Ranking Every NFL Team by Strength of Schedule

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IJuly 7, 2014

Ranking Every NFL Team by Strength of Schedule

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    Luck? On paper, the Indianapolis Colts have the "easiest" schedule in the NFL in 2014.
    Luck? On paper, the Indianapolis Colts have the "easiest" schedule in the NFL in 2014.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    There is less than one month remaining until we see the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills square off in the 2014 Hall of Fame Game.

    That’s the start of the preseason. Here, we will concentrate on just getting real.

    The 2014 NFL regular season kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 4, when the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks host the Green Bay Packers. It’s the first of 256 contests that will help decide who will be playing in Super Bowl XLIX.

    So let’s take a look at those 256 contests with a breakdown of sorts of each team’s schedule in 2014. Thanks to an assist from CBSSports.com, the rankings are from the easiest to the most difficult based on the combined 2013 winning percentage of 2014 opponents.

    It’s worth noting that there is certainly an element of luck when it comes to the numbers. Opponents for each team are set up years in advance and only two of a team’s 16 games each year are determined by how they finish the previous season.

    To try to predict win-loss records simply based on schedule strength is somewhat difficult, especially in early July when there is so much more that can still happen with each team.

    But we will try to point to some interesting facts when it comes to each team’s 16-game slate (which is included on each page courtesy of NFL.com). And we will leave the prognostications for others who may be more qualified.

32. Indianapolis Colts (.430)

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 110-146


    How on earth did a division champion such as the Indianapolis Colts manage to wind up with the NFL’s easiest schedule (according to the numbers) in 2014?

    The answer is pretty obvious when you play in the AFC South, which as a group combined for fewer wins (24) than any other division in the league last season.

    Consider that the Colts were 11-5 and the Tennessee Titans (7-9), Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12) and Houston Texans (2-14) were a combined 13-35 a year ago. That’s why it is no surprise that the next three teams on this list are all from the same division.

    Not surprising, Chuck Pagano’s team was a perfect 6-0 against AFC South rivals in 2013. That also means the club was just 5-5 against the rest of the league. This season, the Colts start by visiting the Denver Broncos, then hosting the Philadelphia Eagles, both defending division champions themselves.

    Finally, Pagano’s club has an intriguing stretch run. After its bye on Nov. 9, Indianapolis has a three-game homestand, but in December plays three of its last four games on the road.

31. Tennessee Titans (.438)

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 112-144


    Remember when the Tennessee Titans were last in the playoffs?

    It has been a bit. The franchise owned the best record in the league in 2008 and hasn’t been back to the postseason since.

    Perhaps things will be different under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, whose team opens the season with three of its first four games on the road and all of those contests (Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts) against 2013 playoff teams.

    However, the month of December is potentially kinder to the Titans than September. The Titans close the season with three of their final four games at Nashville, including the NFL version of New York, New York in the Giants (Week 14) and Jets (Week 15). And a Thursday night visit to Jacksonville in Week 16 means that Whisenhunt and Co. have some extra time to prepare for their season-ending home tilt with the Colts.

    And wouldn’t that be interesting (or perhaps surprising) if the AFC South title was on the line?

30. Houston Texans (.441)

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 113-143


    Do you think that the Houston Texans are anxious to get that bad taste out of their collective mouthpieces?

    After opening the season 2-0 this past season, a third victory never came as the club lost its final 14 games while firing its head coach in the process.

    Now it’s up to Bill O’Brien to get this team back on track. He will do it with the help of veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick—formerly of the Tennessee Titans—and first overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney.

    Could the Texans go from worst to first just as quickly as they went from division champ to chump in one season? The final six weeks of the schedule could play a major role. Over that span, Houston plays four home games. They also play four divisional foes in the final five weeks.

    We have learned to never say never in this league, especially given the fact that in each of the last two seasons (2012 Indianapolis Colts and 2013 Kansas City Chiefs) we have seen teams finish with 11-5 records following 2-14 campaigns.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (.453)

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 116-140


    By the time September is over, the Jacksonville Jaguars may feel more like Tweety than Sylvester.

    Gus Bradley’s team kicks off 2014 with a pair of road trips north to the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. After hosting the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3, the Jaguars head cross-country to San Diego to battle the Chargers.

