Ranking the NFL's Toughest Schedules of 2013

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Athlon Sports analyzes and ranks all 32 NFL schedules for 2013.

<p> Ranking the NFL's Toughest Schedules of 2013</p>

2013 NFL ScheduleThe NFL has got it all figured out. The most powerful, popular and lucrative sport in the history of sports has turned its annual schedule release into saliva-inducing, must-see TV for football-starved fans across the country.

And for the most part, all but two games have already been decided for every team. NFL schedules are fairly set in stone in terms of opponents. Each team rotates playing each division from the opposite conference every four years, each division in its own conference every three years and, of course, has its six division showdowns.

That leaves two open dates the NFL must fill for each team. Two games is all the NFL can manipulate in an effort to make a perceived playoff contender’s schedule more difficult and a perceived lower tier team’s schedule more favorable. Because of parity, scheduling isn’t the end-all, be-all determining factor for postseason success, but playing Jacksonville instead of New England sure does help.

Having said all of that, there are still many other subtleties the NFL must decide when it releases its schedule. Where to place bye weeks? Who plays on Thursdays and Mondays? What about home-road decisions? And the important back-loaded divisional schedules?

It's all part of the annual schedule party the NFL has created each spring. So with team and fan travel plans being feverishly orchestrated now that dates have been set, which teams appear poised to take advantage of a weaker slate (see Indianapolis last year)? And which will be facing the most daunting slate in 2013?

Related: 10 Things Every Fan Should Know about the 2013 NFL Schedule


1. Atlanta Falcons (2012: 13-3)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC West, AFC East
Swing Games: at Green Bay, Washington
Opposing '12 Record: .504 (15th)

A nasty crossover slate with the NFC West, two tough swing games against Green Bay and Washington, the New England Patriots and a division that has no easy games gives the Falcons what could be the toughest schedule in the NFL. A tricky road trip to New Orleans starts the year but Atlanta's schedule is front-loaded with home games (four of the first six). It means the two marquee late-season showdowns with NFC contenders San Francisco and Green Bay will come on the road. The only comfort comes in the form of AFC East games with Miami, Buffalo and the New York Jets. 

2. Minnesota Vikings (2012: 10-6)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC East, AFC North
Swing Games: Carolina, at Seattle
Opposing '12 Record: .516 (10th)

The NFC North teams will face arguably the toughest crossover schedules in the league, having to play what should be the deepest divisions in each conference. Add to it a road trip to Seattle and two games with the Packers and making the playoffs again feels like a tall order. The season begins with back-to-back road trips to Detroit and Chicago before a deadly eight-week mid-season stretch: at NY Giants, Packers, at Dallas, Washington, at Seattle, at Green Bay, Chicago and at Baltimore. The Vikes will play seven straight opponents who didn't having a losing record. No worries, Minnesota.

3. St. Louis Rams (2012: 7-8-1)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC South, AFC South
Swing Games: at Dallas, Chicago
Opposing '12 Record: .539 (4th)

The NFC West is likely the toughest division in football and having to face San Francisco and Seattle a combined four times is just unfair. Road trips to Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis and Carolina don't make matters any better. This schedule appears to match the gaudy .539 opponent's winning percentage and should be one of the toughest in the league. Anything above .500 might automatically make Jeff Fisher the Coach of the Year.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (2012: 11-5)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC East, NFC North
Swing Games: at San Diego, Indianapolis
Opposing '12 Record: .508 (12th)

The Bengals got no favors with their home schedule but fans in the Queen City will get their money's worth in 2013. The home slate features the Steelers, Packers, Patriots, Colts, Vikings and Ravens, five of which made the playoffs a year ago. The start and finish to the Bengals' season will be extremely tough, with two difficult five-game stretches bookending a softer heart of the slate. Other than an obviously difficult road trip to Baltimore, the middle six games provide a chance for Cincy to pick up some ground on its AFC competitors. If the Bengals are over .500 heading into the bye in Week 12, it would be considered a big success.

5. Green Bay Packers (2012: 11-5)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC East, AFC North
Swing Games: at San Francisco, Atlanta
Opposing '12 Record: .533 (6th)

The Packers have been an elite team for the better part of two decades so rarely does the franchise get scheduling breaks. This fall will be no different as Green Bay will face two of the top three teams — San Francisco and Atlanta — in the NFC as swing games. Four games with the NFC East and AFC North provide few breaks and six always cut-throat NFC North games will be challenging as usual. However, it all gets started outside of the division with an extremely trying three-game set against San Francisco in the Bay, Washington at home and at Cincinnati. With the bye week falling so early in Week 4, Green Bay will be faced with playing 13 straight games to end the year. And only two of the last 10 are against teams that posted losing records last season. 

