AFC East's hardest first-quarter schedule?

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Players and coaches often look at NFL schedules in terms of quarters, breaking them down into four-game sets.

With that in mind, let's rate the degree of difficulty each AFC East club will face by the time they enter the first turn of 2009.

I've ranked their first quarters from hardest to easiest based on strength of the opponents, not projected records after the four games.

Also keep in mind that the AFC East features four of the seven most difficult schedules this year based on last year's records.

1. Miami Dolphins

2. New York Jets

3. Buffalo Bills

  • Opponents: Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Saints, Dolphins.

  • Combined 2008 records: 39-25 (.609 winning percentage).

  • Notes: Also not a losing record among them, but the Buccaneers are a team in transition with a rookie head coach and an unsettled quarterback situation. ... Bills went 0-4 against Patriots and Dolphins.

4. New England Patriots

  • Opponents: Bills, Jets, Falcons, Baltimore Ravens.

  • Combined 2008 records: 38-26 (.594 winning percentage).

  • Notes: The only AFC East club that opens with two divisional foes, but neither had double-digit wins last year. ... Patriots went 3-1 against Bills and Jets.