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Power Ranking NFL Teams' Strength of Schedule

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIApril 20, 2013

Power Ranking NFL Teams' Strength of Schedule

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    Fans of the NFL collectively rejoiced this past week as the 2013 NFL schedule was officially released. This event has become a holiday of sorts for NFL enthusiasts all over the world.

    With the Super Bowl merely a glimmer in the past and the new season seemingly much too distant in the future, the release of the league schedule provides a great outlet for fans. Trash-talking with friends, analyzing all of the upcoming opponents, setting travel plans for away games—these are all in play at this point of the offseason.

    Another phenomenon that comes into play at this time is a great amount of speculation.

    Fans and NFL pundits alike project team records, win-loss ratios, playoff teams and fantasy football studs for the foreseeable future.

    Another thing that is subject to speculation is each teams' strength of schedule.

    It is always fun to project which teams are going to have it rough during the upcoming season and which teams will have a cakewalk to the playoffs.

    The criteria for the following strength-of-schedule power rankings are not solely based upon 2012 records. There are plenty of details that are considered here. Examples are 2012 playoff teams, teams with winning records, free-agency losses and gains, prime-time schedule and short turnaround weeks.

    Each of these aspects are strongly considered and combined into a formula that creates strength-of-schedule power rankings not seen elsewhere.

    Teams are ranked from the easiest to most difficult schedules.

32. Denver Broncos

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 110-146 (.430)

     

    Overview

    The Denver Broncos have what is quite possibly one of the best schedules in 2013. That is not only because one of the best NFL teams has the easiest schedule, but because of how many key games will take place over the course of the season.

    Aside from the immensely intriguing schedule, the Broncos look to have it easy in 2013. They continue to grow even stronger over the offseason and have a schedule that only puts them against five 2012 playoff teams and six teams with winning records.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    There are not many tough games on this schedule, but the Broncos need to get off to a fast start. They open against the Baltimore Ravens and then go across the country to face the New York Giants the following week.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    The Broncos can finish their season off in style as four of their last five games are against teams with very weak records from 2012.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    This is a tough call as there are several big games for the Broncos. Week 1 is the rematch against the Ravens to avenge a playoff loss. Week 2 is yet another Manning bowl as Peyton goes up against Eli in New York. Week 7 is Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis and Week 8 marks the return of Mike Shanahan to Denver.

     

    View the Broncos' schedule on NFL.com.

31. Indianapolis Colts

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 117-139 (.457)

     

    Overview

    The Indianapolis Colts only face six teams with winning records from a year ago and should be in play for the postseason once again. However, their remaining 10 games feature teams that were all below .500 in 2012.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    From Week 3 through Week 9, the Colts will have to be on their best game. They have a Week 8 bye, but face the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Broncos and Houston Texans in that stretch.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    Just after that difficult stretch, the Colts face three teams that were very weak from a year ago in four consecutive weeks. They will face the Tennessee Titans twice and the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals during that time.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    In Week 7, the Colts former quarterback comes to town for a duel against his very impressive replacement in Andrew Luck


    View the Colts' schedule here on NFL.com.

30. San Diego Chargers

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 117-139 (.457)

     

    Overview

    The San Diego Chargers do not have a difficult schedule when factoring in their opponents' 2012 records (only seven had winning records last season). However, the Chargers' most difficult task will be the cross-country trips they will be dealing with during the season.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    From Week 7 through Week 11, the schedule itself is not very difficult for the Bolts, but they do take three trips to the East Coast in that stretch.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    The Chargers must get something going quickly over the first seven weeks before their Week 8 bye. Of these first seven games, only two teams had winning records in 2012.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Week 13 against the Cincinnati Bengals should be an intriguing match. These teams have had notoriously close games over their last meetings.

     

    View the Chargers' schedule here on NFL.com.

29. Oakland Raiders

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 120-136 (.469)

     

    Overview

    The Oakland Raiders will face a number of questions this season,  the first being that they must answer who will be their starting quarterback. They will need to get things going quickly as the beginning of their schedule will not allow for any hiccups.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    The Raiders face three 2012 playoff teams in their first four weeks. They open at the Colts, then are in Denver in Week 3 and host the Washington Redskins the following week.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    The final 12 games of the Raiders' schedule lightens up drastically. They only face three teams with winning records from a year ago over the duration of their season.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    The Raiders make an early prime-time appearance against Denver in Week 3. It will be interesting to see how this inexperienced team can hold up against a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Peyton Manning on a national stage.

