Opinion: Which Teams Are The Winners & Losers Of 2020 NFL Schedule
With the NFL schedule being released on Thursday night, fans and members of the media alike can now start eagerly looking at the best games from week to week, and who has the easiest or toughest schedule this season. As a member of the media, and a fan of the NFL, I figured why not do both of those things. I will try to determine who has the toughest and easiest schedules in both conferences, and then go week-by-week to determine the best games each week, at least as of right now in May. With all of that out of the way, let’s get started.
I will be examining every team’s schedule and roster and determine who has the toughest schedule ahead of them, picking one team from the AFC and another from the NFC. I know that there are lists out there that say that team ‘x’ has the toughest schedule based on the winning percentages of their opponents from last season, but a lot of things have changed from last season.
AFC: Looking at the 16 AFC teams, there is one team that immediately jumps off the page. The New England Patriots because they no longer have Tom Brady and will play the top teams in the AFC because of their record from a year ago. I am not going to pick them though because they still have a really good defense, and the best coach in NFL history in Bill Belichick. The team I am going to pick for having the toughest schedule is actually the New York Jets. Outside of their own division, the Jets play the two teams that played in the Super Bowl in the Chiefs and 49ers. They will also play the Seahawks, Browns, Colts, Cardinals, Broncos and Chargers, teams that all could be in the playoff hunt in their respective conferences. Not to mention, Sam Darnold will be facing a lot of pressure being that he is entering year three, Adam Gase is arguably on the hot seat given his not so great record in year one has the Jets head coach, and Le’Veon Bell, at least early in his tenure with the Jets, has underperformed some can say. The defense also has a lot of question marks.
NFC: Shifting gears to the NFC, there are some definite contenders, the New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, and New York Giants come to mind, but I am going to go with the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have a first year head coach in Matt Rhule, a defense that lost Luke Kuechly and James Braddbery, among other players during the offseason, and a quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, who wasn’t the starter going into the season since 2015 with the Vikings. Not to mention, the Panthers will have teams in their division a total of six times, a division that has Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Matt Ryan, Todd Gurley, Julio Jones, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, just to name a few. Outside their division, they will also play the Packers, Vikings, Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos, teams that are significantly better than Carolina. Honestly, I would not be surprised if the Panthers are better than the third worst team in terms of record in the entire NFC.
On the flip side, there are some teams who were given a gift with their schedule, and should do really well in the coming season.
AFC: I am not going to lie, there is no contest as to who has the easiest schedule in the AFC. The winner is the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens return league MVP Lamar Jackson. Their defense got even better with the signing of Calais Campbell. Head coach John Harbaugh is a top five coach in football in my opinion, and they are the best team in the division. The Ravens are probably guaranteed 4-5 wins just in their division alone given that they play the Bengals, Browns and Steelers. The Ravens also play a Patriots team who they beat last year, that now doesn’t have Brady. They also play the Jaguars, Colts, Redskins and Giants which should all be cake walks. If you say the Ravens win four games in their division, plus the five I just mentioned, that is nine wins already. The Ravens also play the Chiefs and Cowboys at home, they are bound to win one of those games if not both. Overall, the Ravens have a very good chance winning 12+ games and make a deep run in the postseason.
NFC: Similar to the AFC, it was a pretty easy decision for who has the easiest schedule in the NFC. The answer is the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have Dak Prescott, coming off probably his best year as a pro. Ezekiel Elliot is a top running back in the NFL. They still have Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup and added CeeDee Lamb in the draft, not to mention a really good head coach in Mike McCarthy who is now in his first year with the team. For their schedule, similar to the Ravens, the Cowboys are almost guaranteed to win 4-5 games in the NFC East. They also play the Browns, Bengals, Rams, Cardinals and Steelers, teams that on paper Dallas seems that they can easily beat. Things seem to be set up nicely for the Cowboys to win the division and set themselves up for the postseason once again, the question is will they actually execute.
What is the best game each week?:
At least for me, one of the first things I always do when the schedule comes out is see what is the marquee game each week. Determine what game I am going to watch regardless of what is going on in my life because it is bound to be a good one. Here are the games each week I am most excited for.