6. Washington Redskins (2012: 10-6)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC North, AFC West
Swing Games: San Francisco, at Atlanta
Opposing '12 Record: .498 (18th)

Only the Packers will play a tougher set of swing games as the Redskins face both the Niners and Falcons in the final six weeks. Add to it battles with Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler as well as six always territorial divisional games and the 'Skins are facing one of the league's toughest schedules. That is to say nothing of the road trip to Minnesota. With Robert Griffin III's return still a guessing game, Washington needed some good news with the scheduling and it got absolutely no favors — other than the max five primetime games, of course.

7. Philadelphia Eagles (2012: 4-12)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC North, AFC West 
Swing Games: at Tampa Bay, Arizona
Opposing '12 Record: .496 (20th)

The good news is two relatively winnable swing games with the Cardinals and Bucs, home games with the Bears and Lions and meetings with the Raiders and Andy Reid-led Chiefs. However, the Eagles may not be favored in any other game it plays the rest of the season. The six games in the NFC East might be the toughest division schedule of any team in the NFL. No one in the league will play a tougher October: at Denver, at NY Giants, at Tampa Bay, Dallas, NY Giants. 

8. San Francisco 49ers (2012: 11-4-1)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC South, AFC South
Swing Games: Green Bay, at Washington
Opposing '12 Record: .520 (9th)

No one starts the season like the 49ers do. Green Bay, at Seattle, Indianapolis, at St. Louis and Houston at home gives the San Francisco the toughest but most exciting first month of anyone in the league. The Redskins and Robert Griffin III join the Packers in swing matches with the defending NFC Champions as well. The heart of this schedule eases up significantly (Arizona, Tennessee, Jacksonville, bye week, Carolina in order), but will get rough again in the final month and a half. Three key showdowns with the NFC North, including a primetime Week 16 battle with Atlanta, combine with three divisional games to create a daunting finish to the season for the Niners.

9. New England Patriots (2012: 12-4)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC North, NFC South
Swing Games: Denver, at Houston
Opposing '12 Record: .508 (14th)

The Patriots are in the easiest division in the easier conference but their schedule is balanced out by a nasty rotation of conference games. The Pats will play the toughest two possible swings games in their conference while also playing what could be the deepest division in the AFC North. Additionally, there is no easy out in the NFC South but at least the Saints must visit Foxborough — strangely, one week prior to the game Tom Brady COULD break Drew Brees' consecutive games with a touchdown streak. That said, the first month is a breeze and New England is all but guaranteed a 3-0 start.

10. Chicago Bears (2012: 10-6)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC East, AFC North
Swing Games: New Orleans, at St. Louis
Opposing '12 Record: .502 (16th)

There are much tougher sets of swing games than Chicago's games with the Saints and Rams, but there are also much easier ones too. An entire slate with the AFC North will be daunting as well for a reworked defense and offensive line that consistently struggles. The easiest two-game stretch on the schedule this fall for the Bears is a two-game road trip to Cleveland and Philadelphia in Weeks 15 and 16. And both of those could be nail-biters. This team should be excellent on offense but is slipping on defense and it will be tested by a host of elite quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers (twice), Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III, Matthew Stafford (twice) and Andy Dalton. 

11. New Orleans Saints (2012: 7-9)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC West, AFC East
Swing Games: at Chicago, Dallas
Opposing '12 Record: .539 (3rd)

The Saints need to get off to a hot start and take advantage of the home-road splits early on. Three of the first four and six of the first 10 are at home, however, Atlanta, San Francisco and Dallas are three of the home opponents. That leaves a pair of two-game road trips in the final six weeks. Where to? At Atlanta and Seattle in Weeks 12 and 13 and at St. Louis and Carolina in Weeks 15 and 16. The defense better have made significant strides in the first half if it expects to compete in the second. Road trips include visits to Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and Jay Cutler.