    We are also reminded (courtesy of the Associated Press, via ESPN.com) that the Jaguars are in the second year of their four-year deal to play a game in London. This season, they clash with the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10 at Wembley Stadium.

    After all that travel, the team gets a bit of a break down the stretch as Jacksonville plays three of its final five games at home, the exceptions being trips to Baltimore (Week 15) and to Houston (Week 17).

    And to quote the great Porky Pig

28. Baltimore Ravens (.461)

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 117-139


    Quote these Baltimore Ravens: There’s an early opportunity to make a statement in the division.

    John Harbaugh’s team opens the season with three straight games against their AFC North rivals. They host the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers in Weeks 1 and 2 and then visit the Cleveland Browns in Week 3. The clash with Pittsburgh comes just four days after Baltimore’s season opener.

    Fast forward to Weeks 8 and 9, when they once again play back-to-back games against the Bengals and Steelers, both of these obviously on the road.

    Before facing four 2013 non-playoff teams in December, Harbaugh and Co. have a tricky seven-day stretch in which they visit the New Orleans Saints on a Monday night, followed by a home tilt with the San Diego Chargers. Both of those clubs wound up in the final eight in last season’s playoffs.

26t. Cleveland Browns (.465)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 119-137


    The new-look Cleveland Browns (how many times have we said that in recent years?) hope to finally put an end to six straight seasons of 11 or more losses.

    How’s this for one switch. For the first time since 2009, the team will not close the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead, head coach Mike Pettine and his squad will kick off 2014 at Heinz Field and face their longtime rivals twice in their first five games.

    The most interesting part of the schedule comes down the stretch. The Browns will play four of their final six contests on the road. After visits to Atlanta and Buffalo in Weeks 12 and 13, Cleveland faces three straight defending division champions in the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers before closing the season on the road against the Baltimore Ravens.

26t. New York Giants (.465)

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 119-137


    Talk about getting the tough stuff out of the way first.

    The New York Giants play four of their first seven games away from home. What makes that even more interesting is that Tom Coughlin’s club faces each of its NFC East rivals in a four-week span from Sept. 25 to Oct. 19. And all three of those contests are on the road.

    After their bye, the Giants face three consecutive opponents that were in the 2013 playoffs in the Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

    New York’s last six games are evenly split between home and away, with the three contests at MetLife Stadium coming against the Dallas Cowboys (Week 12), Washington Redskins (Week 15) and Philadelphia Eagles (Week 17).

23t. Cincinnati Bengals (.469)

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 120-136


    Perhaps they should be the Coney Island Bengals?

    Of course, that is in reference to the roller-coaster schedule of Marvin Lewis’ talented team in 2014.

    What do we mean? The fun actually begins after the team’s bye on Sept. 28. The Cincinnati Bengals face the first of three straight fellow 2013 divisional champions in the New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts, with the first and last of those contests on the road.

    The Bengals then play three straight home games, followed by three consecutive road contests. During last year’s regular season, Lewis’ club was 8-0 at Paul Brown Stadium and 3-5 away from home.

    But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Cincinnati’s slate is two games in the final four weeks against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, with the season finale being at Heinz Field.

    Will the AFC North be settled in Week 17 among the teams? No doubt the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns will have their say as well.

23t. Pittsburgh Steelers (.469)

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 120-136


    In each of the last two seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers have finished with an 8-8 record.

    Two years ago that was courtesy of five losses in their final seven games after a 6-3 start. This past season, Mike Tomlin’s club finished with six wins in their final eight outings after opening 2-6.

    This season’s Steelers will have to prove that last year’s strong finish was a sign of things to come. Those signs will be pointing out of town as Pittsburgh plays four of its first six games on the road.

    After that stretch, there are three consecutive home games against the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens. After their bye on Nov. 23, the team closes the season with four outings against 2013 playoff teams, including a pair of tilts with the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals.

    Here’s something else to keep in the back of your mind. If you plan on attending the Steelers’ game against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15 at the Georgia Dome, plan to stay a little later than usual. In each of the teams’ last three meetings (2002, 2006 and 2010), the contest went into overtime.

23t. New Orleans Saints (.469)

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 119-135-2


    Last season, the New Orleans Saints won the first road playoff game in the history of a franchise that dates back to 1967. Sean Payton’s club bested the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Wild Card Round before falling to the Seahawks at Seattle.

