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Ranking the NFL's Toughest Schedules of 2016 Season

Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick

On Thursday night, the NFL took the headlines in the sports world by releasing the 2016 regular season schedule. By doing this, every fan across the country started the age-old tradition of putting Ws and Ls next to each opponent. Mind you, we still have the draft, a little bit more free agency and a whole preseason still to come, but that doesn't stop the predictions. The funny thing about the whole process is that we know the opponents as soon as the previous season ends because the format stays the same. Every team plays a division from the opposite conference as well as one in its own.

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Fans won't know everyone that is starting for their team come Week 1, but what we do know is how tough each schedule is based on last year's record. With that, let's put a little perspective and numbers to the typical fan's cry of "we have a tough schedule" or "it's a cake walk to 13-3."

This list goes from toughest to easiest:

1. Atlanta Falcons

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC West, AFC West

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Swing Games: Green Bay, at Philadelphia

Opponents ’15 Record: 55.5% (T-1st)

The Falcons will learn a lot about themselves pretty quickly with four of their first six games away from the dome. Atlanta opens up with Tampa Bay, which is working towards being a better squad. After that though the Falcons have a pair of two-game road trips sandwiched around a home date against Carolina on Oct. 2. Oh yeah, one of those back-t- backs is at Denver followed by at Seattle. The bye week doesn't come until Week 11 after Atlanta plays at Tampa and at Philadelphia. The one saving grace is four of the final six are at home, but how far out of contention will Atlanta be after a rough start?

Related: Atlanta Falcons Have NFL's Toughest Schedule in 2016

2. San Francisco 49ers

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC South, AFC East

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Swing Games: at Carolina, Dallas

Opponents ’15 Record: 55.5% (T-1st)

Good luck to Chip Kelly as his young 49ers will be tested this season. San Francisco plays at Carolina and Seattle in Weeks 2 and 3 after welcoming Los Angeles (still weird to type) to town on Monday night. Four of the 49ers’ final six are on the road including two straight back-to-backs. We'll see what this team does when it plays at Miami and Chicago Weeks 12 and 13. The two home games over that span are against New England and the Jets. Chip will swear his team is in the SEC after navigating this slate.

3. New York Jets

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC North, NFC West

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Swing Games: at Kansas City, Indianapolis

Opponents ’15 Record: 53.1% (T-7th)

If there's anyone who could gripe about the schedule, it's the Jets. They've got three back-to-backs on the road before their late bye in Week 11. To make things more difficult, the three home games over that span are against Cincinnati, Seattle and Baltimore. The good thing about the late bye is that it gives Todd Bowles extra time to prepare for the Patriots, which come to town for a Sunday night game Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 27). The team also has a couple of quick turnarounds going from a Monday night game at home against Indianapolis to playing at San Francisco six days later and then home against Miami six days after that. Based on this slate, the Jets could take a step back.

4. Washington Redskins

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC North, AFC North

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Swing Games: at Arizona, Carolina

Opponents ’15 Record: 49.2% (17th)

The Redskins better be ready because this might be one of the toughest schedules in football. They've got a three-game road trip that has them going to Dallas, Arizona and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks. Before they embark on that, the Redskins host Green Bay on Nov. 20, which means they have just four days to prepare for that Cowboys road game. Washington also heads to London to play the Bengals and has a quick turnaround towards the end of the season with five days between a home tilt with Carolina and a road game at Chicago on Christmas Eve. It's a friendly start with three of four at home although two of those matchups are against the Steelers and Cowboys.

5. Los Angeles Rams

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC South, AFC East

Los Angeles Rams

Swing Games: at Detroit, New York Giants

Opponents ’15 Record: 55.1% (3rd)

The NFL didn't give the Rams too much of a home-friendly start for their return to Los Angeles. They get to host Pete Carroll and Seattle in Week 2 before facing the Bills in the Coliseum in Week 5. The Rams also have a “home” game against the Giants in London in Week 7, meaning their Week 8 bye comes about halfway through the season. The Rams can make a run to close out the slate with three of four at home against Atlanta, San Francisco and Arizona. With Jeff Fisher as head coach, this means the closing stretch is for another 8-8 year.