     

    View the Raiders' schedule here on NFL.com.

28. Buffalo Bills

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 121-135 (.473)

     

    Overview

    Buffalo Bills' new head coach Doug Marrone will have his hands full right from the beginning of the season when the Bills host the New England Patriots in Week 1. Luckily for Buffalo, things get much easier from there on.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    In weeks 4 through 6, the Bills face three AFC North teams in the Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Bengals. Each of these teams look to be in good position for the coming year and the Bills could have their hands full.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    Between weeks 7 and 11, the Bills have a stretch where they do not have to face a team with a winning record from last season. If Buffalo is going to contend, it must post good numbers during that stretch.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Week 1 is certainly the most intriguing matchup for this team. Marrone starts his tenure as the Bills head coach by attempting to best Bill Belichick.

     

    View the Bills' schedule here on NFL.com.

27. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 121-135 (.473)

     

    Overview

    Andy Reid will feel right at home as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs this season with three of their first four games played against the NFC East. Reid does have a good core of talent on his football team and has been granted a schedule that should be easy enough to string together some wins.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    Over the final seven weeks of the season, the Chiefs play five divisional games. Each divisional rivalry in the NFL is intense, and this challenge could drastically wear the Chiefs down.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    Over the first nine weeks, the Chiefs only play two teams with winning records from a year ago. This schedule is the tale of two halves and Kansas City must get its best foot forward early in the season.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    In Week 3, Reid returns to his former team when the Chiefs visit the Philadelphia Eagles. Everyone will be curious to see what kind of reception he receives upon his arrival.

     

    View the Chiefs' schedule here on NFL.com.

26. Dallas Cowboys

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 121-134-1 (.480)

     

    Overview

    Tony Romo will have to prove that he is worth the money that he is now earning when the Dallas Cowboys face the Giants in Week 1 in prime time. The Cowboys' schedule is very favorable because many of their more-difficult opponents will be traveling to Dallas this season.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    The Cowboys will really have to buckle down during that time of year that has proven to be their Achilles' heel—December. In four consecutive December games, they play the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Redskins and Eagles.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    Dallas should be able to get off to a fast start once Week 2 rolls around and they start a three-week stretch where they play teams with losing records from a year ago.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    A Week 10 prime-time game against former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and the New Orleans Saints should be quite a spectacle.

     

    View the Cowboys' schedule here on NFL.com.

25. Houston Texans

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 120-134-2 (.473)

     

    Overview

    The Texans have a fairly easy schedule due to the weaknesses in their own division. Playing the entire AFC West makes things all the merrier for this team in 2013. However, they do play four division winners from a year ago that should all still be powerhouses this season.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    In weeks 3 through 5, the Texans are tasked with facing the Ravens, Seahawks and 49ers. They will be fortunate to come out of this stretch unscathed.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    During their stretch from Week 6 though Week 12, the Texans only play one winning team from a year ago in the Colts. Most of the games here are also played at home, which should give Houston a high chance of stringing together some wins.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Week 13 will undoubtedly be the most difficult and most intriguing matchup for the Texans in 2013. They face the Patriots, who were the second team to beat them during the 2012 regular season and also responsible for ending their run in the playoffs.

     

    View the Texans' schedule here on NFL.com.

24. New York Giants

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 123-133 (.480)

     

    Overview

    The Giants drew five prime-time games in 2013 and three of them happen to be road games. While this could spell trouble for most teams, the Giants tend to rise to the occasion when the pressure is on. Aside from that, drawing the AFC West for the season does not hurt matters at all for the G-Men.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    Over the last seven weeks of the season, the Giants have three division games (including two against the Redskins) and play the Packers and Seahawks. This late run could make or break the Giants' playoff hopes.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    During weeks three though 10, the only team on the Giants' schedule that was a 2012 playoff participant is the Minnesota Vikings. New York could certainly go on a roll here.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Just like it was for the Broncos, Eli-against-Peyton in Week 2 will be the highlight of the season for this team.

     

    View the Giants' schedule here on NFL.com.