    So here’s a little case of deja vu for Drew Brees and Co. The Saints open the 2014 with consecutive road tilts, traveling to face the Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns. All told, the team plays four of its first six contests away from home, with a bye (Week 6) sandwiched in there.

    However, the beginning of November starts a three-game homestand in which the Saints host the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens. Meanwhile, December sees Payton’s squad close with three of their four games against NFC South rivals, including home tilts with the Carolina Panthers (Week 14) and Falcons (Week 16).

22. Carolina Panthers (.473)

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 120-134-2


    There doesn’t appear to be anything extraordinary about the 2014 Carolina Panthers schedule, although it does present the team the opportunity to visit some of their key players from a year ago…as well as one franchise legend.

    After opening the season on the road against the division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ron Rivera’s team hosts the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers. Starting free safety Mike Mitchell signed with Pittsburgh this offseason.

    Week 4 should be something to see as the Baltimore Ravens and new veteran wide receiver Steve Smith (Carolina’s all-time leader in touchdowns and numerous other categories) host the defending NFC South champions.

    On Nov. 30, the Panthers travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings and former standout cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who picked off four passes the last two seasons for Rivera’s club and returned them all for scores.

    However, it’s a midseason stretch that will really test Carolina’s mettle. From Weeks 6-10, the Panthers face five straight teams that reached the playoffs this past season: the rival New Orleans Saints (Week 9) as well as 2013 division champions in the Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles.

    Scratching out a winning record in that five-game stretch could be difficult for a lot of teams.

21. Minnesota Vikings (.477)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 121-133-2


    For 32 seasons from 1982-2013, the Minnesota Vikings called the Metrodome home…for the most part.

    Over the next two seasons, the Purple Gang is headed back to school. But we’ll say it here and very clearly. It is not for graduate courses and no paper on Kurt Vonnegut is due.

    Instead, the Vikings will call TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota home until their new stadium is finished.

    Meanwhile, new head coach Mike Zimmer seeks respect for a team that reached the playoffs in 2012 but has finished last in the NFC North three of the past four years.

    After opening the season on the road against the St. Louis Rams, the Vikings face three 2013 playoff teams in four weeks, hosting the New England Patriots (Week 2), then traveling to battle the New Orleans Saints (Week 3) and Green Bay Packers (Week 5).

    Following the team’s bye on Nov. 9, the Vikings face teams within their division four times in the final seven games. After visiting the Bears in Week 11, Minnesota has a three-game homestand against the Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers and New York Jets.

    Zimmer’s club then heads to Detroit and Miami before closing the season at home against the Chicago Bears.

20. Philadelphia Eagles (.479)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 122-133-1


    This past season, the Philadelphia Eagles stumbled out of the gates and then regrouped to win the NFC East.

    In 2014, is it possible that Chip Kelly’s team gets off to a fast start?

    These Birds open the season with four of their first six games at home. Of course, their two road contests over that stretch are no picnic as the team travels to face the Indianapolis Colts (Week 2) and San Francisco 49ers (Week 4). The game with the Niners is followed by visits to Philadelphia by the St. Louis Rams and New York Giants. The Eagles' bye comes seven days later.

    Also worth more than a casual mention is the team’s Week 3 visit from the Washington Redskins. Do you think the Eagles’ leading receiver from a year ago, three-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson, will be a little “chippy” when it comes to facing his former head coach and club?

    Philadelphia closes the season with four divisional clashes in the final five weeks, closing 2014 with road games against the Redskins and Giants.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (.484)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 123-131-2


    When it comes to the start of 2014 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, apparently it is one extreme or another for Lovie Smith’s football team.

    The new-look Bucs open the season with home games against the Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams, then head on the road for three weeks against the Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints. Then it’s back to familiar surroundings for a stretch as the team’s bye is smack in the middle of home games with the Baltimore Ravens (Week 6) and Minnesota Vikings (Week 8).

    While the visit from the Purple Gang will be of particular interest to new Buccaneers defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier (most recently the Vikings’ head coach), it’s the Week 12 meeting between Smith and the Chicago Bears that should be really intriguing. Tampa’s newest sideline leader was the head coach in the Windy City for nine seasons (2004-12), forged a 84-66 overall record (including playoffs) and took the Bears to Super Bowl XLI.

