The Hard Bargain: Stepping Up
The NFL Draft has come and gone and the season that never ends rolls on. This past week saw the release of the 2022 NFL schedule after plenty of tantalizing teasers were released during the week to whet the appetites of the most diehard football fans.
By now, we have all heard that there will be three Christmas Day games, and we are aware that the Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams will open the season by hosting the Buffalo Bills.
Before we discuss the schedule in greater detail, allow me to welcome you back to another season, the second of this column series, “The Hard Bargain.” I will be focusing increasingly on struggles relating to parenting and navigating our way through the world while caring for our health – mentally, physically, and emotionally.
This season I am stepping my game up, and this week I’m focusing on just that – taking steps forward. My two permanent charges, my twin daughters, “the Sneaky Girls,” are preparing for an opportunity this evening to take a big step of their own. Recently starting their first foray into martial arts, they are now students at a local taekwondo school. Tonight they will have the chance to earn a red stripe to add to their white belt if they can successfully demonstrate some of the forms they have learned.
It is heartwarming for me to watch them practice and develop. I have encouraged the girls always to do their best and follow their instructor’s teachings. If they do, they will improve. Kids tend to expect immediate gratification. It has been a challenge to help my children understand that they will get better at most things with practice. But, this taekwondo class is helping them to understand.
They can see – as do I watching them – that they are improving. Moves and skills that were difficult for them to learn are becoming easier to perform. It does wonders for their self-confidence and makes their old dad beam with pride.
I know I am not the only parent who has watched their children become frustrated and cry when they cannot perform a task on their initial try. It can be crushing to see them doubt themselves and their worth. Still, as the parent, this is the time they need you the most. Gentle and steady encouragement can help them muster the strength to try again before giving up. It brings the best coach out in me, trying to bring the best out in them.
Professional coaches – 32 of them in the NFL – now have their work cut out for them heading into the 2022 season. While it may feel like a white yet until Week 1 rolls around, the teams that stand to have the most success this year have been putting the pieces in place for a while now. Knowing who is playing who and when clears up the murky picture of the NFL landscape.
Now that we are into late May, the next several weeks will be filled with Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamps, getting rookies up to speed, and implementing changes in the playbook. It is a busy time for organizations that have made large-scale changes, such as a new quarterback or coaching staff coming in. There are many storylines heading towards this season with opportunities for someone to step up and make that next stride toward greatness.
Here are some of the most notable winners and losers from the NFL schedule release:
NFL Schedule Release Losers
The NFL schedule release did not do many favors for the Pittsburgh Steelers. A team in the middle of great upheaval, Pittsburgh finds themselves with a schedule tied for 12th in Strength of Schedule (SOS).
This will not be a year where they can hope to score an early win or two before facing quality opponents. The Steelers have it tough the go when they face defending AFC Champion, the Cincinnati Bengals. They will also square off with New England, Cleveland, Buffalo and Tampa Bay in the first six weeks.
Ben Roethlisberger is no longer behind center, retiring following the 2021 campaign. The Steelers will be making their way with a new quarterback this season, whether it is journeyman Mitchell Trubisky or first-round rookie selection, Kenny Pickett.
They will also see changes along the offensive line highlighted by free agency acquisitions of players like James Daniels and Mason Cole. The wide receiver room has been rebuilt with rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin joining the team. If they hope to see a winning record in 2022, the Steelers will need to hope this new offense shows improvement from the one that struggled last season.
Kyler Murray probably feels like the schedule makers gave him the short end of the stick. Arizona faces the second-toughest schedule in the league this season, behind only the Rams.
Murray also has to start the season without his top receiving target, as DeAndre Hopkins will miss the season’s first six games after testing positive for a banned substance.
Playing in the NFC West means having a challenging schedule. Still, the Cardinals get to host the Kansas City Chiefs to begin the season. They also face other potentially threatening non-division teams like the Buccaneers, Chargers, Broncos and Eagles throughout the year. Even with the addition of Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in a draft-night trade, Murray will be called upon to do the heavy lifting for this offense, especially early in the season.
NFL Schedule Release Winner
Few teams have done more for the optimism of their fan base than the Miami Dolphins. From hiring young, hotshot coach Mike McDaniel to a veritable free-agent bonanza, the Dolphins are looking to take a major step up.
Their free-agent crop includes Chase Edmonds, Cedrick Wilson, Raheem Mostert and Terron Armstead. Oh, and did I mention they sent the Chiefs a stack of draft picks to acquire Tyreek Hill, one of the league’s premier wide receivers?
Yes, the Dolphins are all-in, and the schedule sets up nicely for their sake. Facing just the 21st strongest schedule, the Dolphins will have several winnable games. They get the Texans at home, the NFC North and the Jets are in their division.
They will still have to face Buffalo and New England twice, along with Cincinnati and Baltimore. Still, if Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins want to prove they belong after their busy offseason, they will have that opportunity.
As the anticipation builds toward kickoff on opening night, teams will do all they can to put their best foot forward. Their practice, effort and dedication to the game will undoubtedly show improvement on the field. The same is true for your children and for you too. Everybody deserves a chance to take a step up in their lives, along with someone beside them encouraging them to soar.
Life is hard, but it gets a little easier when we learn to lean on each other. Find me on Twitter @DaveFantasy for more life and fantasy sports content.