2019 NFL schedule rankings, AFC West: Raiders set up for nightmare season, Broncos also face brutal schedule

The Raiders final season in Oakland might end up being more of a funeral procession than a celebration, and that's because the Raiders will be dealing with one of the most difficult schedules in the NFL this year, according to our NFL schedule ratings. 

According to our formula, the Raiders will be playing the fifth most difficult schedule in the NFL in 2019, and although that sounds ugly, there is some good news here: They don't have the most difficult schedule in the division. That honor belongs to the Broncos, who have the third most difficult schedule in the NFL. 

Basically, the Raiders and Broncos might be playing for the rights to a top-10 pick when they meet in the regular season finale on Dec. 29. Anyway, with the regular season still three months away, you might be wondering how we already know that the Raiders and Broncos have two of the five hardest schedules in the NFL this year, and that's because we went ahead and ranked all 32 schedules. 

The easiest way to rank each schedule in the NFL is to use strength of schedule, but the problem with going that route is that it's not exactly the most efficient way to rate schedule difficulty, which is why we went ahead and devised a formula. 

So how does this formula work? Glad you asked. 

First, we looked at Super Bowl odds from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. Since the oddsmakers in Vegas seem to know what they're doing, we incorporated their odds into our formula, which didn't work out so well for the Broncos or Raiders, who both have to play two of Vegas' favorite teams twice this year (Chiefs and Chargers).        

Another part of the formula is the first three games of the season. Those are going to be weighted slightly more than the other 13 games because they tend to be a good indication of how a team will play throughout the year. Basically, teams that go winless in their first three games almost never make the playoffs. 

Since 1990, only four teams have started 0-3 and made the postseason (1992 Chargers,1995 Lions, 1998 Bills, 2018 Texans). Although the Texans pulled off the feat last year, there's a reason it's only happened four times in 29 seasons, and that's because it's nearly impossible to pull off. 

Although an 0-3 start almost always means you'll miss the postseason, 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. 

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 2019 and start planning for the 2020 draft, which would actually make sense for the Raiders. Not only do they have the most difficult opening three weeks of any team in the AFC West, but the draft is in Vegas, so planning for 2020 might actually be for the best. 

Speaking of the first three games, it's probably worth nothing that starting off the year with a winning record through the first three weeks has almost become a prerequisite for getting into a conference title game. Over the past four seasons, 15 of the 16 teams that took part in the AFC and NFC title games started the season at 2-1 or better. That doesn't necessarily mean you're favorite team will make it if they start 2-1, it just means they almost certainly won't make it if they start 1-2 or 0-3. (Since 2015, the one team that bucked this trend was the 2018 Patriots, but the Patriots have bucked a lot of trends over the years and it's unlikely that another team would be able to emulate them). 

On the other end of the schedule, the reason the final three games of the season aren't being given 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.  

Finally, each individual game on each team's schedule is also being ranked based on difficulty. 

For instance, the Chiefs have to travel to Chicago for a road game in December. On the other hand, the Broncos get to play the Bears in Denver. From a strength of schedule standpoint, the game is the same: Both teams are playing the Bears. However, the Chiefs game against Chicago is viewed as more difficult in our formula, because they have to go on the road to face a Bears team that has never lost a December home game under Matt Nagy (2-0). On the other hand, the Broncos will get to host a Bears team that has been somewhat beatable on the road over the past few seasons (Chicago is 7-9 away from home since Mitchell Trubisky's rookie year in 2017). Those individual nuances are factored into the schedule ratings. 

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 three weeks, we'll be going division by division to rank every schedule in the NFL. After starting with the AFC East and AFC South last week -- which you can check out by clicking here and here -- we'll be hitting the AFC North (Tuesday) and the AFC West (Thursday) this week. Next week, you'll be getting the NFC East (June 25) and the NFC South (June 27). We'll then close things out during the first week of July with the NFC North (July 2) and NFC West (July 4). 

Ranking the AFC West schedules

4. Los Angeles Chargers

Schedule difficulty rating: 100.75
Overall NFL schedule difficulty ranking: T-13th

Easiest stretch: If the Chargers can beat the Colts at home in Week 1, they could end up staying undefeated well into October, and that's because their easiest stretch of the season starts in Week 2. Over a span of four weeks, the Chargers will get to play three teams that ended the 2018 season with a losing record. That stretch starts with a game in Detroit (Week 2), followed by a home against the Texans (Week 3), a road game against the Dolphins (Week 4) and another home game against the Broncos (Week 5). Philip Rivers will be walking around with more swag than usual if the Chargers start 5-0, which is saying a lot, because apparently, he's always walking around with a lot of swag. 

Roughest stretch: If the Chargers season is going to fall apart, it's probably going to start in Week 8, when they have to travel around the continent to play four games over four weeks. The first game of their roughest stretch will come on the road in Chicago. After that, the Chargers have to fly back home to Los Angeles for a game against the Packers (Week 9). Hopefully, they don't get too beat up against Green Bay, because four days later, they have to play the Raiders in a Thursday game (Week 10). If they survive those three games, their reward will be a trip to Mexico City for a Week 11 game against the Chiefs. This stretch will come during a rough two-month portion of their schedule where they'll only play one home game, and yes, you read that right. From October 14 to December 14, the Chargers will only play in Los Angeles once (Week 9 vs. Green Bay).  

Here's a look at the Chargers entire 2019 schedule. 

