Written By Billy Attridge
Continuing with schedule previews for all 32 NFL teams after last weeks inaugural article, we head South to the AFC and NFC where the hardest and easiest schedules reside with Atlanta and Indianapolis, respectively. We examine a 7-week stretch for the Titans that will surely test Ryan Tannehill and his new contract, and we’ll see if all the hype surrounding Tampa Bay and Tom Brady’s signing is warranted after their 8-game midseason stretch! Over the next two weeks our schedule analysis will continue with both the North and West divisions, so mark your calendar.
Houston Texans: (131.25 Wins Faced)
Best Spot: Week 13, Home vs. Indianapolis Colts – After playing the Lions Thanksgiving day, Houston gets an additional rest period before hosting the Colts in their first meeting of the season. Sandwiched between road games versus NFC North opponents, Bill O’Brian should utilize this extra prep time to try and find an advantage outside of Deshaun Watson making spectacular plays in the 4th quarter to give the Texans a fighting chance.
Worst Spot: Week 14, Away vs. Chicago Bears – Immediately following what appears to be one of the more favorable spots for Houston, they travel to Chicago for their 4th road game in 6 weeks, while staring down the barrel of another road game in Indianapolis. Chicago won’t be traveling for this game after hosting Detroit Week 13. This marks a 3-game stretch where the Texans face elite defensive edge rushers between the Colts (2x) and Bears. We could see Watson running for his life Weeks 13 through 15, especially if Houston’s offensive line doesn’t improve after last seasons 8.4% adjusted sack rate allowed mark.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 1-4 – There isn’t a tougher schedule in the NFL the first month of the season than Houston’s when assessing their “wins faced” metric. Opening with a road game in Kansas City, followed by AFC North games against Baltimore and at Pittsburgh, while concluding with Minnesota. The average projected win totals of those four teams is 10.2! Houston needs to avoid a goose egg during this opening stretch, as the only game they could be favored in is week 4 hosting Minnesota, a spread which projects near PICK’em at this juncture.
Indianapolis Colts: (122.35 Wins Faced)
Best Spot: Week 11, Home vs. Green Bay Packers – Green Bay enters playing their 4th road game in 6 weeks before going on to host divisional rival Chicago for a primetime Sunday Night game. On the other sideline, Indianapolis is off a Thursday Night game in Tennessee and has the bonus of gaining extra rest and prep time for this matchup.
Worst Spot: Week 10, Away at Tennessee Titans – I’ll be blunt, the Colts schedule is far and away the easiest in the NFL for 2020 as previously stated. For other teams, this scheduling spot with Indianapolis traveling to Tennessee probably wouldn’t sniff the Top 3 in difficulty, but following a game against Baltimore, it could be trickier than first glance. Both the Ravens and Titans employ a bruising style of play on the offensive side of the ball, and with four days between games this could be a situation where Derrick Henry is licking his chops in the second half against a battered and fatigued Colts front 7.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 9-14 – During this 6-game stretch the Colts face opponents with an average win total of 8.73, with games five and six on the road in Houston and Las Vegas. As mentioned above, three of these games are against uber physical teams in Tennessee (2x) and Baltimore, along with a home game against 2019 NFC North champion Green Bay. All in all, Indianapolis has an extremely favorable schedule – and after the debacle of Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement weeks before last season, we’re of the opinion Chris Ballard and company deserve it!
Jacksonville Jaguars: (131.05 Wins Faced)
Best Spot: Week 16, Home vs. Chicago Bears – Chicago hits the highway for the 2nd time in as many weeks after traveling to Minnesota the week prior. This spot is sandwiched between a Week 15 trip to Minnesota and a Week 17 home game against Green Bay. The lone concern here (and to be frank, with the entire season) is Jacksonville could be looking to best position itself to win the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes, so following coaching tendencies and starting lineups will be vital at this point in the season.
