Every NFL team's schedule will have a significant impact on each team's performance this season, though the difficulty of that schedule is not always clear this time of year.
In last summer's Football Outsiders Almanac 2014, we projected the Houston Texans to have the easiest schedule in 2014 and the Oakland Raiders to have the toughest. By season's end, the results matched both predictions, which helps explain how Houston improved by seven wins and why the Raiders have yet another top-five draft pick.
The key is not to focus on the previous year's win-loss records, because they do not reliably predict future performance. Football Outsiders builds strength-of-schedule rankings around a more reliable metric called DVOA, or defense-adjusted value over average (explained here). DVOA breaks down every play of the season to find out how efficient teams are relative to average performance in each situation.
For the purposes of projecting the schedule in April, we adjust last year's performance in DVOA for regression to the mean and make additional adjustments for injuries, key free-agent acquisitions and losses, and the 2014 schedule strength for each team.
These 2015 projections are not final -- with the draft and updated depth charts to come -- but we picked six teams that are expected to navigate a far different caliber of schedule compared to 2014. Essentially, this is a breakdown of the teams that will be helped and hurt the most by their 2015 schedule strength. We start with the toughest roads.
Teams hurt most by schedule: