Schedule appears to set up decently for Cowboys and Raiders, among others

And Patriots' schedule doesn't appear as rocky as their past few months

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The NFL released its full 2018 schedule on Thursday night, and although attempting to read too much into it on April 19 is the ultimate exercise in futility, let's take a look at a few of the seemingly more manageable slates on paper. Again, on paper, on April 19, one week before the draft and months before injuries and other factors change completely the complexion of how things appear now.

PATRIOTS No team would be less likely to receive sympathy if the opposite were true, but after several months of unrest for the Patriots, they can sleep just a bit easier Thursday night with a schedule unlikely to stop them from their 17th division title — including 10 in a row — in 19 seasons under Bill Belichick. Seriously. Look it up.

Sure, opening vs. the Texans, who gave them all they could handle last year, and visiting a Jaguars club in Week Two that led New England by double digits in the fourth quarter of the AFC title game isn't a walk in the park. Neither are home games in Weeks Nine and 13, respectively, with the Packers and Vikings. And they'll again visit Heinz Field in Week 15, where Jesse James and the Steelers also appeared to have them beat last year and now have the updated catch rule on their side.

Still, with Belichick, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski all expected back regardless of what you've read, and their five-game prime-time slate including (at) Lions (Week Two), vs. Colts (Week Five), vs. Chiefs (Week Six), (at) Bills (Week Eight) and the aforementioned home game vs. the Packers one week later, what appears legitimately concerning here? Surely not hosting the Bills and Jets, perennial Patriots doormats, in the final two weeks of the season.

COWBOYS

After a turbulent 2017, Jason Garrett's crew has a chance for a soft landing this season, when their final three games are against the bottom-dwelling Colts, Buccaneers and Giants, respectively. Granted, that trio of cupcakes is preceded by the Eagles and Saints, but a look at the Cowboys' opening slate also appears manageable with this likely being the right year (if there ever were one) to visit Seattle and the Detroit Lions at home to follow in Week Three.

Of course, the Cowboys mostly stopped themselves last season, when Zeke Elliott's on-again, off-again suspension and injuries to Sean Lee and Tyron Smith stifled them. But it never hurts to perhaps get a bit more luck on their side this time around, and visiting a Panthers club in Week One that will be without Thomas Davis and, like Seattle, is in a bit of a transitional phase isn't the worst thing.

RAIDERS

With one of the "easier" sets of opponents in 2018 ('17 win percentage of .473), Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch was in a joking mood after seeing the upcoming slate. "Gruden must have cut some side deals," Lynch said in a video on the team's website, likely alluding to a jam-packed prime-time slate for the former MNF analyst's first return to the sideline in a decade.

The Raiders open at home under the Monday-night lights against the current kings of Cali, the L.A. Rams, but follow that with two winnable road games — at Denver and at Miami — before welcoming the Browns in Week Four. 2-2, if not 3-1, sure seems attainable if Gruden still has his fastball.

Coming out of the Week Seven bye, the Raiders have another navigable stretch in home games with the Colts and Chargers flanked around a short trip to San Francisco.

Facing the Chiefs and young gunslinger Pat Mahomes twice in the final five weeks isn't ideal, surely getting Mahomes early in the season, when he's still likely to be finding his footing, would be preferable, but on the flip side, getting Case Keenum and a new-look Denver attack early is better than later.

CARDINALS

Steve Wilks has a chance to carry over the momentum his predecessor, Bruce Arians, built during a 4-2 finish in 2017. Sure, Wilks, a rookie head coach, also has a new passer in Sam Bradford and additional newness in his WR corps and defensive backfield.

But playing three of four at home to begin the season, all of which come against non-playoff teams (Washington, Chicago and Seattle) should be a welcome sight for the Cardinals. They also get the Lions and Rams at home in December and the well-timed Week Nine bye.

Save for Arizona's Week 15 trip to Atlanta, the farthest the Cardinals will travel in 2018 is the Midwest, where the dangerous Vikings and Packers await in Weeks Six and 13, respectively.

Pro Football Weekly