18. Dallas Cowboys (.488)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 125-131


    The Dallas Cowboys have finished 8-8 each of the past three seasons and haven’t been to the playoffs since winning the NFC East in 2009.

    That hasn’t stopped the league from making them a focal point on television.

    But let’s start at the top. Dallas’ first six opponents are of the non-divisional type. So when you do the quick math you know that that in its final 10 games are six contests against NFC East adversaries. That includes a Monday night meeting with the Washington Redskins in Week 8.

    After a trip to London to face the Jacksonville Jaguars followed by the customary bye, the Cowboys' next five games are all potentially part of the national limelight.

    A scheduled Sunday night visit to the New York Giants is followed four days later by a Thanksgiving Day tilt with the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s followed exactly one week later with a Thursday night visit to the Windy City and then a prime-time rematch with the Birds in Week 15. Then the Indianapolis Colts come to Cowboys Stadium for a 4:25 p.m. Eastern Time start.

    Jason Garrett’s club closes the season in the nation’s capital against the Redskins.

17. Washington Redskins (.490)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 125-130-1


    Here is something that may surprise you.

    Before the Washington Redskins have their bye on Nov. 9, it’s worth pointing out that this club has as many prime-time games as it had wins (three) in 2013.

    Of course, III is the magic number here as all are counting on a healthy Robert Griffin III this upcoming season.

    Speaking of numbers, the second overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft will face the first overall selection that year in Week 13 at Indianapolis. The Colts and quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 choice in 2012, faces off against Griffin and his team in the first regular-season meeting between the young signal-callers.

    As for the other most interesting aspect regarding Washington’s schedule, new head coach Jay Gruden and his club close the season with consecutive games against the division rival New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles (can you say DeSean Jackson?) and Dallas Cowboys.

    Not only is it a tough way to end the year, keep in mind that the Redskins were the only team in the league this past season to finish winless (0-6) against their divisional rivals.

16. Detroit Lions (.492)

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 124-128-4


    What’s better than an NFL tripleheader like we see now on Thanksgiving?

    How about a double-double? Or we will call it a quadruple-header.

    Is that a word? It is now.

    We are referring to the Detroit Lions’ visit to London to face the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8 of the season. The contest has an East Coast starting time of 9:30 a.m. That means you’ll be watching NFL games for more than 14 hours on Oct. 26.

    As for the rest of the Lions’ schedule, the key here is how the team finishes. Detroit faces four divisional foes in the last five weeks, including two games with the Chicago Bears and the season finale at Lambeau Field. The first clash with the Bears comes on Thanksgiving at home and three weeks later the clubs meet at Soldier Field.

    And as for the season finale against the Green Bay Packers, keep in mind that the Lions have not beaten this opponent on the road since 1991.

15. Chicago Bears (.496)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 125-127-4


    Since winning the NFC North and eventually hosting the conference title game in 2010, the Chicago Bears have not finished with a losing record each of the last three seasons.

    Unfortunately for the team, none of those showings added up to a playoff appearance. That includes a 10-6 record in 2012, which proved to be the final stand for head coach Lovie Smith.

    Enter Marc Trestman in 2013 and the Bears jumped out to 3-0 start. But when whatever finally cleared in the Windy City (fog?), Chicago was an 8-8 team for the second time in three years.

    This season, the team opens the season at home against the Buffalo Bills but plays four of its next five games on the road, including visits to the San Francisco 49ers (the regular-season opener at Levi’s Stadium) and Carolina Panthers. That one home game over that stretch comes against the Green Bay Packers, who including a win in the 2010 NFC title game are 5-1 in their last six trips to Soldier Field. That includes a very memorable visit in Week 17 last season.

    Meanwhile, Trestman and his squad begin December with three straight home games against the Dallas Cowboys (Thursday night), New Orleans Saints (Monday night) and Detroit Lions before closing the season at Minnesota.

14. Buffalo Bills (.500)

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 127-127-2


    Forget circling a wagon. The Buffalo Bills’ 2014 schedule more resembles Noah’s Ark.

