Schedule strength means a lot when it comes to deciding who gets a postseason berth in the NFL. An easy schedule didn't hand the Carolina Panthers a playoff spot, but it was a big reason they went 15-1 last year. An easy schedule kept the New York Jets in playoff contention until the end of the season, and it helped propel the Washington Redskins to a surprise NFC East crown. So it's important to know which teams are going to get a schedule boost in 2016.
We've crunched the numbers using our projections of Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings, which account for general statistical trends and specific personnel changes. The numbers here come from an updated set of projections that account for preseason injuries and suspensions. For major injuries that don't have a definite timetable, we assumed Tony Romo would be back by Week 12 with a 50 percent chance of returning between Week 8 and Week 11, and we assumed Justin Houston would return to the Kansas City Chiefs sometime between Week 7 and Week 10.
Of course, the strongest projected schedule for 2016 is only about half as strong as the hardest schedule from 2015, because our team projections are naturally conservative. Going into a new season, no team is guaranteed to be as good as last year's best team or as bad as last year's worst team.
Here are all 32 teams ranked in order from the hardest projected schedule to the easiest. You can read the full file or skip directly to your team using the links below.
Average projected DVOA of opponents: 4.5 percent
Hardest schedule stretch: Weeks 1-3 (Rams, at Panthers, at Seahawks)
This is what happens when you play in a division with the two of the best teams in the NFL. In fact, Seattle and Arizona are the two best teams going into 2016, according to our projections, and the Rams are about average. It doesn't help that the two teams the 49ers play by virtue of finishing last in 2015, Dallas and Chicago, are both expected to improve this season. At least the 49ers' game against the Cowboys comes in Week 4, long before Tony Romo has any hope of returning.