What makes a schedule easy? Nothing, if you ask any Football Guy worth his salt.
No games are givens; everything is earned. You have to take it week by week, day by day, play by play. Any given Sunday, yada, yada, yada.
But certain teams do have it easier in any given season due to myriad schedule-related factors.
One way to measure the difficulty of a team's schedule is to calculate strength of schedule (the combined record of its opponents based on last season's results). But no roster is the same year to year, and SOS doesn't take into account the many variables that come with the order of the slate. It's far from a crystal ball statistic.
For instance, in 2019, Washington had the easiest strength of schedule entering the season and went 3-13, the second-worst mark in the league. In 2016, the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl despite entering the year tied for the hardest strength of schedule.
A proper guesstimate requires something more scientific, or at the very least, more subjective. That's where I come in.
Following Thursday's reveal of the 2022 NFL schedule, here are what I deem to be the most accommodating itineraries in the league, taking into account factors including (but not limited to) homestands, travel, player availability, weather and the most scientific metric of 'em all: beef.
- Strength of schedule: .465 (29th)
- Bye: Week 9
Big Blue should get off to a big start under new head coach Brian Daboll. The Giants have a tough matchup at Tennessee in Week 1, but then don't have to play a true road game for the next five(!) weeks. That's right; the most hostile territory New York will be in from Week 2 to Week 6 is … New Jersey. The Giants get the Panthers, Cowboys and Bears at MetLife Stadium, then take on the Packers in London before hosting the Ravens. Their next true road games are in Jacksonville (Week 7) and Seattle (Week 8), neither of which were playoff contenders last year. Then out of their Week 9 bye, the Giants have manageable home games against Houston and Detroit. New York wraps up its slate with five divisional games in the final eight weeks. By that time, the Giants, who haven't finished over .500 since 2016, might well be comfortably above average.
- Strength of schedule: .474 (23rd)
- Bye: Week 10
The AFC North teams play the squads from the AFC East and NFC South, two top-heavy divisions crawling with unknowns, this season. For the Ravens, who finished last in the North in 2021, the crop of opponents is even more mediocre. After missing the tail end of last season, Lamar Jackson has a chance to lead the team to a strong start while playing the entire AFC East in their first four weeks, essentially ramping up (Jets, Dolphins, Patriots) to the mighty Bills in Week 4. Two home games against division opponents (Bengals, Browns), a visit to the Giants and two prime-time road games against the NFC South's best (Bucs on Thursday night in Week 8, Saints on Monday night in Week 9) await them afterward before a Week 10 bye. With fewer prime-time games on the 2022 slate compared to those of recent years, the Ravens could fly under the radar into the second half of their schedule (starting with the Panthers and Jaguars) and make a run back to the postseason.
- Strength of schedule: .462 (T-31)
- Bye: Week 9
The reigning NFC East champions will be tested right away -- home games against Tom Brady's Buccaneers and the AFC champion Bengals in Weeks 1 and 2 -- but that stretch is without a doubt Dallas' toughest of the season. Better to rip the band-aid off early. The Cowboys also have road tests against the Rams and Eagles in Weeks 5 and 6, but games against the Lions and Bears lead them into a Week 9 bye. Up next: A date with Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau in Week 10, aka Mike McCarthy's return to Green Bay. Plus, Dallas enjoys a three-game homestand to close autumn: a Thanksgiving tussle with the Giants followed by games against Matt Ryan's Colts and the Texans. The Cowboys will predictably be in the spotlight this year -- they have five prime-time games, not including Turkey Day -- but the stars have aligned for the stars to shine in the bright lights.
- Strength of schedule: .517 (11th)
- Bye: Week 11
If Russell Wilson returns to Seattle in Week 1, is it really a return? The Seahawks open the season against their former franchise QB, who’s now with the Broncos after a decade in Seattle. The Monday night matchup will be highly anticipated; the 12s could set a decibel record 12 times over during Denver's possessions that evening. Those dynamics set up to make things more difficult for Wilson and first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett than they will for Seattle, softening what could be one of the hardest matchups on the team’s schedule. The Seahawks catch other breaks, too, from playing the Buccaneers in Germany instead of Tampa Bay, being one of just three teams to receive a bye after playing an international game this year and having four of their final five games at home.