    There are three two-game homestands and a pair of two-game road trips on the slate. And the first five weeks includes tilts with the Bears, Dolphins and Lions.

    Oh my.

    December is when it gets extremely interesting. Buffalo closes the season with three 2013 divisional champions in four weeks, including a visit to the Denver Broncos (Week 14) while hosting the Green Bay Packers seven days later.

    The Bills host the New England Patriots in Week 6 then visit Foxborough in both teams’ regular-season finale.

    Why the mention? The Bills have finished last in the AFC East six straight years and the Pats have won the division each of the past five years.

    There’s also that little matter of Buffalo’s dismal 2-25 record against the Patriots in the last 27 meetings.

13. Green Bay Packers (.504)

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 128-126-2


    For the first time since 2011, the Green Bay Packers won’t open their season against the San Francisco 49ers.

    Not that Mike McCarthy’s team has pleasant memories of their last trip to the Pacific Northwest (2012), where they will kick off the league’s 95th season against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks—this time with regular officials.

    That’s the past. What lies ahead is a schedule that puts an early emphasis on the NFC North, a division the Packers have won each of the past three seasons. After traveling to Seattle, the Packers host the New York Jets and travel in consecutive weeks to face the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears before welcoming the Minnesota Vikings to Lambeau Field on a Thursday night.

    The clash in the Windy City is worth an extra mention as defensive end-turned outside linebacker Julius Peppers makes his return to Chicago.

    As it stands now (barring flexing), the Pack will be featured in prime time five times. Along with the aforementioned games with Seattle and Minnesota, there are Sunday night clashes with the New Orleans Saints (Week 8) and Chicago Bears (Week 10), as well as a Monday night tilt with the Atlanta Falcons (Week 13).

12. Miami Dolphins (.508)

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 129-125-2


    After 14 games a year ago, the Miami Dolphins were 8-6 and in position to claim their first playoff berth since 2008.

    Joe Philbin’s club dropped its final two contests to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets and scored a not-so-grand total of seven points combined in the process. It was somewhat typical of the Dolphins in 2013, who owned the AFC East’s worst divisional record (2-4) this past season.

    The team will get a chance early to work on that. Philbin’s team opens the season at home against the New England Patriots, then visits Orchard Park to face a Buffalo Bills team that swept them a year ago.

    Four of Miami’s final seven opponents are within the division, including a pair of clashes with the Jets in the final five weeks of 2014. But the team does close the season with home games the final two Sundays.

11. Atlanta Falcons (.512)

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 130-124-2


    For the second straight year, the Atlanta Falcons will start the season with a game against the New Orleans Saints.

    No doubt head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan hope that’s the only thing that 2013 and 2014 have in common.

    The Falcons lost that game a year ago in Week 1 and would soon be in the midst of a 4-12 season. It was a dramatic fall for a club that had been to the playoffs each of the previous three years and was co-owner of the best record in the NFL (13-3) in 2013.

    Smith and Ryan are hoping to have a dramatic reversal of fortunes this upcoming season. Not unusually, the clubs plays four of its first eight games on the road. But one of their home tilts over that stretch has them “hosting" the Detroit Lions in London (Week 8).

    But if the team is to rebound from last year’s disaster, they will have to deal with a potentially rough stretch run. Atlanta’s final five opponents (Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers) owned a combined 49-30-1 record last season.

    Fortunately for the Falcons, they face the Cardinals, Steelers and Panthers at home.

10. New England Patriots (.516)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 131-123-2


    Does it really matter what the New England Patriots schedule looks like?

    Since realignment in 2002, no team has a better overall record (147-45), better home (81-15) and away (66-30) marks and the top divisional win-loss ledger (57-15) in the league.

    That’s just a smattering of the team’s dominance for more than a decade. You can look at the numbers in so many different ways.

    As for 2014, the Pats won’t be standing at the start of the season. They open with two straight road games and play four of their first six contests away from home.

    But talk about a little home cooking? After visiting the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 12, the Patriots host the New York Jets, Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos in consecutive weeks and follow that with their bye.

    It sets up for an interesting stretch run. The Pats play three of their next four games on the road and all against 2013 playoff participants (Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers). They close the season with three straight games against their AFC East rivals and will be at home in Week 17 for the fifth consecutive year.

