Which NFL team has the toughest schedule in 2016?
Several factors play a major role in the success of NFL franchises. One of the biggest is scheduling. We've known the 2016 opponents for every team in the National Football League for quite some time now. And in April we learned exactly when each game would fall on the 256-game regular-season NFL schedule.
We already gave you a look at the teams that were fortunate enough to land the league's most favorable schedules, and today we look at the teams that unfortunately came away with the toughest schedules in the league for 2016.
Again, we considered several dynamics, including strength of schedule (combined 2015 winning percentage of all 2016 opponents), short weeks (defined as missing at least one day of rest/practice), home/road stretches, and when/where certain teams fall on the schedule. With that being said, here is a look at the seven teams with the most difficult schedules in 2016.
If you looked strictly at their strength of schedule, you would have to like the Texans' chances at making a return trip to the AFC Playoffs in 2016. However, with a closer look, you will find that the Texans have four short weeks — which puts them in a tie for the most in the league — and road games against the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos, and Green Bay Packers. And if that weren't enough, the AFC South should be a much more competitive division after the offseason additions the Jacksonville Jaguars made and with the return of quarterback Andrew Luck for the Indianapolis Colts.
NEW YORK JETS
When you consider all possible factors, the Jets may have the toughest schedule in the league. Outside of having to play the New England Patriots twice, the Jets will also have to deal with four short weeks; back-to-back road games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals; a brutal five-game stretch of games against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Seattle Seahawks, the Steelers, the Cardinals, and the Baltimore Ravens; and a season-opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Based off of this schedule, we have a difficult time envisioning "Gang Green" landing a spot in the AFC Playoffs in 2016.
The Raiders are a team that many people believe is on the rise. And it's easy to see why. In addition to having an excellent, young core (quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper, and defensive end Khalil Mack), Oakland has also had an excellent offseason this year, adding players such as offensive guard Kelechi Osemele, cornerback Sean Smith, and outside linebacker Bruce Irvin.
However, a more in-depth look at their schedule reveals that the Raiders may find themselves on the outside looking in when the AFC Playoffs arrive next January. In addition to two games against both the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs, they will play five early-afternoon games — which equates to five kickoff times of 10 a.m. for the Pacific time zone-based Raiders — in addition to having games against the New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, and Indianapolis Colts. All said, with this schedule, we have a hard time seeing the Raiders winning enough games to contend for a playoff spot in 2016.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Patriots are currently the odds-on favorites to win Super Bowl LI, but they don't have an easy path ahead of them. Outside of the New York Jets, who will be a tough matchup, the Patriots shouldn't have much of an issue within their division. Outside of the AFC East will be another story, though.
They will have road games against the Arizona Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Denver Broncos, and will host the Houston Texans, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Seattle Seahawks. With that slate of games, the Patriots have their work cut out for them to land one of the top two seeds in the AFC Playoffs. That said, they will undoubtedly be battle-tested heading into the postseason.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The last thing that a team in rebuilding mode needs is one of the toughest schedules in the league, but that is exactly what the NFL handed the 49ers. Their divisional schedule (two games each against the Seattle Seahawks, the Arizona Cardinals, and the Los Angeles Rams) will be difficult in itself. Then, on top of that, when you factor in games against the Carolina Panthers (on the road), the New England Patriots, the Dallas Cowboys, the New Orleans Saints, and the Atlanta Falcons (on the road), it becomes clear that 2016 could be a long season for the 49ers.
In 2015, the Cardinals proved that they were one of the premier teams in the NFL. And while we still believe that they should be considered legitimate Super Bowl LI contenders, their schedule actually has them set up to take a step backwards in 2016. There will be the standard two games against their division rival Seattle Seahawks in addition to tilts with the New England Patriots, the New York Jets, the Carolina Panthers (on the road), the Minnesota Vikings (on the road), the Atlanta Falcons (on the road), and the New Orleans Saints. We still like the Cardinals to make it to the NFC Playoffs this year, but our guess is that due to their schedule, it will be as a wild-card team.
Based on strength of schedule alone, the Falcons have the most difficult roster of games in the league for the 2016 season. And after looking closer, it goes beyond strength of schedule. Aside from two games against the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers, the Falcons have road games against the Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, and Philadelphia Eagles, and home games against the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, and Kansas City Chiefs.
The most daunting part of the Falcons' schedule, though, is the stretch from Week 4 through Week 6, when they will play the Panthers at home, and the Broncos and Seahawks on the road. With this schedule, it will be incredibly hard for the Falcons to close the gap on the rest of the NFC and make a return trip to the postseason.
More from Sports Cheat Sheet:
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NFL: 5 Teams With the Most Favorable Schedules Next Season
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