The NFL released its 2016 regular-season schedule Thursday night, creating another layer of optimism for fans of the Arizona Cardinals after their team was dismantled in the NFC Championship Game in January.
Some highlights of the schedule:
• Four primetime appearances in the first seven games of the season, including three at home in Glendale.
• A well-placed Week 9 bye.
• Five home games in the first seven weeks, creating a possibility for a good start to the season.
As far as individual games, there are five that stand out a little more on the anticipation scale.
Here they are:
5. Week 17 – Cardinals at Rams
Yes, the Cardinals lose the luxury of playing road games in St. Louis, their home for 28 seasons and where they still enjoyed good fan support, but a road game in Los Angeles gives Birdgang members a chance to conveniently hop in the car and support the team on the road for the first time since the Rams and Raiders bolted L.A. in 1994.
Plus, the Cardinals are 14-6 against the Rams since 2006.
4. Week 6 – Jets at Cardinals
The Cardinals haven’t beaten the Jets since 1975 — it sounds a lot longer than it actually has been because these two teams just don’t play that often. In fact, they’ve faced each other only eight times total, with the J-E-T-S winning the last six. That includes officially the ugliest football game ever played — a 7-6 Jets’ win in December of 2012 that featured some of the worst quarterbacking the sport has seen.
The Jets have played in Arizona only twice, and never at UOP Stadium.
Plus, the matchup gives us a great teacher-pupil showdown with Cardinals coach Bruce Arians facing his former underling, Todd Bowles. The history between the two goes all the way back to Bowles’ college career at Temple when Arians was in his first-ever head coaching position.
3. Week 7 – Seahawks at Cardinals
The Cardinals have proven they can accomplish the very difficult task of beating the Seahawks in Seattle. Arizona has taken two of the last three meetings at CenturyLink Field, including a classic 39-32 win last season.
What the Cardinals haven’t proven is that they can defend their home turf when the guys in the neon green-accented uniforms come to town. The Seahawks, who always bring a healthy number of ’12s’ to the desert with them, have won the last three games in Glendale, and none of them have been particularly close. Last year’s Week 17 game was a 36-6 blowout that the Cardinals tried to downplay but actually served as more of a sign of things to come than anyone wanted to admit at the time.
2. Week 1 – Patriots at Cardinals
The Patriots do have experience playing at UOP Stadium — they’ve split a pair of Super Bowls played there, including a thrilling win over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX two seasons ago.
But they’ve never played the Cardinals in “the nest” since Arizona moved across town in 2006.
There are so many great angles to this game — at least on paper in April. There’s the polarizing Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, facing a Cardinals secondary led by Patrick Peterson and (hopefully) Tyrann Mathieu. There’s the battle of coaches — the gregarious yet formidable Arians against the stoic mad genius, Bill Belichick. Add in the offseason trade between the two teams that brought pass rusher Chandler Jones to the Cardinals and sent disappointing former first-round pick Jonathan Cooper to Beantown. Think they’ll want to impress their former teams?
And, it’s the first Sunday night game of the year.
1. Week 8 – Cardinals at Panthers
The end of a brutal three-week stretch to end the first half of the season takes the Cardinals to the site of their last two playoff exits.
Two years ago, the Panthers beat the short-handed Cardinals 27-16 on a rainy Saturday afternoon in an NFC Wild Card round. It was disappointing, but not unexpected as Arizona was quarterbacked by Ryan Lindley.
Last season’s playoff ouster was much more painful. The Panthers destroyed the Cardinals in every facet of the game, winning the NFC Championship Game, 49-15. Carson Palmer, who finished second to Carolina’s Cam Newton in the AP MVP voting, had by far his worst game as a Cardinal, throwing four interceptions and coughing up a fumble. Redemption will be a key theme for Palmer and the rest of his red-clad teammates.
Surprisingly, this isn’t one of the Cardinals’ four primetime games, but this one will be heavily anticipated.
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