9. New York Jets (.520)

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 132-122-2


    Those who enjoy watching those AFC East rivalries will have to wait awhile when it comes to the 2014 New York Jets.

    Rex Ryan’s team doesn’t face a divisional opponent until Week 7, when the Green and White invade Foxborough on a Thursday night.

    Meanwhile, after hosting the Oakland Raiders on opening weekend, the Jets have three straight games against the NFC North, visiting the Green Bay Packers and then hosting the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions in the span of seven days.

    It is not until later in the year that Ryan and his club get to the real meat of their schedule. Following their bye on Nov. 16, New York closes the year with four divisional contests in the final six weeks, finishing the season at Miami for the third time in four seasons.

    And in the midst of that stretch is a Week 15 visit to Nashville, where Jets running back Chris Johnson hopes to have a memorable outing against his old teammates with the Tennessee Titans.

8. Arizona Cardinals (.547)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 140-116


    Despite a 10-6 mark this past season, the Arizona Cardinals fell short of a postseason berth.

    Early on in 2014, they will get a chance to see how they stack against some of those playoff participants.

    Bruce Arians’ squad opens the season by hosting the second half of the Monday night doubleheader. Quarterback Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers arrive for a prime-time tilt. Two weeks later, the San Francisco 49ers arrive in Glendale and 14 days after that (following a bye) the team travels to the Mile High City to face the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos.

    All told, the Cards have to deal with four road games in the final six weeks of 2014. Arians’ team closes the season with games against each of their NFC West rivals, visiting St. Louis (Week 15) and San Francisco (Week 17) while hosting the Seattle Seahawks in their home finale.

    Keep an eye on that Nov. 23 tilt with the defending Super Bowl champions in the Pacific Northwest. The Cardinals are the only team to beat the Seahawks in their own park the past two seasons.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (.559)

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 143-113


    Last season, we didn’t really learn about the Kansas City Chiefs until later in the year. A 9-0 start was followed by a 2-5 finish, then accompanied by a playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts in which Andy Reid’s club blew a 28-point third-quarter lead.

    In 2014, we may find out about this club sooner than later. The team opens the season at home against the Tennessee Titans and then must deal with a potentially rough stretch of games.

    After consecutive visits to Denver and Miami, the New England Patriots invade Arrowhead Stadium on a Monday night. That tilt is followed by a road game against the San Francisco 49ers, a bye and then a visit to Qualcomm Stadium to battle the rival San Diego Chargers.

    The Chiefs spend the final nine weeks of the season alternating between home and road games, starting with a visit from the New York Jets on Nov. 2. There’s also appearances in Kansas City from the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks (Week 11) and, of course, the Broncos (Week 13) and Chargers (Week 17).

6. Seattle Seahawks (.561)

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 143-112-1


    As we know, it is always tough to repeat as champion in any sport.

    The Seattle Seahawks will attempt to become the first team since the 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots to win back-to-back Super Bowls. Then again, there are those who feel that just getting out of the NFC West these days is a huge accomplishment.

    How interesting. Because the back end of the defending champions schedule sees Pete Carroll’s team play five of its final six games against the Arizona Cardinals (twice), San Francisco 49ers (twice) and St. Louis Rams. We have to wait for Thanksgiving to see the first of two rematches of the 2013 NFC title game, with the Niners hosting the season’s first meeting between the NFC’s last two Super Bowl participants.

    The start of the season is no picnic for the Seahawks as well. They face three straight 2013 playoff teams out of the gate, hosting the Green Bay Packers, traveling to San Diego and then squaring off in a Super Bowl XLVIII rematch with the Denver Broncos.

    Looks like fun.

4t. San Diego Chargers (.563)

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 144-112


    In 2013, the San Diego Chargers overcame a 5-7 start by winning the rest of their regular-season games and in the process grabbed a wild-card berth in the playoffs with a 9-7 mark.

    However, if Mike McCoy’s team plans on getting off to a similar start this upcoming season, a four-game sweep during the month of December might be much easier said than done.

    First things first as the Bolts begin the season in a place that every team wants to end their season in early February. The team travels to Glendale, Arizona (site of Super Bowl XLIX), to face the Arizona Cardinals on a Monday night. That’s followed six days later with a clash at home against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

    San Diego’s first game within the division doesn’t come until Week 6, which marks the start of a three-game stretch against their AFC West rivals. The Chargers travel to Oakland, host the Kansas City Chiefs, then head to Denver four days later for a Thursday night tilt with the defending AFC champs.