23. Tennessee Titans

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 124-130-2 (.488)

     

    Overview

    The Titans were one of the few teams that were snubbed out of a prime-time appearance in 2013, aside from the Thursday night game which is given to each team. On the brighter side, the Titans' schedule is favorable and can allow them to string together enough wins to make a couple prime-time appearances in 2014.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    The first two weeks of the season will be rather brutal for the Titans. They open on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The following week, they find themselves in hostile territory again, this time against the Texans. That is not a favorable start to the 2013 season for this young team.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    Luckily, the schedule allows the Titans a chance to recover from their first two games. The following three weeks, they play the Chargers, New York Jets and Chiefs. All of those teams failed to reach the .500 mark in 2012.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Both games against the Jacksonville Jaguars should be rather interesting for this team. The Titans will have the chance to prove they have the better quarterback in Jake Locker and allow themselves to stay out of the basement of the division with a couple wins.

     

    View the Titans' schedule here on NFL.com.

22. New York Jets

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 127-129 (.496)

     

    Overview

    The quarterback controversy in New York continues—and so do the jokes. If the Jets are to be taken seriously, they will need to utilize their weak schedule and string together wins to prove that they can be a contender once again. They do not have to travel to the West Coast at all in 2013 and should take full advantage.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    Weeks 5 through 8 will feature the most difficult stretch of opponents for the Jets all season long. They start by visiting the Atlanta Falcons and then host the Steelers and Patriots then finish at the Bengals. It would be fortunate for the Jets to get a win out of this stretch of games.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    After their Week 10, the Jets have a favorable schedule for the remainder of the season. In Week 12, they visit the Ravens, but their other six games are against teams with losing records from 2012.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Weeks 3 and 11 should be interesting as the Jets take on the Bills twice in what figures to be the battle to stay out of the basement of the division.

     

    View the Jets' schedule here on NFL.com.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 127-127-2 (.500)

     

    Overview

    Even though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' opponents have a .500 total from the 2012 season, they still find themselves with a favorable schedule. Why? Because the Bucs only play a total of five games against teams with winning records from last season. Tampa Bay has the potential to do some damage against a weak schedule this season.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    In weeks 7 though 11, the Bucs face the Falcons twice and the Seahawks. Those three games (two away) in that five-game stretch will be the biggest test of their 2013 season.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    In their last six games of the season, the Bucs only play one winning team in that span. If they can go on a roll during that stretch, they could potentially propel themselves toward the playoffs.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Week 2 against the Saints will be a telling sign of what is to come for this team. They play the Saints in a battle to see which team is ready to step up to challenge the Falcons for the division.

     

    View the Buccaneers' schedule here on NFL.com.

20. Atlanta Falcons

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 128-128 (.500)

     

    Overview

    The Falcons have a tale of two halves in the 2013 season. They open with a relatively easy schedule, but end against some of the better teams in the NFL. However, their schedule is favorable enough that they should be headed to the postseason once again if they win the games that they should.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    In weeks 14 though 16, the Falcons face the Packers, Redskins and 49ers. That is a rather daunting task for any NFL team.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    During their first eight games of the season, the Falcons play only one winning team from the 2012 season—the Patriots. However, they do play the Saints as well in this stretch and have struggled against them of late.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    As mentioned, Week 1 against the Saints will be very interesting. The Falcons have struggled against them recently and it will be interesting to see which team is ready to step up to the challenge.

     

    View the Falcons' schedule here on NFL.com.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 126-130 (.492)

     

    Overview

    Even though the Steelers finished at a mere 8-8 in 2012, they are still a great prime-time draw and have four games under the lights in 2013. The Steelers also have a trip to London where they will take on the Vikings.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    In weeks 13 though 16, the Steelers will have to face the Ravens, Bengals and Packers. They also face the Miami Dolphins on a short week in that span.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    In weeks 10 through 12, the Steelers have a chance to gain some momentum as they face three teams with losing records from a year ago. This also comes at a good time because they are slated to face the Patriots in Week 9.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    In Week 4, the Steelers take a trip across the pond to face the Vikings in London. Although this is considered an away game for Pittsburgh, it may not feel like one. The Steelers have a large contingent of fans around the world and could see plenty of terrible towels waving in England.

     

    View the Steelers' schedule here on NFL.com.

