AFC West: 2014 NFL schedule analysis

NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: We already knew the Raiders would have, based upon opponents and last year’s records, the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL in 2014, including the toughest road opponents in the league. And still, the actual dates and times announced made it seem all the more daunting. A slow start, which we show is very possible, would have third-year coach Dennis Allen feeling the heat by the Raiders’ bye in Week 5. A pair of home games against the San Diego Chargers and the Carson Palmer-led Arizona Cardinals, with Jared Veldheer protecting his blind side, could act as a salve. Maybe. The middle of the schedule is also rife with pitfalls. Oakland faces the two teams that played in the most recent Super Bowl in consecutive weeks with a home game against the Denver Broncos and on the road at Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. The Raiders should have an identity by then. But will they still have something to play for by that point? Oakland finishing with two of three on the road at AFC West rivals Kansas City and Denver will let us know if the Raiders are mere spoilers. Again.

Complaint department: The schedule makers did the rebuilding Raiders no favors, immediately sending them to the New York Jets and the New England Patriots in Weeks 1 and 3 (Oakland has lost 13 straight games in the Eastern time zone) before the "home" game in London against the Miami Dolphins. Then in December, they play in cold-weather climates at both Kansas City and Denver. What’s that about the alpha and the omega? Then there’s this -- sure, the Raiders have been among the league’s dregs for the better part of a decade, but they have a certain national appeal. And yet, Oakland is shut out of "Monday Night Football" for the second time since 2007. The Raiders’ lone scheduled prime-time game is a Thursday night matchup at home against the Chiefs on Nov. 20. Like the man said, it’s not paranoia if they’re out to get you, or something like that.

Down in the dirt: The Raiders are the lone NFL team to still share a stadium with a major league baseball team. And if the Oakland A’s make a deep run in the playoffs, the Raiders could have as many as three games on the baseball infield dirt. If the A’s fail to qualify for the postseason, it should be only one -- newly acquired quarterback Matt Schaub’s reunion with the Houston Texans for Oakland’s home opener in Week 2. Speaking of renewing acquaintances, the preseason series between the Raiders and 49ers was suspended due to fan violence, but the Bay Area rivals meet for real on Dec. 7.

Strength of schedule: 1st, .578 | Vegas over/under : 5

Raiders Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Houston, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at New England, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Miami, 1 p.m. (in London)
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Cleveland, 4:25 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Denver, 4:05 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 20, Kansas City, 8:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Buffalo, 4:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Denver, 4:25 p.m.

Denver Broncos schedule analysis

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
9:05
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: Denver Broncos coach John Fox will always caution against making judgments about a schedule based on what happened the year before. Regardless, it's easy to see the challenges that await the Broncos in 2014 and they won't have to wait very long to get right down to it. The Broncos' first three games are against three teams that made the playoffs in 2013 -- the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs and the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. They will face 2013 playoff teams in six of their first eight games. The opening eight-game stretch also includes the Arizona Cardinals, who did not make the NFC's playoff field last season despite a 10-6 record. The Broncos are also going to have be ready to finish strong on the road if they are going to add a fourth consecutive division title. They have three consecutive road games -- at New England, at Oakland and at St. Louis -- in November and play six of their last nine on the road.

Complaint department: OK, now I'm with Peyton Manning on this one. Manning has questioned whether some things in the NFL schedule are truly "random" and the almost annual trip to Foxborough, Mass., is starting to look like a non-random event. Sure, Tom Brady-Manning matchups are historical, but the Broncos wish more of those would happen in Denver. The Broncos have played the Patriots on the road in each of the previous three seasons, in 2011 season it was a playoff game, and 2014 will be the fourth. Since the start of the 2002 season the Broncos have played five regular-season games in Gillette Stadium and one playoff game. Also, the Broncos may not admit it, but they won't like the early bye week. They like the off week to hit close to the midpoint of the season, but this year get the off week in Week 4, before September had even drawn to a close.

Muscle up: With a flashback to the 2013 preseason, when the Broncos were pushed around a bit by the San Francisco 49ers and the Seahawks, this year's regular-season slate will have that same physical flavor. And a team that has largely built its back-to-back 13-3 finishes on the precision and timing of its next-level passing attack, will have to be ready to roll up its sleeves and wrestle in the heavyweight division. The team has tried to add some grittiness to the defense this offseason in cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and defensive end DeMarcus Ware, they have made their intentions clear to try to run the ball more efficiently. To have a shot to get back to the Super Bowl, they'll need all of the above as the league's divisional rotation has them facing the NFC West. The Broncos will have to muscle their way through those games to win a fourth consecutive division title of their own.

