2019 NFL schedule rankings, NFC East: Cowboys face rough ride, Eagles have easiest schedule in the NFC

It's been more than 20 years since the Dallas Cowboys have repeated as division champions in the NFC East, and although the drought could finally end this year, don't look for that to happen, and that's because the Cowboys have the most difficult schedule in the division, at least according to our NFL schedule rating. 

According to our formula, the Cowboys should probably be worried about the Eagles, and that's because Philadelphia has the easiest schedule in the NFC this year. With the regular season still three months away, you might be wondering how we already know that the Eagles have the easiest schedule in the NFC, 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 Cowboys, who are the only team in the NFC East this year that has to play both participants from last year's Super Bowl (Rams and Patriots).       

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, and yes, I'm staring directly at Redskins fans when I say that. Not only do they have the most difficult opening three weeks of any team in the NFC East, but it's also the second most difficult in the entire NFL, according to our formula. Basically, the Redskins might be eliminated from playoff contention before we get out of the first month of the season.  

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 your 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 Giants have to travel to New England for a Thursday game in Week 6, which means they only have three days to prepare for the Patriots. On the other hand, not only do the Eagles get to play the Patriots at home, but Philadelphia will also be coming off a bye that week, which means extra prep time for their Super Bowl LII rematch. 

From a strength of schedule standpoint, the game is the same: Both teams are playing the Patriots. However, the Giants game against New England is viewed as more difficult in our formula, because they have to go on the road to play a game on short rest. On the other hand, the Eagles get to play the game at home, where they're 12-4 over the past two seasons. 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 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 click here for the AFC East, AFC South, AFC North and AFC West -- we'll be moving on to the NFC this week with the NFC East (June 25) and 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 NFC East schedules

4. Philadelphia Eagles

Schedule difficulty rating: 91.75
Overall NFL schedule difficulty ranking: 28th (Easiest in the NFC)

Easiest stretch: A big reason the Eagles ranked as having the least difficult schedule in the NFC is because their month of December ranked as one of the easiest ones in the NFL. There's a good chance Philly could stumble into December and that's because they end November with the Patriots and Seahawks. However, even if they lose both of those games, it's still completely possible that they could end the season on a five-game winning streak, and that's because their December looks like this: At Dolphins, Giants, at Redskins, Cowboys, at Giants. 

For one, they get to play the Giants twice, which should be a huge confidence booster for a team that has gone 9-1 against New York over the past five years. Also, the Eagles will get to open the month against the Dolphins, a team that Vegas -- and nearly everyone else -- views as one of the worst in the NFL. The most difficult game in this stretch will come against the Cowboys, but the good news for the Eagles is that they get to play that at home. 

Roughest stretch: As you'll find out below in our "Weird scheduling note," the Eagles are the only team in the NFL this year that's being forced to play a true three-game road trip. However, that's not even their roughest stretch. The ugliest part of their schedule starts immediately after that road trip during a three-game home-stand that might be the toughest home-stand that any team in the NFL will play this season. Starting in Week 9, the Eagles will host Bears, and as if that's not bad enough, their next two games after that are against the Patriots (Week 11) and Seahawks (Week 12). The good news for the Eagles is that if the Bears' defense beats up on Carson Wentz, he'll have a bye in Week 10 before Philly has to play New England and Seattle. 

It's a good thing the Eagles have a bunch of famous fans, because they're likely going to need some serious support during those three weeks. 

Weird scheduling note: Although the NFL schedule makers have basically apologized for what they did to the Buccaneers and Raiders, maybe they should be apologizing to the Eagles. During the 2019 season, Philadelphia will be the ONLY team in the NFL that has to play a true three-game road trip. If you're wondering why that's bad, it's because the odds say you're almost certainly going to lose at least one of those games, if not more. 

Between 1990 and 2018, there have been 142 instances where a team had to play three straight road games and of those 142 road trips, the visiting team only came away with a winning record (3-0 or 2-1) 36.6 percent of the time (49 times)

That means that on the 63.4 percent of those road trips (or 90 times), the visiting team either went 1-2 or 0-3. Teams have actually gone 0-3 (25 times) on three-game road trips more than twice as often as they've gone 3-0 (11). The upside for the Eagles is that the last time they had a three-game road trip came during their Super Bowl winning season of 2017. Two years ago, the Eagles went 2-1 on that trip, but they came dangerously close to going 0-3 as both wins came by just one score. This year's road trip starts in Week 6, goes through Week 8 and looks like this: at Vikings, at Cowboys, at Bills. 