12. Jacksonville Jaguars (2012: 2-14)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC West, NFC West
Swing Games: at Cleveland, Buffalo
Opposing '12 Record: .508 (13th)

Two soft swing games won't ease the pain of having to face one of the toughest divisional schedules in the NFL as six with the Texans, Colts and Titans is no easy task. Crossover play features the brutal NFC West along with Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers from the AFC West. The Jaguars begin soft with Kansas City and Oakland and may not get another win until after the bye week in Week 9. This team might have to face one of the top five teams in the NFL five different times (Houston twice, no New England). Don't expect the Jaguars to be favored in more than two or three games.

13. Carolina Panthers (2012: 7-9)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC West, AFC East
Swing Games: NY Giants, at Minnesota
Opposing '12 Record: .543 (1st)

According to last year's records, the Panthers have the toughest schedule in the NFL. While the schedule isn't as daunting as those numbers might indicate, the team trying to scrap and claw its way above .500 got no favors from the league. Both swing games are tough and the foursome of NFC West tilts figures to be downright nasty. There is no break in the division for the Panthers either with all four teams sitting at 7-9 or better a year ago. Cam Newton will have to make headway early in the year despite facing the Seahawks in Week 1, the Giants in Week 3 and the Vikings on the road in Week 6. The second half of the season features two with Atlanta and New Orleans each, as well as New England and San Francisco. 

14. Seattle Seahawks (2012: 11-5)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC South, AFC South
Swing Games: Minnesota, at NY Giants
Opposing '12 Record: .516 (11th)

The start of the season looks to be plenty daunting with a huge matchup with San Francisco in Week 2. Road trips to face Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and the Houston Texans in the first five weeks sandwich the home game with the 49ers. There isn't much time to breathe as road trips to St. Louis and Atlanta and a visit from Adrian Peterson and the Vikings dot the middle of the schedule. The bye week comes late in the year and will be a welcome sight for a team that faces a nasty final month. Seattle will face the Saints at home, and the Niners and Giants on the road in back-to-back-back weekends to start December. The Seahawks should be able to exhale, however, as the final two are winnable division games at home.

15. Baltimore Ravens (2012: 11-5)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC East, NFC North
Swing Games: at Denver, Houston 
Opponents '12 Record: .535 (5th)

Just like the AFC rival New England, Baltimore will face a nasty pair of swing games in the conference as the season begins on the road against Peyton Manning. The Super Bowl champs also might have to defend their title playing in the deepest division in the AFC. But there is plenty of good news, however, as both the AFC East and NFC North crossover play are not all that daunting. Yes, Green Bay and New England are on the schedule, but so are the Lions, Bills, Jets, Bears, Dolphins and Vikings. There are clear tests for the Ravens but a repeat as the division champs is well within reach. The opponent's winning percentage looks stiff, but a few of Baltimore's opponents (Chicago, for example) appear to be trending in the wrong direction.

16. Detroit Lions (2012: 4-12)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC East, AFC North
Swing Games: at Arizona, Tampa Bay
Opposing '12 Record: .539 (2nd)

This is a crucial year for the powers that be in Detroit, and as one of the league's worst teams a year ago, the schedule in 2013 should be more manageable than in 2012. The Lions have the worst division schedule in the North as they don't get to face... themselves twice. But with a soft pair of swing games and an intriguing road schedule — five of the eight road games will be against teams that didn't make the playoffs a year ago — the Lions may have some chances at pull an upset or two. Atlanta, San Francisco and Seattle are obvious NFC omissions, giving Matthew Stafford a shot to improve on the four wins from a year ago. 

17. Arizona Cardinals (2012: 5-11)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC South, AFC South
Swing Games: Detroit, at Philadelphia
Opposing '12 Record: .520 (7th)

The Cardinals got a break with the Lions and Eagles in crossover play in what will be two of the few chances for wins in 2013. Arizona needs to get out of the gate fast once again and take advantage of three potential chances for wins in the first five (DET, TB, CAR) before a four-game stretch that includes the 49ers, Seahawks, Falcons and Texans. The schedule then lightens up again in late November and early December, however, the year will end with arguably the top two teams in the NFL: at Seattle and San Francisco at home.

