According to the numbers, the Pittsburgh Steelers will face the toughest schedule in the NFL in 2015.
Their opponents' winning percentage was .579 a year ago (147-107-2) — tops in the NFL entering this season.
The Bengals (.563), 49ers (.561), Seahawks (.559) and Cardinals (.559) round out the top five.
However, normally there is one major issue with using the previous year’s outcomes to determine the next year’s strength of schedule:
No one gets to play last year’s teams.
Typically, using last year’s opponent’s winning percentage is a surface-level way to address scheduling difficulties and it rarely paints an accurate picture. It’s short-sighted and lacks the depth needed to analyze roster churn, home-road splits, bye weeks and aging talent.
However, this one time it might be right.
The Steelers really do have the toughest path to the playoffs.
Notice anything special about those top five schedules listed above? The teams hail from two divisions, the NFC West and AFC North.
Both are considered the toughest divisions in their respective conferences and both divisions will have to face each other this fall.
It doesn’t end there for Pittsburgh, however.
If six games with the AFC North and four with the NFC West — including road trips to Seattle and St. Louis — weren’t tough enough, Pittsburgh also must face the projected champions of the AFC East (New England) and AFC South (Indianapolis), as well as the entire AFC West. That's as hard a schedule as any AFC team could possibly have.
Meanwhile, division rival Baltimore gets the Jaguars and the Dolphins in swing games, while the Bengals get the Texans and the Bills and Cleveland faces the Titans and Jets.
The list of quarterbacks the Steelers will face this season includes Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco (twice), Philip Rivers (perhaps), Andy Dalton (twice), Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith.
That doesn’t include games against rising second-year starter Derek Carr as well as the Arizona Cardinals and a Jeff Fisher team on the road.
Basically, this team gets no breaks. In the first five weeks, Mike Tomlin faces two of the last three defending Super Bowl champs, the 49ers and the Chargers and Rams on the road. Then to wrap things up from Week 12-16, Pittsburgh faces a ridiculous five-game stretch that goes as follows: at Seattle, Indianapolis, at Cincinnati, Denver and at Baltimore.
Using last year’s win totals is normally a foolish way to determine what lies ahead for a team. But this slate really does appear to be the toughest in the NFL.