Written By Billy Attridge
We trek North to the AFC and NFC divisions this week as we follow up Part 1 and Part 2 of our 32 team NFL schedule preview series. For this iteration of the AFC North we’ll examine a difficult stretch for the Ravens Weeks 6-12 that will assuredly test their championship chops. With the NFC North seemingly wide-open, will the Green Bay Packers mid-season stretch against Pro Bowl caliber signal callers prove to be too much, or will Aaron Rodgers find a way to pull a rabbit out of his hat? With the 2020 NFL Season inching closer, we try to uncover a few more nuggets to help you prepare.
Baltimore Ravens: (Wins Faced: 127.05)
Best Spot: Week 3, Home vs. Kansas City Chiefs – Not often an early season game gets the hype we’ll see in week 3 with Kansas City traveling to Baltimore for Monday Night Football. The Ravens comeback fell short last season as they couldn’t climb out of an early hole at Arrowhead, but now they have an opportunity to stake their claim as the AFC’s top dog. For the Chiefs, this is their second road game in a row and they’ll be traveling from Los Angeles after facing the chargers, meanwhile a home game against newly signed Cam Newton and the Patriots awaits.
Worst Spot: Week 12, Away vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – After week 11’s “revenge game” hosting Tennessee, the Ravens hit the road for the 3rd time in 4 weeks to face division rival Pittsburgh Thursday night. This clash comes in the middle of their toughest stretch (below), so we’ll see if Pittsburgh can grab a home win after dropping both games to Baltimore last season. As noted above, Baltimore comes off a very physical Tennessee game the week prior, so 3 days rest for a quick turnaround road trip against another physical Pittsburgh squad could prove to be too daunting.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 6-12 – Over this 7-game stretch Baltimore faces opponents projected to win 9.06 games, with 5 of those 7 on the road. The Ravens have a chance to exhale with a week 8 bye after facing the Eagles and the Steelers, but then have back-to-back road games against Indianapolis and New England. Baltimore closes this stretch with two road games against division foes Pittsburgh and Cleveland, with a home non-conference game against Dallas sandwiched between. 4 of the 7 games are in featured primetime slots to boot.
Cincinnati Bengals: (Wins Faced: 132.65)
Best Spot: Week 14, Home vs. Dallas Cowboys – This scheduling spot is predicated on where it falls for Dallas more than anything else. In the midst of their toughest stretch, the Cowboys play their 3rd road game in 4 weeks at Cincinnati, on the heels of squaring off against Super Bowl favorite Baltimore. Following the Bengals game, Dallas hosts San Francisco and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks, two teams priced over 9.5 wins at FoxBet.com. Could Dallas fall victim to looking ahead in this situation?
Worst Spot: Week 6, Away at Indianapolis Colts – To conclude a difficult stretch at the seasons onset, Cincinnati hits the highway for their 4th game in 5 weeks to face AFC South favorite Indianapolis. Adding to an already difficult task, this comes after a road game in Baltimore. For the Colts, this marks the final game before their bye where you would expect Frank Reich and company to be razor focused to end the first portion of the season on a high note.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 1-6 – Being an effective Week 1 starting rookie quarterback in the NFL is nearly an impossible mission, now imagine the increased difficulty doing so with a limited off-season? That’s what Heisman winner Joe Burrow is being tasked with. Tack on the fact that 4 of Tiger King’s first 6 games are on the road against pre-season playoff contenders in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Indianapolis; let’s see what the young man is made of. Burrow will be challenged immediately against an elite Chargers secondary featuring two of the leagues best ends in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The only game Cincinnati is currently favored in during this stretch comes Week 4 against Jacksonville.
