2017 NFL schedule: Teams who have it easy early, tough late and everything in between

The NFL dropped the entire 256-game schedule Thursday. Dates, times, locations, TV networks, everything. Here at CBS Sports, we've let you know a bunch of the most interesting tidbits about the schedule. We have the Thanksgiving games. The Christmas weekend games. The Thursday night games. The most intriguing matchups. And of course, the games where you can expect Tony Romo to be on the call with the Dallas Cowboys on the field. 

What you really care about, though, is which teams got the breaks and which teams got shafted, right? Who has a chance to get off to a hot start with an easy September slate? Who will have the toughest time making a playoff push in December? Because in the end, working your way through the schedule to get to the playoffs is the goal for the regular season. 

Below, we'll go month by month looking at the easiest and toughest schedules, based on last season's records. We'll start with the five teams that have a chance to get off to a great start in September.

  1. Baltimore Ravens (0.219)
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers (0.250) 
  3. Indianapolis Colts (0.260)
  4. Carolina Panthers (0.333)
  5. Los Angeles Rams (0.385)

The Ravens open the season by traveling to Cincinnati to take on the Cincinnati Bengals , then get the pleasure of playing the Cleveland Browns at home and then the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. (Note: This game was previously misidentified as a home game.) It's actually the easiest month any team faces all season. That must be nice. The Steelers have road dates with the Browns and Chicago Bears sandwiched around a home game against the Minnesota Vikings . The Colts play the Rams on the road, followed by the Arizona Cardinals and Browns at home. The Panthers head to San Francisco in Week 1, then host the Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints . The Rams host the Colts and Washington before heading to the Bay to play the San Francisco 49ers .

The Ravens have a great shot at starting hot. USATSI

Meanwhile, here are five teams that could have a tough time getting on track at the start of the season. 

  1. Philadephia Philadelphia Eagles (0.656)
  2. Los Angeles San Diego Chargers (0.646)
  3. Chicago Bears (0.641)
  4. Arizona Cardinals (0.625)
  5. New York Jets (0.625)

The Eagles open their season in Washington, travel to Kansas City to take on the Kansas City Chiefs  and then host the New York Giants . The Chargers' first month in L.A. sees them play a road game against the Denver Broncos and home games against the Miami Dolphins and Chiefs. The Bears are one of two teams that play four games in September, and it's that extra game that makes their opening month even tougher. They play the Atlanta Falcons , Bucs, Steelers and Green Bay Packers , with alternating home and road dates. The Jets play at the Bills and Oakland Raiders before hosting the Dolphins. 

October is a long month of games, with some teams playing five times and others playing four. Here are the five easiest and most difficult schedules:

  1. Arizona Cardinals (0.344)
  2. Philadelphia Eagles (0.363)
  3. Indianapolis Colts (0.383)
  4. Minnesota Vikings (0.388)
  5. Cleveland Browns (0.431)

The Cardinals and Eagles catch a break after their rough September, as they go from having the first- and fourth-toughest schedules to the two easiest slates in the league. The Colts, meanwhile, double up on easy months and have a chance to get off to a great start.

The Eagles go from having it tough to easy pickings in October. USATSI

On the other end of the spectrum:

  1. Los Angeles Chargers (0.719)
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (0.641)
  3. Denver Broncos (0.625)
  4. Buffalo Bills (0.602)
  5. Green Bay Packers (0.583)

The Chargers might not like the schedule-makers. They start the season with the second-toughest September and follow that up with the hardest October in the NFL, which happens to be the single toughest month any team faces this season. (The slate: Eagles-Giants-Raiders-Broncos-Patriots. Yikes.) This is just an unkind month for the AFC West in general, as the Broncos and Chiefs are on this list as well. 

As for November, it's a month filled with bye weeks, just like October. Some teams play three games, others play four, and one team (the Cowboys) plays five. Here are the five easiest and toughest November schedules. 

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars (0.313)
  2. Detroit Lions (0.344)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals (0.344)
  4. Arizona Cardinals (0.383)
  5. Cleveland Browns (0.385)

The Cardinals and Browns are doubling up on easy months in the middle of the season, while the Bengals, Lions and Jags don't appear on any of our other lists. 