6. Miami Dolphins

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC North, NFC West

Swing Games: Tennessee, at San Diego

Opponents ’15 Record: 51.6% (11th)

Hey Adam Gase, your first year as head coach will start with road games at Seattle and New England. Oh yeah, after that you get to host the Browns before a four-day turnaround to play at the Bengals. The NFL did take a bit of pity on the Dolphins by giving them three straight in Miami against the Titans, Steelers and Bills. Miami players could end up spending two weeks on the West Coast as they play at San Diego and Los Angeles back-to-back (Weeks 10, 11). The Dolphins close out the year with three straight divisional opponents, but two of those are on the road in colder regions. Not a friendly slate in the least.

7. Denver Broncos

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC South

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Swing Games: at Cincinnati, New England

Opponents ’15 Record: 50.4% (14th)

Whoever is under center for Denver will certainly get some early tests. The Broncos open up with a Super Bowl 50 rematch at home against Carolina followed by a visit from Indianapolis before their first road game at Cincinnati. Denver's quick turnaround comes at Week 5 when it hosts Atlanta followed by a trip to San Diego for a Thursday night game. Home will not be where this squad spends much of November, as the Broncos play at Oakland and New Orleans before their bye and then take on the Chiefs back in Denver. This year's New England matchup is Dec.  18 at home when it figures to be really cold, although that won't faze the Patriots.

Related: 10 Must-See Games in the 2016 NFL Season

8. Philadelphia Eagles

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC North, AFC North

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Swing Games: Atlanta, at Seattle

Opponents ’13 Record: 46.9% (26th)

This is a lot tougher then it seems based on the numbers. There's an especially grueling part in Weeks 11-13 – at Seattle, vs. Green Bay, at Cincinnati. The Eagles do face all three divisional opponents at home over a four-week span in December to close out the year. The early bye week gives the team a chance to start fast, but then afterwards they play at Detroit and at Washington, two places they lost at last year. Getting the two North divisions along with an improved NFC East is not an easy way to go for rookie head coach Doug Pederson.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC West, AFC West

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Swing Games: Chicago, at Dallas

Opponents ’15 Record: 54.3% (T-5th)

Tampa Bay gets to take on both Super Bowl 50 competitors before a Week 6 bye. The Bucs also will have a back-to-back road games to open up the year going coast to coast from Atlanta to Arizona before coming home for two straight. Jameis Winston gets three straight home games from Weeks 8-10 against Oakland, Atlanta and Chicago. The payoff comes to close the year out as the Bucs travel to Dallas and New Orleans before a home tilt with the Panthers. Not a bad layout considering how good the opponents were last year.

10. Kansas City Chiefs

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC South

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Swing Games: New York Jets, at Pittsburgh

Opponents ’15 Record: 49.6% (16th)

An early bye (Week 5) doesn't do the Chiefs any favors although they may need a break after hosting the Jets and playing at Pittsburgh just prior. This veteran group will need to be strong with road matchups against the Colts, Panthers and Broncos over a month span (Weeks 8-12). Games in the Mile High City are always tough, which means a matchup in Atlanta on Dec. 4 could present a sneaky issue for Kansas City. The Chiefs do have three straight at home near the end (Weeks 14-16) against the Raiders, Titans and Broncos. Andy Reid will need to have his team’s mojo going against this slate.

11. Arizona Cardinals

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC South, AFC East

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Swing Games: at Minnesota, Washington

Opponents ’15 Record: 53.1% (T-7th)

One of the best games of the season starts Arizona's schedule with a Sunday night contest against New England. It's part of a friendly stretch of five of the Cardinals’ first eight at home before the Week 9 bye. They host Los Angeles in Week 4, but have to travel to San Francisco just four days later. To further add to the Jets’ misery (see above), Arizona has 11 days to prepare for the Week 6 Monday night contest at home.  When the NFC West race heats up in the second half of the season, the Cardinals will need to be sure to pack their A game with five of their last seven away from home.