Week 1: Tampa Bay at New Orleans: Brady’s first game not playing for the Patriots since he was in college, he gets to go up against a Saints team that on offense, is one of the best in football. Not to mention we will see the return of Gronkowski who came out of retirement to play in Tampa with Brady. Do I really need to say more?
Week 2: Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans: Probably not the last time we will see either of these two teams on this list, but let’s be real, Deshaun Watson vs. Jackson will be fun to watch, despite Watson not having DeAndre Hopkins this season. Jackson is the league’s reigning MVP and could possibly have a better year this year than last.
Week 3: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore: Packers vs. Saints came in a close second, but the defending Super Bowl Champs in Kansas City with Mahomes, traveling to Baltimore, on Monday Night Football to take on Jackson. The last two MVPs of the league, could be a high scoring affair, don’t call me during this game because I probably won’t pick up.
Week 4: Los Angeles Chargers at Tampa Bay: The Chargers defense on paper looks to be really good, Justin Herbert may be the starter at this point, having him go up against TB12 old guard vs. new guard, should be fun.
Week 5: Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks: We had the birth of primetime Kirk Cousins last season, and will have the opportunity to show if this is a thing for the future against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, in Seattle. The Seahawks have one of the best home-field advantages in football and both teams have eyes toward the playoffs.
Week 6: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys: Packers vs. Bucs would be a lot of fun, but I am going to go with this Monday Night Football game. I mentioned that the Cowboys have the easiest schedule in the NFC, but this game could be crucial early in Dallas’ season versus an Cardinals squad on the rise with Kyler Murray and Hopkins.
Week 7: Green Bay Packers at Houston Texans: A lot of rumors surrounding the Packers and the future of Aaron Rodgers with the picking of Jordan Love in the draft. Both of these teams have a lot of questions surrounding them, particularly the relationship between the head coach and quarterback.
Week 8: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle: These are the top two teams in the NFC West, and it is pretty close as to who is better. In both of their meetings last season, it was a very close game and this year has the potential to be very similar in that respect.
Week 9: Green Bay at San Francisco: A rematch of the NFC Championship from last year. The 49ers blew out the Packers twice last year which could possibly happen again given how good 49ers are. Rodgers is still a top quarterback in the NFL which could make things interesting. Also, this game is on Thursday night meaning that it is the only game of the night and is bound to be a good one.
Week 10: San Francisco at New Orleans: I know that I have gone 49ers three weeks in a row, but this is a gauntlet of a stretch and to end this three week stretch, they play the Saints where last year, these two went down to the wire. Saints offense versus the 49ers defense, get your popcorn ready.
Week 11: Cincinatti Begnals at Washington Redskins: Number One overall pick in the draft Joe Burrow takes on Number Two overall pick Chase Young. Need I say more.
Week 12: Redskins at Cowboys: Chiefs vs. Buccaneers would be really cool, but a game that is played on Thanksgiving, always seems to have something extra added to it. There is a different aura around it. Also by this point in the year, the Cowboys will probably be one of the more talked about teams in the league as usual, whether it is in a positive light or negative light will be interesting to see.
Week 13: Cincinnati at Miami Dolphins: Similar to Week 11, Burrow taking on Number Five overall pick and the second quarterback taken in Tua Tagovailoa. Whether or not Tagovailoa plays is up in the air. Regardless of how good these teams are, if both of these quarterbacks play, it is a battle of the future.
Week 14: Baltimore at Cleveland Browns: After a disappointing year last season for Cleveland, we will really know how good they are by this point, they get to go up against arguably the best team in the AFC. Also there is a lot of pressure on Baker Mayfield this year, interesting to see how he handles it.
Week 15: Kansas City at New Orleans: On paper, two really good offenses. Barring injuries, could be the game of the year, especially if playoff spots are up in the air as both these teams have eyes on the Super Bowl and having a first round bye will be crucial.
Week 16: San Francisco at Arizona: Christmas Day between Minnesota and New Orleans will be a good one, but this games has a lot riding on it because the Cardinals project to be a possible playoff team and if there are in the hunt toward the end of the year, to beat a team of this caliber late in the season could be a major boost to their playoff hunt.
Week 17: All of Them!: Given the craziness of an NFL season, who knows who is going to be in the hunt for the playoffs. This week will see storylines galore. Also there are some stars like Brady and Brees who this might be their final year so if you can watch every game this week, do it.