After knowing each team's opponents since the conclusion of last season, the NFL’s 2017 schedule was officially unveiled on Thursday night. Based on winning percentages from last season, Denver enters the upcoming season with the toughest strength of schedule, as its 2017 opponents won nearly 60 percent (.578 to be exact) of their games in ’16.
Vance Joseph’s first game as Broncos head coach will be at home on Sept. 11 against the newly relocated Los Angeles Chargers, as the AFC West rivals will get reacquainted on “Monday Night Football.” While the Chargers struggled to a 5-11 record last season, Denver’s other two divisional foes (Kansas City, Oakland) both went 12-4 and made the playoffs. Half of the Broncos' games (including their four vs. Chiefs and Raiders) are against teams that finished with a winning record in 2016.
Six of Denver’s 13 opponents made the playoffs last year, including defending NFC East champion Dallas, who the Broncos will host in Week 2. A road trip to Buffalo is up next followed by a home date with Oakland before a bye in Week 5.
After the bye, Denver welcomes the New York Giants to Sports Authority Field at Mile High for “Sunday Night Football” before back-to-back road games against the Chargers and Chiefs, the latter coming on Monday night. November features road trips to Philadelphia and Oakland sandwiched around home games with New England and Cincinnati.
December opens with a trip to Miami to face the Dolphins. Joseph spent last season as Miami’s defensive coordinator, helping the team reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The Broncos’ regular season slate concludes with road games at Indianapolis and Washington and a home finale against Kansas City.
Speaking of the Chiefs, none of the teams in the AFC West will have an easy schedule in 2017 thanks to drawing the AFC East and NFC East as crossover opponents. Those two divisions produced four playoff teams – Patriots, Dolphins, Cowboys and Giants.
According to the numbers, Kansas City has the second-toughest schedule with an opponents’ winning percentage of .576 in 2016, with Los Angeles (.568) and Oakland (.564) following right behind.
The Chiefs will get tested right away, as they kick off the regular season on Sept. 7 in Foxborough against the defending Super Bowl champions. While New England and Atlanta are set for a Super Bowl rematch in Week 7, the NFL made sure to avoid that serving as the kickoff following Carolina’s complaints about playing in Denver in Week 1 last season.
New England’s potential path to a repeat checks in as the 12th-toughest schedule (.527 opponents’ winning percentage in 2016), at least on paper. Besides opening the season against Kansas City and facing AFC East foe Miami twice, the Patriots will play four other teams that made the playoffs last season. They will take on Oakland in Mexico City in Week 11, and also have postseason rematches with Atlanta (Week 7), Pittsburgh (Week 15) and Houston (Week 3). Only two of these (Dolphins in Week 14, Steelers) are true road games.
The Falcons open their season on the road, but against a Chicago team that won just three games in 2016. Atlanta does have to play each of the three division winners from last season – Green Bay (Week 2 on “Sunday Night Football”), Dallas (Week 10), and at Seattle (Week 11, “Monday Night Football”). The Falcons also are set to travel to Detroit (Week 3) and host Miami (Week 6) to bring their total of games against 2016 playoff teams to six.
Even after losing to Green Bay at home in the divisional round last season, Dallas remains a trendy pick to play in Super Bowl LII after going 13-3 and winning the NFC East. The Cowboys will open the season against a familiar foe, hosing the rival Giants on “Sunday Night Football.” This will be the third straight season and the fifth in the last six that these two teams kick off things against each other.
Dallas’ strength of schedule is tied for 10th (.531) with seven games against teams that made the playoffs last season. Besides playing the Giants twice (second time in Week 14), the Cowboys host Green Bay in Week 5, Kansas City in Week 9, travel to Atlanta in Week 10, trek to the West Coast to play at Oakland on “Sunday Night Football” in Week 15, and then back to Dallas to face Seattle in Week 16.
On the opposite end of the strength of schedule spectrum is Indianapolis. The Colts are coming off of an 8-8 season and have the easiest slate (.424 opponents’ winning percentage). Indianapolis opens its season on the road against the Los Angeles Rams (4-12 in 2016), and have just four games against 2016 playoff teams – two against defending AFC South champion Houston, a Week 4 “Sunday Night Football” date in Seattle, and Week 10 at home against Pittsburgh.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Vance Joseph photo courtesy of www.denverbroncos.com)