In the NFL, who you play and when you play them has just as much of an impact on the win-loss column as the amount of talent and performance of your own team.
In 2010, we saw a Buccaneers team take full advantage of a Charmin-soft schedule to nearly make the playoffs. In 2011, they won just four games with a tougher schedule.
Here are, in order, the 10 easiest schedules of 2012.
(h/t to theredzone.org for winning percentages.)
Opponents' 2011 Winning Percentage: .504
Easiest Opponent(s): Browns, Buccaneers
In a division with more questions than the SAT, the Chargers—yes, the Chargers—could be the most stable team in the West.
With Peyton Manning's health still a question mark, San Diego has the most stable quarterback situation between the four teams, and they have the talent necessary to sweep the division if they play up to their potential.
The Chargers also have a pair of easy games against the Vikings and Browns, along with other winnable games against the Jets and Titans to offset their other challenges in the NFC North.
Opponents' 2011 Winning Percentage: .484
Easiest Opponent(s): Vikings, Rams
Yes, the NFC South is going to be a dogfight, especially as the Panthers continue to get better, but the Bucs have the advantage of feeding on other bottom-dwellers of the NFC with games against St. Louis, Minnesota and Washington.
The Bucs also get to host San Diego and Kansas City while traveling up to Oakland to play the always-changing AFC West.
After making a splash in free agency, the Bucs could climb themselves out of the NFC South basement to compete in the division once again.
Opponents' 2011 Winning Percentage: .469
Easiest Opponent(s): Vikings (twice), Rams, Jaguars, Colts
Despite the fact that the Packers play in arguably the NFL's toughest division, they are set up to succeed in 2012.
Playing against the AFC South and NFC West, Green Bay will feast on the likes of Jacksonville, St. Louis, Arizona and Indianapolis.
Plus, they get two easy games against the Vikings in their own division.
With their most difficult games coming from divisional games against the Bears and Lions, Green Bay will rack up the wins once again in 2012.
Opponents' 2011 Winning Percentage: .473
Easiest Opponent(s): Jaguars (twice), Colts (twice), Dolphins, Vikings
Despite the fact that they play against the strong NFC North, the Texans are the top team in arguably the league's worst division.
Now that the Colts are no longer recognized as the class of the division, the window is open for Houston to own the AFC South for the next few years. With their talent, they should go at least 5-1 without too much difficulty.
While they do have to play the Packers, Lions and Patriots, they also get their chance at the Vikings and the Dolphins in combination with playing the Jaguars and Colts twice a season.
Opponents' 2011 Winning Percentage: .492
Easiest Opponent(s): Dolphins (twice), Cardinals, Jaguars, Rams, Colts
Just like the Patriots, the Jets get to play against two of the weakest divisions in the NFL in the AFC South and the NFC West.
While the Bills are improving and may not be the pushover they have been in the past after their free-agency acquisitions, the Dolphins are ripe for the picking.
However, obviously unlike the Patriots, they have to play arguably the league's best team twice. In addition, they have games such as Pittsburgh and San Diego that are not going to be easy by any stretch.
Still, outside of about six or so games, the Jets can easily beat most of the teams on their schedule if they play up to their level of talent.
Opponents' 2011 Winning Percentage: .480
Easiest Opponent(s): Jaguars (twice), Colts (twice), Vikings
Like the Texans, the Titans could get a bunch of easy wins out of their division right off the bat, and they could also steal at least one game from Houston.
Outside of the division, the Titans have a handful of other easy wins against the Vikings and Dolphins, along with other winnable games against the Bills and Jets.
While games against the Patriots and Bears at home and a trip to Lambeau Field will certainly be difficult, there are enough winnable games on the Titans' schedule to set them up for postseason success.
Opponents' 2011 Winning Percentage: .488
Easiest Opponent(s): Rams (twice), Cardinals (twice), Dolphins
After a 13-3 season and an appearance in the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers have established themselves as the clear-cut favorites to win an otherwise-weak NFC West.
While the other teams in the division appear to be on the upswing, and the Cardinals and Seahawks have a chance to be very good on defense, no team has stability at quarterback like the 49ers do, even as Sam Bradford continues to develop in St. Louis.
Outside of the division game, the 49ers play a mediocre AFC East and a strong NFC North. While beating teams like the Patriots and Packers will be difficult, the 49ers have their share of pushover game against Miami and Minnesota.
If the 49ers can sweep their division like they are capable of doing, they should have no problem returning to the playoffs in 2012.
Opponents' 2011 Winning Percentage: .512
Easiest Opponent(s): Jaguars, Colts, Cardinals, Rams, Buccaneers
Yes, the Vikings are bottom-feeders in arguably the NFL's toughest division. They could easily go 0-6 in the NFC North, and their OWP is above .500.
However, their OWP is high simply because their divisional opponents, especially the Packers, account for so many of those wins. Beyond the divisional games, the Vikings' schedule gets much easier.
Because they finished last in the division, they get to play other bottom-dwellers in St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Washington. They also get to play the weak AFC South, where games against Jacksonville and Indianapolis are more-than-winnable games.
If Ponder makes strides in year two, the Vikings could wind up with more wins than many would assume.
Opponents' 2011 Winning Percentage: .473
Easiest Opponent(s): Dolphins (twice), Rams, Cardinals, Jaguars, Colts
The Bills find themselves in the exact same boat as their division rivals, the New York Jets. While not quite in the same class as the Patriots, they are still a better team than Miami and could challenge the Jets for second place in the division.
At the same time, they share many common opponents with the Jets, except they get to play the Chiefs and the Browns instead of the Bengals and the Chargers since they finished third in the division last year.
With their huge influx of defensive talent, the Bills' easy schedule is just what they need as they try to finally produce a winning season.
Opponents' 2011 Winning Percentage: .453
Easiest Opponent(s): Rams, Cardinals, Jaguars, Colts, Seahawks, Dolphins (twice)
Usually, teams that come in first in their division have tougher schedules because they wind up playing other top-ranked teams from the prior season.
However, the entire AFC East gets a rather easy schedule in 2012, as each team will play both the NFC West and AFC South.
Still, the Jets, Dolphins and Bills have to play the Patriots who are virtually a lock to win 11-plus games every year, twice as divisional opponents, while the Patriots get to beat up on the three teams trying to catch up with them for divisional supremacy.
While the Jets and Bills are certainly capable of beating the Pats on any given day, the Patriots still have an easier road than their division rivals, simply because they don't have to play the Patriots.