3. New York Giants

Schedule difficulty rating: 93.0
Overall NFL schedule difficulty ranking: 27th

Easiest stretch: If Eli Manning ends up as the Giants starting quarterback this season, they might want to go ahead bench him if he can't lead them to a .500 or above record through the first month of the season, and that's because New York's easiest stretch will be coming during the first four weeks. Specifically, that stretch will start in Week 2 with a home game against the Bills. After that, the Giants will play the Redskins on the road  in Week 3, before hosting the Buccaneers in Week 4. That's three straight games against three teams that all finished with a losing record last year. If Eli can't go at least 2-1 during that span, maybe it's time to retire. 

Roughest stretch: If the Giants end up making a quarterback change during their bye week this year, Daniel Jones could be in for a ugly debut, and that's because the roughest stretch of the Giants' schedule starts following their Week 11 bye. Not only do the Giants have to travel to Chicago for a game against the Bears in Week 12, but after that, they have to play the Packers at home before hitting the road in Week 13 to face the Eagles. 

it's almost fitting that the Giants hired a comedian to announce their schedule this year, because laughing at the pain that each loss brings might be the only way Giants' fans make it through the season. 

Weird scheduling note: The Giants don't have a Sunday night game on their schedule this year, which is notable, because that almost never happens. Assuming the Giants don't get flexed to Sunday night at some point this year, the 2019 season will mark the first time since 2001 that the Giants will have been kept off Sunday Night Football.

2. Washington Redskins

Schedule difficulty rating: 98.0
Overall NFL schedule difficulty ranking: 19th

Easiest stretch: The Redskins have one of the weirdest scheduling quirks of any team in the NFL this year and it will happen after Week 8 when they play just one game total over a period of 23 days (Oct. 25-Nov. 16). You read that right: Over a period of more than three weeks, the Redskins will play just one game, and the good news for Washington is that this quirk will come during their easiest stretch of the season. That stretch starts in Week 9 with the following three games: At Bills, BYE, Jets, Lions. First, the Bills game will come after the Redskins will have just played on a Thursday in Week 8, meaning they'll have 10 days to prepare for Buffalo, and since the Redskins will get a bye after the Bills game, that's how you end up with one game in 23 days. The Redskins were one of the most banged up teams in the NFL last season, so Jay Gruden will probably appreciate a stretch like that. 

Roughest stretch: If Dwayne Haskins wins the quarterback job in Washington, his career could get off to a ugly start and that's because the Redskins roughest stretch of the season will come over their first five weeks of the season. For one, the Redskins have a brutal opening three weeks that look like this: At Eagles, Bears Cowboys. That opening slate makes Washington one of just three teams in the NFL that has to open the year with three straight games against teams that made the playoffs last season. Although the Redskins will get a small breather in Week 4 against the Giants, they'll follow that up with a Week 5 game against the Patriots. 

The Redskins went with a Game of Thrones theme for their schedule release announcement this year, which made sense, because that show is total chaos where everyone is always stabbing each other in the back, which kinds of describes the Redskins under Daniel Snyder. 

Weird scheduling note: The Redskins are playing in Miami this year, which is only notable because they've never won a regular season game there. Since the Dolphins' first season in 1966, the two teams have faced each other five times in Miami and Washington is 0-5. The last time the two teams played in Miami came in 2011, when the Redskins beat the Dolphins 20-9. 

1. Dallas Cowboys

Schedule difficulty rating: 102.75
Overall NFL schedule difficulty ranking: 11th

Easiest stretch: Yes, the Cowboys have the most difficult schedule in the NFC East, but there is some good news here: They could get off to a hot start in 2019 and that's because their easiest stretch comes during their first three weeks of the season. According to our formula, the Cowboys have the easiest opening three-week stretch in the NFL this year, which means it wouldn't be crazy to see them shoot off to a 3-0 start. Those three games will comes against the Giants, Redskins (away) and Dolphins. 

Roughest stretch: Although the NFL schedule-makers were pretty generous to the Cowboys over the first three weeks of the season, there's a season Dallas as the most difficult schedule in the NFC East and it's because everything else is pretty brutal. For the Cowboys, their roughest stretch starts in Week 12 with a road game against the Patriots. After that, Dallas will have just four days before hosting the Bills on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys will need to win that game, because after playing Buffalo, their schedule looks like this: at Bears, Rams, at Eagles. This five-week stretch will include four playoff teams from 2018, including both Super Bowl teams. 

It was nice of the Cowboys to announce their schedule with an ASMR video ((autonomous sensory meridian response) because those are supposed to relax you and Cowboys fans will probably need some help relaxing by the time this stretch of the season rolls around. 

Weird scheduling note: The Cowboys are one of just two teams in the NFL this season that won't get to play consecutive home games all year (The Ravens are the only other team that won't get to play two straight games at home all season). 

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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