Weird scheduling note: The Chargers will play more primetime home games this season (2), than they did during their first two years in Los Angeles combined (1). 

3. Kansas City Chiefs

Schedule difficulty rating: 101.75
Overall NFL schedule difficulty ranking: 12th

Easiest stretch: Although the Chiefs will be opening the season with three of their first four games on the road -- at Jaguars, at Raiders, Ravens, at Lions -- the NFL actually kind of did Kansas City a favor, and that's because the Chiefs will get to play three teams that had trouble scoring last year, and if you have trouble scoring, there's no way you're going to beat Kansas City. The Chiefs open the season with a team that ranked second-to-last in scoring last year (Jaguars) and then they get a Raiders team that ranked 28th overall in scoring. Sure, Nick Foles might improve things in Jacksonville, and Antonio Brown might make the Raiders better, but there's a good chance they won't be completely comfortable in their new offenses that early in the season. After playing the Raiders in Week 2, the Chiefs will host the Ravens and then travel to Detroit to play a Lions team that ranked 25th overall in scoring last year. It's going to be hard for any of those teams to keep up with a Chiefs offense that led the NFL in scoring last season with 35.3 points. 

Roughest stretch: If the Chiefs haven't clinched a playoff spot by Week 14, things could get a little dicey for them, and that's because their roughest stretch of the season will come over the final four weeks, a span that includes a game at New England (Week 14), a home game against the Broncos (Week 15), a road game in Chicago (Week 16) and a Week 17 showdown at home against the Chargers. That means that in a span of just four weeks, the Chiefs will have to play two of the teams that beat them last year (Patriots, Chargers).  

Here's a look at the Chiefs entire 2019 schedule:

Weird scheduling note: The Chiefs are one of just three teams in the NFL this year, along with the Bengals and Titans, that have to open with three of their first four games on the road.

2. Oakland Raiders

Schedule difficulty rating: 107.375
Overall NFL schedule difficulty ranking: Fifth

Easiest stretch: When you're coming off a 4-12 season and you have the fifth most difficult schedule in the NFL, there's no such thing as an easy stretch, but the Raiders do have two very winnable games starting in Week 11 when they host the Bengals before traveling to New York for a Week 12 game against the Jets. Of course, the downside for the Raiders here is that they haven't beaten the Bengals this decade (0-3) and they're 1-6 in the Eastern Time Zone over the past two seasons. 

Roughest stretch: The  Raiders might be able to start packing for Vegas by the time Halloween rolls around, and that's because they might already be eliminated from playoff contention by the time their roughest stretch ends in Week 8. As you may or may not have heard, the Raiders were handed one of the worst traveling schedules in NFL history this year. Not only will they go 49 days without playing a game in Oakland, but during that span, their schedule looks like this: at Vikings (Week 3), at Colts (Week 4), Bears (Week 5 in London), BYE (Week 6), at Packers (Week 7), at Texans (Week 8). Oh, and that stretch of ugliness actually starts in Week 2 with a home game against the Chiefs. Basically, the Raiders play six straight games where they'll almost certainly be underdogs and five of those will come on the road. 

You know the schedule is absurd when even Antonio Brown seems shocked by it, and he was definitely shocked when he found out the Raiders would be traveling for five straight weeks. 

"We on the road five weeks straight," Brown says as he shakes his head in the video below. "NFL."

Weird scheduling note: We just mentioned it, but it's worth mentioning again: The Raiders will go 49 straight days without playing a home game in 2019. If that seems unfair, the NFL actually agrees with you, and we know that because the league's schedule-makers apologized for how Oakland's schedule turned out.  As if that's not bad enough, the Raiders also have to travel more miles this season than any other team in the NFL

1. Denver Broncos

Schedule difficulty rating: 109.375
Overall NFL schedule difficulty ranking: Third

Easiest stretch: The Broncos have a brutal schedule, but if they can somehow stay in playoff contention until December, they'll finally catch a break, and that's because Denver gets to close the season with two straight games at home. Even better for the Broncos is the fact that they'll be playing two teams that aren't exactly used to playing outside in the cold. In Week 16, the Broncos will host a Lions team that's just 3-7 in their last 10 December road games. After that the Broncos will host a California team (Raiders) that's just 2-8 in their past 10 December road games. 

Roughest stretch: It's probably for the best the Broncos used a video game to unveil their schedule this year, because a video game might be the only place Broncos' fans get to see their team win in 2019. 

Not only do the Broncos have the hardest schedule in the AFC this year, but they also have the third most difficult schedule in the entire NFL, according to our formula. You know your schedule is tough when you play the Bears (Week 2) and at the Packers (Week 3) in consecutive weeks and that's not even your ugliest stretch. The roughest stretch for the Broncos actually starts in Week 7 and goes all the way through Week 15. During that eight-game span, they'll play five games against playoff teams from last season and five road games in a stretch that looks like this: Chiefs (Week 7), at Colts (Week 8), Browns (Week 9), BYE (Week 10), at Vikings (Week 11), at Bills (Week 12), Chargers (Week 13), at Texans (Week 14), at Chiefs (Week 15). Joe Flacco might want to start watching film of himself from the 2012 playoffs, because that guy is going to need to show up if the Broncos want to finish above .500 in 2019. 

Weird scheduling note: The Broncos are just one of two teams in the AFC that will get to close out the season with two straight home games. The only other AFC team that will get to play at home in both Week 16 and Week 17 is, yup, you guessed it, the New England Patriots. The NFL loves them. 

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

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