Schedule friendliness is one of the hidden components of a good football team. While the NFL can run every different possible algorithm to ensure a balanced slate, there are always going to be teams that get the raw end of the deal through common speed bumps like ill-timed bye weeks, trips to London in a time zone that—at best—is five hours ahead of a player’s body clock, or long stints on the road away from home.
Coaches will always say it doesn’t matter, because that’s what coaches are supposed to say. But after taking a quick look at the schedule release on Wednesday, here are 10 of those teams who might have a gripe with the league:
Oakland Raiders: Even without knowing the order of their opponents, Jon Gruden and Co. walked into the 2019 season knowing that they would have the NFL’s hardest strength of schedule, with an average opponent winning percentage of 0.539. Add in the fact that the Raiders are departing Oakland and giving up one of their home games to be in London, and you have yourself a medicine ball-sized pill to swallow.
But Wednesday’s release also gave us the order and there are some gauntlets here. Check out the Raiders’ stretch after their home opener against the Broncos: Kansas City at home, at Minnesota, at Indianapolis, vs. Chicago in London, early bye week… then at Green Bay and at Houston. So after their home game vs. the Chiefs on Sept. 15, they don’t play another game in Oakland until Nov. 3. Kirk Cousins and Joe Flacco are the worst QBs Oakland faces until Nov. 17 when it takes on the Bengals.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers open with back-to-back road games, including a cross-country season opener in Tampa Bay (but with a friendly 4:25 p.m. EST body clock start), and a 1 p.m. EST game against the Bengals in Cincinnati. Their home opener vs. Pittsburgh provides no relief before a painfully early bye week, then a home Monday Night Football game against the loaded Browns and a short week Sunday matchup against the Super Bowl runner-up Rams.
Arizona Cardinals: The second half of their season is absolutely brutal. Look at this pre-bye week stretch: Cross country vs. the Giants on Oct. 20, then another road game vs. the Saints, which bleeds into a short rest Thursday Night Football game against the 49ers on Oct. 31, then kicks into two more consecutive road games against the Buccaneers and 49ers before the bye. Oh, and after the bye? Rams, Steelers, Browns, at Seattle, at Rams. Good luck, Kliff!
Miami Dolphins: New head coach Brian Flores starts with one famous Bill Belichick foil, John Harbaugh, and an option-flavored offense that is still a pain in the butt to prepare for. Then, the Dolphins get the real Bill Belichick the next weekend. Later on in the season, they also have Jets and Giants games back-to-back, and both on the road, which could mean two weeks away from home if the team opts to save money and remain in the northeast.
Tennessee Titans: The NFL’s ninth-hardest strength of schedule didn’t get any favors from those making the order. Opening against the Browns in Cleveland means something different than it has over the past few years. Throw in the fact that four of their first six games are on the road, and the Titans close with Houston, New Orleans then Houston on the road in another stretch that could lead to a win-and-in playoff scenario.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Not only was Bruce Arians banged with the first true Thursday Night Football game of the season (Week 2 vs. Carolina on the road), he also gets two consecutive road games vs. the Rams and Saints before flying to London for another “home” contest against the Panthers. After the bye following the London trip, the Bucs get contests at Tennessee and at Seattle. Overall, they will not play a game in Tampa Bay from Week 4 (Sept. 29) to Week 9 (Nov. 3). That is an absolutely awful stretch.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs have the fifth-toughest schedule in the league this year, and open up with three of their first four games on the road, including back-to-back games against teams that are almost completely different offensively (Jacksonville and Oakland) than they were a year ago.
Houston Texans: The Texans have the fourth-toughest strength of schedule this year, and their road slate is not favorable. The Saints, Chiefs, Ravens and Chargers are all travel games. I would not volunteer to be the team that opens against Sean Payton in the Superdome after that missed call.
Denver Broncos: A staggering nine games against teams over .500 in 2019. And, the other teams who had losing records are the Jaguars, the Packers, the Browns and the Bills—all teams that theoretically got much better this offseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Always complicated thanks to their dual citizenship, the Jaguars also open with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, then will travel to Houston before playing in the second true short-rest Thursday night game against the Titans. There is no real “relief” on this schedule (by my definition, a home game against an inferior opponent), until Week 8 against the Jets.