Congratulations, Miami Dolphins. You went from a 1-15 joke to inspirational AFC East champs and a trip to the playoffs.
Your reward? The NFL's most thankless schedule.
All four AFC East are in the same situation because they will play the AFC South and NFC South, divisions that produced four playoff teams. Nobody in the NFC South had a losing record.
The AFC East has four of the league's seven harshest schedules. Sending two teams to the playoffs will be extremely difficult in 2009. It's not unfathomable to imagine a 10-6 or 9-7 record taking the division.
The New England Patriots have the third-toughest schedule. Their opponents went 151-105 for a .580 winning percentage. The Buffalo Bills have the sixth-toughest (146-110, .570). The New York Jets are just a skosh behind the Bills because of a tie (145-110-1, .568).
But the Dolphins face the most rugged road, albeit barely.
Their opponents posted one fewer victory than the Patriots and one fewer tie than the Carolina Panthers. The Dolphins finished atop the AFC East, which means they must face every first-place AFC team. They'll also draw the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers.
The AFC East had a far more painless schedule in 2008. It played the AFC West and NFC West, divisions that produced one winning record -- not each, but combined. Western divisions compiled an aggregate 45-83 record, a .352 winning percentage.
The Bills had the second-easiest actual 2008 schedule (determined after season), with their opponents going 116-140 for a .453 winning percentage. Only the San Francisco 49ers had it easier.
The Dolphins owned the 27th-easiest actual schedule (118-138, .461). The Jets were 26th (120-135-1, .471), and the Patriots were 22nd (123-133, .480).