Cleveland Browns: (Wins Faced: 126.05)
Best Spot: Week 11, Home vs. Philadelphia Eagles – Not only is this Cleveland’s 3rd consecutive home game, but with a Week 9 bye the Browns will be in Ohio for a month. New head coach Kevin Stefanski is familiar with how to successfully attack a Jim Schwartz’s defense, and we know the array of Browns weapons at his disposal are top shelf. For Philly, this is their second road game after a trip to New York to take on the Giants Week 10 – and their playoff revenge game against Seattle is on deck in a Monday Night Football showcase.
Worst Spot: Week 16, Away at New York Jets – During the toughest portion of Cleveland’s schedule they head to New York for back-to-back road games against the Giants and Jets. Gang Green was clobbered in primetime against Cleveland last season, and now face the Browns in a favorable position. This will be Cleveland’s 4th road game in 5 weeks with the hated Steelers on deck. Meanwhile, the Jets return from their west coast trip where they will have been for two weeks, plus this is their final home game of the season.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 12-17 – Opponents over the final 6 weeks won’t knock your socks off but this is still the NFL and road games always present a challenge. 4 of Cleveland’s last 6 games are on the highway, albeit against Jacksonville, Tennessee, and both New York squads. With the only two home games against division opponents Baltimore (Monday night football) and Pittsburgh, it will be important for the Browns to steal a few of those road games if they want to have any shot at making the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers: (Wins Faced: 127.05)
Best Spot: Week 12, Home vs. Baltimore Ravens – Is there a bigger game on the Steelers schedule than a primetime Thanksgiving day battle against Baltimore? Sandwiched between games against Jacksonville and Washington, this one sets up nicely for Pittsburgh. It’s Baltimore’s 3rd road game in 4 weeks on the heels of a playoff revenge game against a Tennessee Titans squad that derailed their Super Bowl aspirations a season ago. Playing Tennessee and Pittsburgh over a 5 day span will take its toll mentally and physically.
Worst Spot: Week 15, Away at Cincinnati Bengals – After facing Buffalo for Sunday Night Football the Steelers head to Cincinnati for the Monday Night game week 15. With the Colts and Cleveland on deck, and Pittsburgh playing their 3rd primetime game in 4 weeks, is there a chance Cincinnati could pull what would likely be an upset here? Joe Burrow will be far more acclimated to Zach Taylor’s system at this juncture of the season.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 5-9 – Despite having a Week 8 bye this remains the most difficult stretch for Pittsburgh. Opponent win projections for the 2020 NFL season over this stretch is 9.74, with two of the games in Baltimore and Dallas. Weeks 5 and 6 the Steelers play host to Philly and Cleveland, but those loom after a trip to Tennessee. In what should be a fairly competitive AFC North, Pittsburgh must take care of business at home if they want any shot at hoisting the division crown.
Chicago Bears: (Wins Faced: 126.85)
Best Spot: Week 14, Home vs. Houston Texans – After hosting Detroit Week 13, Chicago welcomes non-conference foe Houston late in the campaign. While there’s nothing earth-shattering here, this will be the Texans 4th road game in 6 weeks, and it just so happens to be sandwiched between their home-and-away series against division rival Indianapolis. The Bears have two road games on deck with Minnesota and Jacksonville, so taking care of business at home is imperative here.
Worst Spot: Week 7, Away at Los Angeles Rams – Chicago travels to Los Angeles Week 7 for Monday Night Football, after having an east coast game against the Panthers Week 6. For the Rams, this is their only home game during a 4-week stretch that includes two east coast matchups against Washington and Miami. This is a less than ideal situation for Chicago.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 7-12 – A Week 11 bye should help Chicago combat a brutal stretch in the middle of the season. Their opponents average “Wins Faced” metric is 9.08, with 3 of the 5 games on the road. Add a trip to the west coast, two Monday Night Football games, while hosting Minnesota and New Orleans, you suddenly see Chicago will have their hands full.
Detroit Lions: (Wins Faced: 127.1)
Best Spot: Week 12, Home vs. Houston Texans – On a short Thanksgiving week Detroit will have an opportunity to get the holiday rolling with a victory against a non-conference opponent. For Houston, this will be their 3rd road game in 4 weeks on the heels of a home game against New England; a matchup that has both squads undivided attention due to coaching familiarity. Following Week 12, Houston has a monster game at home versus fellow AFC South contender Indianapolis.
