We won’t know for sure which NFL teams landed a favorable 2017 schedule until at least a few weeks into next season, when it has become clearer who the true playoff contenders are. We do have some idea which schedules look easier on paper, though—a home game vs. Cleveland, for example, is a friendlier draw than a prime-time road trip to Pittsburgh.
Most importantly (at least for the purposes of yelling on social media for the next four months), is figuring out which teams got the short end of the scheduling stick.
And these teams have reason to be upset, ranked in descending order of potential annoyance level.
1. New England
What the heck happened here? The first half of the schedule is fine—the season opener on a Thursday night vs. Kansas City, five of eight at home leading into a Week 9 bye, no road trips west of the Mississippi.
But then the Patriots come off that bye and, well, the league’s computer appears to have malfunctioned. In Week 10, New England plays a Sunday nighter in Denver followed by a Week 11 visit to Mexico City to play the Raiders. Both of those stadiums are at high altitude, which means the Patriots may just head south of the border early, rather than tack on extra miles with a return trip home.
New England returns to Foxborough for Week 13 (Miami), before a three-game road swing (Buffalo, Miami on a Monday night, Pittsburgh). They do get two at home to close the year, but that’s a brutal stretch from Weeks 10–15. Oh, and five of their final six are against the AFC East, for some reason—their lone intra-division game prior to Thanksgiving is at the Jets in Week 6.
2. New York Jets
It’ll take some work for the Jets to be in the playoff race come late November. But if they manage to surprise folks until then, bringing it home could prove next to impossible. After a Week 11 bye, the Jets face this closing six: Carolina, Kansas City, at Denver, at New Orleans, L.A. Chargers, at New England.
Again, any judgments about the 2017 season are being made on a pure speculative basis right now, but that Jets closing stretch looks to have at least five (and possibly six) postseason contenders on it.
The Thursday nighters always create a handful of ugly scheduling setups, but a Week 4 mid-week date could put the capper on a miserable September for the Bears if they cannot pull a surprise here or two.
Chicago hosts the defending NFC champion Falcons in Week 1, travels to Tampa Bay in Week 2, hosts Pittsburgh in Week 3 and then has to trek to Lambeau Field on the Thursday of Week 4. That’s a really difficult quartet of games to kick off the season.
The two stretches likely to break the Eagles’ season come in Weeks 1–4, when they’ll play three of four away from home (at Washington, at Kansas City, Giants, at the Chargers); and in Weeks 11–15, when they play four of five on the road—two on the west coast (at Dallas, Chicago, at Seattle in prime time, at the Rams, at the Giants).
The benefit of those two ridiculously road-heavy stretches is that Philadelphia gets four in five at home in Weeks 5–9 and closes with back-to-back contests at Lincoln Financial Field. Given their choice, though, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles choosing to block all their home/road games like this. Those lengthy road swings could set the stage for some crushing games.
After missing the playoffs a year ago, the Broncos best make their way out to a quick start in 2017. Why? Because by the end of Week 6, they will have played four games at home, just one on the road and already will have used up their bye (Week 5).
Do the math on all that, and it means Denver will play seven of its final 11 games away from home, without any break. The Broncos also have a three-week road swing to deal with, in Weeks 7–9 (at the Chargers, Chiefs and Eagles, respectively).
Some of this is by the franchise’s own design, since it continues to take a home game per season across the pond. That trip this year falls in Week 3, vs. Baltimore, and because of it the Jaguars will play just two true home games before November: Tennessee in Week 2 and the Rams in Week 6.
Back-to-back home games off a Week 9 bye and a three-game homestand from Weeks 13–15 help some, but will the Jaguars be out of the running by the time their fans get a chance to see them in person for an extended period?
Starting with a Thursday nighter at Pittsburgh in Week 11, the Titans will face a key stretch that takes them on the road four times in five weeks. Bookending a Dec. 3 home date with Houston are trips to Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Arizona and San Francisco. The matchup with the 49ers doesn’t look all that daunting at the moment, but it might after all that travel late in the year.
As is the likely case with New England during that Denver-Mexico City jaunt, Tennessee could set up shop in unfamiliar terrain for the week between the Arizona and San Francisco games.
Another team that could get burned by an overly road-heavy stretch. The Vikings will enjoy the friendly U.S. Bank Stadium confines five times in the first seven weeks, then head to England to play Cleveland in Week 8. That all sets up for a hot start.
After a Week 9 bye, however, the Vikings play four of five on the road, highlighted by a Thanksgiving Day matchup in Detroit. Also on the slate from Weeks 10–14: at Washington, the Rams, at Atlanta, at Carolina. Those matchups with the Falcons and Panthers come on the heels of the Vikings’ holiday showdown.
Win a division, earn a tougher schedule—that’s how this is supposed to work, so the league can maintain its beloved parity, right? The Falcons will have their hands full in Weeks 7–11, a stretch that begins with a prime-time rematch in New England and ends with another prime-timer in Seattle. The three games between: at the Jets, at Carolina, Dallas.
Atlanta does have back-to-back home games and then back-to-back-to-back home games before and after that run, respectively.
Another team facing a four-in-five on the road run, and this one’s made worse because the Panthers’ lone home game during Weeks 4–8 is a Thursday nighter (Philadelphia). The Panthers will play at New England and at Detroit prior to the Eagles matchup, then visit Chicago and Tampa Bay after.