The NFL released the 2012 regular season schedules today. And there is, of course, a lot of interesting matchups for the Raiders this year. But let's break down the important parts of schedule.
The Raiders open the season against the Chargers on Monday Night Football. This will be the second season in a row the Raiders have opened on Monday Night. Last season they beat the Broncos for their first season opening win since 2002. This game will be of equal importance as it will be against division rival Chargers. The Raiders players and coaches have already begun thinking about their first opponent.
The second week the Raiders take a short week and travel all the way to Miami. In is one of the longest flights as well as being in the Eastern time zone which will make the week of preparation a bit more difficult. The Dolphins' quarterback situation is in flux and it is possible that they will field a rookie in which case it is good news to meet them early in the season.
The next two games, the Raiders host the Steelers and travel to Denver. Those are both classic hated rivals for the Raiders as well as extremely tough matchups. The Steelers are always tough and it will be the Raiders first meeting with the Broncos in the Peyton Manning era.
How the team performs in these first four games will affect their entire season. Being 1-3 or 0-4 would make for a difficult hole of which to dig out.
Then the Raiders have a bye week. This is not good news. Best case scenario is always a bye week at or close to the middle of the season. In this situation the Raiders will have an 11 straight game home stretch. The injuries will happen and there will be no bye week to allow for recuperation.
The next four games are against middle of the road teams in the Falcons, Jaguars, Chiefs, and Buccaneers. The Raiders consider themselves a playoff level team and if that is true, they will need to beat these teams to prove it.
Then they have a tough test in the Baltimore Ravens-a team which made it to the AFC Championship last season and was a dropped TD catch away from the Super Bowl. That will undoubtedly be a tough game.
After that, the team meets up with head coach Dennis Allen's former team, the Saints. It is week 11 by this point which means that any player suspensions will be over as well as the assistant coach suspension of Joe Vitt. The Saints are a tough team and at this point of the season, they will be as strong or stronger than at any other point in the season.
The Raiders finish off their AFC South trip with back to back games against the Bengals and Browns. Carson Palmer will return to Cincinnati to play the Bengals for the first time since he was traded to the Raiders. And with the Browns game also begins a three game home stretch for the Raiders with the Browns, Broncos and Chiefs.
The middle of the two home games is a the team's second primetime matchup, this time on Thursday night versus the Broncos. The good news here is that with a short week, the team will not have to travel either before or after. Will give them more time to prepare for Peyton Manning and the Broncos and then more recovery time in the long week after.
Three of the final four games of the season are versus division opponents. The Broncos and Chiefs as just mentioned, then a quick trip to Carolina to face the Panthers and then the team finishes out the season in San Diego.
The Raiders finished last season at home against the Chargers. Had the Raiders won that game, they would have went to the playoffs with a 9-7 record. This season they will bookend the season with the Chargers and with the competitive AFC West, it could again come down to that final game against the Chargers.
The bye week is early but the three home games with the long break after the Thursday game help considerably. On the other hand, the Raiders have five games in the Eastern time zone. This is the first time in team history this has happened. Luckily, there are none that are back to back. The Raiders also don't get any relief for the early game with a late game start as both primetime games are at home.
Overall it pretty much balances out. It is considered a difficult schedule by most but it is difficult for the entire AFC West.