12. Seattle Seahawks

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC South, AFC East

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Swing Games: Philadelphia, at Green Bay

Opponents '15 Record: 54.3% (T-5th)

There's a pattern to the top of this list as the NFC West is the best division in football. They were done no favors with the AFC East in the rotation this year. The Seahawks have the early bye in Week 5, which means that they will have to grind it out to finish the season with 12 straight weeks of action. The league did help Seattle out with four of its last seven at home, including three straight divisional opponents to close out the slate.

13. New Orleans Saints

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC West, AFC West

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Swing Games: at New York Giants, Detroit

Opponents ’15 Record: 54.7% (4th)

New Orleans should start real fast entering their early Week 5 bye. None of the first four teams appear to have a great defense, meaning Drew Brees and the offense should put up good numbers. Coming out of the bye, the Saints alternate home and road games for six weeks. They get Carolina, Seattle and Denver at home, which in the past meant trouble. If this team wants to return to prominence, they will have to defend home field against some of the league's best. It's a tough schedule in terms of names, but the weather layout sets up nicely should you want to draft Brees in fantasy football.

14. Oakland Raiders

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC South

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Swing Games: at Baltimore, Buffalo

Opponents ’15 Record: 50% (15th)

The Raiders are going to get a ton of love this offseason for actually doing the right thing. If they are for real, then the closing stretch of three of four on the road will be pretty daunting. Oakland has to play at Kansas City, San Diego and Denver with a home matchup against the Colts on Christmas Eve in the middle. Of course the end won't matter if Oakland doesn’t survive the first three of four on the road with two of those games in tough environments (New Orleans, Baltimore). The early part of the slate does give Derek Carr and this offense a chance to put up some nice numbers though.

15. New England Patriots

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC North, NFC West

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Swing Games: Houston, at Denver

Opponents ’15 Record: 52.3% (9th)

The NFL continues to show some love to the Patriots giving them one of the rare three-game home stands. New England has four of its first six at home with one of the road games being at Cleveland. The Patriots will face the Bills twice before the calendar turns to November. The Week 10 bye week gives Bill Belichick an extra week to prepare for the Seahawks, which come to town for a Sunday night affair on Nov. 13. It will be an upset based on the schedule if this team doesn't pick up another AFC East title.

16. Houston Texans

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC West, NFC North

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Swing Games: at New England, Cincinnati

Opponents ’15 Record: 48.4% (T-19th)

Houston has a roller coaster of a schedule, starting with two straight and three of four at home against seemingly manageable opponents in Chicago, Kansas City and Tennessee. The payback comes after a Week 9 bye with four road matchups over a five-week span. The Texans play at Jacksonville, Oakland, Green Bay and Indianapolis from Weeks 10-14 with the home tilt coming against the Chargers. Brock Osweiler will get to face his old team in Week 7 when Houston goes to Denver for “Monday Night Football.”

17. Cleveland Browns

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC East, NFC East

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Swing Games: at Tennessee, San Diego

Opponents ’15 Record: 48.0% (21st)

It's like the NFL was trying to put the Browns out of their misery early. Cleveland has five of its first seven on the road with the two home games being against Baltimore and New England. RG3's revenge game against the Redskins comes in Week 4, but it’s no guarantee he will start that one. The Browns are rewarded with five of their next six at home from Weeks 8-14. They do have a really late bye in Week 13, which I can't imagine will help a young squad that will be struggling for wins. This slate means even more that it will be a rebuilding year (aren't they all?).

18. Buffalo Bills

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC North, NFC West

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Swing Games: Jacksonville, at Oakland

Opponents ’15 Record: 52.0% (10th)

This is one of the more interesting schedules. Buffalo has some easy stretches and some tough ones as well. Both of the New England contests are paired with NFC West tilts against Arizona and Seattle. The Bills play three straight at home in December against the Steelers, Browns and Dolphins with the last team sure to enjoy playing in the frigid cold on Christmas Eve. They also will spend almost a month away from home, a stretch that spans Weeks 9-11.