18. Denver Broncos (2012: 13-3)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC East
Swing Games: Baltimore, at New England
Opposing '12 Record: .430 (32nd)

The Broncos posted the best record in the NFL last year and Denver looks like an early frontrunner to win the AFC. According to last year's win-loss record — which is always a dangerous endeavor — the Broncos will play the easiest schedule in the league. However, a four-pack with the NFC East is extremely dangerous and both swing games are nasty. Marquee showdowns with the Super Bowl champions and Tom Brady highlight a strong AFC schedule that also features the Colts and Texans as well. Additionally, the division will be much improved with the changes that have taken place in San Diego and Kansas City. Based on numbers this schedule doesn't appear to be all that daunting, but make no mistake, there is some serious juice to more than half of the Broncos schedule.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012: 7-9)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC West, AFC East
Swing Games: Eagles, at Detroit
Opposing '12 Record:  .500 (17th)

There are some brutal early season road trips and playing the entire NFC West is going to be rough, but there are some chances for wins in 2013 in Tampa. Both swing games are ones the Bucs should expect to win if they want to compete in the South — a division that featured three 7-9 teams a year ago. The AFC East also could serve up some victories for the Buccaneers. It might be a blessing facing New England and Seattle on the road since those would have been likely home losses. Tampa Bay has some tricky patches but there are few back-to-back surefire losses on this schedule and the Bucs could easily work their way back to seven wins.

20. Tennessee Titans (2012: 6-10)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC West, NFC West
Swing Games: at Pittsburgh, NY Jets
Opposing '12 Record: .488 (23rd)

The Titans have one of the more difficult AFC schedules in 2013. Four games with Houston and Indianapolis inside of the division are uphill battles as is a four-game set with the NFC West. Toss in road trips to Pittsburgh and Denver and a home visit from San Diego and Tennessee is looking at barely competing for .500. It has to defeat the Jaguars twice and win clutch home games with beatable opponents — Kansas City, NY Jets, Arizona — if the Titans want to improve on their six wins from last season.

21. Miami Dolphins (2012: 7-9)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC North, NFC South
Swing Games: at Indianapolis, San Diego
Opposing '12 Record: .520 (8th)

Traveling to the Colts and hosting the Chargers makes for two interesting swing games for a team bubbling just below the .500 surface. Eight tough crossover games with the NFC South and the AFC North give the Fish plenty of marquee home games — Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati — but also some brutal road trips — New Orleans, Pittsburgh. In the division is where Miami can make ground on a potential playoff bid. A 4--0 record against lowly New York and Buffalo is a must if the Dolphins want to compete for a Wild Card spot. 

22. New York Giants (2012: 9-7)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC North, AFC West
Swing Games: at Carolina, Seattle
Opposing '12 Record: .480 (24th)

The Giants' schedule is chalked full of juicy primetime matchups but doesn't seem to particularly overbearing. Three of the first four come on the road but are winnable, giving the Giants a favorable home-road split over the course of the second half. Also, playing the AFC West gives fans The Manning Bowl, but it also gives the Giants chances for wins. Battling with the NFC North is normally tough but the Giants have had Green Bay's number and it's hard seeing the rest of division improving. Once again, a balanced and tough but not elite division schedule will decide the Giants postseason fate.

23. New York Jets (2012: 6-10)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC North, NFC South
Swing Games: at Tennessee, Oakland
Opposing '12 Record: .496 (19th)

In a key year for Rex Ryan, the Jets got some help in the scheduling department. A pair of easy swing games, packaged with four games against Buffalo and Miami, gives New York a chance to flirt with seven or eight wins should all things fall into place. Five or six victories is a more likely target, as the slate features a long list of home games with non-playoff teams like Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Oakland and Cleveland. 

24. Cleveland Browns (2012: 5-11)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC East, NFC North
Swing Games: Jacksonville, Kansas City 
Opposing '12 record: .492 (21st)

Is it time for the Browns to begin to build in a positive direction? With easy crossover games with what could be each conference's worst division — the AFC East and NFC North — and two very winnable swing games, the answer appears to be yes. The Browns likely play the toughest intra-divisional schedule with six games against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati, but all signs point to an improvement on the five-win 2012 season. The Browns will play six teams that lost 10 or more games a season ago.

25. Dallas Cowboys (2012: 8-8)
AFC/NFC Crossover: NFC North, AFC West
Swing Games: St. Louis, at New Orleans
Opposing '12 Record: .480 (25th)

Crossover play should be kind to the 'Boys this fall as both the NFC North and AFC West appear to be one-bid divisions. And both the Packers and Broncos must play in Dallas. Additionally, neither swing game will come against a playoff team from last year despite both being quality opponents. Toss in two games against the lowly Eagles and home games against the arch-rival Washington Redskins and New York Giants and the Cowboys have to be thinking postseason. Noticeably absent from the NFC slate are the best three teams in the league: San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta.

