Saints, Chargers have legitimate gripes
The 2008 NFL schedule raises many questions, and ESPN.com has the answers.
The 2008 NFL schedule has a wealth of quality matchups, story lines and subplots worth exploring. Here are 10 interesting questions that are sure to get people talking:
This year New Orleans will travel to London's Wembley Stadium to play another "home" game Oct. 26 (Week 8) against the San Diego Chargers, giving the Saints nine road trips for the second time in four seasons.
"Why do we have the [eight] home games, and all of a sudden the people in New Orleans don't have an opportunity; they've lost one? I don't know," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said. "I'm sure they have a system. Maybe it's a coin flip.''
According to NFL spokesperson Michael Signora, no coin flip was involved. Signora said it simply was "a league decision."
Not only are the New England Patriots good, they're lucky.
New England has a good chance to be the first NFL team to post back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. Its strength of schedule is ranked last with a .387 opponent winning percentage.
A pair of $100 million quarterbacks will face off twice this year when the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger will be opposite Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals. The AFC North rivals will meet in Week 7 at Cincinnati and Week 12 at Pittsburgh.
Palmer also will be involved in a battle of former No. 1 overall picks when the Bengals travel to play Eli Manning and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in Week 3.
"What comes to mind is just how great he played at the end, from that Week 17 New England game on. He was on fire,'' Palmer said of Eli Manning. "It's a lesson to all of us that if you and your team get hot at the right time, you can win the Super Bowl. As for Ben, I guess it's true we may be rivals for a long time. The thing I think about most with Ben is just how many games he's won, and how many tough games he's found a way to get it done.''
4. What's the deal with the Bills in Toronto?
Over the next five seasons, the Buffalo Bills will alternate playing one and two games per year in Toronto.
This year Buffalo will play a preseason game against the Steelers on Aug. 14 and a regular-season game in Week 14 against the Dolphins at the Rogers Centre. Next season the Bills will play in Canada only during the regular season, and all dates will count as home games for Buffalo.
5. What's the best out-of-conference battle?
The most interesting out-of-conference games in 2008 will involve the NFC East versus the AFC North. The two divisions combined for five teams with 10 or more wins last season, setting up high-quality matchups such as Giants-Steelers (in Pittsburgh, Week 8) and Browns-Cowboys (in Cleveland, Week 1).
All eight teams rank in the top half of the league in strength of schedule, which should quickly separate the contenders from the pretenders.
"It's going to be a real tough schedule,'' said Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. "But we're preparing for a Super Bowl run.''
6. When are the NFL's best revenge games?
The Dallas Cowboys have two chances (Week 9 and Week 15) to exact revenge against the rival Giants, who knocked them out of the playoffs last season.
In the AFC, the Colts will get a shot (Week 12) at San Diego, which holds a three-game winning streak over Indianapolis and knocked the Colts out of the playoffs last season. The Steelers travel to Jacksonville in Week 5 with a chance to avenge a pair of defeats last season to the Jaguars.
7. Which team has the biggest advantage?
The Oakland Raiders have a chance to make a significant jump to respectability in 2008. They have the NFL's third-easiest strength of schedule following a 4-12 campaign last season.
Oakland plays just four games against teams with winning records from last year, including two against the AFC West-rival San Diego Chargers in Week 4 and Week 14. It also helps that Oakland went on a spending spree this offseason to add cornerback DeAngelo Hall, safety Gibril Wilson, receiver Javon Walker and re-sign defensive lineman Tommy Kelly. Whether that talent translates on the field remains to be seen.
8. Which team has the biggest disadvantage?
No matter how you slice it, sending a team from the West Coast to London is a logistical nightmare. This year San Diego plays at Buffalo in Week 7, then immediately travels to London to play the Saints.
Luckily, the Chargers will have a bye week before taking the field again on U.S. soil Nov. 9 against Kansas City.
"It helps tremendously just to rest,'' A.J. Smith said of the bye. "I think that's why the league has that set in there, so those teams that go in the future will have the bye when you return.''
9. Did the Green Bay Packers catch a break after losing Brett Favre?
The league did not do the Packers any favors after the team lost one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Green Bay's strength of schedule is ranked No. 12, and its out-of-conference opponent this year is the rugged AFC South, arguably the best division in football.
Aaron Rodgers had better be ready.
10. What did the NFL learn from its first regular-season London experience last season?
The NFL experience went over well in London, but it didn't capture the city. It was a novelty more than an obsession. By kickoff, Wembley Stadium wasn't completely full, which was partially a result of the constant rain and partially a result of the matchup: the winless Dolphins against the underwhelming Giants. (Remember, nobody thought the Giants were championship material at the time. Most didn't think the Giants were championship material until Plaxico Burress' touchdown with 35 seconds left in the Super Bowl.)
The NFL's popularity in America will always ensure is success abroad, but if the league wants London buzzing, it needs a premier matchup loaded with stars. With the Chargers playing the Saints on Oct. 26, players such as LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Shawne Merriman, Drew Brees and Reggie Bush will guarantee that there are headliners. The league can only hope both teams have winning records, too.
Seth Wickersham contributed to this column. James Walker covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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