This is not the type of schedule the Washington Redskins would want to see in the regular season.
First game: Baltimore Ravens. No. 2 defense in the league last year.
Second game: Pittsburgh Steelers. World champions. No. 1 defense in 2008.
Now comes game No. 3: Friday night vs. the New England Patriots, who are, well, still the Patriots -- even if they ranked a mere 10th in defense last year.
One thing's for sure. If Jason Campbell's confidence isn't truly shot come Saturday, he can claim the title of top battle-tested quarterback during preseason in the NFL.
"I like playing those three teams," offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. "You find out who you really are. If you don't wear a jock strap, you're going to be in trouble because these guys know how to play."
There are plenty of things that go into a making an exhibition schedule, and nearly all of them have to do with money. All of the Redskins' opponents are on the East Coast, making for shorter trips that cut down on travel time and cost.
Division rivals are shunned because there's too much animosity -- besides, they'll be on the schedule twice during the regular season anyway. Visiting clubs with large followings -- like the Steelers and Patriots -- are welcomed because they help ensure a good crowd.
So it's more coincidence than anything that coach Jim Zorn's starting offense is having to repeatedly face top-notch first-teamers on the other side of the ball. That doesn't make things any easier when the results aren't there.
Campbell, entering a contract year amid doubts as to whether he's the long-term answer at quarterback, went just 4 for 13 in the first two games, including a 1-for-7 performance last week against the Steelers. The reviews have been brutal, and the even-keeled quarterback showed flashes of irritation this week.
"Right now it's more negative than it is positive," Campbell said. "Everybody wants to talk about 1 for 7. C'mon, there have been games when I've been 20 for 23, almost. So 1 for 7 is definitely something I'm not concerned about."
The Patriots aren't having it much easier. Their preseason schedule also includes the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants from the NFC East, a division that didn't have a team with a losing record last year.
"We'll get a good evaluation of how things are coming together for us, and where we're at physically and where we're at competitively against a quality team," coach Bill Belichick said. "We'll be seeing three of the four teams in the NFC East. We know that's a great (division). This preseason schedule has given us a good opportunity against some of the best teams in the NFC."
While Belichick wasn't happy with the sloppy play he saw from his team last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, the performance didn't raise the alarm bells the way Campbell's did in Washington. There's a palpable sense that the Redskins starters must somehow find the end zone against the Patriots, even if it is preseason.
"I want to see a sustained drive," Zorn said. "I want to see us push it in when we get down to the 3-yard line."
The third game is traditionally the dress rehearsal for the season, so it's supposed to be the best gauge as to what's to come. Both teams are expected to play their starters for the entire first half and possibly into the second.
"When you're out there in the third preseason game, you're through those early phases of training camp where you made a lot of those mistakes," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, whose performance thus far has put to rest any concerns about his knee injury from last season. "Now, you're hopefully starting to really get ready for the opener."
Of course, preseason results are a matter of perspective. The Patriots lost all four games last year, but they went 11-5 in the regular season. The Redskins' dress-rehearsal game was a 47-3 embarrassment against the Carolina Panthers, but it didn't seem to matter come September.
"We got thumped big time and we couldn't do anything," Campbell said, "and we started the season off 6-2."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)