19. Carolina Panthers

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC West, AFC West

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Swing Games: Minnesota, at Washington

Opponents ’15 Record: 51.2% (12th)

The Super Bowl runner-ups get a chance at revenge in Week 1 on the road in Denver.  Three of the Panthers’ next five are at home before the Week 7 bye. After that, they get three of four at home, which is balanced out by a season-ending stretch has them playing four of their final six on the road. Carolina gets five primetime games this season, which will be one of the many reasons that this team guys won't be undefeated come December again.

20. Cincinnati Bengals

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC East, NFC East

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Swing Games: Denver, at Houston

Opponents ’15 Record: 46.5% (T-27th)

Road trips to New York, Pittsburgh, Dallas and New England dot the first six weeks of the Bengals’ schedule. They'll be without Vontaze Burfict for the games against the Jets, Steelers as well as the Broncos at home, meaning the rest of the defense will have to pick up the slack. After Denver comes in for Week 3, Cincinnati hosts Miami just four days later for a Thursday night title. The Week 9 bye comes after the trip to London to play the Redskins on Oct. 30. The final eight weeks of the season feature alternating road and home games.

21. San Diego Chargers

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC South, NFC South

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Swing Games: Miami, at Cleveland

Opponents ’15 Record: 50.8% (13th)

The Chargers alternate home and road dates for the first seven weeks of the season and have one of the later byes (Week 11). They will get to know the Broncos very well, playing them twice over a 17-day span. It's not the worst schedule, as San Diego gets New Orleans to come to its place. The question will be how will the fans react during home games with all that is going on surrounding the team's future home. We could see crowds that heavily favor the opponent this season especially if things get rough for the Chargers early.

22. Minnesota Vikings

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC East, AFC South

Swing Games: at Carolina, Arizona

Opponents ’15 Record: 48.8% (18th)

Minnesota's first two home games in their brand-new stadium will be primetime matchups against Green Bay in Week 2 and the Giants in Week 4. In between is a road tilt at Carolina. The most unfriendly stretch comes after the Week 6 bye when the Vikings play four of six on the road including contests against the Eagles, Redskins and Lions on Thanksgiving Day. They do get two of their final three at home although one of those will be against Indianapolis.

23. Baltimore Ravens

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC East, NFC East

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Swing Games: at Jacksonville, Oakland

Opponents ’15 Record: 48.4% (T-19th)

There will be a lot of love for the Ravens in the preseason as they get just one playoff team over their first seven weeks before the bye. They have an opportunity to start fast even though four of those matchups are on the road. Ironically, they'll play the Giants and Jets both in New York on back-to-back weeks. After the Week 8 bye, Baltimore gets two straight and four of the next five at home. The Ravens do play at New England, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in a tough closing stretch from Weeks 14 to 17.

24. Dallas Cowboys

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC North, AFC North

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Swing Games: at San Francisco, Tampa Bay

Opponents ’15 Record: 46.5% (T-27th)

If Dallas can't take advantage of a modestly soft four-game start to the season, then the Cowboys are in trouble because they get the Bengals and Packers before their Week 7 bye. They get extra time to prepare for a home Sunday night tilt with the Eagles before three straight against the AFC North. The swing games are certainly winnable, but as we've seen with the other NFC East teams, getting both North divisions after a down year will not help.

25. Indianapolis Colts

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC West, NFC North

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Swing Games: Pittsburgh, at New York Jets

Opponents ’15 Record: 47.7% (22nd)

The first thing you'll notice is that there is no bye week after the Week 4 London trip, which is what the Colts requested. They did not want the early bye so we'll see how well the team performs at home against Chicago on Oct. 9. The league will be watching as well to see how viable a team will be after a London trip if it ends up pursuing the possibility of placing a team overseas. There is a stretch of four road games over a six-week span, but three of those matchups are divisional tilts. Because the Broncos kick off on the season on a Thursday night at home, they will have extra time to prepare for Indianapolis, which comes calling in Week 2.

