1. As is the case for just about every one of the NFL's trumped up "events" on its 9,765 day calendar that seems to grow by the second, turning every update, notification and otherwise innocuous piece of news into appointment television, I was front and center watching the 2013 schedule release. I'm pretty sure that if they aired a primetime special on NFL Network anytime from March through May, announcing updated pricing on NFL-licensed beer coozies, I would not only watch intently, I would also feel very strongly about some aspect of it. You just know that the Redskins one would feature a picture of the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man Alive, with the caption: "I didn't always drink beer, but then Norv Turner took over the Redskins."
2. As I said earlier in the week, the thing about our schedule that is most refreshing and exciting is that we are going to max out our primetime appearance allowance. I love night games--they turn the tailgate into a truly glorious experience. Don't get me wrong, I love any tailgate, but when you are gearing up to take in a nationally-televised contest under the lights, the atmosphere in the parking lot is just a little bit more electric than usual. Similarly, when you are watching the slate of games on TV at home, anxiously awaiting a primetime airing of the Redskins on the road, it's like extending Christmas. Instead of opening all of your presents at once and then watching other people open and play with their toys into the evening, you are the one that gets to slow it down and turn it into an all-day affair.
3. We know it is going to be a fun season, packed with great tailgates and the increased spotlight that goes with being a division champ and having a transcendent athlete at quarterback. As fans, this part of the schedule release is as important as the dates and timing of when we play certain teams. After all, we already knew who we would be playing. What we didn't know was when our Monday and Sunday night tailgates would take place! In fact, I would argue that the question of, "How many primetime games are we getting?" is the biggest part of this for me. As such, the recent history of schedule releases has left me...wanting.
4. The next thing I look for is when we are playing our NFC East games. Last year, we closed out the season with five out of seven games being played against divisional opponents. I had to change my shorts twice after getting that news laid on me--both me and the eternal optimist inside me soiled my trousers. We didn't even log our first NFC East game until Week 7 in 2012. This year, we will waste no time diving into the divisional schedule, taking on the Eagles in Week 1 on Monday Night Football. We close out the season with four NFC East games in the final seven, so the division race is likely to not be decided until December (unless we go undefeated through Thanksgiving). The NFL has gotten smart on this in recent years, scheduling important division games in the last couple weeks of the season. As a fan, you want to watch meaningful football in December. The last thing you want in Week 17 is to face a tough opponent outside your division while your biggest rival takes on a cupcake team. The Redskins play the Cowboys and Giants to close out the season. I wouldn't want it any other way.
5. Once I know what days to request off of work due to late tailgates, and I know when the NFC East is going to be decided, I turn to the placement of the BYE week. Ideally, you want to see your BYE week fall between Week 8 and 10, giving your team a nice mid-season chance to gird its loins for the home stretch. A later BYE week for a good team is just fine, since it means a shorter home stretch following the week off. An earlier BYE week for just about anyone ain't so crack-a-lackin', because it offers no rest for the weary. In 2012, we had our BYE in Week 10. When we came back from the break, all we did is win every single game left on our schedule--perfect BYE week placement, obviously. In 2013, we get the lesser desired Week 5 BYE. On the face of it, this seems like a disaster.
6. There is good news, though, for all you fans of mid-season breaks. Our BYE week placement in 2013 is kind of 'sneaky-good.' We play four games out of the chute, and then take a week off. We come back in Week 6 and play another set of five games--including three games in twelve days, but the last of this five-game set is a Thursday Night game. We then get ten days rest before our next Sunday afternoon game (against the Eagles). In fact, after that Thursday Night Football game on November 7 against the Vikings, we play two games in an EIGHTEEN day span. One would think that a cagey coach like Shanahan would maximize the value of those breaks by ensuring that veteran players get as much rest as possible.
7. Again, with no surprises in terms of who we will face in the upcoming season, the next thing you pay attention to is at what point in the season do you play potentially big games. (I know, I know...they are ALL big games.) For starters, we get the Eagles right off the bat. I love this. I love the opportunity to try and grab a quick divisional win, and I love the opportunity to get Philly before they have had a ton of time to gel in the regular season. Mike Shanahan is famous for his preparations for season openers. He hasn't lost a season opener yet as the head coach of the Redskins. I am sure he has already watched hours and hours of Oregon Ducks film, and I am confident that he will have a pretty good idea of what his gameplan will be for that game by the beginning of August--we could lose, but this is a terrible spot for the Eagles and we simply need to take care of our business. After our Week 5 BYE, we return to face the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, so we will have a chance to rest and our coaching staff will have a chance to spend a little extra time on one of our most important games of the season. Both games against the Giants will be played in December. On one hand, you would hope that Robert Griffin III is in a groove by then and can kind of do his December thing against the team that is likely to give us the biggest challenge for the divisional crown. On the other hand, this places all kinds of pressure and importance on games that will already be naturally important--hopefully we will continue to display the kind of character and class we showed the world down the stretch last year. Another little gem in the late-season scheduling of games against the Cowboys and Giants is that one of those games could very likely get flexed into the night slot by NBC--adding yet ANOTHER primetime party to the books.
8. We only have one set of back-to-back road games, and we have a three-week home stand in late November/early December. This is a good thing for a young team, in my humble opinion--you never want to see a relatively young roster spend prolonged periods on the road, as this messes with internal body clocks, practice schedules and overall routines. There is obviously always going to be the need to roll with the punches throughout the course of a regular season, but minimizing time on the road and netting a nice little homestand late in the season is a feather in the cap for the Redskins.
9. As far as our non-conference opponents and our "1st place" opponents are concerned...what can I say? It's a dog-eat-dog kind of league, and we just better hope we're not wearing MilkBone underwear when we tee it off against the 49ers, Falcons and Broncos. Our schedule from an overall standpoint looks scary. We play a LOT of good teams. The thing is, I am not convinced that playing Seattle or St. Louis would be much easier than playing San Francisco--we lost to both of those teams last year. Atlanta is the class of the NFC South, but the rest of that division (Carolina, New Orleans and Tampa Bay) is likely to give the rest of our division a real fight, so the disadvantage of being the defending division champ is a bit muted this year. (I know, I know...I tend to make arguments like these frequently.)
10. The name of the game is beating the teams that you have to play. No matter how they construct the schedule, some people are going to say that it isn't as bad as it looks, and others are going to invest in armageddon bunkers. I recognize the difficulty we face in 2013. As proud as we are of the 2012 performance of the Redskins, the truth is that the last time this team strung two solid seasons together, Doogie Howser was straight and the Olsen twins were still cute. I am excited to attempt to build on last year's success with this schedule. To be the best, you have to beat the best, and this year, we most definitely face the best teams in the league.