Strength of schedule: 2nd, .570 | Vegas over/under : 11

Broncos Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Indianapolis, 8:30 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Kansas City, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.
Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 23, San Diego, 8:25 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at New England, 4:25 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Oakland, 4:05 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Miami, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Kansas City, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Buffalo, 4:05 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 16: Monday, Dec. 22, at Cincinnati, 8:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Oakland, 4:25 p.m.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: Don’t expect the Kansas City Chiefs to be the NFL’s final undefeated team again this season. Their schedule is loaded throughout, particularly early in the season. After opening against the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium on Sept. 7, the Chiefs play against three of last season’s four conference finalists over the next four weeks. The Chiefs play four of their last six games against their rivals from the AFC West. Their final three home games are against the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers. That could be a useful feature of their schedule if they’re still in the playoff race by then.

Complaint department: The Chiefs have an early stretch with four of five games on the road. Included are road games against Denver, the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers and a home game against the New England Patriots. They could be buried by the time this stretch ends on Oct. 19. If they can find a way to win two of those games, including a matchup with the Dolphins in Miami, the Chiefs might be able to survive. No matter how the schedule was drawn up, the Chiefs weren’t going to have many soft spots. If such a thing exists this year, it’s a midseason stretch when they face the St. Louis Rams and New York Jets at home followed by a game against the Bills in Buffalo.

Prime-time players: The Chiefs were given three night games, one each on Thursday, Sunday and Monday. That’s no surprise given they were an 11-win team last season and have a schedule featuring several of the league’s top teams as opponents. But Arrowhead Stadium will be home to its first prime-time game in three years on Monday, Sept. 29, when they play against the Patriots. Arrowhead will also be the venue for a Sunday night game on Nov. 20 against the Broncos, though that game could eventually be flexed from that time slot. Their Thursday night game is Nov. 20 against the Raiders in Oakland.

Strength of schedule: 7th, .559 | Vegas over/under : 8.5

Chiefs Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Denver, 4:25 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Miami, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: Monday, Sept. 29, New England, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Seattle, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 20, at Oakland, 8:25 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Denver, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Oakland, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, San Diego, 1 p.m.

San Diego Chargers schedule analysis

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
8:28
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: For the second year in a row, the San Diego Chargers’ season opener is on Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in the late game of a Monday night doubleheader. The Chargers have three nationally televised games -- the Cardinals in the regular-season opener, a Thursday night contest at AFC West rival Denver on Oct. 23 and a Sunday night tilt at home against the New England Patriots on Dec. 7.

San Diego had four nationally televised games in 2013.

The Chargers are tied with the San Francisco 49ers for the fourth-toughest schedule in NFL for the 2014 season. The Chargers face opponents that had a combined winning percentage of 56.3 last season. The Oakland Raiders have the toughest schedule in the 2014 season, facing teams with a combined winning percentage of 57.8 percent, followed by Denver (57.0 percent) and St. Louis (56.4).

The Chargers' bye week is Week 10, the latest the team has had a bye since 2010. San Diego had a bye in Week 8 last season. Since Philip Rivers took over as the starter in 2006, the Chargers are 3-5 in the game after the bye week.

Complaint department: The Chargers finish the regular season with three of their last five games on the road, facing four playoff teams from last season (New England, Denver, San Francisco and Kansas City), along with a team that almost made the playoffs in Baltimore. That closing schedule is much different than 2013, when San Diego finished with four of their last five games at home. The Chargers won their last four games to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Beating the best of the best: While the Chargers, on paper, have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, San Diego usually rises to the occasion. San Diego finished an NFL-best 5-2 against playoff-bound teams in 2013. And the Chargers lost by an average of six points during the regular season, with the team’s worst defeat a 27-17 humbling at Oakland. Led by an ultra-competitive quarterback in Rivers, the Chargers rarely lay an egg from week to week.

Strength of schedule: 4th, .563 | Vegas over/under : 8.5

Chargers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Monday, Sept. 8, at Arizona, 10:20 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, Seattle, 4:05 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Jacksonville, 4:05 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, NY Jets, 4:25 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Oakland, 4:05 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Kansas City, 4:05 p.m.
Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 23, at Denver, 8:25 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Oakland, 4:05 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, St. Louis, 4:05 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, New England, 8:30 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Denver, 4:05 p.m.
Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 20, at San Francisco, 4:30 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Kansas City, 1 p.m.

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