Worst Spot: Week 5, Away at Houston Texans – Jacksonville’s lone sector of the season where they play 3 road games in 4 weeks lands them in Houston for a divisional AFC South clash. The Texans beat the Jaguars twice last season, and with a win total of 4.5 flat at FoxBet.com this year, the outlook could be bleak once again for Doug Marrone and Minshew Mania. Houston’s coming off their toughest stretch of the season (see above), and could be in desperate need for a win here.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 10-15 – Oof. Weeks 10-15 are not kind with Jacksonville squaring off against opponents with an average projected “wins faced” of 9.21. They start by traveling to Lambeau field to face Green Bay, continue with home games against the Steelers and Browns, then conclude with a three game stretch versus run heavy, physical offenses in Minnesota, Tennessee, and Baltimore. The lone bright spot is consistency; every game during this stretch is played Sunday at 1:00pm eastern. Reaching 5 wins this season will be challenging.
Tennessee Titans: (125.25 Wins Faced)
Best Spot: Week 5, Home vs. Buffalo Bills – In the middle of a 3-game home stretch for the Titans, they welcome back Buffalo with a little revenge on their mind from last season’s 14-7 loss at home in inclement weather. For the Bills, this will be their 3rd road game in 4 weeks, and they are coming off a trip to Las Vegas in week 4, with a Thursday night primetime game against the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. Can Tennessee take advantage of the lone Bills weakness defensively from last season, where they finished 18th in defensive rush efficiency and 26th in explosive run percentage allowed?
Worst Spot: Week 17, Away at Houston Texans – Projecting ahead for Week 17 games is dicey for a plethora of reasons, but that doesn’t take away the fact that this is Tennessee’s 5th road game in 7 weeks off a Sunday night game in Green Bay during the toughest stretch of the schedule. Houston won’t be traveling in between Week 16 and 17, and this one could have playoff implications written all over it.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 11-17 – Mentioned above, this run of games will surely make or break the Titans season. With 5 of 7 on the highway, including trips to Baltimore, Indianapolis, Green Bay and Houston, newly inked quarterback Ryan Tannehill will have to earn that shiny new contract. Cleveland and Detroit are the two teams coming to Nashville, and both have taken early OVER money on their season win total. The Titans can’t afford to slip up in Week 14 at Jacksonville, the only game during this stretch where a team’s win total is currently below 7 wins.
Atlanta Falcons: (137.15 Wins Faced)
Best Spot: Week 13, Home vs. New Orleans – The Falcons have the toughest schedule in the NFL this season, but in Week 13 opportunity could present itself. After hosting the Raiders Week 12, Atlanta stays put facing their division rival Saints. This will be New Orleans 2nd road game in their 3-game highway run, and they’ll be coming back from a west-coast trip at elevation in Denver.
Worst Spot: Week 14, Away at Los Angeles Chargers – Sandwiched between two home NFC South games looms a trip to the west coast to face the Chargers. Los Angeles will be coming off a home game in Week 13 against New England, while the Falcons attempt to grab a win during their toughest stretch of the season (see below).
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 11-17 – There are no cake-walks in 2020 for Atlanta and things really toughen starting Week 11 in New Orleans. Over the final 7 games of the season, the Falcons face opponents with a projected average win total of 9.58, and 4 of those 7 games are on the highway. Additionally, Atlanta has an interesting scheduling quirk where they play division rivals (New Orleans and Tampa Bay) 2 out of 3 weeks, with a AFC West non-conference game sandwiched between. To top it off, between those 3 game stretches they head west to take on the Chargers. The schedule makers did Dan Quinn and company no favors this season.
Carolina Panthers: (136.05 Wins Faced)
Best Spot: Week 14, Home vs. Denver Broncos – Coming off their bye, Carolina welcomes Denver to the east coast for a 1:00pm kickoff. One could make a sound case that “West coast teams traveling east for a 1:00pm kick” is not only factored into the line, but sometimes over-adjusted. That said, it’s still not an ideal travel situation for a football team. For the Broncos, this game comes after a primetime road trip for Sunday night football against division foe Kansas City. Additionally, Denver’s final 3 games after their non-conference trip to Carolina are all against AFC teams where playoff positioning could be on the line.
