NFL Strength of Schedule
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As the NFL season begins, we can figure out which teams have the easiest and hardest 2023 NFL schedules. The dates and times of the games will play just as important of a role as the actual opponents themselves and we can use those calculations of estimated team strength to figure out which teams have the easiest, or most difficult, schedules in the league.
We took into account how far teams had to travel, whether they had back-to-back road or away games, what kind of weather they can expect on their travel and more to determine our estimations of the most difficult schedules in the NFL for the 2023 season.
Who Has the Easiest Strength of Schedule in the NFL?
Our projections give the New Orleans Saints have the easiest strength of schedule for the 2023 NFL season. The Saints play in a weak division and it helps that they are the best team in the NFC South — meaning they play the easiest slate of divisional opponents among their rivals. On top of that, they play a relatively weak NFC North.
Their AFC opponents this year are also weak. They have the AFC South on their schedule, the weakest AFC group in the NFL, and that adds to their relatively easy schedule. The fact that they finished last year ranked third in their division also means they play weak opponents for that round of games, like the Los Angeles Rams, the New York Giants and New England Patriots.
Who Has the Hardest Strength of Schedule in the NFL?
Our estimates give the New York Giants the most difficult strength of schedule for the 2023 NFL Season. On their schedule are two NFC favorites in divisional rivals Eagles and Cowboys.
Despite getting to play against the Washington Commanders, they still have to play the Packers, Raiders, and Saints instead of the teams Washington gets to play — the Bears, Broncos, and Falcons. Additionally, the Giants shared divisional games put their most difficult opponents on the road, like the 49ers, Bills, and Dolphins.
Which NFL Division Has the Hardest Combined Schedule?
Using our projections of point differential, the AFC East collectively has the most difficult schedule among all divisions. The Dolphins and Bills both showcased their amazing talent when healthy and on top of their excellent quarterback play is Aaron Rodgers — a new addition to the New York Jets.
If one projects improvements for Mac Jones and the Patriots, which is reasonable given their change in offensive coordinator, then it means that they internally have the potential for strongest quarterback play in the NFL and the high likelihood that they’ll beat each other up.
The AFC East is also scheduled to play against the NFC East, which is projects to be the second-strongest division — so the AFC East contenders not only must play each other but two NFC Super Bowl favorites.
Ranking All 32 NFL Teams by Strength of Schedule
The difficulty of the Giants schedule, along with their projected team strength, means they are the most likely team among 2022 playoff participants to miss making the playoffs in 2023.
Only one team is estimated to go below .500 after finishing above .500 in 2022 because of their schedule — the Jets.
No team with a fourth-place finish in their division last year has a harder schedule than the Patriots. Losing a home game from the International Series magnifies their problems.
The greatest drop in playoff probability as a result of schedule idiosyncrasies belongs to the Bills, who go from 11.6 estimated wins to 10.9 solely because of their schedule. A neutral-site game in London could hurt them even more.
The Miami Dolphins have the second-largest difference in away schedule strength from their home schedule strength.
Of 2022 division winners, the Eagles and Bills have the most difficult schedules.
The Los Angeles Rams have the uncertainty on their roster in the NFL given that that have more rookies under contract than any other team.
The Chargers have the largest difference in strength between their toughest matchup (Chiefs on the road) and weakest matchup (Bears at home), tying them with the Lions.
No other team in the NFL benefits more from a projected healthy season from their quarterback than the Dallas Cowboys.
No other quarterback had a wider band of uncertainty than Sam Howell, who had a small sample of play during the regular season and cannot compare to previous fifth-round quarterbacks as a projected second-year starter.
Seattle faces the most uncertain quarterback schedule, with two games against the 49ers and one each against the Browns, Panthers, and Commanders.
The Cardinals have the worst projected defense of any team that replaced their head coach and they have the most to gain from a defensive head coach turning things around.
The Chiefs are the only team in the NFL with an estimated win probability over 50% in all of their games.
The Broncos have the second-most “toss-ups” (win probability between 45% and 55%) on their schedule, just behind the Saints.
The 49ers have the strongest roster in the NFL. Put another way, if all quarterback performances were set to the same value, the 49ers would have the strongest projected season-long performance.
The Raiders and the rest of the AFC West are projected to play the strongest division by projected point differential (AFC East) as well as the weakest division by projected points differential (NFC North).
Teams that are projected to be the strongest inside their own division do not often also have the strongest schedule in their division because they do not have to play themselves. But the Eagles, Jaguars and Bengals all top their rivals for most difficult schedule within the division.
Minnesota has the largest difference between their estimated win total (7.9) and their 2022 win total (13).
Pittsburgh is closer to repeating their 2022 performance than any other team and has one of the smallest estimated differences between their actual point differential in 2022 and projected point differential in 2023.
After New Orleans, Tampa Bay has the second-most “toss-up” games in the NFC.
A healthy Lamar Jackson is projected to be the difference between making and missing the playoffs, with a projected four-game swing with his absence.
The Eagles, Jaguars, and Bengals have the hardest strengths of schedule inside their own divisions despite being the strongest teams in them.
If the Browns get last year’s version of Deshaun Watson, they’re projected to get about 6 or 7 wins. With a classic version of the quarterback, they’re projected to 10 or 11 wins.
Detroit has the largest variance in opponent strength from week to week.
Tennessee, along with New Orleans and Green Bay, are protected to go from a below .500 team in 2022 to an above .500 team this year because of their schedule.
The Bears are the only team without a single game that gives them an over 50% estimated chance of winning even though they have an easy strength of schedule.
Even though Howell is projected to have the widest band of uncertainty as an individual performer, the Panthers are projected to have the biggest difference in their win total as a result of their quarterback’s uncertainty.
The Texans would have had the easiest schedule in the AFC but the International Series changed that, giving the Colts a neutral site game on what would have been an away contest.
Indianapolis is projected to be the underdog in every single away game.
The Packers have the second-friendliest away schedule, behind the Saints.
The Falcons have the smallest difference in strength between their strongest and weakest opponent.
The Saints have gained one estimated win based solely on the logistics of their schedule.