Even in the best of times with the NFL, the annual announcement of the regular-season schedule ranks somewhere on the excitement scale between flossing and checking your engine oil.

There is no mystery to the slate of opponents. With the slotted system the NFL put in place several years ago, the following season's opposition is known as soon as the last down of the regular season is recorded.

For more than three months, we have known the Eagles would be scheduled to play, aside from their division rivals, the teams in the NFC West, the teams in the AFC East, and, because they won the division, the first-place teams from the NFC North and NFC South. And we have known which would be home games and which on the road.

This is a reasonably fair system and helps keep the league's hunger for parity satiated by giving the better teams harder schedules and the lesser teams easier ones. It doesn't do much for suspense, however, regardless of the year, and particularly not this year.

The real unknown is whether the NFL will play football this season. The league wants a significantly bigger slice of the revenue. The players aren't inclined to give it up. Despite the billions of dollars on the table waiting to be divided, the real division is between the owners and the players, and while common sense says they will find a middle ground, it hasn't happened yet.

So, getting excited about the release of the actual schedule - the exact order and dates of the games - is more difficult than usual, and unless you really have a calendar fetish, it's always pretty difficult.

Still, we are forced to pretend. Sure, sure, there will be a season, and, yes, there are a couple of interesting things about the schedule, assuming it ever gets to be played.

Opening the season with two road games, and four of the first six on the road, might not be the smoothest way to start. But only one of those road teams (the Falcons) had a winning record in 2010, and if going to St. Louis for the opener is a problem, then there are going to be a lot of problems.

That part of the schedule is offset by the other end. At the close of the season, when teams are a little beaten up and could use some help from the schedule, the Eagles play just one team (the Jets) in the final five weeks that had a winning record in 2010.

In between, it's the usual mosh pit, with a bye after the sixth game, which is just about perfect, and three home games immediately following the bye. It's a good chance to bunker in and grind through the middle of the schedule, and, also promising, just one of those three straight home games is against a 2010 winner (Chicago).

Of course. The Bears again, for the fifth straight year. And the Falcons, for the fourth straight year. And the 49ers, for the sixth time in seven seasons. Eagles fans have seen a lot more of Alex Smith than they have of Kevin Kolb. Those opponents were already known and their placement in the schedule doesn't make them any more or less interesting.

If you like prime-time games, then you like this schedule. The Eagles are set to play five evening games - three on NBC Sunday night, one on ESPN Monday night, and one fabulous Thursday night game in Seattle courtesy of the NFL Network, may its coffee beans roast in hell.

Fans look at these things differently than those who have to play the games or work at them. It's fine to hope for a Thanksgiving game so you have an excuse not to go to your wife's family again and listen to her brother talk about the new siding and the repair job he did on the sump pump. It's quite another to have to tell people you will need to be in Dallas for a game on Christmas Eve and won't be able to get out that night. The Eagles' traveling party has that pleasure this coming season - if it happens. And, friends, there's nothing quite like a bright and early 1 p.m. start on New Year's Day. The Eagles have that, too, but at least it's a home game and the end of the regular season.

That seems a long way away, the end of the regular season, and if it arrives, there will first be a slog through a fair but well-ordered schedule. The Eagles should have no complaints with it. If Michael Vick is still the quarterback, it might even help that six of the eight road games are on speedy artificial turf, and three of those are in domed, climate-controlled stadiums.

But we knew all that before. Now we know the when that goes with the who and the where. What we still don't know, however, is the "if." That might take a while to figure out. And worrying about the end of the regular season doesn't make much sense if there's no guarantee there will be a beginning to it.