When last year's schedule came out, there were certain aspects of the Giants schedule that appeared very good to me - few west coast trips; late bye; easy early part of the schedule to get rolling and get the young WRs some experience as well as a few other things I can't even recall right now. We all now how it turned out, so often there's no real follow through on analyzing the schedule and figuring out if it is favorable or unfavorable. From the big picture point of view, the Giants are playing the NFC North this year which is a tough division. Last year they had two teams that made the playoffs in the Packers and Vikings, one of whom was a Brett-Favre-interception away from going to the Super Bowl. (Deja vu - Brett Favre's last pass of the season in the NFC conference championship game is intercepted, giving the opposing team a Super Bowl berth and championship!) Besides these two playoff teams, there is a third team, the Bears that seemed to have gotten their strong armed QB Jay Cutler straightened out towards the end of last year. They also went on a spending spree in the FA period this off season signing DE Julius Pepper, RB Chester Taylor and TE Manumaleuna in a clear effort to upgrade the team and try to win now. The fourth team in that division is the Lions who are still rebuilding, but 3 out of 4 tough games in that division makes that part of the schedule hard. Making this segment of the schedule more difficult is that the easier teams from this division, Bears and Lions are home games for the Giants, while the tougher games, Vikings and Packers are on the road.
Giants also play the AFC North this year, including the Colts in Manning Bowl II in a week two prime time game. Titans played sparkling football in the second half of last year when Vince Young replaced Kerry Collins as the starting QB. They won 5 games in a row and 8 of their last 10 while actually making a run for the playoffs after starting out 0-6. The Jaguars are kind of up and down from year to year and its hard to predict how they will play. The other two teams in that division are the Texans and the Ravens, both very solid football teams.
Giants also have 6 games within the NFC East of course and the two random games against other NFC opponents are the season opener against the Panthers and on the road against Seattle.
The opponents were determined at the end of last season, so there are no surprises there. The only variable that was announced yesterday is when the games are played. The odd things about the schedule for the Giants is that they play 6 games against non-division opponents before they play an NFC east rival. The first such game is a Monday night game on October 25th against the Cowboys in Dallas. The Giants have a relatively late bye, coming after week 7, which is good, followed by the road game in Seattle. In terms of travel, I guess this is a minor advantage - the Seattle game is the only west coast road trip and it comes after a bye, so the Giants will be well rested for the trip. But it seems to me that the last 8 games on the schedule are very tough, including 5 of the 6 NFC East games. The other 3 of those last games are against the Jaguars at home and the Vikings and Packers on the road, making the home stretch really rugged. The NFC East games are always very physical and draining on the teams and could sap a team's strength for a playoff drive. Throw in the NFC champion Vikings and a December 26th road game "on the frozen tundra" of Green Bay and you have a brutal home stretch of the season.
Here's the summary that makes the Giants schedule very difficult. Of the Giants' 16 games, 8 are against teams that made the playoffs last year (Cowboys x 2, Eagles x 2, Colts, Packers, Ravens, Vikings); 4 other games are against teams that are good and appear on the rise (Bears, Texans, Jaguars, Titans) and the opener is against a Panther team that destroyed the Giants in the final home game of the season last year. Add on top of that a very difficult last 8 games when the team is trying to gear up for a playoff drive and this is the most difficult schedule I can remember for the Giants.
At the end of the day, all of this analysis goes out the window, because of the old NFL adage: it's not who you play, it's when you play them. There are so many injuries, ups and downs and other variables in the NFL season, that teams that look strong can have stretches of a few weeks where they play poorly. Conversely, a mediocre team can step up and have a period of life in their season. The team's outcome depends often on when you catch these teams; whether you get them when they are hot and playing well or if you catch them when they have an injury or a problem or two to iron out.
Final food for thought.....the intriguing thing to me is what the NFC East teams will look like: did the McNabb trade help or hurt both teams? What will the Cowboys do personnel-wise as they get further away from the Parcells era and his player evaluation skills? Is Jerry Jones right when he said in his bar room brag that Parcells was unnecessary and a pain in the a$$? Can GM Jerry Jones make the right draft moves without Tuna's leadership? How will the Cowboys replace Flozell Adams at LT?