Worst Spot: Week 7, Away at New Orleans Saints – As the new guy in the NFC South, Matt Rhule won’t properly be welcomed to the division until he takes on the Saints in the Superdome. For Rhule and company, this will also be their 4th road game in 6 weeks, while Sean Payton and the boys have an extra week of rest and prep to game-plan for his former protégé and offensive guru Joe Brady. With Teddy Bridgewater at the helm for Carolina, this game will be loaded with familiar faces.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 2-10 – During a 9-game stretch at the beginning of the season with no bye, the Panthers face opponents whose average projected win total is 8.82, with 5 of those 9 on the road. Carolina opens with trips to Tampa and Los Angeles (chargers), play five division games in this sector, and also hit the road to square off against Super Bowl champion Kansas City Week 9.
New Orleans Saints: (132.55 Wins Faced)
Best Spot: Week 16, Home vs. Minnesota Vikings – Oooh! Sweet revenge will be on the minds of New Orleans as they joust against the team responsible for bouncing them in the NFC wildcard round as an 8-point underdog. This is a Christmas Day game (Friday), coming after a home game against the Chiefs. With Carolina on deck for New Orleans in week 17, the game-plan and entire week of prep will assuredly be 100% focused on the Vikings.
Worst Spot: Week 14, Away at Philadelphia Eagles – Tough one here. New Orleans hits the road for their 3rd straight game when traveling to the City of Brotherly Love to take on the Eagles. Coming off road trips to Denver and Atlanta, with a home game against Kansas City on deck (flex for Sunday night football?), this spot becomes challenging. It will mark the first game between Philadelphia and New Orleans since Alshon Jeffrey’s dropped pass in the 2018 NFC divisional round that ultimately cost the Eagles a birth to the NFC Championship game.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 12-15 – I easily could’ve marked down Weeks 8-16, as New Orleans opponents have an average projected win total of 8.98, which is an incredibly tough stretch of competition spanning 9-weeks. I narrowed it down to 4 games where the Saints play three straight road games (Denver, Atlanta, Philadelphia) followed by Kansas City at home (with the Minnesota revenge game is on deck). If Drew Brees and company can navigate this treacherous stretch and get out of dodge .500, I think they would consider it a success.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: (129 Wins Faced)
Best Spot: Week 6, Home vs. Green Bay Packers – After a Thursday night game in Chicago, Tampa gets extra rest and prep for Aaron Rodgers as the Pack come to town, something that could mean more for a team with new parts. In one of the rare Brady vs. Rodgers clashes, Green Bay enters off of a bye. While there isn’t really any “home run” spots for Tampa as you project out prior to the season, you could make the case with Matt Lafleur leading the way for Green Bay, he won’t do much with his bye week. It was very apparent after the initial script, Lafleur struggled making adjustments. Like a pitcher with no secondary pitch. Coming off the bye last season in San Francisco, the Matt Lafleur-led Packers were blitzed 37-8.
Worst Spot: Week 10, Away at Carolina – The Buccaneers come off a Sunday night game against division foe New Orleans, and now travel to Carolina for their 4th road game in 6 weeks. This is the only contest in a 5-game stretch that’s not played in a primetime slot, so there’s potential to see “flat spot” of sorts for Tampa Bay.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 5-12 – I won’t tout that this “extremely difficult” stretch is filled with a murderers row of opponents when the Raiders, Giants, and Panthers are included. However, all three of those games are on the road, and then toss in Green Bay, New Orleans, the Rams and Kansas City, with another road trip to Chicago, and you can quickly see how interesting these 8 weeks could be. With 5 of the games played in primetime, Tampa will be at the forefront of the national media while taking every teams best shot. If Tampa flounders a bit, could the pressure of the season start to wear on them?