NFC Schedule Analysis
June 1, 2018
By Joe Nelson
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The NFL draft grabs most of the headlines in the spring NFL news cycle, but the release of the NFL schedule is often more important to the chance of success for each team this season. Here is a brief spring look at the 2018 NFL schedule in the four NFC divisions:
NFC EAST: The East produced the Super Bowl champion last season and the Philadelphia Eagles will draw some challenges on the 2018 slate although it is a balanced path with reasonable spacing between what appears to be the toughest games. October will be a telling month for the Eagles, particularly with Carson Wentz under the microscope early in the season returning from injury. From Week 5-8 the Eagles host Minnesota, then play at the Giants on a short week for a Thursday night game. A home game with the Panthers comes next before a trip to London to take on the Jaguars.
Dallas only plays six games vs. 2017 playoff teams compared to the rest of the division featuring seven games each, but the Cowboys do face a difficult road schedule in 2018 with no easy outs until potentially December. Dallas will get to play five games vs. teams with coaching changes from last season but the Cowboys and the Giants will both play half of their games against starting quarterbacks that finished 2017 in the league’s top 10 in QBR and that doesn’t include games vs. Deshaun Watson or Cam Newton early in the year.
The Giants have the weakest schedule in the division by the 2017 records as Pat Shurmur should have New York showing improvement in the win column although for a team in transition the schedule the first two months is quite daunting. Washington has the least travel mileage in the NFC East, but also draws the league’s earliest bye week in Week 4. The Redskins look like a candidate for a hot start facing a pair of new coaching staffs in the first two weeks but things could turn in the middle of the season.
NFC SOUTH: If there is a playoff team from 2017 that could see a drop in results attributed to the schedule it might be the Carolina Panthers. Carolina has three sets of back-to-back road games and will face four road games vs. 2017 playoff teams. The solid Panthers defense has 10 games vs. top QBR quarterbacks from 2017 as well for the most in the league. Carolina has the fewest travel miles in the entire league, but overall, it is a grueling path with quality competition.
Atlanta also draws four road games vs. 2017 playoff squads and the Falcons have a very tough first five weeks on schedule even with three of those games at home. The Falcons look like a team likely to get on a roll in a soft middle of the schedule and could remain a viable NFC threat with the fortune of a third place slate despite winning 10 games last season.
The Saints technically won the division in 2017 winning the tiebreaker over the Panthers and that means eight games vs. 2018 playoff teams and being the only team in the division that plays the Vikings and Rams for a likely disadvantage compared with the rest of this division. New Orleans has the potential to start strong with three losing teams from 2017 on the September block, but November looks like a very treacherous month and by 2017 win percentage the Saints have the second-toughest schedule in the league. The Buccaneers are in a difficult division and also will play eight games vs. 2017 playoff teams, though five of those games are at home. Opening with the Saints, Eagles, and Steelers is a brutal path and then road games in four of the next five games follow as midseason changes are possible in Tampa Bay unless the team finds a few upsets.
NFC NORTH: The Green Bay Packers will be considered a possible bounce-back team after a lost 2017 season without Aaron Rodgers much of the way. Green Bay has the league’s toughest schedule by 2017 win percentage and also draws three sets of back-to-back road games and five marquee TV games for some difficult timing certain weeks. Green Bay looks like a team that should start strong with a manageable early season schedule before a pair of difficult road games on both coasts following a Week 7 bye.
Minnesota will be considered one of the NFC favorites and the Vikings will potentially be in line for a more difficult start to the season. Road games in Green Bay, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia are all in the first five weeks while Kirk Cousins debuts against a potentially formidable San Francisco team. The Vikings have to play the Eagles, Patriots, and Seahawks on the road as matching last season’s 13-3 record looks difficult. Chicago looks like the sleeper in the NFC North even in a transition season with the Bears drawing a nice first half schedule and an overall slate that features only four 2017 playoff teams with only the division game with Minnesota being on the road. Chicago plays four teams with new head coaches and only four games vs. the top 10 QBR quarterbacks in 2017.
Detroit draws a second place schedule which means a more challenging path than a team that was just 9-7 last season deserves. Add a coaching change plus a decline in the 5-1 division record likely and things are pointing downward in Detroit. The Lions do have a reasonable first half schedule as they could hang around for a while as overall the North has some promise in the NFC with the NFC West and AFC East pulls bringing in several potentially bad teams to all four schedules.
NFC WEST: The Los Angeles Rams made aggressive offseason moves looking build on last season’s success. The schedule is a potential pitfall for the Rams with long travel and many quality teams on the path. The Rams are one of two teams that will have to play three-straight road games at one point while Los Angeles also loses a home game to play in Mexico City. The Rams only play four games vs. 2017 playoff teams and still looks like the favorite in the division, but the first half schedule could take a toll on goals for a top NFC seed.
San Francisco is getting a lot of support as a threat to move to playoff contention in 2018 after showing a lot of late season life in 2017. Four road games vs. quality teams fill the first six weeks of the schedule as the potential of this team will be discovered early. Long travel is the norm for San Francisco and three of four games vs. 2017 playoff teams are on the road, but San Francisco will benefit from facing six games vs. teams with new head coaches.
Arizona has a tough road schedule ahead in 2018 as they figure to be an underdog in every road test and often a substantial one. Arizona pulls the potentially stronger teams from the NFC North and AFC West on the road but for a team in transition getting better opportunities at home might be preferable. The early season slate is reasonable as the Cardinals could have a few wins early to help the transition.
Seattle has among the most travel miles in the NFL and in a year when they have a road game vs. its closest possible foe geographically, that game with Oakland is being played London. Having only seven true road games is a plus but five of the first seven games are away from home for a tough first half. Seattle oddly has four national TV games on the schedule in the final seven weeks which the networks look likely to regret. Ultimately the schedule isn’t great for the Seahawks but it is not likely the biggest issue for the 2018 prospects of the team.
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