Rich Hofmann | What does the schedule tell us

Posted: April 12, 2007

STANDING HERE, in the second week of April, you cannot identify either the surprise hot teams or the stone-cold disappointments in the NFL season. You cannot read MRIs. You cannot divine DUIs. Do not pretend that you can. Do not waste your breath.

Save your W's and L's until late summer. Just recognize this, as you read over the Eagles schedule: There really can be no complaints this year.

At about this time last year, the ridiculousness of the task presented to the Eagles by the NFL schedule-makers was revealed. The idea that they had to play three straight road games in December against division opponents was cruel. That they managed to win them all with backup Jeff Garcia at quarterback did not diminish the weight of the burden. It really was a ridiculous thing to ask a team to do.

This year, there is none of that. On paper, the front half of the schedule is easier than the back half. On paper, the five-game stretch that begins right after Thanksgiving - at New England, Seattle, New York Giants, at Dallas, at New Orleans - is the toughest bit of business on the list. Other than that, there isn't a whole lot else to say.

In many ways, this is as favorable a schedule as the Eagles could hope to have.

They never play road games on 3 consecutive weeks, and only once on 2 consecutive weeks (at Dallas and at New Orleans, right before Christmas).

The bye comes in the fifth week of the season, which is fine. You never know when it is going to help you the most, but you don't usually want it too early. Week 5 is OK.

Overall, it doesn't appear to be a tough schedule early on. For a team that might need a bit of a break-in period as Donovan McNabb works back from his knee surgery, this is not a bad way to open up.

While it is dangerous to rely on past performance as an indicator of future results - isn't that what they say on the mutual fund commercials? - the early troika of Green Bay, Washington and Detroit has a reasonably friendly sound to it.

That is all any Eagles fan could ask for. After a wildly unpredictable 2006 season, maybe sanity returns in 2007. If that is the case, if at least a little of this is going to make sense, then a chance to get off to a decent start is what this schedule offers.

And that's really it. The rest of it just meanders around, with no obvious advantages or disadvantages. You worry about having too many teams coming off of their bye weeks, and the Eagles only have Dallas on Nov. 4. You worry about bunches of anything - road games, long trips, that kind of thing. But the Eagles really don't have any of that. Their longest trip, for example, is to Dallas. In the first 7 weeks of the season, they only get on a plane once, for the opener at Green Bay.

The end is hard, granted. But that always seems to be true - and, if they had a choice, pretty much 100 percent of coaches would prefer the hard run of games to be later in the season rather than earlier.

Starting with that game at New England, it would appear to be a difficult stretch of games. Just the fact that three of the five are on the road, and four of the five are against 2006 playoff teams, suggests a task of some significance. Only time will tell about that, though.

But other than that stretch, there are no obvious obstacles thrown in by an unfriendly schedule-maker - no inexplicable road stretches, no Christmas in Dallas, no back-to-back trips to the West Coast, nothing like that.

At first glance, the schedule is a little dull.

Maybe the Eagles could use a dose of dull.

Send e-mail to hofmanr@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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