Edges to be gleaned from 2004 schedule
Amid the flurry of draft preparations, the rest of the league kept turning with the release of the 2004 schedule. While it seems difficult to focus on a schedule in April, there will come a point in November when you wish you had. To help you then, you need to study now. Here are a few scheduling tidbits that could impact the next fantasy season:
The Seahawks have been a chic fantasy club the past two seasons, yet they have not lived up to expectations. This year, they could be a top playoff pick. Seattle closes against Minnesota, the Jets, Arizona and Atlanta - all of whom had defenses ranked in the bottom 12.
Denver should score plenty against Kansas City, Jacksonville and San Diego to open the year, but it closes with tough games vs. Miami, a rematch against Kansas City, and Tennessee and Indianapolis. The Dolphins and Colts games are the Broncos' only home games in the final five weeks, when Denver's weather usually is a factor.
Five outdoor games in a seven-week stretch last year took some of the luster off the Rams, but their only potential problems this year are November games at Buffalo and Green Bay. They also have three home games in the final five weeks, and dates at Carolina and Arizona.
Expect the Panthers' staying power to be tested quickly. Their first five games are against four playoff teams from 2003 and the Falcons, who beat Carolina when they had Michael Vick at quarterback last year. The schedule eases up after that, but if the Panthers stumble, this year could be the opposite of last year, when they built confidence in some easy early wins.
Buffalo makes three West Coast trips, to Oakland, Seattle and San Francisco. The 49ers game should be the easiest, but it comes in Week 16 at the end of four road games in five weeks, including the Seattle trip.
The Dolphins have the toughest schedule (opponents' .531 winning percentage), and five of their seven games after the bye are against 2003 playoff teams. Miami has been a disappointing second-half team in recent years, and that stretch could wreck a team on the brink of disaster.
Don't be fooled by the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants having three of the league's four easiest schedules. That includes two games each against the Redskins (5-11 last year). Joe Gibbs' club should not be quite the walkover it was last year, even if Washington isn't Super Bowl-bound.
Arizona coach Dennis Green does not get a friendly welcome back, playing the second-toughest schedule (.523 opponents' winning percentage). That includes opening the season at St. Louis and hosting New England. But if Green gets Arizona's offense working, he will not have to worry about bad weather. The Cardinals' only road game in the final four weeks is at Seattle and their last outdoor game in a cold-weather site is Oct.31 at Buffalo, meaning they could score well late even if they are out of the race.
The Jaguars will have an offense to watch if they land one of the top receivers in the draft. But a Week 15 game in Green Bay does not bode well for anybody that comes to count on the warm-weather team during the season. Home games in Week 14 vs. Chicago and Houston, however, look splendid if you plan around the Packers' game.
The Ravens should be well-rested through the middle part of the season thanks to an eight-week stretch when they will go no further than the Meadowlands to play the Jets. They could take the train to New England for a Nov. 28 game and not board a plane for 10 games between Oct.4 and Dec. 12.
Remember that none of this means anything. Whatever team emerges as this year's version of the Carolina Panthers will be a much more difficult foe than expected in December. A club that collapses as Oakland did last year will be a surprisingly welcome target.