NFL Analysis


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2024 NFL Schedule Release: Ranking 5 Hardest Schedules

Dec 11, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) reacts as he takes the field against the Baltimore Ravens at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no perfect way to predict schedule difficulty. There are better ways than others, and it’s always better to look forward  — if you’re using opponents’ win percentage from the previous season, you’re gaining little to no helpful information.

Different measures of schedule strength can also give varying results, but by scanning a few ways to project schedule difficulty, let’s go through a few teams that, no matter the measure, come out with difficult schedules for the 2024 season.

We get mostly AFC teams here, partly due to the conference's overall strength and because the NFC got the extra home game this season.

5 Toughest Schedules

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud
Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) huddles with teammates during the first quarter of a 2024 AFC Divisional Round game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. (Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports)

5. Houston Texans

The Houston Texans have positioned themselves as opponents who make schedules look hard, but that doesn’t mean they’re free of tough opponents themselves. While Houston benefits from playing some of those games at home, they still need to be played.

Houston will play host to the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions — four playoff teams from last season. The other non-divisional home game is against the Chicago Bears. That Texans-Bears game is scheduled for Sunday Night Football in Week 2, a showcase of two promising young quarterbacks.

When the Texans go on the road, they must play the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys.

Like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Texans will have a Kansas City Chiefs-Ravens stretch within four days. Houston will play at Kansas City on Saturday, Dec. 21, and then host Baltimore on Christmas Day.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff
Lions quarterback Jared Goff runs out of the tunnel during warmups before the NFC Championship Game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (USA TODAY-Sports)

4. Detroit Lions

Winning the NFC North for the first time since 1993 was a wondrous feeling for Detroit Lions fans. But Detroit is also getting the impact of a first-place schedule with the extra games against the first-place winners of the NFC East, NFC South and AFC East.

A home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might not matter much, but the Lions will have to host Buffalo and travel to Dallas, two of the top four teams by DVOA last season.

That’s on top of playing through what should be a much-improved NFC North. The Packers arrived as a promising team at the end of last season, while the Bears and Vikings are building around new quarterbacks.

Detroit will also face two of its toughest opponents on the road, the Texans and San Francisco 49ers. The Lions are 10-15 on the road during the Jared Goff era. Detroit was 6-3 on the road last season but did so with a minus-five point differential.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin walks the field before the game against the Buffalo Bills in a 2024 AFC Wild-Card game at Highmark Stadium. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

At 8.5 wins, the Pittsburgh Steelers currently have the lowest projected win total in the AFC North, which shows how good the division is forecast to be. Six games against the Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns would make any schedule harder.

Much of Pittsburgh’s schedule difficulty comes from those teams, with two potentially having top defenses in the league, plus the return of Joe Burrow. Remarkably, the Steelers were 5-1 in the division last season with a plus-44 point differential and a league-best plus-eight divisional turnover margin.

The Steelers get the Chiefs at home, but they play on Christmas Day, a Wednesday. The sequencing doesn’t help Pittsburgh because the Steelers will play the Ravens on the Saturday before. While that gives them what would be a traditional Sunday-to-Thursday timeline, that’s two of their toughest opponents in four days in late December.

Pittsburgh will also travel to Denver early in the year when the altitude effects can be most heightened. Over the past decade, the Denver Broncos are 12-6 (.667) in September home games while they are 34-30 (.531) at home otherwise.

New England Patriots coach Jerod Mayo looks on against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

2. New England Patriots

The New England Patriots will play teams from the AFC South and NFC West, but the stretch of those games is tricky. While New England welcomes Houston and the Los Angeles Rams, the Patriots will have to travel to San Francisco. Their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars will be in London after the Jaguars have already played a game overseas the previous week.

That second London game could be dangerous, with the Jaguars already acclimated to the situation. Last season, the Jaguars did back-to-back weeks in London with games against the Atlanta Falcons and Bills. Jacksonville beat Atlanta 23-7 in Week 4 and held Buffalo to 20 points in a 25-20 win after the Bills had beaten the Miami Dolphins 48-20 the week prior.

However, New England will take its bye before the London game, which could give the Patriots more time to prepare and lessen the Jaguars’ advantage.

Of course, in the division, the Patriots must play the Bills, Dolphins and New York Jets twice — all teams with projected win totals of at least 9.5.

Outside of the set division games, New England will travel to Cincinnati and Chicago, two teams that should be much better than they were a year ago.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) looks to throw the ball during the second half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

1. Buffalo Bills

The AFC East plays the AFC South and NFC West this season, which already puts the Buffalo Bills against some of the best teams in the league. In those divisional pods, the Bills get the 49ers at home in that grouping but will have to play the Texans, Rams and Indianapolis Colts on the road.

Buffalo gets the advantage of playing host to Kansas City (Week 11, not currently scheduled for primetime), but those games are always close.

Last season, the Bills were one of the best home teams in the league, with a 7-2 record and a plus-113 point differential. 

The Bills will kick off the Thursday Night Football schedule when they travel to Miami against the Dolphins in Week 2, throwing in a short week right off the bat. They will get extra rest afterward with a Week 3 game hosting the Jaguars on Monday Night Football.

For other road games this season, the Bills must travel to Detroit, Seattle and Baltimore. Those are three games against potential playoff teams in challenging venues.