18. Cleveland Browns

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 126-130 (.492)

     

    Overview

    The Browns will look to make progress this year with a new coaching staff intact. They certainly have a chance to do so after they have been handed a fairly favorable schedule. They do have their fair share of difficult contests, but have plenty of games in which they will have a good shot to win.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    After the Browns' bye in Week 10, they face a difficult end to their season. During this stretch of seven games, the only two teams they face that had losing records in 2012 are the Jets and Jaguars. The others are the Bengals, Patriots, Bears and Steelers (twice).

     

    Easiest Stretch

    In weeks 5 and 6, the Browns should be able to gain some momentum as they face the Bills and Detroit Lions. This could be fortunate as they head into the more-difficult part of their schedule later on.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    In Week 1, the revamped Browns take on the revamped Dolphins, complete with second-year quarterbacks. It should be interesting to see which team made more progress over the offseason.

     

    View the Browns' schedule here on NFL.com.

17. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 127-129 (.496)

     

    Overview

    It appears as though the NFL is just as intrigued about this mysterious Chip Kelly team as Eagles fans. The league has given Philadelphia two prime-time games in its first three weeks. The up-tempo Eagles' offense will get an up-tempo start to the season.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    Weeks 4 through 8 are no walk in the park for this young team. Three division games (two against the Giants and one against the Cowboys) as well as games against the Broncos and Buccaneers wait to test the moxie of Philadelphia.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    In the beginning of the season, the Eagles may have caught a break. They face the potentially Robert Griffin-less Redskins in Week 1, followed by two home games against the Chargers and Chiefs.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    The Week 3 prime-time matchup against the Chiefs and former head coach Andy Reid will draw lots of attention this season. At least the game is early in the year which makes it rather difficult to pelt the former coach with snowballs.

     

    View the Eagles' schedule here on NFL.com.

16. Washington Redskins

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 127-128-1 (.498)

     

    Overview

    RGIII's magic has struck during the offseason as his electrifying performances have granted the Redskins five prime-time games over the course of the season. However, Griffin needs to get healthy in a hurry because Washington does not have it easy right out of the gate.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    Just coming out of their Week 5 bye, the Redskins square off against the Cowboys in Dallas, then against the Bears and finally make a trip out to Denver to visit the Broncos. This is not a dream scenario for any NFL team.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    As luck would have it, the Redskins face the Lions and Raiders in weeks 3 and 4followed by their bye. This is just the type of scheduling needed to allow Griffin to get back into the swing of things.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    With Griffin facing the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick in Week 12, this could be a very exciting duel of the read-option offenses.

     

    View the Redskins' schedule here on NFL.com.

15. New England Patriots

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 130-126 (.508)

     

    Overview

    The Patriots have plenty of prime-time action lined up again this year as the look to continue their streak of making the playoffs. New England will look to take advantage of a favorable schedule early and then brace for more-difficult games down the stretch.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    Weeks 4 through 6 show the Patriots some difficulty. It begins with a trip to Atlanta, followed by a trip to Cincinnati and ends against New Orleans. Two of those teams were in the playoffs a year ago and the other is quarterbacked by Drew Brees.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    The beginning of the schedule should have the Patriots eyeing a 3-0 start out of the gate. They open at the Bills and then are home against the Jets and Buccaneers.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Week 12 and a prime-time matchup will bring the best quarterback rivalry back to the field this season in another Brady vs. Manning slugfest. It is always entertaining to see these two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks go head-to-head.

     

    View the Patriots' schedule here on NFL.com.

14. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 129-125-2 (.508)

     

    Overview

    It could be another rough season for the rebuilding Jaguars. They were given the most difficult record out of the four AFC South teams. This schedule features some fierce competition, but will give the Jags a chance to win a few games as well.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    During weeks 3 though 8, the Jaguars face some rather difficult opponents. They face four 2012 playoff teams in a six-game stretch. This includes two cross-country trips—one to Seattle and one to Denver.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    In the second half of the season, things turn in the favor of the Jaguars. In the stretch from Week 10 to Week 16, their two games against the Texans are the only contests against an opponent with a winning record from 2012.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Week 2 against the Raiders should be an interesting matchup for the Jaguars. Both teams are struggling with quarterback questions and both are in a rebuilding phase.

     

    View the Jaguars' schedule here on NFL.com.

