A few years ago, the NFL went to a more standardized scheduling format that was supposed to eliminate the infamous "last place schedule." You know what I mean, right? Teams that finished at the bottom of the standings got easy schedules the following year and teams at the top of the standings got difficult schedules.
It was the old way of doing things and it was intended to promote parity by rewarding failure and penalizing success. Under the current system, teams within the same divisions are supposed to play the same schedules. OK, I like that formula because it directly impacts which team wins the division and nobody should enjoy an advantage.
What about those wild-card berths? There's nothing standardized about the schedules Cincinnati and San Diego play.
I confess to being a big schedule guy. I confess to looking ahead. Hey, I'm not a coach or a player. I don't have to take it one game at a time. I'm tellin' you, I can look ahead and get a pretty good idea of how things might turn out, and I'm tellin' you that I see the very strong possibility that the best teams may not make it into the playoffs this year.
Everybody knows the Bengals have played a soft opening schedule. They're 7-2 and have the second-best record in the league and they have only beaten one team that currently has a winning record. All right, you say, so their schedule's going to toughen up in the second half of the season, right? Wrong.
Yeah, they host Indianapolis and travel to Pittsburgh, but they also have Baltimore, Cleveland, at Detroit, Buffalo and at Kansas City. The Bengals could finish this season 11-5, cruise into the playoffs and only have beaten one team with a winning record.
Compare the Bengals' schedule to the Chargers': Eleven of the 16 teams on the Chargers' schedule are currently at or above .500. I look at the Chargers' schedule and I don't see how they can make the playoffs, and given the playoff opportunity, I think the Chargers could go all the way.
As much as we talk about parity, the 2005 season is not the best example of it. There are only seven teams in the AFC with winning records. There are, honestly, only eight playoff contenders. Unless something dramatic occurs in the second half of the season, this will have been a year of "haves" and "have nots."
Some columnists may be saying the same thing about the Jaguars; they may be using the Jaguars as an example instead of the Bengals. Let's not kid ourselves; the Jaguars' finishing schedule is the envy of every team in the league.
I have sympathy for the Chargers. They got screwed. It's going to be very difficult for them to overcome their schedule and make it into the playoffs. If they do, however, watch out. A tough schedule will test and battle-harden a team.