The NFL Schedule was released on April 20th and fans are always interested to see if their team received a favorable or unfavorable draw. While I do look at records from last year to determine the difficulty of the schedule, that is often problematic, because history tells us that half of the teams that made the playoffs last year will not be playoff teams this year. Factors I am more concerned about are early bye weeks, long road stretches, and warm weather teams having to play a lot of cold weather games in November and December. Here are my impressions of the NFL schedule release. I pick five winners and five losers and what my thoughts are about their schedule.
1) Tennessee Titans – The Titans have the second easiest schedule in the NFL based on last year’s record (111-142-3) and they appear poised to make a playoff push for the first time since 2008. Their last three weeks appear to be very easy, as they are at San Francisco and at home against the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars. Those three teams all had Bottom-5 records in 2016.
They do have a tough start to the season, playing Oakland at home, followed by a road game in Jacksonville and a home game against Seattle. That is followed by three road games in four weeks. They are also on the road four times in five weeks from Week 11 to Week 15. 10 wins usually makes the playoffs, so even if they start (7-6), they could still likely make the playoffs with that great stretch of games to close the season.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers have been very tough at home, which is good news for them in the second half of the season. They play five of their final seven games at home with the two road games being at Cincinnati and at Houston. If they need to go on a tear in the second half of the season, the schedule sets up for them to close the season strong.
The tradeoff is three road games in the first four weeks of the year, but two of those games are at Cleveland and at Chicago. The only other time they have back-to-back road games are against the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts in Week 8 and Week 10. Their bye week is in Week 9, which is also favorable for them. They also do not play any games on the West Coast this year. Their longest trip is to Houston, which makes for a very good schedule.
3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – They do have to make sure the season does not go downhill early in year. They do have a tough start with games at Miami, Chicago, at Minnesota, the New York Giants and New England Patriots. If they can survive that start to the season, they do close with three of their last four games at home and a Week 17 game at home against the New Orleans Saints.
The only bad weather game is a December 03 game at Green Bay. Green Bay can be cold that time of year, but at least they do not have to go up there in Week 16. There are a lot of tough teams on the schedule, but they are fortunate to play a ton of home games late in the season and they do not see Atlanta until Week 12. Four of their final six games are against the division, so if they can remain competitive early, they have a good chance to close strong and win the division.
4) Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings have the easiest schedule of any team in the NFC North based on 2016 schedule. Their opponents were just (115-139-2) in 2016. They also have a great chance to start the season strong, as five of their first eight games are at home and the road games are at Pittsburgh (Week 2), at Chicago (Week 5) and at Cleveland (Week 8).
The downside is that when a team has that many home games early, there are a lot of road games later in the year. Five of their last eight games are on the road and they do have to travel to Washington, Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina from Week 10 to Week 14. The Vikings are making a lot of changes on the offensive line and they let go of RB Adrian Peterson this off-season. They also are working QB Teddy Bridgewater back into the mix after a serious knee injury and he may not be ready to play in Week 1. I think it is to their advantage to have an easier schedule early in the year, this team may need a few games to gel on offense.
5) New York Giants – They have a mixed bag with the schedule. Their season starts tough, with three of their first four games being on the road and back-to-back games against playoff teams from 2016, at Dallas in Week 1 and home against the Detroit Lions. They also have a ton of games in the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones. They play at Denver, Arizona, Oakland and San Francisco this year. ESPN senior analytics specialist Brian Burke’s also points out that they have an NFL-high four games against teams coming off their bye and a net total of minus-22 days of rest compared to their opponents. To put that in perspective, the Detroit Lions are second at minus 12.
However, when I look at the schedule, there are some things I like. The good news is that they play the entire division at home in Week 14 through Week 17 with a road game in Week 16 against Arizona sprinkled into the mix. They also have a couple games against the Los Angeles Rams and at San Francisco in the second half of the season. If they can survive the early part of the schedule and the teams that have extra rest, the back end sets up nicely for them to end the season on a roll. It also helps that their division rival, the Dallas Cowboys have a very tough schedule to start off the year and that everybody in the division has to travel west a lot this year, so hopefully nobody runs away with the division early in the year.
