2012 NFL Schedule: Sleeper Teams with Hardest Road to Playoffs
The following sleeper teams are going to have a hard time waking up next season because they are facing a brutal schedule.
That certainly doesn't mean they can't succeed, it only means it is going to be a long and hard road. Here are the three teams that will be fighting an uphill battle.
*Strength of schedule is determined by opponents' 2011 record.
After finishing 2011 with a 4-12 record, the Browns are most definitely a sleeper. They also are not without potential.
This team has a young defense that showed flashes of dominance last season, and they are ready to improve on last year's performance.
They could make some real noise if they can use the draft to improve an offense that was terrible last season. However, they have too many holes to fill to make a real run at this thing.
Strength of Schedule: Third toughest
Week 2, 9/16: Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 3, 9/23: Buffalo Bills vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET,
Week 4, 9/27: Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens, 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network
Week 5, 10/7: Cleveland Browns vs. New York Giants, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 6, 10/14: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 7, 10/21: Cleveland Browns vs. Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 8, 10/28: San Diego Chargers vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 9, 11/4: Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 10, 11/11: BYE
Week 11, 11/18: Cleveland Browns vs. Dallas Cowboys, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 12, 11/25: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 13, 12/2: Cleveland Browns vs. Oakland Raiders, 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 14, 12/9: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 15, 12/16: Washington Redskins vs. Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 16, 12/23: Cleveland Browns vs. Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 17, 12/30: Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Browns are dealt a rough blow right off the bat being in the AFC North. They are the only team in the division that did not make the playoffs last season, and none of those teams figure on taking a step back.
Out-of-division games against the Eagles, Chargers, Broncos and Giants ensure things won't be much easier for them outside of their conference.
The Carolina Panthers finished last season 6-10, and showed serious signs of promise. They won four of their last six games.
Carolina had a surprisingly explosive offense last season. If they can get a little defense to go with that offense, they can be deadly. And they will need to be to succeed against this schedule.
Strength of Schedule: Seventh toughest
Week 1, 9/9: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:15 ET, Fox
Week 3, 9/20 (Thursday): Carolina Panthers vs. New York Giants, 8:20 ET, NFL Network
Week 4, 9/30: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons, 1 ET, Fox
Week 5, 10/7: Carolina Panthers vs. Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 ET, Fox
Week 6, 10/14: BYE
Week 7, 10/21: Carolina Panthers vs. Dallas Cowboys, 1 ET, Fox
Week 8, 10/28: Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears, 1 ET, Fox
Week 9, 11/4: Carolina Panthers at Washington Redskins, 1 ET, Fox
Week 10, 11/11: Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos, 1 ET, CBS
Week 11, 11/18: Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 ET, Fox
Week 12, 11/26 (Monday): Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:30 ET, ESPN
Week 13, 12/2: Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs, 1 ET, Fox
Week 14, 12/9: Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons, 1 ET, Fox
Week 15, 12/16: Carolina Panthers at San Diego Chargers, 4:05 ET, Fox
Week 16, 12/23: Carolina Panthers vs. Oakland Raiders, 1 ET, CBS
Week 17, 12/30: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints, 1 ET, Fox
How many regular-season games will the Panthers win?
Locked in a division with the Saints and Falcons, the Panthers will be going head-to-head with two playoff teams.
They also have tough games against the Giants, Bears, Cowboys, Broncos, Eagles and Chargers. There is a lot of offensive firepower on those teams and it will definitely put the Panthers' weak defense to the test.
I expect the Panthers to make massive upgrades to their defense in the draft, and Cam Newton should be an even better player next season.
The Arizona Cardinals finished last year 8-8 after an impressive late-season run. They won seven out of their last nine games.
Any team that can go on that kind of run to close out the season has to be considered a threat the following year.
Strength of Schedule: Eighth toughest
Week 2, 9/16: Arizona Cardinals vs. New England Patriots, 1 PM EST, CBS
Week 3, 9/23: Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 PM EST, Fox
Week 4, 9/30: Miami Dolphins vs. Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 PM EST, CBS
Week 5, 10/4: Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams, 8:20 PM EST, NFL Network
Week 6, 10/14: Buffalo Bills vs. Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 PM EST, CBS
Week 7, 10/21: Arizona Cardinals vs. Minnesota Vikings, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 8, 10/29: San Francisco 49ers vs. Arizona Cardinals, 8:30 PM EST, ESPN
Week 9, 11/4: Arizona Cardinals vs. Green Bay Packers, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 10, 11/11: BYE
Week 11, 11/18: Arizona Cardinals vs. Atlanta Falcons, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 12, 11/25: St. Louis Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals, 4:15 PM EST, Fox
Week 13, 12/2: Arizona Cardinals vs. New York Jets, 1 PM EST, Fox
Week 14, 12/9: Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks, 4:15 PM EST, Fox
Week 15, 12/16: Detroit Lions vs. Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 PM EST, Fox
Week 16, 12/23: Chicago Bears vs. Arizona Cardinals, 4:15 PM EST, Fox
Week 17, 12/30: Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers, 4:15 PM EST, Fox
How many regular-season games will the Cardinals win?
The Cardinals will be chasing the dominant 49ers in the NFC West, but they are also going to have to contend with the Seahawks, who ended the season on a similar run as they did.
Besides the division games, the Cardinals are going to have to deal with the NFC East, and that means matchups with the Patriots and Jets, as well as a Dolphins team that finished last season strong.
That isn't all either. They also drew matchups with the NFC North, which means games against the likes of the Packers, Lions and Bears.
Arizona's QB situation is too unsettled to expect them to be able to handle this schedule. They will take a step back.
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