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Friday, August 28, 2009
Who has the hardest first four games?

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Don't know what got me thinking along these lines, but I recently had a conversation about the first four games on the schedule for each of the AFC South's teams.

So here's my take on how difficult the first four look to be, hardest to easiest:

1) Jacksonville: at Indianapolis, Arizona, at Houston, Tennessee

That's an awfully difficult start for a team that looks as if it will still be trying to figure a lot of things out as the regular season opens. The Raiders and 49ers are the only other teams in the league that faces all three of their division foes in their first four games, but the AFC West and NFC West are hardly as tough as the AFC South.

Average rank of opponents in my last power rankings vote: 9.25.

2) Indianapolis: Jacksonville, at Miami, at Arizona, Seattle

I think the Dolphins will dip this season, but it's not an easy trip. And that's a Monday night road game followed by a short week and a trip to Arizona. Better to have such a challenge early, I suppose, but still tiring. I expect Seattle to be much improved. This ranks second, but appears far easier than Jacksonville's slate.

Average rank of opponents in my last power rankings vote: 16.3.

3) Titans: at Pittsburgh, Houston, at NY Jets, at Jacksonville

Tough to open on the Super Bowl champs' turf in their first game since that great win. But then the Titans have a long rest before facing the Texans. Road games against the Jets and Jags aren't the worst on Tennessee's schedule.

Average rank of opponents in my last power rankings vote: 15.5.

4) Texans: NY Jets, at Tennessee, Jacksonville, Oakland

Bad starts have been an issue for the Texans, and this should be 2-2 at worst with a solid chance at 3-2. Opening at home against a rookie quarterback (Mark Sanchez) is a pretty nice draw, the Texans beat the Titans and the Jaguars the last time they met and the Raiders' annual downward spiral could already be underway after three division games.

Average rank of opponents in my last power rankings vote: 20.3.