- Strength of schedule: .462 (T-31st)
- Bye: Week 14
Welcome to Washington, Carson Wentz! While I’m not here to write off the team’s opponents in Weeks 1 and 2 -- Trevor Lawrence's remade Jaguars and the Hard Knocks-bound Lions -- the Commanders have an opportunity to really go ahead and start to take command in the NFC East, thanks to season-opening meetings with the two worst teams in the league from 2021. Washington benefits from the lowest strength of schedule based on opponents' 2021 records, but also enjoys a soft start and some scheduling quirks. For instance, thanks to a Thursday night game at Chicago in Week 6, the Commanders will have a week-plus to prepare for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at home. Also, even though Wentz's highly anticipated return to Philadelphia is slated for a Week 10 Monday nighter -- the perfect recipe for a raucous Linc -- it won't be his first game against the Eagles; that's slated for Week 3 in Landover. Perhaps by mid-November, the temperature around the matchup will have cooled. Washington does have a late bye (Week 14), but finishes with three home games in four weeks, including two against division opponents (New York, Dallas).
- Strength of schedule: .467 (28th)
- Bye: Week 6
The only team that will go into the season without a scheduled prime-time game, the Lions will get their close-up in the preseason on Hard Knocks, and the team is set up for early success once the action gets underway. Detroit has three home games in the first four weeks, with all four games coming against NFC opponents that aren’t going to strike fear into the opposition (Philadelphia, Washington, Minnesota, Seattle). The team's toughest matchups (home against Buffalo and at Green Bay) come at favorable times, as well. Buffalo is the Lions' Thanksgiving Day opponent this year and kicks off a three-game homestand at Ford Field. Detroit's visit to Lambeau Field comes in Week 18, when it’s possible the Packers will already have a playoff seed locked in.
- Strength of schedule: .533 (T-5th)
- Bye: Week 9
On paper, the 49ers have one of the most unforgiving schedules, what with playing against the teams from the NFC West and AFC West and all. But a strange scheduling quirk could help the 49ers strike gold out of the bye. After Oct. 30, the 49ers don't play a game in an opposing team's stadium until Dec. 15 (at Seahawks). San Francisco's Week 9 bye is followed by a prime-time home game against the Chargers, a trip to Mexico City to play the Cardinals, avoiding a road divisional clash, and three straight home games against the Saints, Mike McDaniel's Dolphins and Tom Brady's Buccaneers. That's a comfy stretch for the 49ers after having to play Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes and the Rams (twice!) in the first eight weeks. The second half of the schedule looks promising for Kyle Shanahan and Co., but on the other hand, who's to say any of us will be alive by then?
- Strength of schedule: .464 (30th)
- Bye: Week 7
It's not how you start … but sometimes it is. The Eagles can fly from the onset with consecutive games against Detroit, Minnesota, Washington, Jacksonville and Nuk-less Arizona to begin the season. That's enough runway for Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown to reach cruising altitude following Philly's Week 7 bye. Home matchups against Dallas (Week 6) and Green Bay (Week 12) stand out as potential hurdles, but both of those are scheduled to be in prime time. In fact, four of the Eagles' five night games are at Lincoln Financial Field. The schedule's few bummers are that Carson Wentz's return to Philly (Week 10) is preceded by the Eagles' game in Washington (Week 3), and that the Birds' late-season clash with the Cowboys (Week 16) is in Arlington.
- Strength of schedule: .484 (20th)
- Bye: Week 7
Sure, the Kevin O'Connell era in Minnesota begins against the NFC North boogeyman in Aaron Rodgers, but the Vikings get to host the Packers in what is sure to be a hostile U.S. Bank Stadium. In fact, Minnesota will play in enemy territory just once in its first five games (at Philadelphia in Week 2). The Vikes will enjoy some home cooking later in the year, as well, when they spend five of six weeks in Minneapolis from Weeks 11 to 16, including playing host to the Patriots on Thanksgiving Night.
- Strength of schedule: .512 (T-12th)
- Bye: Week 13
Carolina plays four of its first five games at home, with its lone road test coming against the Giants, who, like the Panthers, were picking in the top 10 in this year's draft. Also, the Panthers will face a Cardinals team without DeAndre Hopkins in Week 4. The schedule is tailor-made for Matt Rhule's squad to start hot, like it did last year, when Carolina cruised to a 3-0 record. Hopefully for the Panthers, the rest of the season will go much better than it did for them in 2021.