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Toughest Schedules

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2024 NFL schedule release: Steelers, Bills, Browns among teams with toughest regular-season slates

Thanks to the NFL's structured scheduling formula, we've known each team's 2024 opponents since the end of the 2023 regular season. There's never any mystery in the who. But the when? Yeah, that's what we're all discovering now.

The football festival that is the 2024 NFL season features all of our favorite acts, but now we have everyone's set list. So, who's facing the most grueling show? That's what I'm here to surmise today.

Perusing each team's 2024 schedule, I considered the significant factors you'd expect, from opponents to travel to rest, and everything in between. Admittedly, though, this exercise was NOT free of personal bias. I'm only human, folks. Artificial intelligence hasn't taken my job (yet). Consequently, this adventure in future-casting is fueled, at least in part, by my own preconceived notions on the coming campaign. Do with that information what you will. (Helllllloooooo, haters!)

Without further ado, here are the toughest schedules in 2024. I give you … the Unlucky Seven!

Pittsburgh Steelers
2023 record: 10-7
  • Strength of schedule: .533 (3rd)
  • Bye: Week 9

The Steelers must spend their first two weeks on the road. In fact, they only have one home game in the opening month. And yet, it’s how the schedule closes that ultimately lands Pittsburgh in the No. 1 spot here. Remember how the AFC North was the best division in football last season, with all four teams posting winning records and three hitting the playoffs? Well, the Steelers don’t even play their first divisional foe until Week 11. Yup, the schedule makers packed all six AFC North bouts into the final eight weeks. The other two games in this BEASTLY back half? A trip across the state to Philadelphia and a short-week Christmas affair with the back-to-back Super Bowl champion Chiefs. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned a couple of high-profile Sunday nighters, with the Cowboys and Jets storming the Steel City during one 15-day span in October. Pittsburgh significantly revamped the roster this offseason -- particularly on offense, with a new coordinator (Arthur Smith), two new quarterbacks (Russell Wilson and Justin Fields) and three potential rookie starters (linemen Troy Fautanu and Zach Frazier, as well as wide receiver Roman Wilson). Can Mike Tomlin’s new-look Steelers survive this gauntlet?

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 at Falcons 10 at Commanders
2 at Broncos 11 Ravens
3 Chargers 12 at Browns (Thurs.)
4 at Colts 13 at Bengals
5 Cowboys (SNF) 14 Browns
6 at Raiders 15 at Eagles
7 Jets (SNF) 16 at Ravens (Sat.)
8 Giants (Mon.) 17 Chiefs (Wed.)
9 BYE 18 Bengals
Buffalo Bills
2023 record: 11-6
  • Strength of schedule: .516 (T-6th)
  • Bye: Week 12

Buffalo has owned the AFC East of late, having won each of the last four division titles. But this offseason saw core players depart from both sides of the ball, increasing the pressure on Josh Allen to refuel the offense and Sean McDermott to refurbish the defense. Each man must do so in the face of some daunting schedule challenges. The Bills are one of four teams (alongside the Bears, Browns, Vikings) with three straight road games on the schedule. They’re one of just two teams (the Buccaneers are the other) facing all four Championship Sunday squads from this past January’s postseason: the Chiefs, Lions, Ravens and 49ers. And four of their first six games are ticketed for the bright lights of prime time. The final stretch appears manageable, with two games against the rebuilding Patriots in the final three weeks. By that point, though, will Buffalo be a battle-tested team surging into the postseason or a war-weary outfit limping to the finish line?

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 Cardinals 10 at Colts
2 at Dolphins (Thurs.) 11 Chiefs
3 Jaguars (Mon.) 12 BYE
4 at Ravens (SNF) 13 49ers (SNF)
5 at Texans 14 at Rams
6 at Jets (Mon.) 15 at Lions
7 Titans 16 Patriots
8 at Seahawks 17 Jets
9 Dolphins 18 at Patriots
Cleveland Browns
2023 record: 11-6
  • Strength of schedule: .547 (1st)
  • Bye: Week 10

Based solely on their opponents’ 2023 records, Cleveland has the most difficult 17-game slate in 2024. My esteemed colleagues at NFL Research tracked how the last seven teams to carry this burden fared, and unsurprisingly, it ain’t pretty.

  • 2023 Eagles: 11-6, lost 32-9 in Wild Card Round
  • 2022 Rams: 5-12, missed playoffs
  • 2021 Steelers: 9-7-1, lost 42-21 in Wild Card Round
  • 2020 Patriots: 7-9, missed playoffs
  • 2019 Raiders: 7-9, missed playoffs
  • 2018 Packers: 6-9-1, missed playoffs
  • 2017 Broncos: 5-11, missed playoffs 