13. Chicago Bears

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 128-127-1 (.502)

     

    Overview

    New Bears head coach and offensive guru Marc Trestman will face a very difficult test early on. In his first three weeks, he will face the stout NFL defenses of Cincinnati, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Apparently, this is the NFL's version of a greeting card for the new coach.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    Those same three games also happen to be the toughest stretch for this football team in 2013. The Bears begin at home against two playoff teams from a year ago and then travel to Pittsburgh—which is always tough at home—in Week 3.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    From Week 10 to Week 16, the Bears only play two teams with winning records from a year ago. They will play against Baltimore and at Minnesota. The other five games in this stretch are against teams with sub-.500 records from 2012.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Week 9 at the Packers will be a very interesting matchup. Chicago and Green Bay both have high-powered offenses and defenses that are known to allow points on the board. This could turn into an old fashioned shootout.

     

    View the Bears' schedule here on NFL.com.

12. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 130-126 (.508)

     

    Overview

    The difference between the Bengals' home schedule and away schedule in 2013 is night and day. Cincinnati faces five 2012 playoff teams out of their eight home games this season. On the road, the only playoff team that the Bengals will face is the Ravens.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    The Bengals will need to attempt to start strong as the most difficult portion of their schedule will happen immediately. They open the season in Chicago, then play Pittsburgh and Green Bay, travel to Cleveland and finish up against New England. That's a handful so early in the season.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    Luckily for the Bengals, their schedule lightens up as it goes on. From Week 6 to Week 13, the Ravens are the only team with a winning record from a year ago that Cincinnati will play.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Out of the Bengals three prime-time games, two are against Pittsburgh. There has been no love lost between these two teams after the beating they put on each other in Week 16 last season.

     

    View the Bengals' schedule here on NFL.com.

11. Seattle Seahawks

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 130-122-4 (.516)

     

    Overview

    The Seahawks made an electrifying run in 2012 as they won all eight home games and made their way into the playoffs. They will have to continue along that same path if they want to make a repeat trip. The key for Seattle in 2013 is to start strong and keep winning at home.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    In Week 4 and Week 5, the Seahawks will face a difficult test. They have to make two consecutive road trips out of their time zone to play Houston and Indianapolis—two playoff teams from a year ago.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    Even though the teams that they play are not exactly weak at the end of the 2013 season, Seattle does finish with four of their final six games played at home. That is huge for a team like the Seahawks which clearly has a significant home-field advantage.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    A Week 2 prime-time matchup against Kaepernick and the 49ers will have the nation tuned in. Everyone is expecting a huge duel between these two teams in a race for the NFC West crown.

     

    View the Seahawks' schedule here on NFL.com.

10. Miami Dolphins

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 133-123 (.520)

     

    Overview

    The Dolphins were big spenders in free agency this offseason and look to show off their new look in 2013. They will get a chance right out of the gate with some difficult teams early on. If they cannot get off to a fast start, their schedule softens later in the season and could allow them to make up ground.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    The first eight games of the Dolphins' season will be their most difficult as they play five playoff teams within that span. If Miami cannot figure out how to string together a couple of wins in that stretch, their season could be over in a hurry.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    The Dolphins' final eight games are completely contrary to their first eight. The only 2012 playoff team in the second half of their schedule is the Patriots. If the Dolphins get off to a slow start, they may be able to make up for it during this stretch.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Week 8 at New England will be the most intriguing matchup for this team. After spending so much money in free agency and now viewing themselves as contenders, the Dolphins must beat the Patriots to validate such a title.

     

    View the Dolphins' schedule here on NFL.com.

9. Arizona Cardinals

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 131-121-4 (.520)

     

    Overview

    The Cardinals find themselves searching for answers—mostly at the quarterback position. A team in disarray that is listed in the top-10 strength of schedule power rankings is not a good thing. Arizona will have a tough time righting the ship in 2013.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    There are a couple stretches that are difficult for Arizona this season, but the most difficult appears to be between Week 6 and Week 10. Aside from a Week 9 bye, the Cardinals play a 2012 playoff team in each of these weeks. Their lineup starts with the 49ers, then they face the Seahawks followed by the Falcons and Texans.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    The first five games of the Cardinals' season is by far their easiest stretch of the season as they do not play any team that had a winning record last season during that span. The Rams, Lions, Saints, Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers are all lined up to start the season for the Cardinals.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Week 12 against the Colts features new Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians against his former team.

