The NFL announced the 2018 regular season schedule Thursday night, and the New England Patriots once again have the easiest schedule. What’s stunning about that is they had the easiest schedule in 2017 as well, a stinging indictment for AFC East teams not based in Foxborough, Mass.
While we should once again expect to see Tom Brady and Co. atop the standings, it’s the Detroit Lions who have the league’s most daunting path the postseason.
To determine strength of schedule in 2018 I am using a blend of Super Bowl LIII future odds from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook coupled with the over/under win totals set by online sportsbook 5Dimes. By this method, the Patriots’ opponents are expected to win between seven and eight games, on average, with just two, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers, estimated to win 10 or more games during the season.
There is some discussion about the status of Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. To lose either player would be a blow to New England’s title hopes, but even a less-than-stellar Patriots team might be able to win the division. None of the other teams in the AFC East were given a win total higher than seven games, nor were they even given a one percent chance to win the Super Bowl.
Other AFC teams with easy schedules include the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders.
The Texans get to face the Cleveland Browns (4.5 win total, less than a 1 percent chance to win Super Bowl LIII), New York Giants (6, 2 percent) and Buffalo Bills (6.5, less than 1 percent) at home, in addition to the New York Jets (5.5, 3 percent). The Texans also benefit from a weak schedule during the second half of the season. The aforementioned Browns game (Week 13), the Jets (Week 15) plus the Indianapolis Colts (Week 14) give Houston a chance to get some wins before they face the Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars in the last two games of the season.
Oakland’s road games feature the Arizona Cardinals (6.5 win total, less than a 1 percent), Cincinnati Bengals (7, less than 1 percent) and Dolphins, and it has two divisional games against the Broncos.
Over in the NFC, the New Orleans Saints have a chance to get off to a fast start. They have the easiest set of opponents during the first eight weeks of the season, with their foes expected to win 6.9 games, on average, per the over/under win totals. The season opener at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Browns in Week 2 and the Giants in Week 4 could have New Orleans at the top of its division early in the season. The Saints will need it — they have the toughest second-half schedule among all NFL teams in 2018.
The Lions have to play the Patriots (Week 3) and Packers (Week 5) — two teams expected to win at least 10 games — and will also face six other teams with an over/under win total of nine or more: the San Francisco 49ers (Week 2), Dallas Cowboys (Week 4), Seattle Seahawks (Week 8), Minnesota Vikings (Week 9), Los Angeles Rams (Week 13) and Carolina Panthers (Week 11). Only the Rams and Seahawks have tougher opponents than the Lions at home.
Here is how the entire NFL schedule stacks up in terms of opponent strength.