The Cardinals get back-to-back easy months in the middle of the season. USATSI

The list of toughest November schedules once again features three teams from the AFC West, as well as two other AFC contenders:

  1. Oakland Raiders (0.688)
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (0.667)
  3. Miami Dolphins (0.667)
  4. New England Patriots (0.646)
  5. Denver Broncos (0.617)

The Chiefs have the second-toughest schedule in back-to-back months. Their opponents in their October and November games: Washington-Texans-Steelers-Broncos-Cowboys-Giants-Bills. The Broncos follow the third-toughest October slate with the fifth-toughest schedule in November. Their schedule: Raiders-Giants-Chargers-Chiefs-Eagles-Patriots-Bengals-Raiders. 

The Patriots play the Dolphins, Raiders and Broncos out of their early-November bye week, and you might notice that all three of those teams also appear on this list. They're all above-.500 teams that square off this month against a squad that won 14 games last season, so it's no surprise that they made it onto this list. 

Oakland already has the toughest November schedule. but it actually gets even more daunting when you combine it with the start of their December slate. We'll get there in a second.

First, here are five teams that have a chance to end the season strong. The easiest December schedules (every team plays five December games this season):

  1. Tennessee Titans (0.319)
  2. Chicago Bears (0.331)
  3. San Francisco 49ers (0.350)
  4. Houston Texans (0.413)
  5. Green Bay Packers (0.413)

The Titans should feel pretty good about making a playoff push. They don't appear on any of our hardest schedule lists, and they close the season with a Texans-Cardinals-49ers-Rams-Jaguars month. It's one of the 10 easiest months of the entire season. 

The Titans could ride their December schedule to the playoffs. USATSI

By contrast, here are the teams with the toughest close to the season. 

  1. Buffalo Bills (0.700)
  2. Miami Dolphins (0.638)
  3. Philadelphia Eagles (0.631)
  4. Oakland Raiders (0.600)
  5. New York Giants (0.600)

The Bills, who have the fourth-toughest October, have the hardest closing schedule in the league. They finish up by facing a Patriots-Colts-Dolphins-Patriots-Dolphins final five. 

Miami, by the way, appears on both the toughest November and toughest December lists. Their eight-game second half: Raiders-Panthers-BYE-Patriots-Broncos-Patriots-Bills-Chiefs-Bills. YIKES. 

The Eagles are the only team with one of the top five toughest opening and closing months. They have a Seahawks-Rams-Giants-Raiders-Cowboys close to the season. 

Now, about that Oakland schedule ... the Raiders from the start of November through the end of the season: Dolphins-BYE-Patriots-Broncos-Chiefs-Giants-Chiefs-Cowboys-Eagles-Chargers. They get a respite with the final two games, but that post-bye schedule is easily the toughest stretch any team has all season. It just happens to span multiple months. 

Here's a month-by-month look at each team's strength of schedule, for your perusing pleasure. 

Arizona  0.625 0.344 0.383 0.538
Atlanta 0.458 0.563 0.602 0.488
Baltimore 0.219 0.550 0.583 0.444
Buffalo 0.417 0.602 0.438 0.700
Carolina 0.333 0.525 0.542 0.588
Chicago 0.641 0.453 0.542 0.331
Cincinnati 0.563 0.542 0.344 0.488
Cleveland 0.563 0.431 0.385 0.425
Dallas 0.573 0.438 0.525 0.593
Denver 0.542 0.625 0.617 0.544
Detroit 0.615 0.500 0.344 0.456
Green Bay 0.484 0.583 0.484 0.413
Houston 0.490 0.508 0.430 0.413
Indianapolis 0.260 0.383 0.604 0.450
Jacksonville 0.542 0.438 0.313 0.481
Kansas City 0.542 0.641 0.667 0.588
L.A. Chargers 0.646 0.719 0.500 0.481
L.A. Rams 0.385 0.531 0.547 0.450
Miami 0.396 0.500 0.667 0.638
Minnesota 0.563 0.388 0.458 0.456
New England 0.583 0.469 0.646 0.525
New Orleans 0.583 0.500 0.461 0.525
N.Y. Giants 0.604 0.523 0.414 0.600
N.Y. Jets 0.625 0.438 0.479 0.588
Oakland 0.500 0.525 0.688 0.600
Philadelphia 0.656 0.363 0.521 0.631
Pittsburgh 0.250 0.481 0.563 0.481
San Francisco 0.427 0.550 0.604 0.350
Seattle 0.438 0.500 0.563 0.431
Tampa Bay 0.438 0.581 0.479 0.538
Tennessee 0.531 0.438 0.523 0.319
Washington 0.479 0.531 0.570 0.556
CBS Sports Writer

Jared Dubin is a New York lawyer and writer. He joined CBSSports.com in 2014 and has since spent far too much of his time watching film and working in spreadsheets. Full Bio

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