The NFL schedule for the 2016 season was announced about a month and a half ago. The schedule won't start being played for another four months. But that doesn't mean there aren't things we can learn right now.
Which teams have the toughest and easiest slate of games at home and on the road? Which teams are set up well to get off the hot starts, which might stumble out of the gate, and who is in position to finish strong or crumble down the stretch? Check out the breakdowns below to find out.
Note: All strength of schedule figures are based on 2015 win-loss records.
- The Raiders have the NFL's toughest home schedule (0.586) and easiest road schedule (0.414). They are the lone NFL team with an overall strength of schedule of exactly 0.500.
- The rest of the top five in home strength of schedule: Broncos (0.578), Jets (0.578), Saints (0.563), and Bucs (0.562). The bottom five: Chiefs (0.422), Colts (0.430), Texans (0.438), Bears (0.438), and Chargers (0.445).
- Three teams are tied atop the road strength of schedule rankings. The 49ers, Chargers, and Chiefs (0.570) share that distinction. San Francisco is up there largely due to visits to the 13-3 Cardinals and 15-1 Panthers, while the Chargers visit the Panthers as well as the 13-3 Broncos and 11-5 Chiefs, and the Chiefs head on the road to play the Panthers, Broncos, and the 10-6 Steelers.
- The top five in road strength of schedule: Falcons (0.555) and Rams (0.547). The bottom five: the aforementioned Raiders, Broncos (0.430), Packers (0.438), Jaguars (0.438), and Titans (0.438).
- Three teams (Falcons, Patriots, Ravens) have exactly the same strength of schedule at home and on the road.
- The Raiders also, obviously, have the largest differential between the strength of their home and road schedules (0.172).
- The largest differential in the other direction (with an easier home schedule and tougher road schedule) belongs to another AFC West team: the Chiefs (-0.148). The Broncos finished just behind the Raiders in home-road differential (0.148), while the Chargers (-0.125) finished just ahead of the Chiefs. These differentials are pretty much all accounted for based on which of the four teams plays the Panthers at home and which plays them in Charlotte.
- The rest of the top five in home-road differential: Jets (0.094), Titans (0.070), and Jaguars (0.070). The rest of the bottom five: Texans (-0.097), Colts (-0.093), and Bills/Bears (-0.039).
- The Jets had one of the NFL's easiest schedules last season by virtue of facing the NFC East and AFC South, but this year have the NFL's eighth-hardest slate. The other three AFC East teams check in at 9, 10, and 11 in the overall strength of schedule rankings.
- The top five in overall strength of schedule features all NFC teams from the West and South: 49ers (0.555), Falcons (0.555), Rams (0.551), Saints (0.547), and Seahawks (0.543).
- The bottom five in overall strength of schedule is made up almost entirely of teams from the NFC East and NFC North. (The Bengals are tied with the Lions for the fifth-easiest schedule.)
- The Cardinals are the division winner with the toughest overall schedule (0.531), while the Bengals get the easiest schedule of any division winner (0.465). The rankings: Cardinals, Patriots (0.523), Panthers (0.512), Vikings (0.508), Broncos (0.504), Washington (0.496), Texans (0.484), Bengals.
We also have strength of schedule broken down by season segment. We decided to do it game-by-game rather than by month because (1) the season ends on January 1, and (2) doing so allows us to compare schedules with an equal number of games, rather than comparing a team that has four games in a certain month to one that has three.
|TEAM||GAME 1-4||GAME 5-8||GAME 9-12||GAME 13-16|
- The Broncos and Jets have (0.641) the toughest slate of first four games of any team. Denver opens against the Panthers, Colts, Bengals, and Bucs, while the Jets face Bengals, Bills, Chiefs, and Seahawks.
- The rest of the top five in Game 1-4 is made up of the Bills (0.625), Buccaneers (0.625), and Steelers (0.609). Buffalo begins the year with the Ravens, Jets, Cardinals, and Patriots. Tampa starts with Falcons, Cardinals, Rams, and Broncos. Pittsburgh has Washington, the Bengals, Eagles, and Chiefs.
- The Ravens, Raiders, and Washington (0.359) start the year with the easiest slate of four. Baltimore opens with the Bills, Browns, Jaguars, and Raiders, while the Raiders face the Saints, Falcons, Titans, and Ravens. Washington starts with the Steelers, Cowboys, Giants, and Browns.
