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Most Forgiving Schedules

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2023 NFL schedule: Bears, Saints among teams with most favorable slates

Thursday's 2023 NFL schedule release is a big day on the league's calendar. We've known the opponents for months, but now we know exactly how each team's slate stacks up -- and that matters. Of the five teams that started 0-2 last season, only one (the Bengals) made the playoffs. Likewise, of the six teams that opened 2-0, all six were in the postseason.

But there are more factors. When is the bye week? When are the tough road trips -- and which games come before and after them? How tough is a team's December and January slate?

And on and on ...

With a little less than four months until the season opener, there is ample time to mull each team's schedule. Even still, there are 10 teams that appear to have caught a few breaks when it comes to the order of their games. We'll see how much it ends up factoring into the race for Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas next February.

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  • Strength of schedule: .427 (31st)
  • Bye: Week 11

The takeoff and landing look as smooth as you can ask for, and even with a few potentially turbulent spots in the middle, the schedule falls favorably for the Saints. Seven of the first 11 games are on the road, but it’s arguable that those away games are all feasibly winnable on paper: at Carolina, Green Bay, New England, Houston, Indianapolis, Minnesota and Atlanta. There are three back-to-back road games on the schedule, which are never fun, in addition to two Thursday games. But big picture, the Saints should be facing some inexperienced QBs early in the season and will play four of their final six games in the Caesars Superdome against more opponents they should match up fairly well against. It’s certainly possible that the NFC South features a sub-.500 division winner again, but with the addition of Derek Carr and this schedule, the Saints have a path to 10 or more wins.

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 Titans 10 at Vikings
2 at Panthers (Mon.) 11 BYE
3 at Packers 12 at Falcons
4 Buccaneers 13 Lions
5 at Patriots 14 Panthers
6 at Texans 15 Giants
7 Jaguars (Thurs.) 16 at Rams (Thurs.)
8 at Colts 17 at Buccaneers
9 Bears 18 Falcons
  • Strength of schedule: .453 (27th)
  • Bye: Week 7

Assuming the Panthers start Bryce Young out of the chute, they’ll face some good early tests with four road games and challenging home games against the Saints (on Monday night) and Vikings prior to the Week 7 bye. But the earlier bye week might be a good placement for this new staff and rebuilt offense to recalibrate. Winnable post-bye home games against the Texans and Colts are followed by a tougher run in Weeks 10 to 14, with four of five of those on the road (including a Thursday night game at Chicago and three straight away from home at the end of it). But the travel down the stretch isn’t too harrying, as they don’t cross more than one time zone after the Week 3 game at Seattle. As with the Saints, the Panthers’ schedule helps open the door for a possible run in the NFC South, especially if Frank Reich and his staff can pick up where this team left off last season, when it won five of the final eight games under interim coach Steve Wilks.

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 at Falcons 10 at Bears (Thurs.)
2 Saints (Mon.) 11 Cowboys
3 at Seahawks 12 at Titans
4 Vikings 13 at Buccaneers
5 at Lions 14 at Saints
6 at Dolphins 15 Falcons
7 BYE 16 Packers
8 Texans 17 at Jaguars
9 Colts 18 Buccaneers
  • Strength of schedule: .434 (29th)
  • Bye: Week 11

The Colts are another team that could hand the keys over to a rookie quarterback right away, with fourth overall pick Anthony Richardson in tow. Indianapolis has two tough matchups against the reigning division champion Jaguars in the season’s first six games, along with a road game at Baltimore in between. The Colts currently have zero prime-time games, allowing first-year head coach Shane Steichen to map out his weekly schedule without a whole lot of interruption, outside of the Frankfurt game against the Patriots. They close the season with three out of four games at home, and the Week 11 bye appears to fall at a nice time. Plus, after returning from Germany, the Colts’ last three road games will require relatively short trips. There’s a lot of work to do in Indianapolis following an ugly 2022 season, but the schedule appears to be relatively tame.

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 Jaguars 10 Patriots (Frankfurt)
2 at Texans 11 BYE
3 at Ravens 12 Buccaneers
4 Rams 13 at Titans
5 Titans 14 at Bengals
6 at Jaguars 15 Steelers
7 Browns 16 at Falcons
8 Saints 17 Raiders
9 at Panthers 18 Texans
  • Strength of schedule: .477 (23rd)
  • Bye: Week 9

The Jaguars are not sneaking up on anyone this season, and they’ll be regularly featured on a big stage, with back-to-back London games in Weeks 4 and 5 and three more prime-time contests thereafter. October will be a challenge, featuring the international trip (the second game coming against the Bills), a Thursday night game at New Orleans and another stiff test at Pittsburgh. Also, there are tough games against the Chiefs, 49ers, Bengals and Ravens, but all four of those happen in Jacksonville and they’re nicely sprinkled throughout the schedule without too many tough games lumped together in clusters. Like the rival Colts, the Jaguars will return home from London and face no truly daunting or long road trips, even with the one quick-turnaround game against the Saints. This year’s schedule looks a tick or two tougher than last year’s, but there’s no reason why the up-and-coming Jaguars can’t navigate their way to another division title based on how the games line up.