26. New York Giants

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC North, AFC North

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Swing Games: New Orleans, at Los Angeles

Opponents ’15 Record: 46.1% (T-30th)

This is the second-easiest slate by the numbers, but as we've noticed with other NFC East teams, getting both North divisions is not going to help. The bye falls in Week 8 followed by three straight at home, two straight on the road, two more at home then a pair on the road. The Giants do close with road tilts at Philadelphia and Washington. Getting the Saints outdoors is nice.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC West, NFC North

Swing Games: Baltimore, at Buffalo

Opponents ’15 Record: 47.3% (T-23rd)

Unlike its AFC South counterpart, Jacksonville didn't mind the Week 5 bye after playing in London against the Colts. By the numbers, this is an easy schedule although the Jaguars do open the year with the Packers at home. November will be tough with three of four on the road although that flips in December with three of four at home. Jacksonville’s improved offense figures to put up some numbers against a lot of opponents on this slate. Outside of Green Bay and Denver, this could be the year the Jags get something done.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC East, NFC East

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Swing Games: Kansas City, at Indianapolis

Opponents ’15 Record: 47.3% (T-23rd)

Things set up real nice for the Steelers if they can get through the first three games – at Washington, vs. Cincinnati and then at Philadelphia. Pittsburgh then gets three of the next four at home including three in a row vs. the AFC East. The bye is nicely placed on Week 8 because afterwards the Steelers have five of their next seven on the road. Thanksgiving night they get a road trip to Indianapolis just four days after a contest in Cleveland. Still, this looks to be a very nice setup for the Steelers who should be playoff bound if they stay healthy. It also should be pointed out that Pittsburgh gets the rare distinction of playing on Thanksgiving Day (at Indianapolis), Christmas (Baltimore) and New Year’s Day (Cleveland). Will be it be “happy” holidays for the Steelers?

29. Tennessee Titans

AFC/NFC Crossover: AFC West, NFC North

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Swing Games: at Miami, Cleveland

Opponents ’15 Record: 47.3% (T-23rd)

Tennessee gets a three-game home stand from Weeks 6-8 and all of them are modestly winnable, playing Cleveland, Indianapolis and Jacksonville. The Jaguars game is on a Thursday night, which seems to be commonplace between these two teams. The bye week comes late in the season (Week 13) with the final four contests being against Denver, at Kansas City, at Jacksonville and home against Houston. There will be an improvement in wins with a semi-soft start, but the end of the year will be tough.

30. Detroit Lions

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC East, AFC South

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Swing Games: Los Angeles, at New Orleans

Opponents ’15 Record: 46.5% (T-27th)

Detroit has a three-game home stand from Weeks 5-7, hosting the Eagles, Rams and Redskins. This comes after three of four on the road, including games against the Colts and Packers at their place. The post-bye slate is very interesting with home contests against the Jaguars and Vikings before a road matchup against the Saints. Detroit plays at the Giants and Cowboys before hosting Green Bay to close the year out.

31. Chicago Bears

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC East, AFC South

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Swing Games: at Tampa Bay, San Francisco

Opponents ’15 Record: 46.1% (T-30th)

Jay Cutler and the Bears have been awarded four primetime matchups this season. It'll be hard to get momentum early with Chicago alternating road and home games the first eight weeks of the season before a Week 9 bye. Chicago has two sets of consecutive home games in Weeks 12-13 and 15-16. The first pair is very winnable as the Bears host the Titans and 49ers. If this defense gels, by the end of the year John Fox’s team may be a threat.

32. Green Bay Packers

NFC/AFC Crossover: NFC East, AFC South

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Swing Games: at Atlanta, Seattle

Opponents ’15 Record: 45.7% (32nd)

For the first time in 92 years, Green Bay begins with two straight road games – at Jacksonville and Minnesota. Then the Packers don't leave home over the next five weeks, including a bye in Week 4 sprinkled among the four Lambeau Field dates. November features three in a row on the road with visits to Tennessee, Washington and Philadelphia. If Green Bay doesn't win the NFC North with this schedule, then something will have gone awfully wrong. Indianapolis, Seattle and Dallas all have to come to Lambeau.

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.