NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Strength of Schedule AFC

2014 NFL strength of schedule

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
Below are 2014 strength of schedule figures, based on opponents' winning percentage in 2013. Click through links atop the chart to rank home and road schedule difficulty or to sort figures by division.

SAN DIEGO -- By virtue of playing the brutal NFC West this upcoming season, the San Diego Chargers are tied with the San Francisco 49ers for the fourth-toughest schedule in NFL for the 2014 season.

The Chargers face opponents with a combined winning percentage of 56.3 percent. 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).

Check out the chart for every NFL team here.

The Chargers play AFC West rivals Oakland, Kansas City and Denver, along with New England, the New York Jets, Seattle, St. Louis and Jacksonville at Qualcomm Stadium in 2014.

Road games include Oakland, Kansas City, Denver, Buffalo, Miami, San Francisco, Arizona and Baltimore.

The Chargers are familiar with the Super Bowl champion Seahawks and other NFC West teams from a personnel standpoint, because they usually face them every preseason.

San Diego should match up well against the defense-oriented NFC West because of the team’s physical running style on offense (led by a good decision-maker in Philip Rivers) and with a defense with multiple looks that is tough for opponents to prepare for (led by defensive coordinator John Pagano).
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If the Kansas City Chiefs are to make the playoffs again in 2014, they will do so against a more difficult schedule. The Chiefs will face the seventh-toughest schedule in the league next season, according to the 2013 winning percentage of their 16 opponents.

Chiefs' opponents had a 2013 cumulative winning percentage of .559. If there’s any good news in this regard for the Chiefs, it’s that their three rivals face an even more difficult schedule. The Oakland Raiders will play the most difficult schedule (.578), while the Denver Broncos are second (.570) and the San Diego Chargers tied for fourth (.563).

One reason the AFC West schedules are so difficult is that the Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers all made the playoffs last season. Another is that the division teams play the four teams from the NFC West, where the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl and the San Francisco 49ers advanced to the NFC title game.

The eight teams from the two Western divisions have the eight toughest schedules in the league according to the 2013 records of their opponents.

The Chiefs have the most difficult home schedule (.570) among the NFL teams. They not only face the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium, but also the Seahawks, the AFC East champion New England Patriots, the New York Jets, St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans.
When assessing the strength of the Patriots' 2014 opponents, the first question I asked is, "How many teams are under new leadership either with their head coach or an offensive/defensive coordinator?"

Change can ultimately be good, but I think it can often mean some early growing pains for those clubs, potentially making those matchups more favorable for the Patriots (especially if they come within the first quarter/half of the year).

Of the 13 teams on the Patriots' schedule, six have significant change:

Bengals: Offensive and defensive coordinator (Hue Jackson for Jay Gruden; Paul Guenther for Mike Zimmer)
Bills: Defensive coordinator (Jim Schwartz for Mike Pettine)
Chargers: Offensive coordinator (Frank Reich for Ken Whisenhunt)
Dolphins: Offensive coordinator (Bill Lazor for Mike Sherman)
Lions: Head coach (Jim Caldwell for Jim Schwartz)
Vikings: Head coach (Mike Zimmer for Leslie Frazier)

Furthermore, playing the NFC North over the NFC West (best division in football) looks like another benefit for the Patriots.

But overall, it is very difficult to assess strength of schedule at this time of year because it's truly such a moving target, and something Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said in his season-ending news conference reflected this.

Tomlin was asked about what could be viewed as a positive for his 2013 team; how it had only two losses against teams that finished the season with a better-than-.500 record.

"I really don't get into that," Tomlin responded. "Where people stand today might be different than where they stood when we played them. Teams evolve over the course of the season."

They do, and along those lines, it's very early in the 2014 season to be assessing strength of schedule.
All last year, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis motivated his players by telling them to brace for the difficult waves that existed in their 2013 schedule.

He might have a harder time convincing them to believe him this year.

That's because, according to percentages compiled by ESPN, the Bengals will have one of the NFL's easiest schedules in 2014. Thanks in large part to playing the mostly weak AFC South in their intraconference crossover games this year, the Bengals will end up with the league's No. 26 overall schedule. Their home and road strength of schedule rankings are similarly low, coming in at 24th each.

Oakland will have the hardest schedule next season, according to the findings. Indianapolis, the 2013 AFC South champion, will have the easiest. In fact, the four teams with the weakest upcoming schedules all play in the AFC South. Excluding the Colts' 11-5 regular-season record, the rest of the division went a combined 13-35 this past season.