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 at Colts 10 49ers
2 Chiefs 11 Titans
3 Texans 12 at Texans
4 Falcons (Wembley) 13 Bengals (Mon.)
5 Bills (Tottenham) 14 at Browns
6 Colts 15 Ravens
7 at Saints (Thurs.) 16 at Buccaneers
8 at Steelers 17 Panthers
9 BYE 18 at Titans
Chicago Bears
  • Strength of schedule: .497 (T-18th)
  • Bye: Week 13

The Bears are only scheduled to play four 2022 playoff teams, and one of them is the Buccaneers, who lose Tom Brady. It could be a hot day in Tampa, and they’ll turn around the next week to face the defending-champion Chiefs in Kansas City. But the early-season schedule has potential benefits, too, as the Bears likely will face Jordan Love in his second career start in the opener at Soldier Field, then either Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask in Week 2, and either Sam Howell or Jacoby Brissett at Washington in Week 5. Even with the Chiefs game, that stretch is manageable. If the Lions really are the NFC North favorites in a post-Aaron Rodgers division, the Bears will have excellent preparation time for both games, facing Detroit following a Thursday game and then after the nicely placed Week 13 bye. Plus, they close the season with three of the final five games in Chicago. If the Bears are going to use this season to evaluate Justin Fields’ future with the team, the schedule doesn’t appear to hinder that goal.

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 Packers 10 Panthers (Thurs.)
2 at Buccaneers 11 at Lions
3 at Chiefs 12 at Vikings (Mon.)
4 Broncos 13 BYE
5 at Commanders (Thurs.) 14 Lions
6 Vikings 15 at Browns
7 Raiders 16 Cardinals
8 at Chargers 17 Falcons
9 at Saints 18 at Packers
  • Strength of schedule: .476 (24th)
  • Bye: Week 6

The beginning of the Jordan Love era is set up with a decent runway as the team turns the page. Love will be introduced to the Bears rivalry right away in Week 1, and three of their first five games will be away from Lambeau Field. But the one long trip on the itinerary -- at Las Vegas in Week 5 -- comes after a mini-bye following the Thursday home game against the Lions. Even if Rashan Gary is unavailable at the start of the season as he works his way back from an ACL tear, the Packers face no proven offensive juggernauts early on. The real bye in Week 6 is probably a good spot to take stock of how Love and the offense have grown in the first portion of the season and will allow Matt LaFleur to make some early-season adjustments if needed. The healthy middle portion of the schedule is no joke, but again, there are some safeguards built in, with another mini-bye prior to hosting the Chiefs in Week 13 and an extra day of prep prior to the Monday nighter the following week at the Giants. This is no easy slate by any means, but it appears the Packers won’t be facing the most daunting lineup of opponents during this all-important transition season.

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 at Bears 10 at Steelers
2 at Falcons 11 Chargers
3 Saints 12 at Lions (Thanksgiving)
4 Lions (Thurs.) 13 Chiefs
5 at Raiders (Mon.) 14 at Giants (Mon.)
6 BYE 15 Buccaneers
7 at Broncos 16 at Panthers
8 Vikings 17 at Vikings
9 Rams 18 Bears
  • Strength of schedule: .417 (32nd)
  • Bye: Week 11

The Falcons probably couldn’t have asked for a much more favorable schedule, even with a few thorny patches along the way. They open with a pair of games at home against the Panthers and Packers before the traveling gets a little tougher in Week 3 (at Lions) and Week 4 (versus Jaguars in London). As a way of easing the load on presumed starting quarterback Desmond Ridder, the Falcons can unleash Bijan Robinson and their potent run game early in the season against three teams -- the Packers, Lions and Texans -- who were at or near the bottom of the league in defending the run last season. In terms of what new coordinator Ryan Nielsen and the Falcons’ defense will face early on, the schedule sets up pretty nicely. Outside of games against the Lions and Jaguars, Atlanta could face quite a bit of QB uncertainty with two rookies (Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud), Jordan Love in what could be his third career start and whichever QBs win the jobs in Washington and Tampa Bay due up before the end of October. Closing the season with four of the final six games on the road might not be ideal, but none of those trips come against teams that made the postseason a year ago.

