Only the NFL can draw this much attention to something as benign as a schedule release. Every talk show on sports radio and every website across the sports landscape is discussing the NFL schedule. So how did the 2014 schedule shake out for the Cardinals?
I’ll start with the positives first. The Cardinals are currently scheduled for three prime-time games. I remember a time not all that long ago when Arizona couldn’t even get one. When they finally did, it felt like the Super Bowl had come to town. So in that regard the league seems to be warming up to the marketability of the Cardinals. Now to be fair, one of those games is a Thursday night game against the Rams and every team in the league plays on Thursday night. The Cardinals are part of the Monday night double header to open the season and then play on Sunday Night Football in a late season showdown with the Super Bowl champs.
Take a quick glance at the schedule and the first negative practically jumps off the page. No team wants to be stuck with a bye week in just the fourth week of the season. Getting a bye that early feels like a waste. The bye week is a great time to get players healthy and re-acclimate players back into the rotation after injuries. Getting the bye week this early in the season means no rest later in the season when everybody on the roster starts to deal with some kind of nagging injury. The league office gets a lump of coal in their Christmas card from the Cardinals this year.
It isn’t really a huge surprise that the Cardinals face a very difficult schedule this season. We already knew they would playing against an AFC west division that sent three teams to the playoffs last year and an NFC east division that is usually tough from top to bottom. The release of the schedule confirms that the Cardinals don’t get any easy weeks this year. The only game that could be considered a gimme is the week seven trip to Oakland. The other Cardinals non-division road games include trips to Denver, Atlanta, Dallas, and New York. The Cardinals will need to be in playoff mode all season long if they want to the chance to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in front of their home fans.
And the STRANGE
In a bizarre scheduling quirk, the Cardinals will play the San Diego Chargers in San Diego in the fourth preseason game before returning home to host the Chargers for Monday Night Football. Don’t expect to see any regulars for that game and quite possibly the most vanilla game plans you’ve ever seen. Another weird part of the Cardinals schedule is the fact that they only play one division opponent in the first half of the season. Five of the six division matchups come in week ten and later, including the final three games of the Cardinals season, which are all against division rivals.
Detroit visits Arizona for the third straight season. The first two times, the Cardinals knocked off the Lions.
Head coach Bruce Arians and his football team have their work cut out for them this season if they want to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Another good draft by general manager Steve Keim and his staff would go along way to making that scenario become a reality. Now if May 8th would just hurry up and get here already!