Every year, the NFL schedule release is quickly followed by breakdowns of each team’s strength of schedule for the coming season. Naturally, there are some faults to the system, because the supposed strength of a team’s opponents is based only on last season’s record.
Projected Best Opponents: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5), Buffalo Bills (13-3), Green Bay Packers (13-3), Kansas City Chiefs (14-2), Los Angeles Chargers (7-9), Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Projected Average Opponents: New Orleans Saints (12-4), Dallas Cowboys (6-10), Las Vegas Raiders (8-8), Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
Projected Worst Opponents: Carolina Panthers (5-11), Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1), New York Giants (6-10), Denver Broncos (5-11)
The Football Team will have to play six of last year’s playoff teams, including all four conference championship teams. However, their other eleven matchups are against teams which averaged five wins in 2020, with no team earning more than eight.
The NFC East has no choice but to be better than their abysmal 2020 showing, but it will surely take more than one offseason for the division to get competitive again.
There is little reason to believe that any of this year’s toughest opponents will fall-off this season besides the Brees-less Saints.
The Bills and Buccaneers managed to retain most of their rosters from last season. Both teams have quarterbacks comfortably under contract and plenty of weapons on offense. Bills receiver Cole Beasley voiced anti-vaccine sentiments and hinted at holding out if the league continues to implement rules penalizing unvaccinated players. This could be a huge setback for a team that otherwise looks like a shoe-in for the AFC championship. Tom Brady will never retire from football and apparently is not susceptible to injuries in the same way humans have been from the dawn of time. Hiding injuries is against the NFL rules, leaving Brady no choice but to play the entire season with a fully torn MCL without disclosing that information. Expect an especially ginger slap on the wrist for Tom Brady soon.
The Packers stand-off with Aaron Rodgers has neither exploded nor resolved with training camp in a matter of days. NFL media insider Ian Rapoport reported earlier this week that Rodgers turned down a two-year deal that would have made him the leagues highest paid quarterback. It is unclear what more the reigning MVP could ask of ownership. If this is how desperate Rodgers is to get out of Green Bay, why has he let the situation carry through the offseason? As unlikely as it seems so close to kickoff, Rodgers still has the potential to shake the league and leave the Packers with an unpracticed sophomore under center.
The New Orleans Saints are probably the most confusing 2021 opponent to diagnose. Brees endured four years of crushing playoff losses, including one caused by one of the worst playoff officiating mishaps in NFL history to close out a first-ballot HOF career. It may benefit the Saints that Brees was not playing close to his prime level, because it forced them to prepare Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill a season early. Sean Payton has been impressively coy about picking a week one starter. Whether this is an attempt to confuse future opponents or the result of discovering that neither of these quarterbacks are prepared to lead a team remains to be seen.
Russell Wilson’s early offseason trade rumors settled well-before trainings camp, allowing fans and ownership to enter the season without the unbearable weight of distraction and distrust crushing them. However, Wilson does share one similarity with Aaron Rodgers: they have been in the NFC playoffs together five of the last seven seasons and neither has a Super Bowl win to show for it. The legion of boom is far in the rear view mirror, but Wilson has managed to carry a couple lackluster defenses to double digit win seasons in recent years.
The Chiefs O-line problems came to a head in the Super Bowl, as Mahomes scrambled around the backfield in expertly aimless fashion for four straight quarters. A testament to his allusiveness, he only absorbed three sacks while battling a Super Bowl record setting twenty-nine pressures from the Tampa defense. Regardless, the 14-2 operation is bound to make the playoffs as long as Mahomes is at the helm. Especially after retaining arguably the best tight end-wide receiver combo in the league with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
The Los Angeles Chargers are certainly only on the fringe of being a top-tier opponent, but the offensive QB-WR-HB trio of Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, and Austin Ekeler separate them from teams like the Saints, Falcons, and Broncos who lack strength with at least one of those positions. Their defense should be enough to separate them from teams like the Cowboys and Raiders.
Washington’s 2020 defensive performance was an impressive surprise, but comparing the Fitzpatrick, McLaurin, Gibson trio against their opponents is a grim reality. It’s hard to imagine this team having a stronger offense than anyone but the Giants, Eagles, and Broncos if they’re lucky. The defense gives them a high ceiling, possibly the highest in the NFC East, but Fitzpatrick decides their fate.
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