While we've known who would face who and where those games would be since the end of last season, the release of the NFL schedule shows the breakdown of how those match-ups occur. Will a team have to go on the road for 2-3 straight weeks? Will they have a bye or extended week before a big match-up? When does a team's bye occur? These are the types of considerations that can make a team's schedule tougher or easier regardless of opponent and that is really what is going to determine if a schedule is favorable or not on paper. As always, what looks favorable in April can easily change once the season gets going. That being said, here are 4 teams that appear to have a favorable schedule heading into the season:
1. Indianapolis Colts:
-From a strength of schedule standpoint the Colts have one of the easier schedules. In addition to their six games against their division (three teams that went a combined 13-35 last year), the Colts get the AFC North and NFC East divisions, who each only had one team over .500 last year. As a first place team the Colts draw the Broncos and Patriots, but it could be far worse, if they had to match-up with different divisions.
Though the Colts have two big games against the Broncos and Patriots, they have those games at good times in their season. The Broncos game (which is on the road) is opening weekend, so they will have all summer to get ready for that game and come up with a game plan to shut down Peyton Manning. The Patriots game (which is at home), is Week 11 after the Colts bye, giving them some extra time to heal up and prepare for the Patriots. Now both Denver and the Patriots have the same advantages of extra time, but from the Colts perspective getting the extra preparation time for those two games, is more than they could hope for.
The Colts schedule also is favorable in how it ends up. In the final six weeks after the Patriots game the Colts face only one team that was .500 or better last year, and that is the Dallas Cowboys who were 8-8. Other than that, the Colts face a number of teams who figure to be in rebuilding mode this season. That could obviously change, and one or two of those games might be more challenging, but right now it looks like the Colts will have a very easy schedule the last six weeks as they look to jockey for playoff positioning. Now this does mean that the beginning of the Colts schedule is a bit more challenging, but it shouldn't be too much so that they can't survive. it.
2. New Orleans Saints:
-The NFC South should be more competitive this year as the Falcons figure to be a safe bet to rebound and the Buccaneers have had a very active offseason and figure to be better this year. The Saints though should be the favorite in the division as the Panthers have had a lot of turnover in free agency and the Saints have added some key pieces. New Orleans also benefits from a good schedule.overall.
The Saints start out with back-to-back games on the road, but it is against the Falcons and the Browns. Though Atlanta figures to be better this year, they might not be ready week 1 to play at the Saints level. Getting that road game out of the way early is huge for New Orleans. The Browns could be starting a rookie quarterback week 2, making that a pretty favorable match-up as well. If the Saints can win those two games to start, then they will have a big Home vs Road advantage as they will have 8 of their remaining 14 games at home. In fact the Saints have 4 of their road games in the first 6 games, but none of them are against a team that went better than 8-8 last year (in fact none of their first 6 games are a team with a winning record last season). New Orleans could get off to a great start and then have 6 home games remaining on their schedule.
This really helps them during a tough part of their schedule when they face four playoff teams in weeks 8-11, but only one of them is on the road. Given how good of a home team the Saints are, this is a big advantage for them to have the meat of their schedule line-up like this. While the Saints might not need it, they also face the Falcons and Buccaneers the final two weeks of the season, so if the Saints are in a must win situation they have a favorable match-up.
3. Washington Redskins:
-The Redskins don't have the easiest schedule with the NFC West on the slate this year, but they did get a favorable breakdown to their schedule. The Redskins start off with the Texans and Jaguars back-to-back, giving them their best chance to get off to a strong start and build some momentum. Now those games might not be a walk in the park as the Redskins themselves are rebuilding, but Washington could end up facing off with a pair of rookie quarterbacks.
Though the Redskins have some tough match-ups with the Eagles and Cardinals on the road and the Seahawks at home in their first 10 games, the rest of that early schedule is pretty easy relatively speaking. Of the remaining 7 games, only the Cowboys (8-8) finished with 8 or more wins. The Redskins might not be an early favorite to rack up the wins, but if they do have things fall in to place and can make a run it will be because of the start of this schedule. If the Redskins are in playoff contention at the end of the season, they have their final two games against the Eagles and Cowboys at home, giving them an advantage if that ends up being a must win situation.
4. Miami Dolphins:
-Though many people will think of the controversy that surrounded the Dolphins last season or remember how Miami blew their shot at the playoffs by losing their final two games, people forget how good the Dolphins were last season. Heading into the final two weeks of the season Miami was 8-6, and only had two losses by more 4 points and both of those were games on the road. Miami was in just about every game and had they not been steeped in controversy they might have had an 11-12 win season. They are a sneaky team to watch this year, and their schedule could be a favorable factor for them this year.
The Dolphins do face the Patriots week 1, but it's at home and Miami will have all offseason to prepare for the game. They also have a bye (coming off a London game) before their Week 6 home match-up versus the Packers. In fact the four match-ups versus playoff teams in the first half of their season all come at home, giving the Dolphins a great chance to steal some of these games. The 2nd half of Miami's season figures to be a bit tougher, but the Dolphins have home contests in three of the last four weeks, including the final two games of the season.
This is a schedule the Dolphins can definitely do some damage against, and they could potentially make a run at a division title.