The numbers back it up, and when you dig a little deeper, the conclusion remains the same: the Atlanta Falcons have the NFL’s toughest schedule in 2016.
At least heading into the season, it appears that the Falcons will have the most difficult path to the playoffs, even though at this point we don’t know even know the rosters of all the teams yet.
Still, the numbers paint a dim picture for the Falcons.
Based on last year’s winning percentage alone, the Falcons are tied with the San Francisco 49ers for the highest among opponents with .555 (142-114). Following those teams in the top five are the Los Angeles Rams (.551), New Orleans Saints (.547) and Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (.543).
Those numbers are a bit skewed by the fact that the Falcons play the Carolina Panthers, who went 15-1 last regular season, twice.
That said, overall this remains a brutal task ahead. Of the eight teams that made it to the Divisional round last season, the Falcons are playing six of them: Denver, Kansas City, Seattle, Green Bay, Arizona and Carolina.
The first quarter of the schedule is rather manageable, although a trip to Oakland to face a Raiders team many consider to be much improved will be tough. That portion ends with a home game against Carolina.
From that point on, there are even more roadblocks. The Falcons follow with trips to Denver and Seattle, two teams once again expected to be Super Bowl contenders. The two ensuing home games against the San Diego Chargers and Green Bay Packers won’t be easy, either.
The Falcons then travel to Tampa Bay on a short week for a Thursday night game, followed by a trip to Philadelphia to face the Eagles.
After a bye week, the Falcons face another powerhouse when the Arizona Cardinals, who made last season’s NFC Championship Game, visit. Right after that, the Kansas City Chiefs, who lost in last season’s Divisional round, come to the Georgia Dome.
The final four games of the season are a little less difficult, but a trip to face the defending NFC champion Panthers highlight the stretch.
And while the NFC teams have the most difficult schedules on paper, the New York Jets may have the toughest in the AFC. The Jets play seven playoff teams from last season, including five in the first six weeks.
That stretch, which includes tests against the Bengals, Chiefs, Seahawks, Steelers and Cardinals, does not even include the annual games against the New England Patriots, both of which come in the second half of the season.
The schedule also includes a Monday night game against Indianapolis to start November, which should be even more difficult if Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is healthy.
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.