- The rest of the bottom five is made up of the Saints (0.391), and the Eagles/Cowboys (0.406). The Saints begin the year with games against the Raiders, Giants, Falcons, and Chargers. The Eagles start with the Browns, Bears, Steelers, and Lions, and the Cowboys get the Giants, Washington, Bears, and 49ers.
- No team closes with a tougher slate of games than the Dolphins (0.672). That stretch features the Cardinals, Jets, Bills, and Patriots.
- They rest of the top-five: Ravens (0.641), Titans (0.578), Bears (0.578), and Rams/Chargers (0.563). Baltimore closes with the Patriots, Eagles, Steelers, and Bengals. Tennessee finishes with the Broncos, Chiefs, Jaguars, and Texans. Chicago gets the Lions, Packers, Washington, and Vikings. Los Angeles has the Falcons, Seahawks, 49ers, and Cardinals, and San Diego faces the Panthers, Raiders, Browns, and Chiefs.
- The easiest home stretch of the season belongs to the Eagles (0.375). Their closing slate: Washington, Ravens, Giants, and Cowboys.
- They're followed by the Cowboys (0.406), Lions (0.406), Chiefs (0.406), and Giants/Panthers/Bengals (0.422). Dallas finishes with the Giants, Bucs, Lions, and Eagles. Detroit faces the Bears, Giants, Cowboys, and Packers. Kansas City closes with the Raiders, Titans, Broncos, and Chargers. New York gets the Cowboys, Lions, Eagles, and Washington. Carolina ends with the Chargers, Washington, Falcons, and Bucs. And Cincy closes out with the Browns, Steelers, Texans, and Ravens.
- The single toughest four-game stretch (when broken down by these categories, at least; it's possible there is a tougher slate somewhere in a different four-game stretch, like Game 7-10 of a team's season) belongs to the Raiders in Game 9-12 of their season. That stretch sees them play the Broncos, Texans, Panthers, and Bills, all of whom finished .500 or better last year and had a combined winning percentage of 0.688.
- The easiest four-game stretch also falls in Game 9-12 of a team's season. The Bears square off against the Bucs, Giants, Titans, and 49ers, who finished 2015 with a combined winning percentage of 0.313.
- The Cowboys start and finish the season with four-game stretch of opponents that finished last season with a combined winning percentage of 0.406.
- The Jaguars start the year with back-to-back slates of four opponents that combined for a winning percentage of 0.422. That's the Packers, Chargers, Ravens, Colts, Bears, Raiders, Titans, and Chiefs.
- The Saints have an extremely tough middle of the season. Their opponents in Game 5-8 and Game 9-12 finished last year with combined winning percentages of 0.641. That stretch sees them play the Panthers, Chiefs, Seahawks, 49ers, Broncos, Panthers (again), Rams, and Lions.
- Attention conspiracy theorists: the toughest four-game stretch for the Patriots is their first four games, when Tom Brady is scheduled to be suspended. They face the Cardinals, Dolphins, Texans, and Bills. The next four games are theoretically tougher, but that stretch includes the Browns (Browns, Bengals, Steelers, Bills).
- The 49ers, Patriots, Falcons, and Rams all face opponents with combined winning percentages of .500 or better in each of these four stretches. The Giants are the only team that doesn't have at least one of these four-game stretches where its opponents combined to finish last year above .500. The only other teams with even three straight sets of four-game opponents with below .500 combined records are the Packers (Game 1-4, 5-8, 9-12) and Bengals (Game 5-8, 9-12, 13-16).
- The Raiders face the biggest schedule ramp-up in the second half of the season. Their first eight opponents have a combined winning percentage of 0.383, while the teams they play over their final eight games combined for a 0.618 winning percentage. That's a difference of +0.235. They're followed by the Jaguars (+0.102), Seahawks (+0.086), Titans (+0.070), and Ravens/Packers/Saints (+0.063).
- The Steelers get the biggest break in the second half, going from a slate of 0.563 opponents to one that finished last year with a 0.383 winning percentage. That's a difference of -0.180. They're followed by the Texans (-0.122), Bengals (-0.102), Bucs (-0.086), and Chargers (-0.078).
- The Falcons are the only team to face opponents with the same combined winning percentage in the first and second half of the season. Their opponents in the first eight and final eight games each finished with combined winning percentages of 0.555. That is also their strength of schedule at home and on the road, and it is tied with the 49ers for the toughest overall schedule in the league.