    But it is that aforementioned final four games that bear watching. All come against playoffs teams from last season, the first two home contests with the New England Patriots and Broncos, the last two road trips to meet the San Francisco 49ers and Chiefs.

4t. San Francisco 49ers (.563)

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 144-112


    No team in the NFL has reached four straight conference title games since the Philadelphia Eagles managed the feat from 2001-04. 

    The San Francisco 49ers, as well as the New England Patriots, have a chance to match that feat in 2014.

    Of course, this time head coach Jim Harbaugh would like to cap off the run with a Super Bowl title, the franchise’s last NFL championship coming 20 years ago in 1994.

    The Niners open on the road against the Dallas Cowboys and then play three of their next four games at home. Starting on Oct. 13, the team has four road trips in six weeks, the last coming in Week 11 against the New York Giants. Via the fine folks at Rand McNally, it is 2,902 miles from San Francisco, California, to East Rutherford, New Jersey.

    But don’t look for a lot of frequent-flyer miles during the final six weeks of the season. Harbaugh’s club plays four of its final half-dozen contests at home, with trips to visit the Seahawks and Raiders smack in the middle. That it is a combined 819.1 miles to travel to those two cities, including just 11.8 miles to Oakland.

3. St. Louis Rams (.564)

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 144-111-1


    Life used to be so much easier in the NFC West.

    Back in 2010, a 7-9 record would get you a division title and a home playoff game. Now it gets you three games out of third place.

    For the second straight year, St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher led his team to seven victories. But the big difference from one year to the next was the fact that his team finished 1-5 against divisional rivals last season, compared to 4-1-1 in 2013.

    Fortunately or unfortunately for Fisher, he doesn’t have to worry about facing one of those NFC West teams until Week 6, when the Rams host the San Francisco 49ers on a Monday night, then welcome the Seattle Seahawks to town six days later.

    All told, St. Louis plays four of its first six games at home and has a bye on Sept. 28. That stretch is followed by three consecutive road tilts against the Kansas City Chiefs, 49ers and Arizona Cardinals. That’s followed by three straight interconference games against the Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders.

    And in what has become almost tradition, the club closes the season at Seattle for the fourth time in five years.

    By all accounts, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2004 won’t be an easy thing for the hopeful Rams.

2. Denver Broncos (.570)

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 146-110


    The defending AFC champion Denver Broncos have quite a road ahead of them if they intend on becoming the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to win a Super Bowl one season after losing in the big game.

    Ironically, that potential trip to Glendale, Arizona, in early February begins mainly at home.

    John Fox’s team opens the season hosting five of their first seven contests, kicking off 2014 at home against the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs. Even more interesting may be the fact that the Broncos play their first eight games against teams that finished .500 or better this past season. That includes six playoff teams from 2013, as well as a Super Bowl XLVIII rematch with the Seattle Seahawks.

    Denver’s first eight opponents combined for a gaudy 86-42 win-loss mark (.672 winning percentage) in 2013.

    Of course, playing five of your first seven at home means you will be on the road for six of your final nine contests. The Broncos open November with a three-game trek to Foxborough, Oakland and St. Louis and later have road tilts with the Chiefs (Week 13), San Diego Chargers (Week 15) and Cincinnati Bengals (Week 16).

1. Oakland Raiders (.578)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Combined Opp. W-L Records (2013): 148-108


    Can you say wow?

    As you can plainly see, the combined 2013 records of this season’s opponents for the Oakland Raiders are an intimidating 40 games above .500.

    That’s even more troublesome for a franchise that since 2003 is a meager 70 games below the break-even mark (53-123).

    Still, someone had to be No. 1 on this list. All told, Oakland has nine games against last year’s playoff teams and 10 contests against clubs that finished with a winning record. That’s what happens when every other team in your division reached the postseason in 2013 and by chance you are lining up against all four teams in the NFC West, including the Bay Area rivals in the San Francisco 49ers as well as the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

    The Raiders also have games this season against the Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills, the only four teams on their schedule that finished with losing records in 2013.


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