WHO THINKS the Eagles might bounce back from last year's disappointing 8-8, nonplayoff season?
The TV networks, for starters. The Birds were among eight teams with the maximum five prime-time appearances when the league officially unveiled its 2012 schedule last night.
This time last year, we thought the Eagles' 2011 schedule was light at the start, then got tougher. The Eagles started out 1-4. They won their final four games. So, really, nobody knows. "Tough" often depends on who's healthy, for you and your opposition, and the teams that were good last year often aren't the teams that are good this year.
This year, there is a five-game stretch that starts with a visit from the Super Bowl champion New York Giants Sept. 30. It features five games in a row against 2011 playoff teams, including visits to Pittsburgh (Oct. 7) and New Orleans (Monday, Nov. 5). That formidable-looking swath is broken up by the Eagles' bye, which starts after they host Detroit Oct. 14. Then the Falcons and Matt Ryan visit again Oct. 28. This will be the fifth year in a row the Eagles and Falcons have played in the regular season. The Birds have won three of four so far.
Probably the strangest quirk is that the Eagles open in Cleveland Sept. 9, 16 days after playing there in their third preseason game. The third preseason game is usually where fans see the most work from the starters; that just might not be the case this time.
"This is a day Eagles fans look forward to," team president Joe Banner said in a statement. "You look at those home and away dates and the season starts feeling really close. It's time to start planning tailgates and road trips and when to come in to work a little late on Tuesday morning. We're excited to have five prime time games so that Eagles fans around the country can share the excitement with all our fans in Philly."
The Eagles' disastrous visit to Seattle last year for a Thursday loss 4 days after losing at home to the Patriots led to the NFL changing the Thursday game setup - nobody has to do anything that extreme this year. The Birds play at home Thursday, Dec. 13 against the Bengals, 4 days after visiting Tampa.
Here is the prime-time breakdown, which as usual, is subject to change when the networks start flexing late in the year: The Eagles have two appearances on NBC's "Sunday Night Football'' (Sept. 30 vs. the Giants and Dec. 2 at Dallas). They also will play twice on ESPN's "Monday Night Football'' (Nov. 5 at New Orleans and Nov. 26 vs. Carolina) and once on the NFL Network (the Thursday, Dec. 13 game, vs. Cincinnati).
Both Dallas games come on the short week after the Eagles' Monday Night games, oddly enough. Five of the six NFC East games are clustered in the final 8 weeks of the season.
"It's always an exciting day around the NFL when the schedule is announced," Eagles coach Andy Reid said in a statement, the same thing he says every year this time. "It looks to be another competitive slate of games for our football team this year and we're hard at work now going through the process of getting ready for training camp. The [April 26-28] draft is right around the corner, our offseason conditioning program for the players is now in full swing, and the minicamps and OTAs are coming up soon. We're excited about the energy around our football team and we're looking forward to the opener at Cleveland."