26. Oakland Raiders (2012: 4-12)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC East
Swing Games: Pittsburgh, at NY Jets
Opposing '12 Record: .469 (29th)

There are some rough battles ahead for the Raiders in 2013 but the schedule makers did what they could to ease The Black Hole's pain. Two with Denver and one each with Indianapolis, Houston and the NFC East couldn't be helped. But the other half of the schedule isn't all that daunting, with Jacksonville, Tennessee, the Jets and two each with Kansas City and San Diego on tap, giving fans in Oakland some sliver of hope for this fall.

27. Buffalo Bills (2012: 6-10)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC North, NFC South
Swing Games: Kansas City, at Jacksonville
Opposing '12 Record: .496 (19th)

Few teams will get to play both 2-14 teams from a year ago but Buffalo does as it faces both Kansas City and Jacksonville in swing games. Four with the Jets and the Dolphins should give Doug Marrone and his new staff plenty of hope as well. They will need to make headway in those six as the other 10 are likely penciled in as loses. The NFC South round robin is brutal and the AFC North might be the deepest division in the AFC. And Buffalo gets to play New England to open and close the season. Winless in those ten is very possible.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers (2012: 8-8)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC East, NFC North
Swing Games: Tennessee, at Oakland
Opposing '12 Record: .496 (22nd)

The Steelers missed the postseason a year ago and enter a season with more questions marks than the Steel City has seen in over a decade. However, the schedule sets up nicely for Pittsburgh to make another run at the playoffs in 2013. Both crossover game are likely to be with one-bid divisions in the AFC East and NFC North, each of which could be their respective conference's worst. Both swings games are extremely winnable against the Titans at home and against what potentially could be the worst team in the league in Oakland. The six division games will be tough and a trip to Lambeau Field in Week 16 is poorly timed, but a home win over Cleveland in the season finale could easily put the Steelers into the playoffs. Back-to-back divisional road games to Baltimore and Cleveland late in November will be monumental. A trip to London in Week 4 is always difficult to predict and quantify.

29. Houston Texans (2012: 12-4)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC West, NFC West
Swing Games: at Baltimore, Patriots
Opposing '12 Record: .473 (27th)

There are some elite showdowns for the Texans in 2013 but there are also a lot of games in which they will be heavy favorites. Seattle, Denver, Indianapolis and New England at home are marquee matchups as are road trips to Baltimore, San Francisco and Indianapolis. Otherwise, the rest of schedule sets up nicely for Houston. Four with the Titans and Jaguars as well as the soft underbelly of the AFC West gives the Texans an easy path to another AFC South title. 

30. Kansas City Chiefs (2012: 2-14)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC East
Swing Games: Cleveland, at Buffalo
Opposing '12 Record: .473 (28th)

Andy Reid should find things to his liking in Kansas City this fall. On a team with sneaky-good talent, the schedule sets up nicely for some upward movement. There are fewer guaranteed losses on this schedule than one would imagine for a team that lost 14 games a year ago. The swing games are about as easy as the schedule makers could have made it on the Chiefs and there are worse things than battling with Jacksonville and Tennessee from the South. An intriguing slate of tough home games — Dallas, San Diego and the Giants — could feature an upset and should have fans in KC riled up.

31. Indianapolis Colts (2012: 11-5)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC West, NFC West
Swing Games: Miami, at Cincinnati
Opposing '12 Record: .461 (30th)

The Colts once again have a very favorable path to the postseason. A 3-1 record to start appears to be all but certain with Oakland, Miami and Jacksonville in the first month. The Colts have a nasty October capped by a trip to Houston in the first week of November as the schedule opens up into one of the easiest second-half slates in the league. Both the swing games and the AFC West crossover offers plenty of chances for key wins in the conference and should allow for Andrew Luck to lead his young Colts back to the playoffs.

32. San Diego Chargers (2012: 7-9)
AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC East
Swing Games: at Miami, Cincinnati
Opposing '12 Record: .457 (31st)

The new regime in San Diego is set up for early success with a favorable schedule and capable quarterback. The Bolts should be favored in both swing games with Miami on the road and Cincinnati at home. Six games with Kansas City (2), Oakland (2), Tennessee and Jacksonville should net nothing worse than a 4-2 mark. Even the tougher games with Indianapolis, Houston, Dallas and the New York Giants will happen way out on the West Coast. This slate sets up very nicely for a quick rebuilding process for the Chargers.

VIEW A COMPLETE LIST OF 2013 NFL SCHEDULES. 

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