Schedule strength means a lot when it comes to deciding who gets a postseason berth in the NFL. An easy schedule didn't hand Dallas a playoff spot last season, but it was a big reason the Cowboys went 10-6 despite rating as a below-average team by Football Outsiders DVOA ratings. And a difficult schedule (fourth in the league) helped keep Pittsburgh out of the playoffs, at 9-6-1. So it's important to know which teams are going to get a schedule boost in 2019.
Of course, it's tough to project schedules when we don't know how good teams will be in the future. We've done it here using our projections of Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings, which account for general statistical trends and specific personnel changes. These projections are a bit different from those in our book Football Outsiders Almanac 2019, still available online, because of injuries and suspensions and, most important, Andrew Luck's surprise retirement.
These schedule projections might not agree with conventional wisdom, because the Football Outsiders projections don't necessarily agree with conventional wisdom. For example, Chicago is expected to decline this season, while Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Detroit are expected to be stronger than in 2018.
Instead of simply listing the average projected DVOA of each team's 2019 opponents, we've made some small adjustments based on a couple of important situations. Opponents get a small adjustment if they are coming off a bye week, and a smaller adjustment if they are coming off a "half-bye" (Thursday night game). We've also removed home-field advantage for neutral-site games, and we've given a small penalty to teams playing on the road on Thursday nights. These adjustments don't count if both teams are coming off the same amount of rest (i.e., both playing consecutive games off the bye week).
Of course, the hardest projected schedule for this year isn't as hard as what the actual hardest schedule from last year was, because their projections are conservative. Going into a new season, no team is guaranteed to be as good as last season's best team or as bad as last season's worst team.
Here are all 32 teams, ranked in order from the hardest projected schedule to the easiest:
Adjusted projected DVOA of 2019 opponents: 3.0%
Hardest schedule stretch: Weeks 2-5 (at Panthers on short rest, vs. Giants, at Rams, at Saints)
The Bucs are only fourth in terms of average DVOA of opponent, but they move to No. 1 in adjusted schedule strength primarily because they have only seven home games, losing their home division tilt against Carolina (Week 6) to London. They're also stuck in one of the NFL's stronger divisions, the NFC South, and they have to play against the underrated AFC South this season. If the Bucs do manage to turn things around, at least they could have a strong ending, with three of their final four games at home.