The NFL won't announce dates for next season's games until later this spring, but we already know which opponents each team will play during the season, and where. Cincinnati will host the Jaguars and Titans from the AFC South, and will see the Falcons and Panthers from the NFC South. Since the Bengals won the AFC North, they also have a home game with AFC West winner Denver. Those games, combined with the three division games the Bengals play against the Ravens, Steelers and Browns, comprise Cincinnati's home schedule.

The Bengals went undefeated at home in 2013, winning all eight regular-season games. On the road, they were 3-5. Among the waves Lewis charged his team to weather were an 11-game stretch without a bye, four road games in a five-game midseason gauntlet, and a West Coast trip that began the final month of the season.

In the fall of 2014, the Bengals will travel to Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and New England, in addition to the other three AFC North cities. Three of those eight teams competed in this year's playoffs. Indianapolis and New England, which both visited Cincinnati in 2013, will be coming off losses to the Bengals.

The Bengals have the talent to earn a franchise-record fourth consecutive playoff berth next winter. This comparatively less-challenging schedule is even more reason to believe that can happen.
The Cleveland Browns catch a break with their schedule in 2014.

Browns opponents have a combined .465 won-lost percentage next season, which makes their schedule the 26th toughest in the league -- or to look at it another way, the seventh easiest.

The drawback, of course, is that the other teams in the AFC North play the same schedule that includes the AFC and NFC South. Those two divisions had five losing teams last season.

Pittsburgh’s schedule ranks 25th, Cincinnati’s 23rd and Baltimore’s 28th. If the opponents remain consistent, the AFC North could have some impressive won-lost records in ’14. The Browns' home opponents were a combined .461 in 2013, the road opponents a combined .469.

The other drawback is that looks may be deceiving. This schedule could change in a hurry.

In addition to division games, the Browns will play Houston, Indianapolis, Oakland, New Orleans and Tampa Bay at home, and Jacksonville, Tennessee, Buffalo, Atlanta and Carolina on the road.

Houston was picked by many to reach the Super Bowl a year ago. Instead, the Texans wound up with the first overall draft pick. With new coach Bill O’Brien, the Texans could improve in a hurry. The same is true for Atlanta, which had a tough season with injuries in 2013 after five winning seasons in a row, four of which involved playoff appearances.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Based on the winning percentages their 2014 opponents compiled in 2013, the Tennessee Titans will play the second-easiest schedule in the league.

But strength of schedule is misleading in a lot of ways.

Yes, it's all we have to go on for now, but some teams make drastic improvements in the span of a year and others drop off horribly. The Atlanta Falcons were 13-3 in 2012, so they helped make the strength of schedule for their 2013 opponents tough. But the 2013 Falcons were 4-12.

Also, a team has a bearing on the perceived toughness of its schedule. The Titans play the Colts twice annually. Tennessee lost that game twice in 2013, helping boost Indianapolis' record to 11-5. That 11-5 helps make the Titans' strength of schedule in 2014 tougher, but the Titans had a hand in creating it.

The only team with an easier strength of schedule in 2014 is, incidentally, the Colts. Indy's opponents were a collective .430. As I said, the Titans had a big hand in that.

Strength of schedule: Indianapolis Colts

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
The 2014 NFL schedule, as of now, gives the Indianapolis Colts the best chance of winning and taking the next step in the AFC.

The Colts currently have the easiest schedule for the 2014 season based off their strength of schedule. Indianapolis’ 2014 opponents have a combined winning percentage of .430. The winning percentage of their home opponents last season was .406 and the winning percentage of their road opponents was .414. Just imagine what their opponents' winning percentage would be if they didn’t play Denver (13-3), New England (12-4), Cincinnati (11-5) and Philadelphia (10-6) next season.

This is what happens when you play in the AFC South, the worst division in the league last season. The Colts, Titans, Texans and Jaguars have the four easiest schedules in the league next season.

The Colts will play teams from the AFC North and NFC East next season. Of course, things could change because several of those teams are expected to be better next season. The Colts should be a better team, too.

Here’s the Colts' 2014 schedule.

Away: Tennessee, Houston, Jacksonville, New York Giants, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Denver and Dallas

Home: Tennessee, Houston, Jacksonville, New England, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Washington, Philadelphia
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- What, you thought the NFL's schedule-making gods were going to take it easy on the Oakland Raiders after consecutive 4-12 seasons in which they ended both years on six-game losing streaks while dropping eight of nine?

Think again.

Based on this past season's records, the Raiders will have the toughest overall strength of schedule in the league, as their 2014 opponents had a combined .578 winning percentage in 2013. And it gets tougher on the road, as the teams Oakland will face on the road had a winning percentage of .602 last season.

