NFL schedule release: Who has the toughest — and easiest — path to the playoffs?

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The 2024 NFL schedules for all 32 teams has been released, and fans everywhere are analyzing each week to see if their team has an easy, or hard, road to the playoffs. 

Prior to the week-by-week breakdown of the schedule becoming public knowledge, every team knew who they were facing in the regular season and whether that game was home or away. 

Because of that, the strength of the schedule could be determined based on the winning percentage of each teams’ 2023 opponents. While this is a good way to see who has the easy or hard path, one must consider how teams have reinforced their roster heading into the new year, among other factors. 

With that in mind, let’s first take a look at three teams who are expected to have some formidable opponents in 2024.

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Brian Daboll vs the Cowboys

New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll reacts during the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Nov. 12, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

New York Giants: Tied-6th strength of schedule (.516 opponent 2023 win percentage)

After going 6-11 last season, losing two key players in Saquon Barkley and Xavier McKinney, and having Daniel Jones – the team’s starting quarterback – coming off a season-ending ACL injury, expectations are low for Big Blue this season. 

Now, they have made some big additions, too, including Brian Burns in a blockbuster trade with the Carolina Panthers and Malik Nabers, as their No. 6 overall pick could be the No. 1 wide receiver they have been without for quite some time. 

However, the Giants have a gauntlet of a schedule considering they have to face the AFC North – Browns, Ravens, Steelers and Bengals – all of which have playoff potential in 2024. 

2024 NFL SCHEDULE RELEASE: WIN-LOSS PREDICTIONS, ANALYSIS FOR EVERY TEAM

So, while there are winning opportunities in Weeks 1 and 2 against rookie quarterbacks – J.J. McCarthy and the Minnesota Vikings followed by Jayden Daniels and the Washington Commanders – the Giants will face the Browns, Cowboys (TNF), Seahawks, Bengals (SNF), Eagles and Steelers (MNF) before they see Washington again in Week 9. 

If that was not hard enough, things are tough after the Week 11 bye as well: Bucs, Cowboys on Thanksgiving, Saints, Ravens, Falcons, Colts, and ending the year with a trip to Philadelphia. 

The Giants are looking for that magic they found in 2022 when they beat the Vikings in the playoffs, but it will not come easy this season. 

Myles Garrett looks up on field

Myles Garrett, #95 of the Cleveland Browns, warms up before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Dec. 10, 2023 in Cleveland. (Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images)

Cleveland Browns: 1st strength of schedule (.547)

Coming in with the toughest strength of schedule on paper this season is the Browns, a team who miraculously made it to the playoffs despite Deshaun Watson, their starting quarterback, suffering a season-ending injury. 

Like the Giants, the Browns will be facing the NFC East, which is always a tough task when you have the Cowboys and Eagles on the schedule. However, if the Browns want to make the playoffs again in 2024, they will need to work their way through a brutal final four games: Chiefs, Bengals (TNF), Dolphins (SNF) and Ravens in that order. 

The Browns will also see the Eagles, Bengals, Ravens and Jim Harbaugh’s Los Angeles Chargers in Weeks 6-9 before their bye in Week 11. However, that comes after the Cowboys in Week 1 followed by the Jaguars in Week 2 on the road. 

With a healthy team, which now features Jerry Jeudy at receiver to go along with Amari Cooper and Eli Moore, as well as Nick Chubb returning to join Jerome Ford and Nyheim Hines in the backfield, the Browns are built for success under Kevin Stefanski.

However, it is not going to be easy at all for this group to fulfill their playoff hopes. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: 3rd strength of schedule (.533)

Sandwiched between the Browns and Steelers are the Ravens, but they finished with the top seed in the AFC last season, so they are certainly ready to repeat that feat with the roster basically remaining in tact. 

The Steelers, though, are an intriguing bunch because Russell Wilson enters the fold for a team desperately needing better quarterback play. 

Russell Wilson poses on red carpet

Russell Wilson attends Michael Rubin’s Fanatics Super Bowl party at the Marquee Nightclub at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on Feb. 10, 2024 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Though he may be able to get his bearings with some beatable opponents in Weeks 1-4 – Falcons, Broncos (Russ revenge game?), Chargers and Colts – the second half is going to be a true test to see if Wilson is the right man for the franchise. 

