let the games begin: A look at the 2015 NFL Schedule

Apart from the start of the regular season itself, one of the days I look forward to most in the NFL calendar is the release of the full League schedules.

Whilst we already know who will play who well in advance courtesy of the League’s long standing formula for deciding opponents, seeing how the games stack up over the course of the season can be an early indication of how your season is likely to go.

With the full schedules having been released by the League in the early hours of Tuesday morning UK time, I suspect there are a few teams who will be happier than others.

Of those less than delighted with their schedules, Jim Tomsula probably sits atop the pile. Over the course of the first 7 weeks of the season, the 49ers will face the Vikings to open on MNF, Steelers (on the road off a short week), Cardinals, Packers, Giants, Ravens, and Seahawks (again, off a short week). Not exactly the start Tomsula would have been hoping for in his first year as Head Coach.

John Fox at Chicago probably isn’t feeling much better either. The opening three weeks of the Bears season sees the visit of the Packers and Cardinals, followed by a road trip to Seattle. With further trips to Kansas City and Detroit, the Bears could well be in need of a rest come their bye week in Week 7.

Given the Lions also face tough road trips to San Diego, Minnesota, and Seattle over the opening weeks, as well as hosting the Broncos and Cardinals, I think we could see the Green Bay Packers be the first to claim to a Play-Off berth in 2015 as they run away with the NFC North.

Over in the AFC, the Steelers won’t be able to wait for Le’Veon Bell to return before hitting their stride. The toughest schedule in 2015 (based on opponents’ 2014 records – .579), and a particularly tricky run in means they’ll need to be in contention early. Coming off their Week 11 bye, they’ll face the Seahawks, Colts, Bengals, Broncos, and Ravens, before closing out their season in Cleveland.  It could be a long December in Pittsburgh!

Conversely, the Indianapolis Colts will have something of an easier ride toward season end (and almost certainly in to the Play-Offs) with a soft closing schedule that includes the Buccaneers, Jaguars, and Titans. If they can weather a difficult mid-season (Texans, Patriots, Saints, Panthers, and Broncos) I think we might finally see the Colts assume the No.1 seed in the AFC.

Hoping to join the Colts in the post season will be Rex Ryan and his new charges in Buffalo. The schedule makers haven’t exactly helped his cause however.

Tough opening games against the Colts and then division rival Patriots and Dolphins means the Bills will need to be ready to go come season start. Add in a three week road trip mid-season – New York (Jets), New England, and Kansas City – which won’t allow them to let up and I think Buffalo will need their defense to excel again next season for them stay in contention. Could it be that the Bills’ Play Off hopes come down to Week 17? The schedule makers will be patting themselves on the back if it does – the Bills will host the NY Jets to close out the season.

It is just one of a number of stand out games for me that we can to look forward to in 2015:

 

Week 1 – Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

This is the game the NFL decided best to open the 2015 season with and, but for the suspension of Le’Veon Bell, you’d have to agree with them.

Having lost Bell to injury, the Steelers folded against the Ravens in their Wild Card game last year and missed out on a prime opportunity to challenge New England for a SuperBowl berth.

They’ll be without Bell again this time around (albeit for different reasons) but will want to get an early advantage over the traditionally slow starting Patriots. With the Patriot secondary also somewhat depleted from last year, Ben Roethlisberger could have a field day to start his season.

Week 2 – Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

The Seahawks travel to Green Bay to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game.

Green Bay will be hoping to erase at least some of the memories of their agonizing loss in that game, having thrown away a 19-7 fourth quarter lead and a trip to SuperBowl XLIX, although you’d have to think even a 50 point whitewash (however unlikely) would only be a hollow victory in that regard.

With both teams remaining largely unchanged since that game (the notable addition to the cast being Jimmy Graham who joined the Seahawks from New Orleans in Free Agency), it could well also be an early preview of the 2015 Championship Game, I think both teams will want to put their marker down early.

Week 6 – New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts

Could this be the week we see the power shift in the AFC?

I don’t think there is any doubt the Patriots are weaker on defense than they were last year, and the Colts bought Andrew Luck a lot of new toys to play with in the off season in an obvious attempt to make 2015 “their year”.

Traditionally New England has proven to be Indy’s achilles heel but this could be an early indicator of how far each team has moved in their respective directions over the Summer. With Brady’s time at the head of a dynasty slowly coming to a close, will we see Andrew Luck start to lay the foundations of his very own in Indianapolis?

It will no doubt be an offensive battle but which will ultimately have the most firepower?

Week 10 – Buffalo Bills at New York Jets

Long before their meeting in the final week of the season (another game to look forward to), Rex Ryan will take his Buffalo Bills to MetLife Stadium in his first return since being sacked as the Jets’ HC.

This one promises to be a brutal divisional meeting between what will likely be two of the Leagues strongest defenses in 2015. Both will be looking to push the Patriots down the stretch so this could be a pivotal game in that regard.

It’ll be a prime time Thursday Night game and, with the Nation watching, you can bet Rex will have plenty to say in the lead up to this one!

Week 11 – Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars

Thursday Night Football doesn’t get much better than this!

Actually it does. A lot better. Chalk this one up to an anomaly on the schedulers’ part.

I mean, seriously, what were they thinking?

Week 13 – New York Jets at New York Giants

On paper not the most exciting of games but there are a few reasons why I like this match up.

I tipped the Giants as having a potentially explosive offense earlier this year and, as mentioned earlier, think the Jets could be one of the top defenses in 2015. Odell Beckham Jr. being covered by Darrelle Revis is what football is all about and, if that’s not enough, you’ll have Cromartie on the other side going up against Victor Cruz.

Both teams will want to be in contention come December, so this will also likely be something of a must-win for either team to stay in the hunt in their respective divisions.

Add in all the fun of the ‘derby’ element, and this one could be a great game!

Week 17 – Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

I think these two will be slugging it out all season in the NFC West, so this could well be a game with not only divisional honours on the line, but also home field advantage for the Play Offs.

The loss of Todd Bowles will certainly have an impact in Arizona, but if they can stay healthy this time around I have no doubt they’ll be a contender. The Seahawks will be expecting another strong showing in 2015 in their pursuit of continued dominance of the West.

If it is to come down to this game to define their respective seasons, I think we could well end the year with a classic.

Is it September yet?