The Raiders travel to play the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks (13-3), the New England Patriots (12-4), the New York Jets (8-8), the St. Louis Rams (7-9), the Cleveland Browns and the three AFC West teams that all made the playoffs -- the AFC champion Denver Broncos (13-3), Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) and San Diego Chargers (9-7).

Oakland's home opponents had a .555 winning percentage last year, fifth-highest in the NFL but tied for third-toughest in the AFC West. The Raiders will play host to the San Francisco 49ers (12-4), the Arizona Cardinals (10-6), the Miami Dolphins (8-8), the Buffalo Bills (6-10), the Houston Texans (2-14) and their division foes in the Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers. Plus, the game against the Dolphins will be played in London on Sept. 28.

Dates and times for the rest of the schedule will be released in April.

Strength of schedule: Broncos

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
Denver Broncos coach John Fox has always tried to swat away any and all discussion about the potential difficulty of the next season's schedule.

"That's because they're all hard, they're all difficult," Fox said. "The people in this league are the best in the world at what they do. And the prognosticators don't always have it down. People were talking about our division before the season started like it was one of the worst and it turned out to be one of the best. So our approach has always been we know we'll have 16 [games] in the regular season and we'll be there and play."

Fox may want to hope it doesn't turn out the way the numbers crunch at the moment. The Broncos won't know specific dates until some time in April, but the early returns are that their 2014 slate computes to be one of the league's toughest after 2013's run to the Super Bowl.

Overall, the Broncos, based on 2013 records, will have the second-most difficult strength of schedule next season (opponents had a .570 winning percentage overall). Their home opponents had a .555 winning percentage last season -- tied for fifth-most difficult -- and the road opponents had a .586 winning percentage.

In addition to their usual AFC West stops, the road slate includes the team that just cratered the Broncos' title hopes -- the Seattle Seahawks -- a game that figures to get a long look to be played on the season's opening night.

The Seahawks are just the starting point of the real strength in the Broncos' schedule, as Denver will have to navigate, because of the league's schedule rotation, through the rugged NFC West. Along with Seattle, the Broncos will face St. Louis on the road while San Francisco and Arizona will play in Denver.

The Broncos will also go to New England -- again -- so at least they know what hotels they like. Denver has played one road game in Foxborough, Mass., in each of the past three seasons and in four of the past six years.

Overall, the Broncos will face seven teams that made the playoffs as well as all three teams -- New England, Indianapolis and San Diego -- that beat them in the regular season in 2013.

Strength of schedule: Miami Dolphins

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
The 2014 season will be a year of no excuses for the Miami Dolphins. It could be a make-or-break season for many in Miami, including third-year head coach Joe Philbin and third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins finished 8-8 in 2013 and in third place in the AFC East.

Next season Miami must thrive against the 12th-toughest strength of schedule in the NFL. It includes six games against playoff teams from last season. The Dolphins will play the rival New England Patriots twice, the San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and the reigning AFC champion Denver Broncos. None of these games will be easy.

Miami also faces a unique challenge next season: traveling to London to face the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 28. The long travel could have an adverse effect on the Dolphins if the team isn’t well-prepared. Miami is expected to have an early bye after the London trip, so the team can get its schedule back to normal.

However, one of Miami’s biggest issues has been winning in the AFC East. The Dolphins are just 4-8 against division opponents the past two seasons under Philbin. He must change that in 2014 if he wants to prove he is the long-term solution in Miami. Philbin is just 15-17 in his first two seasons.
A favorable schedule in 2014, at least on paper, will dovetail with a strong finish to 2013 and fuel optimism that the Pittsburgh Steelers will return to the playoffs following back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

The Steelers play only six games against teams that had winning records last season, with just two of those coming on the road.

Their 16 opponents had a combined winning percentage of .469 in 2013, giving the Steelers the 23rd-ranked schedule in terms of difficulty, according to that measure. That ties them with the Bengals and Saints.

AFC North teams have the good fortune of facing off against their counterparts in the AFC South a season after squads in that division went a combined 24-40. The AFC North also takes on the NFC South, which includes two teams (the Falcons and Buccaneers) that went a combined 8-24.

Only seven teams have an easier schedule than the Steelers based on 2013 records, but two of them are also in the AFC North.

The Browns have the 26th-ranked schedule based on their opponents' .465 combined winning percentage last season, while the Ravens have the 28th-ranked slate (.461).

Steelers fans may want to hold off on making Super Bowl plans just yet based on their 2014 schedule.