     

    View the Cardinals' schedule here on NFL.com.

8. San Francisco 49ers

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 132-122-2 (.520)

     

    Overview

    The 49ers' quest to get back to the Super Bowl in consecutive years will require this team to be on point in the beginning of the season. They will face numerous 2012 playoff teams early on before their schedule softens down the stretch.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    In the first five weeks, the 49ers will face four 2012 playoff teams. They start the season against the Packers, then play the Seahawks (in Seattle), the Colts and the Texans two weeks later. This will be a very tough test for the explosive read-option offense and stout defense of the 49ers.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    Just after that difficult opening stretch, the 49ers are rewarded between Week 6 and Week 11 when they will not have to face a team with a winning record from last season. That should give the team time to gain some momentum before they begin the final stretch of their season.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Week 2 against Seattle will be the most-enticing game for the 49ers this year. Not only are they neck-and-neck with Seattle for a division title, but they need to prove that they can win against the Seahawks on the road.

     

    View the 49ers' schedule here on NFL.com.

7. Minnesota Vikings

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 132-124 (.516)

     

    Overview

    Even though Minnesota does not have as difficult of a schedule as some aforementioned teams based upon 2012 records, there are other factors to take into consideration here. The Vikings play against six playoff teams from a year ago and nine teams with winning records. Of those nine teams, six of those games are on the road.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    Almost their entire schedule could be considered a tough stretch, but Week 10 through Week 14 would have to be the most difficult for the Vikings this season. These five consecutive games feature five teams with winning records from 2012—four of which were playoff teams.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    Not too much is easy on this schedule, but in the Vikings' first six games, none of the teams they face were in the playoffs last season. However, it does include two teams that did finish with winning records a year ago.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    This may come as a surprise, but an intriguing matchup for the Vikings will be their Week 3 match against the Browns. Both teams have solid defenses, a lackluster quarterback and a deadly running back. They seem to match up evenly.

     

    View the Vikings' schedule here on NFL.com.

6. New Orleans Saints

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    Opponents' 2012 Record: 137-117-2 (.539)

     

    Overview

    The Saints have one of the most difficult schedules based upon opponents' 2012 records, however, they only face six teams with winning records from a year ago. They still have a difficult schedule, but it is spread out so that the Saints do not have many tough games consecutively.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    In weeks 11-13, the Saints host the 49ers, travel to the Falcons and finally travel to face the Seahawks. These are the three most dangerous teams in the NFC and the Saints are finding them in three consecutive weeks.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    Luckily for the Saints, they will find a much-better scenario after that stretch is done. They finish against the Panthers (twice), Rams and Buccaneers—all teams with losing records last season. This gives the Saints a good chance to finish strong and make a possible run at a playoff spot.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Week 1 will tell all about this Saints team as they take on the Falcons. The Saints will have to prove that they are good enough to compete in the division once again. They must also prove that their new defensive scheme can hold up against an elite offense.

     

    View the Saints' schedule here on NFL.com.

5. Carolina Panthers

29 of 33

    Opponents' 2012 Record: 138-116-2 (.543)

     

    Overview

    Technically, the Panthers have the toughest schedule when only taking their opponents' 2012 record into consideration. However, even though they have a difficult schedule in that regard, they still only play seven games against teams with winning records from 2012. There are still a fair amount of winnable games.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    Weeks 9-11 will be the most difficult for the Panthers in 2013. They must face the Falcons, 49ers and Patriots. If things do not go well here, it will be important for this team to not allow Cam Newton to become deflated for the remainder of the season.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    For the five consecutive games after that treacherous stretch of three games, the Panthers can find themselves with a little breathing room. These five games feature teams that did not have a winning record last season. Two of these five games are against the Saints, and if the Panthers were to go on a run here, they could find themselves in rather good shape in the division.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    There are plenty of similar aspects to the offensive systems of the Panthers and Seahawks. These two teams happen to play each other in Week 1.

     

    View the Panthers' schedule here on NFL.com.

