By Steve Silverman
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A strong case can be made that trying to analyze an NFL team’s schedule is nothing but a fool’s errand.
There’s too much that isn’t known at this point, including the kind of talent that each team will get in the draft, the tone that will be set at the start of training camp and the overall health of a team as the season unfolds.
But the release of the schedule in April is much like the start of spring training in baseball. Every team has hope, and the road map of what it will take to get to the holy land that is the NFL playoffs is clear.
The image of that schedule will change many times as the weeks and months move on, but here are the games that will matter the most for the Giants and Jets, as well as the potentially can’t-miss national games.
Giants at Dallas, Week 1
This game should have all the subtlety of a straight right from George Foreman in the prime of his career. The Cowboys were perhaps the biggest story of the regular season last year as their gold-dust rookie twins Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott made them unbeatable – except when they played the Giants.
New York handed the Cowboys their only two regular-season defeats until they dropped a meaningless game in Week 17 to the Philadelphia Eagles.
This game will mean the world to owner Jerry Jones and the Cowboys, and the Giants are going to have to show that the turnaround that started with coach Ben McAdoo last year will continue in 2017.
The Giants’ defense turned things around last year thanks to great work from safety Landon Collins, defensive tackle Damon Harrison, defensive end Olivier Vernon and cornerback Janoris Jenkins, and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will have to find a way to keep Prescott and Elliott in check once again.
Jets at Oakland, Week 2
The Jets open the season with a pair of road games in Buffalo and Oakland. The Week 1 game with the Bills will be tough enough, but going across the country will be a true litmus test.
It would be hard for even the most optimistic Jets fan to think that the visitors will be victorious against a healthy Derek Carr and the Raiders, but a narrow loss that extends to the late stages of the fourth quarter could mean more than an early-season victory elsewhere.
The main job that Jets coach Todd Bowles has this year is to put together a team that plays with continuity and confidence, and going into the Raiders’ backyard and exchanging heavy punches without getting intimidated will go a long way toward putting together a respectable season.
Carolina at New England, Week 4
Much of the focus this season will belong again to the New England Patriots. It’s easy to say that coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the crew will find themselves at the top of the division, and the key question will be whether the Pats host the AFC championship game in January or whether they have to go on the road for it.
But I’m not not quite that cynical and fully understand that the Patriots have to prove it every week of every season, and this game in Foxborough has my attention.
The Panthers had a nightmarish season in 2016 after winning the NFC title the year before, and this has to be a bounce-back season for coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton. But what kind of shape will Newton be in after offseason shoulder surgery?
Newton is supposed to be ready to roll by the start of training camp. If that assessment is accurate or even close, this should be an epic game between two dangerous teams.
Tennessee at Miami, Week 5
The Tennessee Titans made a huge move in 2016 and so did the Miami Dolphins. Miami’s Adam Gase looks like he is one of the top young head coaches in the NFL, but first-year impressions can be fleeting. The Dolphins host the Titans, and the Miami defense will get tested by third-year quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Miami QB Ryan Tannehill has the game to trade points and big plays with Mariota, but if the Dolphins are going to continue their surge into 2017, they will need to show they can dominate big games at home.
Kansas City at Oakland, Week 8
Tradition means a lot to most football fans, and the tradition of the old American Football League will be on display at the start of Week 8, when the Chiefs go to Oakland to take on their hated rivals.
The Raiders might have been the No. 1 seed in the AFC last year if Carr had not been injured late in the season, and they could be the team that is in the best position to unseat New England. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have been steady winners under coach Andy Reid, although they rarely show any kind of explosiveness on offense.
Detroit at Green Bay, Week 9
Fans who want to see an offensive explosion should be looking forward to this game between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.
Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers should be able to put on a memorable passing show barring an early November snowstorm in Green Bay. This is also a game that could go a long way toward deciding who will have the edge in the NFC North.
New England at Denver, Week 10
One week later, the Patriots go to Denver to take on the Broncos. Whenever the Pats don’t reach the Super Bowl, it seems that it’s usually the result of a confrontation with the Broncos in the Mile High city. These two teams meet on a Sunday night, and rest assured that the new-look Broncos will find a way to pressure Brady and make this game a 60-minute war.
Kansas City at Giants, Week 11
This is one of those interconference matchups that could go a long way to establishing late-season credibility.MORE: Chatelain: Finding Eli Manning’s Successor Can Wait — Maybe For A While
While the Giants and Chiefs are unfamiliar foes, the presence of Reid on the sidelines brings back memories of some showdowns with the Philadelphia Eagles, since he spent so much time as a division rival. Reid will always have a wrinkle or two on offense, and Spagnuolo and the Giants will be tested.
Giants at Washington, Week 12
Green Bay at Pittsburgh, Week 12
The Giants will be the stars on Thanksgiving night at Washington against the Redskins, and that game will be a war between two teams that hate each other.
That game, however, may be the second best of the week, as the Packers go to Pittsburgh on Sunday night to take on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. If Green Bay can withstand Pittsburgh’s nastiness and defensive pressure, this looks like a game that will be decided on the last possession.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay, Week 15
Jump ahead to the Week 15 Monday night game between the Falcons and Buccaneers. Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston appears to be the real thing, and the 2017 season is when he’ll lead the Bucs to the top of the NFC South. He will have to prove it at home against the defending NFC champions.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy