There's probably no such thing as an easy schedule, as NFL players and coaches will attest. Each week is a grind, facing other highly motivated and athletic players whose careers are on the line.
But I believe it's fair to suggest that some teams' schedules are harder than others. We've known each teams' opponents for months now, but with the 2023 NFL schedule now complete, it's a lot easier to pick out the thorniest of the bunch.
It's not just about the quality of opponent each team faces each week, but also in what order. Some teams might have short turnarounds against their toughest competition. Others might have to endure long stretches away from home.
We're about four months away from the season starting, but it didn't take long to find 10 teams that might have even tougher roads than originally imagined when it comes to the pathway to Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas next February.
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- Strength of schedule: .549 (T-3rd)
- Bye: Week 11
The Patriots' 2023 schedule is relentless. Pound for pound, this is the toughest opening quintet of any team this year -- and really, they might have the toughest closing five-game stretch, too. Granted, three of those first five games are at home, and they’ll have had the bulk of the offseason to prepare for Jalen Hurts in the opener, but it also includes back-to-back road tests against the Aaron Rodgers-led Jets and the Cowboys. Following the game in Germany against the Colts and the Week 11 bye, five of their final seven opponents finished above .500 last season. If there’s one fortunate wrinkle to that stretch, it’s that New England will have 11 days to prepare for the Chiefs in Week 15, but that contest is preceded by a tough Thursday game at Pittsburgh and there’s a road trip to Buffalo awaiting the team in Week 17.
|3||at Jets||12||at Giants|
|5||Saints||14||at Steelers (Thurs.)|
|6||at Raiders||15||Chiefs (Mon.)|
- Strength of schedule: .533 (9th)
- Bye: Week 10
The good news is that the band is back together, with Sean McVay, Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford all seeking to bounce back after last season’s collapse. The bad news is that they don’t have much time to waste. They open with a wicked trio: at Seattle, versus San Francisco and at Cincinnati on a Monday night.
The middle portion of the schedule is no slouch either, with games against the Eagles, Cowboys and Ravens. The Rams catch a bit of a break, playing two home games in a four-day span followed by a 10-day break right around Christmas. But the closing road duo -- at the Giants at the 49ers -- will test them firmly at the end, too.
|3||at Bengals (Mon.)||12||at Cardinals|
|8||at Cowboys||17||at Giants|
|9||at Packers||18||at 49ers|
- Strength of schedule: .519 (11th)
- Bye: Week 14
A daunting slate awaits new head coach Jonathan Gannon. The opening pair of games (at Commanders, versus Giants) isn’t too wicked, but don’t forget they could be without Kyler Murray and Zach Ertz for the start of the season. From there, things get dicey. They'll face the Cowboys, 49ers and Bengals in consecutive weeks, followed by a pair of divisional road trips (at Rams and Seahawks) and then tough games against the Ravens and Browns. The final quartet of games after a Week 14 bye (versus 49ers, at Bears, at Eagles, versus Seahawks) offers no respite.
|4||at 49ers||13||at Steelers|
|7||at Seahawks||16||at Bears|
- Strength of schedule: .512 (16th)
- Bye: Week 10
Congratulations on winning Super Bowl LVII, Chiefs fans. Now buckle up for yet another gauntlet of a schedule that will put Andy Reid’s squad to the test again. Kansas City is a featured attraction, and that means six prime-time games this year, including three in the first six weeks of the season. The Lions are a challenging opening foe, but the Chiefs will have ample time to prepare for Detroit; they also get the Week 10 bye to ready themselves for their Super Bowl rematch with the Eagles. There are not many lulls in this schedule, which includes two Thursday contests and three Monday nighters. Four of the final seven games are on the road, and two of the final three home tilts come against the Bills and Bengals. If Kansas City can roll to another division crown with this slate, any remaining doubters will need to come clean and recognize the team’s generational greatness.
|2||at Jaguars||11||Eagles (Mon.)|
|4||at Jets||13||at Packers|
|6||Broncos (Thurs.)||15||at Patriots (Mon.)|
|9||Dolphins (Frankfurt)||18||at Chargers|
- Strength of schedule: .542 (7th)
- Bye: Week 13
Some things break the Bills’ way coming off their exit in the Divisional Round of last season’s playoffs. They don’t have road games in consecutive weeks all season, and the Week 13 bye could help them gain some late-season rest as they gear up for the stretch run. The early season schedule is respectable, but hardly daunting. Even so, they will travel for a London game against the Jaguars in Week 5, and there is no bye week to follow, as they will return home for a tough game against the Giants. They also have a potentially season-defining game at Cincinnati on Monday night in Week 9, reprising the emotional setting of last January when Damar Hamlin collapsed on that field. There is a rough patch after the Week 13 bye: at Kansas City, versus Dallas, at Los Angeles Chargers (a Saturday game), versus New England and at Miami, to close it out. If the Bills can finally get over the Super Bowl hump, they’ll have done so against a stiff cast of opponents.
|1||at Jets (Mon.)||10||Broncos (Mon.)|
|3||at Commanders||12||at Eagles|
|5||Jaguars (Tottenham)||14||at Chiefs|
|7||at Patriots||16||at Chargers (Sat.)|
|9||at Bengals||18||at Dolphins|
- Strength of schedule: .484 (21st)
- Bye: Week 13
Like the Bills, the Ravens will not enjoy a post-London game bye, zooming back to Charm City needing to prepare for the emerging Lions the following Sunday. That’s not the only challenge on the Ravens’ schedule this season, though. Four of the first six games are away from Baltimore (including the game at Tottenham against the Titans), and the final four games are no joke, either: at Jacksonville and San Francisco in Weeks 15 and 16, followed by a tough home duo against the Dolphins and Steelers to close it out. There’s also a tricky Thursday game in Week 11 against the Bengals, although it does come amid a three-game home stretch. The Ravens don’t face the most treacherous schedule this season, but there are some notable speed bumps they’ll need to navigate along the way.
|2||at Bengals||11||Bengals (Thurs.)|
- Strength of schedule: .545 (6th)
- Bye: Week 7
Jets fans are over the moon after landing Aaron Rodgers. Now comes the reality: The team’s early season schedule looks tough. Rodgers and his offensive teammates must develop quickly or potentially risk falling in a bit of a hole. They host the Bills in a showcase Monday night opener, then go to Dallas in a short week. That’s followed by three of four at home, but those games are against the Patriots, Chiefs and Eagles (with a road game at Denver mixed in) prior to the Week 7 bye, which is perhaps earlier than ideal for a contender. In a fascinating scheduling quirk, the Jets will play 10 games at MetLife Stadium this year -- their nine home games, plus a “road” game at the Giants. The game against the G-Men comes amid a span in which the team won’t have to travel for 30-plus days. So, there are some tradeoffs. Robert Saleh’s team will have to play three of the last four on the road, including divisional games at Miami and New England and a Thursday road game at Cleveland. The Jets have their work cut out for them, even if they get to do a lot of it in their stomping grounds.
|1||Bills (Mon.)||10||at Raiders|
|2||at Cowboys||11||at Bills|
|8||at Giants||17||at Browns (Thurs.)|
|9||Chargers (Mon.)||18||at Patriots|
- Strength of schedule: .554 (2nd)
- Bye: Week 10
The Dolphins will be away from home for three of the first four weeks, beginning the season with road games against the Chargers and Patriots. Interestingly, Miami has just seven true road games at opponents’ home stadiums, but they include contests against the Bills, Eagles, Jets and Ravens sprinkled throughout the season, along with the game in Frankfurt, Germany, against the defending-champion Chiefs. The Dolphins do close with four of the final five games at home, but the run of four at the end will be a bear: versus the Jets and Cowboys, at the Ravens, then home again versus the Bills. If the Dolphins can make it to the Week 10 bye above .500, they should be in good shape. But this is not easy slate.
|3||Broncos||12||at Jets (Fri.)|
|4||at Bills||13||at Commanders|
- Strength of schedule: .497 (T-18th)
- Bye: Week 13
On the bright side, the Vikings have a very manageable home opener against the Bucs, a later-season bye (Week 13) and some winnable away games early in the campaign. But they also have nine games on the road, including a tough one at Philly (on Thursday in Week 2), two pairs of consecutive road contests (at Green Bay in a short week and Atlanta in Weeks 8 to 9; at Las Vegas and Cincinnati in Weeks 14 to 15) and the season finale at Detroit. The Vikings play the Lions in two of the last three weeks of the season and close it out with three straight divisional games. That could help if they’re needing to make up ground late in the year, but it also puts added pressure on those contests. After facing a fairly manageable 2022 schedule, the competition level appears to be raised this season.
|2||at Eagles (Thurs.)||11||at Broncos|
|6||at Bears||15||at Bengals|
|9||at Falcons||18||at Lions|
- Strength of schedule: .483 (22nd)
- Bye: Week 5
The Buccaneers are starting over following the retirement of Tom Brady, setting up what looks like a Baker Mayfield-Kyle Trask quarterback competition. Statistically, NFC South teams have some of the NFL’s most favorable schedules this season, but for a team such as the Bucs, how those games lay out really matters. The first four games could tell us whether Tampa Bay picked the right Brady successor. The Bucs open at the Vikings, followed by home games against the improved Bears and NFC champion Eagles before a road test at New Orleans and an early bye in Week 5. Other potential impediments include the Lions in Week 6, a Thursday road game at Buffalo in Week 8, a Week 11 game at San Francisco and a Week 16 game at home against Jacksonville. Three different times this season, the Bucs will have back-to-back road games. To win a third straight NFC South title, the Bucs will have to get through these tough stretches that some of their division rivals will avoid.
|3||Eagles (Mon.)||12||at Colts|
|8||at Bills (Thurs.)||17||Saints|
|9||at Texans||18||at Panthers|