Every year, the NFL schedule release is (made out to be) a big day on the offseason calendar, with ESPN even having a two-hour program breaking it down. NFL analysts and fans dig into the schedules, making predictions on team records and proclaiming which teams have the toughest and easiest schedules.
This is despite witnessing every damn year that how the schedule looks before the season starts ends up meaning very, very little.
Going into the 2017 season, you probably felt pretty good as a fan if your team had the Philadelphia Eagles (7-9 in 2016), Los Angeles Rams (4-12 in 2016), and Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13 in 2016) on the schedule. You maybe even confidently marked a “W” next to that team on your team’s schedule!
Well, the Eagles went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl, the Rams went 11-5 and hosted a playoff game, and the Jaguars went 10-6 and led the AFC Championship Game with three minutes remaining.
Going into the 2017 season, fans of a lot of teams probably thought their games against the Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, and Seattle Seahawks were for-sure losses.
Well, the Packers went 7-9, the Raiders went 6-10, and the Cowboys and Seahawks went 9-7. All of these assumed Super Bowl contenders entering the 2017 season didn’t even make the playoffs.
The surprises and disappointments happen every season, and of course they do, for many reasons. Here are a few:
Injuries can absolutely crush a team, especially if it’s at the quarterback position
What the Eagles were able to do with Nick Foles replacing Carson Wentz isn’t normal; there’s typically a massive drop-off in play from the team’s star quarterback to the guy holding the clipboard on the sideline.
We saw this with the Packers: after starting 4-1 and looking like one of the top Super Bowl contenders, the Packers finished 7-9 because of Brett Hundley playing quarterback due to Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone injury. Every season, there’s a team or two (or three) that has their season destroyed by a significant injury at quarterback.
A few quarterbacks make a sizable jump each season, or break out as rookies
In 2017, we saw Jared Goff and Carson Wentz make massive leaps in their second season, and we saw a star rookie quarterback in Deshaun Watson stunningly play MVP-level football. That was, of course, before Watson tore his ACL, which goes back to the point shown earlier: the Texans were 3-4 and looked like a playoff contender with Watson (their losses were to the Jaguars, Patriots, Chiefs, and Seahawks, so they were tough games), but finished 4-12 after he was lost for the season.
New coaches can make a huge difference, like we especially saw with Sean McVay and the Rams
The 2018 NFL Coach of the Year probably deserves about as much credit for Goff’s improvements as Goff himself. If you’re looking like potential improvements like this in 2018, maybe new Bears head coach Matt Nagy (former Chiefs offensive coordinator) and second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky? But it seems every bit as likely that the Bears stay bad; we have no way of knowing until they’re actually out there playing games!
Now, you should absolutely be excited about the schedule release and seeing when your team plays _ team, how many primetime games are on the schedule, if there’s a London game, etc. But just keep in mind that odds are the team’s schedule doesn’t end up being nearly as easy or difficult as it appears right now. Injuries and surprises are inevitable, and most likely there are a few games on each team’s schedule that are greatly impacted by these things.