4. Baltimore Ravens

30 of 33

    Opponents' 2012 Record: 137-119 (.535)

     

    Overview

    The Ravens begin their defense of their Super Bowl title on the road against Denver. Unfortunately, their schedule does not get much easier from there. Half of their games will be against teams that finished last season with winning records. The only bright side of this for Baltimore is that only three of those games are on the road.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    The most difficult stretch for the Ravens this season will be closing out the year. In Week 16, they face the Patriots, who should be hungry for revenge after their 2012 playoff meeting. In Week 17, Baltimore finds itself on the road against a division rival in the Bengals. If the Ravens find themselves on the bubble during a playoff run, this is not how they would want their season to finish.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    There are not many easy moments in the Ravens' schedule, but they will have to make the most of their early contests. In the first five weeks of the season, they play three teams that did not have winning records last season. These should be must-win games for Baltimore to get its season started on the right track.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Obviously, the matchup that everyone has been anticipating is Week 1 at Denver in prime time. The playoff game between these two teams was nothing short of epic and every fan should be tuned in for this great rematch.

     

    View the Ravens' schedule here on NFL.com.

3. St. Louis Rams

31 of 33

    Opponents' 2012 Record: 137-117-2 (.539)

     

    Overview

    The NFL sure did not take it easy on the Rams when they tallied up the final 2013 schedule. Half of the Rams' games in 2013 are against teams with winning records from a season ago. Seven of those eight made the playoffs last year and of those seven teams, the Rams must play five of them on the road.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    Weeks 2-4 should be a very difficult test for the Rams. They must travel to Atlanta and Dallas in Week 2 and Week 3, and then host San Francisco in Week 4. This could force the Rams into a sluggish start to the season.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    In Weeks 14-16, the Rams will need to be in top form as this is the only stretch where they have a great chance to win consecutive games. They will face the Cardinals, Saints and Buccaneers and will need to come away with wins if they are to contend.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    Week 2, the Rams travel to Atlanta to see former running back Steven Jackson in a new uniform for the first time. As a long-time Ram, it should take some time to get used to seeing Jackson wearing Falcons colors.

     

    View the Rams' schedule here on NFL.com.

2. Green Bay Packers

32 of 33

    Opponents' 2012 Record: 136-119-1 (.533)

     

    Overview

    Green Bay is one of only two teams that will face 10 teams that posted winning records in 2012. Of those 10 teams, seven of them are playoff teams from a year ago. The Packers' 2013 schedule starts out in extremely difficult fashion and does not let up throughout the season.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    The first three weeks could shape the Packers season. They open the season with a huge game in San Francisco. This could be the ultimate revenge for Green Bay after their loss in the playoffs to the 49ers last season. They host the Redskins in Week 2, then travel to Cincinnati in Week 3. This is a rather daunting task for the Packers to begin the season.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    There are no easy stretches on the Packers' schedule in 2013. The best thing that has come out of this is their Thanksgiving Day game  against the Lions. This should provide them with a win and give them plenty of time to rest up for a prime-time game the following week against the dangerous Falcons.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    The most intriguing matchup will certainly be their Week 1 meeting with the 49ers. After a great playoff game last year, the Packers will be hungry for revenge.

     

    View the Packers' schedule here on NFL.com.

1. Detroit Lions

33 of 33

    Opponents' 2012 Record: 138-118 (.539)

     

    Overview

    Like the Packers, the Lions also face 10 teams that ended up with winning records in 2012. They also face seven teams that were in the playoffs a year ago. Luckily for the Lions, they face a good majority of these teams at Ford Field. On the down side, there is no soft spot in Detroit's 2013 schedule.

     

    Toughest Stretch

    In weeks 3-5, the Lions face three very difficult opponents—two of which are division rivals. First, they will make a trip to Washington to take on the Redskins. The Lions then come home to host the Bears before paying a visit to the Packers. This type of early-season schedule is enough to derail a team for an entire year.

     

    Easiest Stretch

    If there was any kind of an easy stretch on this schedule, then the Lions would not have received the top ranking on this list. The only positive thing that can be said is that their Thanksgiving game will allow extra time before they travel to Philadelphia for a 1 p.m. ET game the following week.

     

    Intriguing Matchup

    The Lions need to get started on the right track and will have to do so against a division rival. Week 1 against the Vikings should do exactly that when newly acquired Reggie Bush will go up against Minnesota and the fierce Adrian Peterson.

     

    View the Lions' schedule here on NFL.com.


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