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AFC North teams face toughest strength of schedule in 2024 NFL season; NFC South has easiest slate

As we wait for the NFL's 2024 schedule release party, let's look at one part of the equation we already know: strength of schedule.

The 2024 opponents are set, so while we don't know when each game will take place, we know the matchups.

Below is a ranking of teams with the toughest strength of schedule entering 2024 to the easiest slate, courtesy of NFL Research.

Table inside Article
Rank Team SOS Opp. Win Pct.
1. Cleveland Browns 158-131 .547
2. Baltimore Ravens 155-134 .536
3. Pittsburgh Steelers 154-135 .533
T-4. Houston Texans 152-137 .526
T-4. Green Bay Packers 152-137 .526
T-6. New York Giants 149-140 .516
T-6. Buffalo Bills 149-140 .516
T-8. Jacksonville Jaguars 148-141 .512
T-8. Las Vegas Raiders 148-141 .512
T-8. New England Patriots 148-141 .512
11. Detroit Lions 147-142 .509
T-12. Los Angeles Rams 146-143 .505
T-12. San Francisco 49ers 146-143 .505
T-12. Dallas Cowboys 146-143 .505
T-12. New York Jets 146-143 .505
T-16. Cincinnati Bengals 145-144 .502
T-16. Washington Commanders 145-144 .502
T-16. Minnesota Vikings 145-144 .502
T-16. Kansas City Chiefs 145-144 .502
20. Denver Broncos 143-146 .495
T-21. Indianapolis Colts 142-147 .491
T-21. Philadelphia Eagles 142-147 .491
T-21. Tennessee Titans 142-147 .491
T-24. Arizona Cardinals 141-148 .488
T-24. Seattle Seahawks 141-148 .488
T-24. Miami Dolphins 141-148 .488
T-27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 138-151 .478
T-27. Los Angeles Chargers 138-151 .478
T-29. Carolina Panthers 135-154 .467
T-29. Chicago Bears 135-154 .467
T-31. New Orleans Saints 131-158 .453
T-31. Atlanta Falcons 131-158 .453

Let's first acknowledge that since SOS is based solely on how a club's opponents finished the previous season, it's a flawed metric. It doesn't consider how teams wound up where they finished a year ago (i.e., injuries), nor does it factor in offseason improvements. It also says little about how a team's future season will go.

For instance, the Eagles had the hardest strength of schedule entering 2023 yet became the second such club to make the playoffs since 2017. Philadelphia's collapse down the stretch had more to do with injuries and inconsistent play than its opponents' previous records.

Playing in the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons had the easiest strength of schedule entering last season. They missed the playoffs at 7-10. Since 2020, including ties, three of the five teams with the easiest SOS entering the season made the postseason; the '23 Falcons and '22 Commanders were the outliers.

As long as we don't make grand predictions based on a flimsy metric, perusing SOS can be a simple, fun way to look at the upcoming season.

The NFL prides itself on season-to-season turnover, which is baked into the schedule. With division winners playing fellow division winners, teams that made strides one season see their opposition stiffen the next. The Detroit Lions, for example, entered 2023 with the 13th-easiest schedule on their way to an NFC North title. In 2024, they enter with the 11th-most difficult.

We can further break down the schedule based on how many previous playoff teams a club is set to face -- again, this is not a metric for determining future outcomes but a simple fact that could affect how many prime-time or standalone games a club might find on its schedule.

The Baltimore Ravens face 10 2023 playoff teams, one more than any other club.

  • Ravens (10): CLE (2x), PIT (2x), PHI, BUF, KC, DAL, HOU, TB
  • Bengals (9): CLE (2x), PIT (2x), BAL (2x), PHI, KC, DAL
  • 49ers (9): LAR (2x), DET, DAL, KC, GB, MIA, BUF, TB
  • Cowboys (9): PHI (2x), BAL, TB, HOU, DET, CLE, PIT, SF

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