2018 NFL schedule rankings, NFC East: Cowboys have it rough, but Giants have it worse
The entire NFC East got the short end of the stick when it comes to the NFL schedule
For seven of the past eight seasons, the NFC East has sent only one team to the playoffs, and if the setup to this year's schedule is any indication, that's probably all we're going to see in 2018.
The problem for the NFC East is that all four teams in the division will be facing brutal schedules this year. With the regular season still more than two months away, you might be wondering how we already know that things are going to be brutal and it's because we devised a formula to rank all 32 schedules in the NFL.
Back in February, we ranked, but that's not exactly the most efficient way to rate schedule difficulty. To fix that, we've devised a formula that gives a more accurate look at what each team will be facing during the upcoming season.
To devise our formula, we started by going through each individual game on each team's schedule and ranked it based on difficulty. After that, we also looked at Super Bowl odds. Since the oddsmakers in Las Vegas seem to know what they're doing, we incorporated their odds, which is a big reason why the season could turn into a total nightmare for most of the NFC East.
For one, each team will be playing a loaded schedule that includes seven games against teams that went to the playoffs in 2017. To put things in perspective, just consider the Cowboys' schedule. Although they have the "easiest" schedule in the division using our formula, it's really not that easy. If Dallas was in the AFC, it would have the second-toughest schedule , behind only the Chiefs.
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One final thing we used to tabulate this formula is the first three games of the season. We weighted those three games slightly more than the other 13 games because they tend to be a good indication of how a team will play throughout the season. Basically, teams that go winless in their first three games almost never make the playoffs.
On the flip side of that, 3-0 usually means good things in the NFL: From 1990 to 2010, 75.9 percent of the teams that started 3-0 made the playoffs. Those odds drop to 54.9 percent for 2-1 teams and 23.3 percent for 1-2 teams.
You can look at last year's playoff field as proof of how important the first few games are: Of the 12 teams that made the postseason, only the Saints (1-2) didn't have a winning record through the first three weeks of the season. The other 11 teams started the year either 2-1 or 3-0.
This basically means that if your favorite team has a murderer's row in the first three weeks of the season, you should probably just give up on 2018 and start paying attention to 2019.
The reason we're not giving the final three games of the season more weight is because the final games don't always mean the same for everybody, especially when a team is resting its starters. The Saints went 0-3 in their final three games in 2009 and still won the Super Bowl. The Ravens went 1-2 in their final three in 2012 and also won the Super Bowl.
By the way, if you're looking for one team in the NFC East that's going to have a difficult time getting through the first three weeks of the season with a winning record, look at the Giants. New York opens with the Jaguars, before playing road games at Dallas and Houston. Actually, forget the first three weeks, the Giants have one of the most brutal overall schedules in the NFL.
Alright, that's enough rambling, let's get to these rankings.
Wait, one more thing, here's how things are going to work with our schedule rankings: On Tuesdays and Thursdays over the next few weeks, we'll be going division by division to rank every schedule in the NFL. After hitting the AFC over the past two weeks --you can, , and -- we'll be moving on to the NFC this week with the NFC East (June 26) and NFC South (June 28).
Ranking the NFC East schedules
4. Dallas Cowboys
Schedule difficulty rating: 96.50
Easiest stretch: During the 2018 season, the Cowboys will be playing seven games against teams that went to the playoffs last year, which means there's not really an easy stretch on their schedule. However, if the Cowboys can survive and stay in the playoff race until December, they will be getting a very friendly stretch to close the season when they play the Colts (Week 15), Buccaneers (Week 16) and Giants (Week 17). Of course, the downside to that stretch is that only one of those games (Tampa Bay) will be played at home.
Roughest stretch: Only four NFC teams made it to the divisional round of the playoffs last season and the Cowboys are going to have to play three of them during an ugly five-week stretch that starts with a Week 10 game in Philadelphia. After that, the Cowboys have to go on the road to face the Falcons, before getting three consecutive home games against the Redskins, Saints and Eagles. That Redskins game might seem like a breather during this stretch, but it won't feel like one because it's being played on Thanksgiving, which means Dallas will be getting only four days of rest before the game. If you're looking for a stretch where everyone in Dallas might start to lose all faith in Jason Garrett, this is it. Also, you could easily add a sixth game to this brutal stretch because the Cowboys play a 2017 AFC playoff team in Week 9 (Titans).
