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What the NFL Schedule Release Means to Me This Year

Apr 18, 2012, 1:45 PM EDT

In years past, in typical curmudgeon fashion, I’ve decried the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the release of the NFL schedule. People like to say it’s all in good fun, somewhere between offering their unsolicited opinion about how the new season will shake out one week at a time, and adding the disclaimer, “It’s way too early to tell,” to cover their oh-so-wrong asses.

Take Reuben Frank, for instance, not because I don’t like him or think he’s a rube (ahem), but because if you’re going to read one take on the schedule, it might as well be from CSN. Roob has concluded — one week before the draft, four months before training camp and preseason football have taken their toll on NFL rosters, and nearly five full months before a single game will be played — the Eagles’ schedule is ‘dangerous early, soft late.’

To which I call BS. Roob’s seven stages of hell includes the Ravens, Cardinals, Giants, Steelers, Lions, Falcons, and Saints, over a 51-day span. While six of those teams made the playoffs last season, it overlooks the fact that the NFL’s post-season field has a nearly 50% turnover rate from one year to the next. Odds are two or three of those clubs will not be alive come January, not counting the Cardinals, who are never alive in January sans Kurt Warner. The Birds even get their bye week in the middle of that stretch.

If I were to offer my (unsolicited) rebuttal, I would say the true seven stages of hell will only begin with the Saints, when the Eagles will play the same number of games, only over a 39-day span instead. The rest of the slate goes Cowboys, Redskins, Panthers, Cowboys, Buccaneers, Bengals, and while only New Orleans and Cincinnati among them made it to the tournament last season, there are more meaningful division and conference contests stuffed into a condensed period of time.

Pittsburgh and Atlanta could continue trending backwards, while Carolina and Cincinnati might take the next step with promising, young quarterbacks. The power in the NFC East can easily shift from New York to Dallas. The point is, who can really tell in April what the schedule holds?

Having said that, schedule release day actually excited me this year, yet it was more for its symbolism than anything else.

We can finally look forward again.

The last eight months of Eagles football have been all about disappointment. Amid lofty expectations in 2011 — some would even say Super Bowl hype — the Birds crashed and burned in spectacular fashion. They began the season 1-4, which many had remarked was the “easy” part of the schedule. Who knew at the time the 49ers would meet the Giants for the NFC Championship? After a series of embarrassing losses to Arizona, New England, and Seattle, Philly was sitting at 4-8 in December.

As if that were not bad enough, all offseason long we’ve heard rant after rant about how last season’s campaign is an indictment of everything the Eagles do. The offense can’t overcome inconsistent play under center, not with their diva wide receiver and sieve-like offensive line, and the philosophy on defense is plain broken, with an unqualified coordinator steering the ship. It all reflects back on Howie Roseman and especially Andy Reid, who many fans have come to believe couldn’t run a lunch wagon.

But the truth is, no matter how allegedly meaningless the final four games were that elevated the club to .500 for 2011, the first 12 often felt like an even bigger fluke. This is the same offense that set a franchise record for scoring one year earlier, only the offensive line was better — quite possibly still is even without Jason Peters — backed by an improving defense laden with Pro-Bowl talent that finished eighth in the NFL in points allowed despite blowing a record five fourth-quarter leads. It’s all tied together by a head coach who has never experienced back-to-back seasons without a trip to the playoffs.

It bears repeating this team was one play away from winning an additional three or four games last season, and one more win would have put the Eagles in the playoffs, thus knocking the Giants out. They were better than their 8-8 record indicates.

To me, the schedule release marked the moment we — those of us who are willing, that is — can start to move on from the disaster that was 2011, and proclaim, “Yes, I am excited about the Eagles in 2012.” And while it’s tempting to take Eagles fans who will vehemently disagree personally, I’m not of the mindset to make rash predictions in the Spring about the teams they’ll be up against in the Fall.

I like their chances to reach the postseason regardless of who they have to go through this year.