The NFL released its 2011 regular season schedule last week. While the teams had known who their opponents were, they didn’t know when or where they would be playing. The first thing the coaches look for is what Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy called “stress points.” For the Packers, this point will come next November when they have a stretch of three games in 11 days. For the players, as Aaron Rodgers pointed out during an interview, it’s looking to see how many times they’ll be on national TV. The defending Super Bowl champs will play in five national games in 2011, but Pro Football Talk pointed out “the forgotten five” that have no national night games: Tennessee, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona, and Carolina.
In that same post, Gregg Rosenthal speculated that it was because they have “unsettled quarterback positions.” That’s certainly true, though I’m personally a fan of Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. One other characteristic I noticed was that Tennessee and Carolina are both teams in the southeast, and Cincinnati is not too far away. But there is a more obvious connection.
The forgotten five: Carolina, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona and Tennessee.
The 2011 draft order: Carolina, Denver, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Arizona.
Unsurprisingly, winning is everything in the NFL. Only Denver, which might pack more of a ratings punch due to its likely larger fan base and the prospect of starting QB Tim Tebow next season, was the exception. What can these other teams do in 2011 to get back into the national spotlight in 2012?
Carolina. If they draft Cam Newton, as is widely expected, then the Panthers might have a fresh face for a sagging franchise. But they might have the toughest road back to the playoffs of all these teams.
Buffalo. The Bills finished the 2010 season on a positive note with a 4-4 record down the stretch. Also, they were 0-3 in overtime games, and all three were against playoff teams (Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Baltimore). They need help on defense, so it’s not a surprise that LB Von Miller is projected to be their selection.
Cincinnati. The Bengals won the AFC North division back in 2009, but now they also have question marks at several positions. Quarterback Carson Palmer may want a trade, and wide receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco might leave as free agents.
Arizona. The retirement of QB Kurt Warner resulted in the end of their consecutive years of playoff runs. Many of the key players who got the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in 2009 remain, but their attempts to replace Warner last year were disastrous. If they can find a quarterback, they could become favorites to win the NFC West in 2011.
Tennessee. The longest-tenured head coach in the NFL is gone as Jeff Fisher was fired by the Titans. They’re also looking for a new quarterback after Vince Young melted down in November, and owner Bud Adams said he wouldn’t return. They have a lot of work ahead of them.