Weird scheduling note: The Cowboys should've asked the NFL NOT to give them three home games in a row, because the last two times that's happened, things haven't gone so well. In both 2017 and 2014, the Cowboys played three straight home games and went 1-2 both times.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
Schedule difficulty rating: 98.25
Easiest stretch: The biggest advantage to winning the Super Bowl is that you get to open your season on a Thursday, which means you get 10 days off before Week 2. For the Eagles, that's really going to come in handy, because their easiest stretch of the season starts with a Week 2 game in Tampa against a Bucs team that Jameis Winston. After that, Philly has another very winnable game in Week 3 against the Colts. On the other hand, maybe we shouldn't count the Colts as part of Philly's easiest stretch since they had one big advantage the other teams don't have: Frank Reich. Indy's new coach -- and former Eagles offensive coordinator -- will be eager to beat his old team in Week 3. Of course, no one actually thinks that's going to happen, especially the oddsmakers in Vegas. The Eagles are already favored by 10 points in that game.
Roughest stretch: If the Eagles are going to struggle at all this season, that will likely start in Week 4, when they have to play four 2017 playoff teams in five weeks, with three of those games coming on the road (at Tennessee, Minnesota, at Giants, Carolina, at Jacksonville). For the Eagles, the most brutal part of that stretch could end up being the Thursday game they play in New York after playing the Vikings in Week 5. Oh, and they also have to make a 3,500 mile flight to London for that game against the Jaguars. The good news for the Eagles is that their roughest stretch of the season ends with a Week 9 bye.
Weird scheduling note: If it starts to seem like the Eagles are playing a 2017 playoff team nearly every week this season, that's basically because they are. Not only will the Eagles be playing two teams that made the AFC playoffs last season (Titans and Jaguars), but they'll also be facing every team that made the NFC playoffs.
2. Washington Redskins
Schedule difficulty rating: 103.00
Easiest stretch: Someone in the NFL's scheduling department must really like Alex Smith, because the Redskins were given two very winnable games to start the season. After playing their opener in Arizona against a Cardinals team that will have a new starting quarterback, the Redskins get to host the Colts in Week 2, and it's very likely Indy will also have a new starting quarterback (Andrew Luck counts as new since he didn't play last season). Sure, the Redskins are in the same situation since they'll also have a new starting quarterback, but there aren't really any injury or experience concerns with Smith like there are with the Colts and Cardinals. The Cardinals will be starting either an unproven rookie (Josh Rosen) or a quarterback who has trouble staying healthy (Sam Bradford). As for the Colts, if Luck starts, there's a chance he'll be playing in just his first or second game over the past 21 months.
Roughest stretch: The Redskins better start 2-0, because they might go another month before they win again after Week 2. The ugliest portion of the Redskins' schedule starts in Week 3 with a game against the Packers and continues until Week 5. Following the game against Green Bay, the Redskins will have a bye, before facing the Saints and Panthers. The Redskins also have a stretch from Week 12 through 16 where they play four of five games on the road. Oh, and they also play the Eagles twice over the final five weeks of the season. Basically, this is the type of schedule that you wouldn't wish upon your worst enemy.
Weird scheduling note: If you're starting to feel like the Redskins play on Thanksgiving every year, you're not crazy. The Redskins' Week 12 game against the Cowboys will mark the third straight year that Washington has played on Turkey Day. If you don't count the Cowboys and Lions -- who play on Thanksgiving every year -- the Redskins will become the first team since the 1981 Bears to play on Thanksgiving in three straight seasons.
1. New York Giants
Schedule difficulty rating: 106.75
Easiest stretch: The Giants' schedule starts with the Jaguars and somehow only gets harder from there. The Giants won't really get a break in the schedule until Week 13, when they play the Bears. The game against Chicago will start a very winnable stretch that includes a game at Washington, a home game against Tennessee and a game at Indianapolis. The good news for the Giants is that their most winnable stretch of games comes toward the end of the season, so all they have to do is stay in the playoff hunt until then. Of course, that won't be easy and you'll understand why after you read about their roughest stretch.
Roughest stretch: If that Giants haven't been eliminated from the playoffs by Week 7, that will be a minor miracle. The Giants have one of the most brutal seven-game stretches of the any team in the NFL this year and that starts with their opener against Jacksonville. After that, the Giants have two straight road games in Texas (at Dallas, at Houston) before they get to the meat of their schedule. Starting in Week 4, the Giants will play four straight games against teams that made the playoffs in 2017 (New Orleans, at Carolina, Philadelphia, at Atlanta). This is definitely the type of schedule you don't want to see one year after finishing last place in your division with a 3-13 record. This is the kind of schedule that might actually make Eli Manning WANT to retire.
Weird scheduling note: It doesn't happen often, but MetLife Stadium will be hosting two NFL games in one weekend this year. In Week 15, the Jets will host the Texans for a Saturday game and then, less than 20 hours later, the Giants will host the Titans in a game that will kick off at 1 p.m. ET.
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