to their respective
locker rooms.

Now, with that in mind…I love the Cardinals schedule!
Four of the first six-games the Cardinals will play in
2012 are at University of Phoenix Stadium. They open
against Seattle at home on September 9th and then welcome
Philadelphia, Miami and Buffalo over the next month.
Hosting a division rival in the first week is something
I’ve always liked, especially when a true home-field
advantage exists. And the three non-divisional opponents
that come to Phoenix are all east coast teams. With a
three-hour time difference, those games would have been
brutal trips back east for the Cards.

Also, and this point can’t be overstated, the Cardinals 7-
2 finish over the last nine weeks of 2011 and the early
home-field schedule of 2012 possess an intriguing synergy
for a team that will need confidence early. Although I am
not a big believer that corporately a team can carry
momentum from one season to the next, I know that
individual players can carry the confidence they gained
from one year to the next. And that truism could be
amplified by playing so many home games early.

I love the fact the Cardinals will get their bye week late
as opposed to early, especially because of all the home
games they play early. The Cardinals have a Week 10 bye
and although you can never assume the health of an NFL
team, one can logically deduce that most players will be
beat down by November and welcome the break. The bye also
happens between two tough road trips: at Green Bay and at
Atlanta, two playoff-caliber teams.

The Monday night game against San Francisco is another
highlight. The Red Sea will be in a tumult on October 29th
when Jim Harbaugh and co. play the Cardinals for the first
time. The 49’ers won the division last year and advanced
to the NFC Championship Game and did it with a bold
bravado that belies the hard-fought battles and troubles
of past division champions. They are respected but not
well-liked within the division and that will only add to
the drama of a nationally-televised maelstrom.

Finally, the Cardinals finish the season with three
physical games, two of which are home: Detroit, Chicago
and at San Francisco. Nobody knows what kind of teams the
Lions, Bears, 49’ers and Cardinals will have by weeks
fifteen, sixteen and seventeen. But from what we know,
expect and project, these three games could be meat-
grinders, where blades of grass and soiled silks turn
bloody. Looking at how Big Red will finish the season
makes me think of knuckles, buckles, dirt and blood – a
pigskin-stew that makes me want to smear on the paint and
attack otherwise good and peaceful people. The last game
of the season in San Francisco could be for the NFC West

Then again…remember the preface.