Worst Spot: Week 11, Away at Carolina Panthers – Arguably ahead of Detroit’s best spot this season, comes a game that could sneak up on them and cause issues. Week 11 the Lions travel to Carolina for their 4th road game in 6 weeks, and as mentioned above, comes before their primteime Thanksgiving game against Houston. For Carolina, this will be their second home game in as many weeks so travel is a non-issue.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 1-4 – Detroit will be tested from the onset as they host Chicago, travel to Green Bay and Arizona, and then host New Orleans before an early Week 5 bye. The tiny glimmer of hope for Detroit is that this stretch includes two teams whose season win totals have taken early under money (Chicago and Green Bay) – and that after Week 5 the Lions schedule eases up. Outside of their Week 12 game Thanksgiving day, Detroit failed to secure another primetime matchup this season.
Green Bay Packers: (Wins Faced: 130)
Best Spot: Week 16, Home vs. Tennessee Titans – Matt LaFleur will face his former employer as the Titans come to town late in the season for Sunday Night Football. For Green Bay, this will be their second consecutive home game after hosting Carolina Week 15. This will mark Tennessee’s 4th road game in 6 weeks during the midst of their toughest stretch of the season (with a road game at Houston to conclude the campaign). Aaron Rodgers at home in December has been “money” to say the least, we’ll see if that trend continues for this December 27th night game at Lambeau Field.
Worst Spot: Week 9, Away at San Francisco 49ers – The Bay Area wasn’t a pleasant destination for Green and Gold after getting trounced 37-8 exiting their bye, but this is a different level of difficult. On a short week (TNF), Green Bay plays their 3rd road game in 4 weeks on the west coast after playing NFC North favorite Minnesota. The 49ers themselves have a tough stretch around this week 9 matchup, as this marks their only home game in 4 weeks with visits to New England, Seattle and New Orleans. Can Green Bay figure out how to stop Kyle Shanahan’s rush attack this time around? In the two matchups against San Francisco last season, Matt LaFleur’s offensive game plan and script delivered a 22% passing success rate in the first half of both games combined.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 3-9 – Green Bay hits the highway for 4 of their 6 games during this difficult stretch. It starts and ends with road games against the two NFC teams with the highest projected win totals in New Orleans and San Francisco. Sandwiched between, Green Bay has a Monday Night contest against Atlanta, followed by a bye week, and then road games in Tampa Bay and Houston before hosting Minnesota. The Packers pass rush and secondary better be in form during this stretch, as they’ll draw Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Deshaun Watson, Kirk Cousins, and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Minnesota Vikings: (Wins Faced: 129.1)
Best Spot: Week 12, Home vs. Carolina Panthers – In the middle of 3-straight home games, the Vikings host Carolina before the Panthers Week 12 bye. Coming off a home game against Dallas, with Jacksonville on deck, the Vikings are primed to face former starting signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater.
Worst Spot: Week 16, Away at New Orleans Saints – In a rare Friday American football game, Minnesota travels to New Orleans for a Wildcard Round rematch at the Superdome. Sandwiched between two division games (home vs. Chicago and at Detroit) with revenge on the minds of the Saints, this looks to be a challenging spot for the Vikings. New Orleans hosts Kansas City the week before, so there’s no travel issue to speak of.
Toughest Stretch: Weeks 1-5 – Minnesota opens with 4 of 5 games against playoff teams from last season, with the lone exception Week 2 at the Phillip Rivers-led Colts. After starting with a game against Green Bay, 3 of the Vikings next 4 are on the road, including a west coast trip to Seattle for Sunday Night Football. If the Purple People Eaters can make it out of this 5-game stretch above .500, a home date looms against Atlanta before their much needed bye.