2012 NFL Schedule: Teams with Toughest Path Back to Playoffs

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystApril 16, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 07:  Glen Ellison sits on the roof of his family's car at a rally to celebrate the New York Giants' Super Bowl victory at MetLife Stadium on February 7, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants defeated the New England Patriots 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The 2012 NFL schedule will be released in its entirety on Tuesday, but while we don't yet know all the ins and outs of the 2012 slate, we do know each NFL team's opponents for this season.

That knowledge allows us take a look at the strength of schedule for each team, which casts some light on which of last year's playoff teams will face the toughest path back to the postseason.

We do know one game this season. The National Football League season opener on Wednesday, September 5th will feature the Dallas Cowboys and defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, who received the dubious honor of the NFL's toughest schedule in 2012.

Winning the Lombardi trophy not only placed a bull's-eye squarely on the G-Men's backs but apparently also angered the scheduling gods. In addition to their annually tough NFC East matchups, the Giants will play host to the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, while traveling to face the Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.

With that daunting schedule, it may well take some patented Eli Manning magic for the Giants to even make the playoffs, much less advance to New Orleans for a chance to defend their championship.

The biggest free-agent signing of this offseason was undoubtedly the acquisition of quarterback Peyton Manning by the Denver Broncos.

However, the path back to the AFC West title isn't going to be an easy one for Manning and the Broncos, as the .543 winning percentage of their opponents gives them the second-most difficult schedule in the NFL.

The Broncos must travel to face four 2011 playoff teams this season in the Ravens, Bengals, Patriots and Falcons, while the Texans, Steelers and Saints will all visit Invesco Field at Mile High.

The Baltimore Ravens came one game from the Super Bowl last season before falling to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, and their "reward" for that 2011 success was a 2012 dance card that contains teams with a 134-122 record and .523 winning percentage, the fourth-most difficult schedule in the NFL.

In addition to an AFC North schedule that includes four tilts with 2011 AFC playoff participants Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, the Ravens also play host to the Broncos, Patriots and Giants.

As if that home schedule wasn't quite challenging enough, the Ravens also take a trip to meet the Houston Texans in a rematch of last year's AFC Divisional Round playoff matchup won by Baltimore, so it will be no small feat for the Ravens to repeat as champions of the AFC North in 2012.