The 2018 season was a rough one for Jon Gruden and unfortunately for him, it doesn't look like things are going to get much easier in 2019, and that's because the Raiders are going to have to contend with the NFL's most difficult strength of schedule this year. At least based on 2018 standings.
Gruden better enjoy those three first-round draft picks he has in April's draft, because once the 2019 regular season kicks off, things could end up turning into a nightmare for him. During the 2019 season, the Raiders will be playing a total of seven games against teams that qualified for the playoffs last year (Chiefs x 2, Chargers x 2, Texans, Colts, Bears), which is tied for the most in the NFL. This definitely isn't good news for a team that doesn't even know where it will be playing its home games in 2019.
Overall, the Raiders strength of schedule for 2019 is .539, which is just slightly ahead of the Broncos, who have the second most difficult strength of schedule at .537, which means Joe Flacco's first year in Denver could be a rough one. The Chargers are actually the only team in the AFC West that doesn't have one of the NFL's five most difficult schedules (The Chiefs strength of schedule is tied with the Bears for the fifth most difficult overall).
If you're looking for a division that could produce a few surprise teams next season, then you might want to look at the AFC North. Collectively, every team in the AFC North actually has a pretty easy strength of schedule in 2018, with all four teams set to play a schedule that ranks among the 12 easiest. Basically, don't be surprised if Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson both have huge seasons after putting together impressive rookie years.
Of course, it won't be all fun and games for the AFC North in 2019 and that's because it's the only division where all four teams will have to play both participants from Super Bowl LIII.
Besides the teams in the AFC North, the Cowboys are the only other team in the NFL that have to play both the Patriots and Rams in 2019. Thanks largely to that fact, the Cowboys have the most difficult strength of schedule in the NFC East (Ranked 14th hardest overall). Making things worse for the Cowboys is that the Eagles (26th), Giants (T-27th) and Redskins (32nd) have three of the easiest schedules heading into 2019. The Redskins actually have the easiest strength of schedule of any team for 2019, although that might not actually be much of an advantage since they don't even know who their starting quarterback is going to be this year.
Now, before you complain about another team's strength of schedule or the fact that the Patriots always seem to have it easier than everyone, keep in mind that the schedule is inherently the same for each team. The Patriots will be playing four games against first place teams from 2018, just like the 31 other teams. The Patriots will also be playing four games against last place teams from 2018, just like the 31 other teams.
As a matter of fact, here's how the 16-game schedule breaks down: Each team will play four games against a team that finished in first place in 2018, four games against teams that finished in second, four games against teams that finished in third and four games against teams that finished in last place (At the bottom of the page, you'll be able to see the formula the NFL uses to put the schedule together each year).
This formula is why a team playing a "last place" schedule (like the Raiders) can have the most difficult schedule in the NFL and why a team playing a "first place" schedule (like the Patriots) can have one of the easier schedules.
On paper, the Patriots four games against first place teams from 2018 (Ravens, Texans, Cowboys, Chiefs -- 43-21 combined record) is slightly easier than the Raiders four games against first place teams (Chiefs x 2, Bears, Texans -- 47-17 combined record). Advantage: Not the Raiders.
The Patriots also generally have an easier schedule than the rest of their division because they can't play themselves, and until the NFL makes that happen, the Patriots are going to rank behind the Jets, Bills and Dolphins in almost any scheduling metric.
The one thing about strength of schedule is that there's no perfect way to measure schedule difficulty before the season. Between injuries, free agency and the draft, a lot can change between now and the start of the season in September. That being said, strength of schedule does give you a good idea of what your favorite team will be facing in the upcoming season.
Here's the 2019 strength of schedule rankings for each team (combined 2018 record of all 16 opponents, combined winning percentage).
Opponents' combined 2018 record
Opponents' combined 2018 win percentage
Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Chargers
New York Giants
New York Jets
Los Angeles Rams
New England Patriots
If you're curious about the scheduling formula, here's how the NFL does it. Under the formula implemented in 2002, every team plays 16 games as follows:
- Home and away against its three division opponents (six games).
- The four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle (four games).
- The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (four games).
- Two intra-conference games based on the prior year's standings (two games). These games match a first-place team against the first-place teams in the two same-conference divisions that the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place, and fourth-place teams in a conference are matched in the same way each year.
- Beginning in 2010, a change was made to how teams are paired in the schedule rotation to ensure that teams playing the AFC West and NFC West divisions would not be required to make two West Coast trips (e.g., at Los Angeles Chargers and at Oakland), while other teams in their division had none (e.g., at Kansas City and at Denver).
Finally, here'sthat each team will play in 2019. The time and dates of each game will be released in the spring.