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Warren Sharp

Against the Spread

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Superior Strength of Schedule

Tuesday, May 15, 2018



24. Washington Redskins

Seeming to face difficult schedules annually, the Skins again draw a tough 2018 road including a league-high six top-ten opponents. Washington does face the bottom-five Cardinals and Colts to start off, but has the NFL’s earliest bye (Week 4) and plays eight opponents ranked in the top 14 in their ensuing ten games. From Weeks 3-17, the Skins face the toughest schedule in the NFL. And all three of their primetime games are on the road.

23. Los Angeles Rams

The Rams have the NFL’s fifth-highest win total, but unlike the Patriots, Steelers, Eagles, and Vikings, Los Angeles must get it done against a difficult slate. The good news is the Rams draw their three toughest opponents (Philly, Minnesota, Green Bay) at home. Probably the most dangerous spot for the Rams will be a Week 7 road game at San Francisco – their third road game in a row – followed by the Packers at home, then back on the road to face the Saints. While this schedule is tough, it should at very least battle test the Rams enough to adjust before meeting these familiar NFC opponents in the postseason.

22. Philadelphia Eagles

All of the highly-rated NFC teams for 2018 were really good last year. Many of them won their divisions, setting up stellar battles thanks to the way the schedule is made. The Eagles draw the Falcons, Vikings, Saints, and Rams, leaving only the Packers as a top NFC foe off Philadelphia’s schedule. The Eagles do play the seventh-easiest slate in September before embarking on the fifth-toughest schedule the rest of the way. The Eagles’ only non-top-half opponents from October onward are the in-division Redskins and Giants. It is notable that from Weeks 8-17, the Eagles face the easiest schedule of opposing run defenses.

21. Minnesota Vikings

Chalk it up to playing in the NFC – a far superior conference to the AFC – but yet again we have a very good NFC team with a tough slate. But, frankly, I’d rather play the Rams or Eagles’ schedule than the Vikings. And that is because they must face so many of their toughest opponents on the road, such as Philadelphia, the L.A. Rams, Green Bay, and New England. The Vikings’ at-home schedule is quite favorable, however, specifically games against the Dolphins, Cardinals, and Bills.

20. Denver Broncos

The Broncos face a sneaky-tough schedule with a fair share of layups (Jets, Cardinals, Browns) but a ton of mid-tier opponents that are expected to have success against Denver based on the Broncos’ own win-total projections. Denver is only favored at home once by the standard three-point home-field advantage (vs. Browns), and on the road the Broncos are underdogs by over three points in five of their eight lined games. Denver does draw the NFL’s seventh-easiest schedule of opposing pass defenses, which is good news for new quarterback Case Keenum.

19. Dallas Cowboys

Expect the Cowboys to ride Ezekiel Elliott as hard as possible; not only are Dez Bryant and Jason Witten gone, but the Cowboys face the NFL’s fifth-toughest schedule of pass defenses. In Weeks 1-14, Dallas faces the league’s fourth-toughest overall slate. It’s a schedule that features just one bottom-ten opponent and zero bottom-five foes. Making matters worse is that the Cowboys’ defense faces the fourth-toughest slate of pass offenses. The teams they face struggled to run the ball last year, however, which could keep Dallas in games if their opponents have leads but fail to run out the clock.

18. Carolina Panthers

The Panthers won’t like the front or back ends of their schedule, but from Weeks 3-14 they play the NFL’s third-softest slate. Carolina’s Week 4 bye comes a bit early but may be useful for a team learning a new offensive scheme under Norv Turner. The Panthers project to face the NFL’s third-toughest schedule in the final three weeks (Falcons, Saints twice), but at least two of them are at home in Carolina. The Panthers paired C.J. Anderson with Christian McCaffrey and face the NFL’s third-easiest schedule of run defenses this year.

17. Chicago Bears

Like the Panthers, the Bears’ offense might be able to capitalize on its early (Week 5) bye. Chicago has the NFL’s second-softest schedule through Week 10. They play five bottom-five teams during that span, although they are favored in just three of those games because the Bears are also viewed as a bottom-five team. Note that Chicago plays the NFL’s fourth-softest schedule of opposing defenses, including the fifth-easiest schedule of pass defenses after heavily upgrading their passing game in the offseason.

16. Atlanta Falcons

Of all the top NFC teams we expect to vie for home-field advantage, only the Packers have an easier road than the Falcons. Following a revenge game against the Super Bowl champion Eagles in Week 1, Atlanta plays five of its next six games at home, then enters a bye. Between Weeks 3-9, the Falcons face the NFL’s second-easiest run-defense schedule. And given their likely game script in these meetings – and how so many are at home – look for the Falcons’ running backs to start the season faster than expected.

15. Buffalo Bills

The Bills face the NFL’s toughest schedule in Weeks 1-6, including road games at the Vikings, Packers, Texans, and Ravens. Buffalo also faces the NFL’s second-toughest schedule of run defenses, which will put more onto A.J. McCarron or Josh Allen’s plate. The only reason the Bills’ schedule isn’t rated tougher in these rankings is because they play the Jets and Dolphins twice apiece. But make no mistake, this is a difficult slate that starts off especially tough.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh is the only team in football to play just one top-five opponent all year based on win totals. And thanks to a couple of games against the Browns (5.5-game win total), the Steelers’ schedule isn’t overly imposing. Pittsburgh has the good fortune of hosting the Falcons, Chiefs, and Ravens at Heinz Field before a Week 7 bye. But from Weeks 9-17, the Steelers draw the NFL’s fourth-toughest slate featuring strong AFC teams in the Jaguars, Chargers, and Patriots, and then the Saints in New Orleans. From Week 11 onward, the Steelers do face the league’s fourth-easiest schedule of run defenses.

13. Cincinnati Bengals

Unlike the Steelers – who face the Browns twice early in the season – Cincinnati doesn’t face Cleveland until late in the year. And unlike the Steelers facing tough non-division teams like the Falcons and Chiefs early in the year at home, the Bengals must face them early in the year on the road. Throw in a trip to the Panthers and the only thing preventing the Bengals from having a tougher first seven weeks than Pittsburgh are games against the bottom-five Colts and Dolphins. Cincinnati does face the NFL’s eighth-easiest schedule of pass defenses this year.

12. Baltimore Ravens

While the Ravens face an easy slate in the first half of the season, their opponents are seventh best against the run in that span. But the Ravens’ rushing offense could kick into high gear after their bye. They have the league’s easiest schedule of run defenses in the final six weeks.

11. Indianapolis Colts

Although Indy plays in an improving AFC South and draws the Eagles and Patriots in the first five weeks, the Colts nearly have one of the league’s ten softest schedules. Indianapolis does face both Super Bowl 52 participants on the road, games in which Frank Reich’s team will likely be a double-digit underdog. Yet this gives the Colts more home games against easier competition, which is what you want if you’re pulling for a higher win-total ceiling. The Colts also face the NFL’s fifth-softest schedule of defenses, including the league’s easiest slate of run defenses (and rush defense correlates better year to year than pass defense). Indy’s season still hinges on Andrew Luck’s health. Sportsbooks currently appear to be operating as if Luck won’t play; the Colts are favored in only three games with a weak 6.0-game win total. The Colts played the NFL’s third-toughest pass-defense schedule last year and still led entering the fourth quarter in 9-of-16 games. Terrible, predictable coaching caused them to win just four of those games.


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