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 Panthers 10 at Cardinals
2 Packers 11 BYE
3 at Lions 12 Saints
4 Jaguars (Wembley) 13 at Jets
5 Texans 14 Buccaneers
6 Commanders 15 at Panthers
7 at Buccaneers 16 Colts
8 at Titans 17 at Bears
9 Vikings 18 at Saints
  • Strength of schedule: .514 (15th)
  • Bye: Week 9

The 49ers’ slate is as favorable as you might hope for as a legitimate title contender, albeit one with some questions coming into the season. There’s still concern about whether Brock Purdy will be ready for the start of the season, even with Kyle Shanahan’s recent about-face optimism. Starting with a pair of games on the road isn’t how most teams want to open the season, especially if it’s the backup quarterback in there. But the Giants will have to cross three time zones for a Thursday night game at Levi’s Stadium in Week 3, and then San Francisco will play against the (possibly Kyler Murray-less) Cardinals in Week 4. That’s not a bad way to start at all. There are a few longer flights on the schedule, with five road trips to the Eastern time zone, including ones against the Eagles in Week 13 and Commanders in Week 17 (following a Monday night home game on Christmas against the Ravens the week before). Overall, the 49ers’ schedule looks as if it’s set up for another successful run, assuming things go well in the health department.

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 at Steelers 10 at Jaguars
2 at Rams 11 Buccaneers
3 Giants (Thurs.) 12 at Seahawks (Thanksgiving)
4 Cardinals 13 at Eagles
5 Cowboys 14 Seahawks
6 at Browns 15 at Cardinals
7 at Vikings (Mon.) 16 Ravens (Mon.)
8 Bengals 17 at Commanders
9 BYE 18 Rams
  • Strength of schedule: .510 (17th)
  • Bye: Week 7

The Bengals are one of the AFC’s heavyweights now, which is why they’ll be featured in four prime-time games, with the final two of those coming on the road in Weeks 11 (Baltimore on a Thursday night) and 13 (Jacksonville on a Monday night). Also, there will be at least a couple of emotionally charged contests on the schedule with the game against Buffalo in Week 9, in light of Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the field in Cincinnati late last season, and the anticipated tussle with the defending-champion Chiefs in Week 17. But even with the early bye week, things line up pretty well for the Bengals. They’ll have the Week 7 bye to prepare for a tough road game at San Francisco on Oct. 29, and they’ll have an extra day of prep for the Chiefs thanks to a Saturday game the week prior against Pittsburgh. With three of the final five games at Paycor Stadium, all in all the Bengals shouldn’t be in bad shape. 

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 at Browns 10 Texans
2 Ravens 11 at Ravens (Thurs.)
3 Rams (Mon.) 12 Steelers
4 at Titans 13 at Jaguars (Mon.)
5 at Cardinals 14 Colts
6 Seahawks 15 Vikings
7 BYE 16 at Steelers (Sat.)
8 at 49ers 17 at Chiefs
9 Bills 18 Browns
Detroit Lions
  • Strength of schedule: .495 (20th)
  • Bye: Week 9

Sure, the opener at Kansas City is no cupcake. But if you’re going to visit the Chiefs, you might as well have as much prep time as possible, and it allows Dan Campbell to see what his team is made of right out of the gates. With extra time to prep for Seattle in Week 2, and a very manageable remainder of the early schedule, the Lions can handle a Week 1 loss and still find themselves in perfectly fine shape heading into the tougher stretch. They’ll have some nice midseason breaks in November, with the Week 9 bye and the post-Thanksgiving mini-bye. December and beyond will be tougher, with four of the final six on the road, including a nasty duo of at Minnesota and at Dallas in Weeks 16 and 17. The Lions have three Thursday games, plus one each on Saturday and Monday, so they must stay on their toes every few weeks, itinerary-wise. But that’s yet another way for the Lions to find out if they’re ready to handle a bumpy stretch or two and still emerge as playoff contenders. 

Table inside Article
Week Opponent Week Opponent
1 at Chiefs (Thurs.) 10 at Chargers
2 Seahawks 11 Bears
3 Falcons 12 Packers (Thanksgiving)
4 at Packers (Thurs.) 13 at Saints
5 Panthers 14 at Bears
6 at Buccaneers 15 Broncos
7 at Ravens 16 at Vikings
8 Raiders (Mon.) 17 at Cowboys (Sat.)
9 BYE 18 Vikings

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