The NFL season really never ends. There is always something exciting going on, even when the games aren’t being played, or even close to being played.
Ahead of the much anticipated draft, where the number one pick is a pretty sure thing, though not entirely a lock, the schedule has been released. Now, millions of fans can plan their viewing schedule, decided what cities they want to travel to and when to have some big parties. Meanwhile, pundits and commentators can go through week-by-week and predict wins and losses.
Now, of course, so much can and will change between now and September. Teams look to get better through the draft and training camp, and as always when the season starts, some clubs will over perform and exceed expectations while other will tragically fall short. That’s the thrill of football: anything can and will happen.
So let's not waste time looking at what teams we think will win, especially this far out, but instead glean the schedule for some red flags. There are those clubs that simply have tougher schedules than others, and it’s not just because the better teams are forced to play better teams. It’s that some travel more, some have problematic bye weeks, and others simply are facing tough stretches of away games or division rivals.
For example, last year, the league’s most popular club in the Dallas Cowboys played a series of primetime games, playing on Thanksgiving, Monday Night, and then being flexed into Sunday night. It's no easy task for any club, but because they are the Cowboys, they are forced to play under the lights on nationwide TV more than others, and surely that means something. The Jags don’t have that kind of pressure.
What follows are the ten clubs that got the most screwed by the schedule. They have the most travel, are playing the most rested teams, or simply find a random stretches that are inherently harder than others.
10 Baltimore Ravens
While playing in one of the most physical and competitive divisions in the league, Baltimore also has a particularly erratic schedule, one that provides a bit of comfort but also arduous some stretches. They would be higher on the list were it not for a four-week span that keeps them in Baltimore: three homes games and a bye week. Still, they start the season with two road games heading west: at Denver, then at Oakland. On top of that, they get another two-week road trip just a month later, and arguably a tougher on, as they head to San Fran and Arizona.
9 Miami Dolphins
An early bye week can be fortunate for a team in need of sudden re-tinkering, but it can also prove problematic down the stretch. The Dolphins play two road games to start the year, albeit against potentially weak opponents, before two home division games and then the off week. After that, they play four of five on the road, as well as five of seven, including three more division games. While that means they then play at home four of the last five weeks, will they still be in the race after that tough stretch? They are also one of only four teams with three straight road games and finish off with just one division game in December: Week 17 against New England.
8 New England Patriots
Speaking of the Patriots, they too have a tough schedule in the AFC East, and that’s not just because they got a first place test to face. They get the bye at the first chance, in Week Four, meaning that they have 13 straights weeks of football to follow. They come out of the bye with two tough road games against Dallas and Indy, while later going to Denver following a Monday night game against divisional rival Buffalo. They finish with three of four on the road, including the last two away from home against AFC East foes Miami and New York.
7 Tennessee Titans
The Titans better pick up a good quarterback in the draft because they’re going to need it. They too have the earliest bye, taking off in Week Four, and that’s after two road games to start the year and then a match against the Colts. While they come out with three straight at home (meaning five weeks in Tennessee), they twice have a stretch of four games where three are on the road. What’s more, they get their NFC games out of the way early, so all their matches from Week 11 on matter if they are competing for a playoff spot.
6 Carolina Panthers
The Panthers get a Week Five bye, but go into it playing a road division game only to come out of it playing at Seattle; that’s a curious way to enjoy a week off. While they have a stretch of three straight home games, they have an incredibly tough end to the season. They play four of six on the road, going to the Cowboys, Saints, Giants, and Falcons. What’s more, they have a staggering four division games in the final five weeks, including a pair against Atlanta.
5 Buffalo Bills
The Bills have often found themselves with a tough schedule and this year is no exception. They have three games against opponents with extra rest, which isn’t the worst, but certainly not like Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Cincy, or Arizona, who don’t have any such games. What’s worse though is that the Bills are one of only four teams, including the aforementioned Dolphins, who have three road games in a row. That also translates into a stretch of five road games in six weeks, as well as a span of three straight division games coming out of the bye. They also have to go to London, but at least they are the road team.
4 Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have always been at a slight disadvantage simply because of where they are geographically located, as they are pretty far from most other teams. Three times this year they have two-game road trips, which may find them staying away from home. They start the year with two away, and head into the bye week at San Fran and at Dallas. What’s problematic for them though is that they play four games this year against rested teams – those coming off a bye or a Thursday night match. That’s definitely going to help those going up against the physical club.
3 Dallas Cowboys
Like the Seahawks, Dallas also plays four games against clubs with extra rest. Of course they also have four primetime games scheduled (and perhaps another may be flexed, possibly at Green Bay on December 13) while also playing on Thanksgiving Day. While they have an early bye on Week Six, they will certainly be looking forward to Black Friday. That’s because before hosting Carolina on November 26th, they will hang out in Florida for two weeks, playing at Tampa and at Miami before heading home for the Turkey Day game with the Panthers. They get to rest a bit after, but then head into play at Washington and then at Green Bay.
2 Green Bay Packers
Consecutive division games make for a difficult schedule, and while the Bills and others may have three in a row, the Packers have a surprising four. From November 15th to December 3rd, the Packers host Detroit, head to Minnesota, host Chicago on Thanksgiving, and then venture back to Detroit, a stretch that will surely define their season. And if you thought they got extra rest for that final Lions game, think again, because that is also on Thursday night. They are the only team this year with two Thursday night games. What’s more, before concluding the year hosting the Vikings, they head out west for a road trip against Oakland and Arizona.
1 Washington Redskins
Despite finishing near the bottom of the league last year, Washington has one of the most curious schedules and a dubious honor. They play five games against teams coming off added rest, the most in the league. And when the Redskins are rested, they don’t have the easiest of tasks, playing at the Super Bowl champions following their bye and hosting Philly following an early Thursday night game. That Week Three primetime encounter is against their division rivals in the Giants, one of three night games for them, which is a result of playing in the most watched division. To make matters worse, they play three of their final four on the road, and four division games in their final six. The last two are at Philadelphia and at Dallas. Good luck.