Parity drives the NFL and makes it conducive for downtrodden teams to author quick and sometimes dramatic turnarounds.

Witness the Chiefs, who went from 2-14 in 2012 to 11-5 last season.

As inviting as the Steelers' 2014 schedule is on paper, the most significant aspect of it is that Pittsburgh does not play west of the Mississippi River.

The Steelers have not traveled long distances well under coach Mike Tomlin, going 2-7 since 2007 in games played outside of the Eastern and Central time zones.
The Baltimore Ravens have the fifth-easiest strength of schedule for the 2014 season. This sets up for a rebound season for the Ravens, right?

Not necessarily.

Strength of schedule means as much as power rankings at this point in the season. Teams can change significantly through free agency and the draft. Does anyone expect the Atlanta Falcons to go 4-12 again? Would it surprise anyone if Houston rebounded from a two-win season like Kansas City did last year?

On paper right now, the Ravens have as many games (six) against teams that went to the playoffs as those who finished with double-digit losses. It's the games against Houston (2-14), Jacksonville (4-12), Cleveland (4-12), Atlanta (4-12) and Tampa Bay (4-12) that significantly softens the Ravens' strength of schedule.

The Ravens' other 10 games are against teams with a combined 96-64 record (.600). This includes four games against division winners (Cincinnati twice, Carolina and Indianapolis) and two games against wild-card teams (San Diego and New Orleans). What makes this even tougher on the Ravens is they have road games at Cincinnati, New Orleans and Indianapolis. Those three teams were 22-2 at home in 2013.

The only relevant time to evaluate strength of schedule is at the end of the season because teams' success in this league fluctuates so rapidly. Heading into the 2013 season, the Ravens had the fifth-toughest strength of schedule (.535). But the teams weren't as formidable as expected. By the end of the season, the Ravens' schedule was the 12th-easiest (.484), although Baltimore didn't take advantage of that.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There's at least one ingredient in place to help the Jacksonville Jaguars make significant strides in 2014: They have one of the NFL's easiest schedules.

The combined record of the Jaguars' opponents is 116-140 (.453), which ranks 29th among the 32 teams. Only Houston (.441), Tennessee (.438) and Indianapolis (.430) have easier schedules. It should be no surprise that the teams with the easiest schedules come from the AFC South, because of the poor seasons the Texans (2-14) and Jaguars (4-12) had in 2013.

The Jaguars will face three teams that finished the 2013 regular season with double-digit victories (Indianapolis twice, Cincinnati and Philadelphia) and will face three teams that finished with double-digit losses (Houston twice, Cleveland and Washington). They also will face four teams that made the playoffs in 2013: Indianapolis (twice), San Diego, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Only one of those games is at home (Indianapolis).

The Jaguars have the second-easiest home schedule in the league. Their eight opponents -- Indianapolis, Tennessee, Houston, Miami, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dallas (in London) and the New York Giants -- went a combined 55-73 (.430) last season.

It's a tougher task on the road, because the eight opponents -- the division teams plus San Diego, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Washington -- went a combined 61-67 (.477) in 2013. That ranks 20th.

The schedule should make it easier for the Jaguars to threaten the .500 mark in 2014, which is a reasonable goal considering the way the team played in the second half of 2013. After going 0-8 and losing every game by double digits, the Jaguars went 4-4 in the final eight games.

Strength of schedule: New York Jets

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
After a successful rebuilding year in 2013, the New York Jets will go into 2014 with high expectations -- and a tough schedule.

Based on the aggregate winning percentage of their opponents, the Jets have the ninth most difficult schedule in the league -- a .520 percentage, which ranks fifth in the AFC. In other words, the cupcake party is over -- at least that's how it looks on paper in February.

Things change, of course. First of all, their opponents' rosters could change dramatically after free agency and the draft. Plus, we all know these strength-of-schedule comparisons tend to get blown up a month into the season. For instance: Going into last season, everyone figured the Jets would have a tough time at the Atlanta Falcons, but would cruise at the Carolina Panthers. As it turned out, the Falcons stunk (the Jets won) and the Panthers were better than anyone could've imagined (the Jets lost). You get the point.

But in the context of an early analysis, it looks tough for the Jets, especially on the road. In fact, they have the 13th toughest road schedule (.523), and it's easy to see why. Three of their four non-divisional road games are against 2013 playoff teams -- the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Green Bay Packers.

And as every Jets fan knows, your beloved team is terrible on the road -- 2-6 last season. Just saying.

Their home schedule is 14th (.516).