Following the team’s Week 9 bye are all six of the Steelers’ divisional games, starting in Week 11 with the Ravens. Then, it is a short week with the Browns, followed by the Bengals and Browns again, the Eagles in Week 15, and the Ravens, Chiefs and Bengals to round out the regular season. 

The Steelers’ quarterback question should be answered at this point in the season, whether Wilson is working well in Arthur Smith’s scheme or Justin Fields, who was traded in the offseason, took over. Either way you look at it, the Steelers have it rough in 2024. 

Atlanta Falcons: T-32 strength of schedule (.453)

Switching gears now, Kirk Cousins heads to Atlanta at a good time, as they are tied with the Saints for the easiest strength of schedule this season. 

The Falcons are desperately looking for their first winning season since 2017, and they play in an NFC South division that is once again up for grabs like it was for the Buccaneers last season when they took it at just 9-8 overall. 

And forget the Michael Penix Jr. talk – Cousins knows he signed up to help this offense loaded with talent win games. 

Kirk Cousins on the sidelines

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, #8, looks on from the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions in Detroit on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024. (Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

There will be a solid test in the first three weeks of the season with the Steelers in Week 1, followed by the Eagles (MNF) and Chiefs (SNF). Two primetime games when the negative “PrimeTime Kirk” moniker has a chance to be erased. 

However, games in the division with the Saints, Bucs and Panthers follow that Week 3 bout with the Chiefs, which could keep the Falcons rolling – or get them back on track – depending on how the season began. 

Finally, the Week 14-18 stretch at the end of the campaign is a solid one for the Falcons: Vikings, Raiders (MNF), Giants, Commanders and Panthers. These are all winnable games, and again, the NFC South came down to the Bucs beating the Saints in the final week. Perhaps the Falcons could head to the playoffs the same way, or coast to a division victory. 

Chicago Bears: 29th strength of schedule (.467)

Caleb Williams, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2024 NFL Draft, is primed to have a breakout season with tons of weapons to work with on offense, and the Chicago faithful will absolutely love for him to hit the ground running. 

Williams is slated to face off against his fellow rookie quarterbacks, too, with Daniels and the Commanders in Week 8, McCarthy and the Vikings in Weeks 12 and 15 and Drake Maye and the Patriots in Week 10. These are all winnable games for the Bears if you believe they can get what they have on paper going with Williams under center. 

The season begins in Chicago against the Titans, and Williams will get his first taste of primetime football against the reigning Rookie of the Year, C.J. Stroud, and the Houston Texans in Week 2. 

Roger Goodell and Caleb Williams

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams, left, celebrates with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being chosen by the Chicago Bears with the first overall pick during the first round of the NFL football draft on Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The end of the season could be a rough patch depending on how Chicago is playing, though. They will have to face the Lions on Thanksgiving in Week 13 and then travel to San Francisco in Week 14 to face the 49ers. The Vikings, Lions, Seahawks on a short week with TNF, and finishing in Green Bay in Week 18 is quite the stretch.

New Orleans Saints: T-32 strength of schedule (.453)

As mentioned, the NFC South is a “pick ’em” in 2024, and the Saints were oh so close to being the division winners despite up-and-down play, especially on offense, last season. 

However, if Derek Carr and the Saints do not have problems getting into the end zone after chugging all the way downfield like last season, this group has a great chance to etch their name in a playoff spot. 

An opening game against the Panthers, a group that finished with the worst record in 2023, at home is a dream scenario for the Saints. They will have the Cowboys and Eagles in back-to-back weeks after that, though, followed by the Falcons and Chiefs on MNF in Week 5. 

However, games against the Bucs, Broncos (Sean Payton’s return to New Orleans on TNF), Chargers, Panthers, and Falcons from Weeks 6-10 could be a good stretch for this group to get hot while picking up division wins in the process. 

Derek Carr on the sidelines

Derek Carr, #4 of the New Orleans Saints, looks on after the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Dec. 31, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

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Following the team’s bye in Week 12, the Saints will play host to the Rams, hit the road against the Giants, and return home to face the Commanders – all winnable contests. Finally, they finish the season against the Packers on MNF, Raiders at home, and on the road again against the Bucs. 

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