1) Dallas Cowboys – Dallas is tied for the 10th toughest schedule based on last year’s record with their opponents record from 2016 being (134-118-4). That is a combination of three teams in their division having a winning record last year and playing the AFC West and a first place schedule. They have a tough open to the season playing the New York Giants at home, followed by two road games against the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals. They also host Green Bay in Week 5 before their Week 6 bye.
The end of the season is not much better. Three of their final four games are on the road (at New York Giants, at Oakland Raiders and at Philadelphia Eagles). Their lone home game is a Week 16 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. The only positive part of the Schedule is they only leave Dallas once in the month of November, but other than that nice stretch of home games in November, they have a very tough opening and ending to the schedule.
2) Green Bay Packers – Green Bay has started very slow in recent years. Last year they were (4-6) after 10 games and in 2014 and 2013, they started the season (1-2). They have a very tough schedule to start the season, they host Seattle and they travel to Atlanta in Week 2. They also travel to Dallas and Minnesota in Week 5 and Week 6, so they have a very good chance of being no better than .500 after Week 6, especially if they start the season slow.
They also have three of their last four games on the road, with their only home game coming in Week 16 against Minnesota. They have to travel to Detroit in Week 17 and they do not have their great home field advantage at their disposal for most of December. I do like that their bye week comes in Week 8 this year, instead of coming early in the year. In 2016, their bye week was in Week 4 and it would have been nicer if it had come later in the year. It is a brutal start to the season and a ton of road games in December. They have to make sure the season does not start slow for them like it has in previous seasons.
3) Miami Dolphins – They have a brutal second half of the season. Their last eight games are Oakland, at Carolina, bye week, at New England, Denver, New England, at Buffalo, Kansas City and Buffalo. The division schedule is very back loaded and they play New England twice in three weeks and Buffalo twice in three weeks. That is also four playoff teams from 2016 and the 2015 Super Bowl participants (Carolina and Denver). They have to start the season fast, because they are unlikely to make up ground in the second half of the season.
The good news is they play the New York Jets twice in the first seven weeks and the only game they play that is a West Coast game is in Week 2 at the Los Angeles Chargers. They also have three home games in four weeks from Week 4 to Week 7. They bye week in Week 11 also works nicely for them, but they are going to have to start strong, because the schedule becomes brutal starting in Week 9. A slow start to the season will almost certainly mean they do not make the playoffs for a second straight year.
4) Denver Broncos – The Broncos have the toughest schedule in the NFL this year, their 2017 opponents were 147-107-2 in 2016. They need to start the season fast, because they pay a price for having four of their first five games at home. They are on the road in Week 7-9 (at Los Angeles Chargers, at Kansas City Chiefs and at Philadelphia Eagles). They are also on the road for four out of five games from Week 12 to Week 16.
There are a couple nice breaks for them. They do play the Kansas City Chiefs at home in Week 17, which will be nice if they need to win that game to clinch the division. It will also be nice to play a lot of games at home to start the season. They really need to start the season fast, because if they go (2-3) in their first five games, they are going to have a hard time digging out of that hole with a ton of road games in the second half of the season.
5) New England Patriots – The only things I like about their schedule is a Week 9 bye and their last two games are at home against Buffalo and the New York Jets. This schedule is very difficult in the second half of the season, thanks to playing five of their first eight games at home. From Week 10 to Week 15, they are at Denver, at Oakland, Miami, at Buffalo, at Miami and at Pittsburgh. Furthermore, when they play Miami at home, they will be returning from Oakland and the Dolphins will be coming off their bye week.
The good news for them is that a lot of their tough games this year are at home. They play Kansas City, Atlanta, Houston and Carolina at home. It does make for some long West Coast swings. They play at Denver and at Oakland in back-to-back weeks. They also have some tough road games at Pittsburgh and at Tampa Bay, which was very hot to close the 2016 season. They need to start the season fast, because they play a ton of road games after their bye week. That is not a schedule that is conducive to finishing strong, especially if they struggle early in the year.