And in addition to bearing that cross, Cleveland also faces a taxing three-week road trip in the first half of the season. Then, following the Week 10 bye, five of the Browns’ final eight games are on the road, with the three home tilts in that span coming against 2023 AFC playoff teams -- most prominently, the back-to-back Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 Cowboys 10 BYE
2 at Jaguars 11 at Saints
3 Giants 12 Steelers (Thurs.)
4 at Raiders 13 at Broncos (Mon.)
5 at Commanders 14 at Steelers
6 at Eagles 15 Chiefs
7 Bengals 16 at Bengals (Thurs.)
8 Ravens 17 Dolphins (SNF)
9 Chargers 18 at Ravens
Minnesota Vikings
2023 record: 7-10
  • Strength of schedule: .502 (T-16th)
  • Bye: Week 6

The Lions and Packers both turned heads in this past January’s postseason, setting an inspiring tone for the 2024 campaign. Meanwhile, the Bears hype train is rapidly picking up steam, with dynamic QB Caleb Williams joining the kind of well-rounded roster seldom available to the No. 1 overall pick. Simply put, there’s growing speculation that the NFC North could be the best division in the conference -- if not the entire league -- with bandwagons filling up fast at three divisional outposts. And then there’s Minnesota, which looks like a team in transition following Kirk Cousins’ exit. Last season, Kevin O’Connell deftly guided the Vikings to seven wins despite starting four different quarterbacks. Now he confronts a different quandary at the game’s most important position: Can veteran Sam Darnold hold the fort long enough to allow No. 10 overall pick J.J. McCarthy ample runway to the starting lineup? Darnold will be returning to his old stomping grounds for the season opener at MetLife Stadium. Then the schedule really kicks into gear, with home dates against the reigning NFC champion 49ers and rising NFL darling Texans, followed by a voyage to Lambeau Field and a trip across the pond to face the Jets. Will the early bye following the London game inevitably produce an interminable slog to Week 18? How’ll Minnesota manage back-to-back-to-back road games in November? In a highly competitive division, the Vikings head into the 2024 campaign with far more questions than answers.

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 at Giants 10 at Jaguars
2 49ers 11 at Titans
3 Texans 12 at Bears
4 at Packers 13 Cardinals
5 Jets (London) 14 Falcons
6 BYE 15 Bears (Mon.)
7 Lions 16 at Seahawks
8 at Rams (Thurs.) 17 Packers
9 Colts 18 at Lions
Jacksonville Jaguars
2023 record: 9-8
  • Strength of schedule: .512 (T-8th)
  • Bye: Week 12

Since the NFL added a 17th regular-season game in 2021, the ninth home contest has annually alternated between AFC and NFC teams. This year, the AFC gets the short end of the stick. And with Jacksonville sacrificing a true home date during its two-week stay in London, the Jaguars are the only team in the league to play just seven games in their actual stadium of residence. Consequently, over the first three months of the season, the Jags will only play in Duval County four times. The schedule lightens up after the Week 12 bye, but Jacksonville must make it there intact. And remember: This team completely fell apart last December. Digging an early hole is not advisable.

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 at Dolphins 10 Vikings
2 Browns 11 at Lions
3 at Bills (Mon.) 12 BYE
4 at Texans 13 Texans
5 Colts 14 at Titans
6 at Bears (London) 15 Jets
7 Patriots (London) 16 at Raiders
8 Packers 17 Titans
9 at Eagles (SNF) 18 at Colts
Washington Commanders
2023 record: 4-13
  • Strength of schedule: .502 (T-16th)
  • Bye: Week 14

It’s a brand new day for this long-suffering franchise, with fresh faces at quarterback (Jayden Daniels), head coach (Dan Quinn) and general manager (Adam Peters). Can these Commanders crawl out of the NFC East cellar and make a push for just their second playoff appearance in nine seasons? Well, starting the 2024 campaign with three road games in September doesn’t help. Neither does drawing the NFC’s toughest interconference assignment: the AFC North. Will Daniels’ head be swimming (drowning?) by the time Washington finally reaches its bye in Week 14?

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 at Buccaneers 10 Steelers
2 Giants 11 at Eagles (Thurs.)
3 at Bengals (Mon.) 12 Cowboys
4 at Cardinals 13 Titans
5 Browns 14 BYE
6 at Ravens 15 at Saints
7 Panthers 16 Eagles
8 Bears 17 Falcons
9 at Giants 18 at Cowboys
Arizona Cardinals
2023 record: 4-13
  • Strength of schedule: .488 (T-24th)
  • Bye: Week 11

The Cardinals were more competitive than most anticipated last season, but they still finished with a second consecutive 4-13 record. With Kyler Murray back in the fold from the jump, can Arizona take a significant step forward in Year 2 of the Jonathan Gannon experience? The Cards will need to come out of the gates hot, as five of their first six opponents were playoff teams in 2023. Little margin for error, especially when you pull back to assess the slate as a whole. The NFC West is never easy these days, having produced four of the past six conference champions, and this year, the division drew the hyped NFC North in the intraconference rotation. Long story short: Arizona will have its hands full in trying to record just its second winning season since the halcyon days of 2015.

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 at Bills 10 Jets
2 Rams 11 BYE
3 Lions 12 at Seahawks
4 Commanders 13 at Vikings
5 at 49ers 14 Seahawks
6 at Packers 15 Patriots
7 Chargers (Mon.) 16 at Panthers
8 at Dolphins 17 at Rams
9 Bears 18 49ers