The Tough Road Ahead: 8 Teams With the Toughest Schedule Stretch

Apr 29, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on stage during the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft at First Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL making its annual schedule release official last night, there has been ample time to analyze each team’s schedule. In any given season, and particularly on any given Sunday, teams can write their own history. This season will be no different. Certain teams will face a tougher trek than others when factoring in last year’s opponent success. 

Divisional games come with their own difficulties in matchups based on the familiarity and frequency that the teams play each other. Because of that, long stretches of mostly divisional opponents have been excluded. Teams with stretches of 5-6 games against mostly non-divisional opponents (who also made a playoff appearance last year) make for a difficult schedule. Coast-to-coast travel also negatively impacts players and teams. 

Here are the teams with the toughest stretches of the season and what will make them so difficult.

8. Indianapolis Colts: Weeks 1-5

The Colts open their 2021 campaign with consecutive home games against NFC West playoff teams. Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks and Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams. This is directly followed by three straight road games against playoff-caliber competition. Week 3 they will travel to Tennessee for a divisional matchup. In Week 4 they will travel to a likely balmy Miami to face a Dolphins team that narrowly missed the playoffs. Finally, in Week 5 they travel to Baltimore for a matchup with the Ravens. This stretch alone would normally push them up towards the top of the list, but with them at the start of the season fatigue will not play as much a factor as it would in the middle of the season.

7. Denver Broncos: Weeks 4-9

The Broncos begin this tough stretch at home against the Ravens in Week 4. The follow that up with an East coast trip to another AFC North opponent in the Pittsburgh Steelers for Week 5. They return home in Week 6 for a divisional matchup against the Raiders. In Week 7 they head to Cleveland to complete the trifecta of AFC North opponents that made playoff appearances. In Week 8 the Washington Football Team comes to town in what is set up to be a defensive masterpiece of a game. Finally, in Week 9 Denver heads to Dallas for a matchup against what should be a vastly improved Cowboy team.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers: Weeks 13-18

The Steelers are another team that would find themselves higher on the list if we were factoring in the complexity of divisional matchups. This stretch has them playing divisional foes for 3 of the 6 games, ultimately knocking them down the list a bit.

Week 13 has the hated Ravens coming to town to battle for what likely could be the divisional crown. In Week 14, the Steelers head to Minnesota to face a revamped Vikings team hungry for the playoffs. The Titans come to town in Week 15 to do battle. Pittsburgh heads to Kansas City in Week 16 for what will likely be a high-scoring affair. The Steelers finish this stretch against divisional opponents, hosting Cleveland in Week 16 and traveling to Baltimore in Week 17. Those last two games will ultimately decide the Steelers season as dropping one or both could prove detrimental.

5. Minnesota Vikings: Weeks 8-12

The Vikings open this stretch with a Week 8 primetime game against the Dallas Cowboys and should be facing a fully healthy Dak Prescott. In Week 9 the Vikings travel to the East coast to face off against a tough-nosed Ravens team. They follow this up with a trip out West to play an up-and-coming Chargers team in Week 10. In Week 11 the Vikings return home to face the arch-nemesis Green Bay Packers. Finally, in Week 12 the Vikings head back to the West coast for a Thanksgiving weekend matchup against a 49er team looking to rebound from an injury-riddled 2020 campaign. The ping-ponging from coast-to-coast against playoff-caliber opponents in the middle of the season ultimately makes this stretch a treacherous one.

4. Tennessee Titans: Weeks 6-10

The Titans face a Bills team, in Week 6, that nearly punched their ticket to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl last year. They follow that match-up with another home contest against a Kansas City team that did represent the conference in Week 7. In Week 8 the Titans travel to Indianapolis for a matchup that will likely determine the division winner. Tennessee heads to the West coast in Week 9 to face a revamped Los Angeles Rams team. The Titans finish this stretch at home against the New Orleans Saints who should find themselves in a groove with Jameis Winston under center.

3. Seattle Seahawks: Weeks 1-6

The Seahawks open the season on the road with a Week 1 matchup against the Colts. They follow this with a Week 2 home game against the Titans. In Week 3 the Seahawks finally head to Minnesota after 3 straight years of hosting the team. In Week 4, Seattle has their first divisional matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. They continue the divisional trend at home against a Rams team that will be looking to make an early statement. Finally, in Week 6 the Seahawks will head East to face off against the Steelers. With six straight games against playoff-worthy opponents, this is one of the more difficult stretches in the season.

2. Green Bay Packers: Weeks 7-12

The Packers have an absolutely brutal stretch of games in the middle of the season starting with a Week 7 home game against the Washington Football Team. In Week 8 they will travel to Arizona to play a completely revamped Cardinals team. The Week 9 game at Kansas City should be the game of the week and somehow was not put as a primetime matchup. They return home for a Week 10 contest against the Seahawks. Then it is a divisional contest on the road against the Vikings in Week 11. Finally, in Week 12 they host the Los Angeles Rams who will be looking to avenge last year’s playoff defeat.

1. Las Vegas Raiders: Weeks 12-17

The Raiders have a vicious six-game stretch towards the end of the season that will ultimately decide their playoff fate. Starting in Week 12 they will travel to Dallas and face a team that most likely will be firing on all cylinders. In Week 13 they will play host to a WFT bringing in one of the NFL’s best defenses to town. Week 14 the Raiders will travel to Kansas City for a divisional matchup against the Chiefs. They continue on the road in Week 15 in Cleveland against a Browns team that should improve on last year’s playoff appearance. Las Vegas will host divisional foe Denver in Week 16 in a game that usually becomes a defensive slugfest. The Raiders finish up this stretch on the road in Week 17 against a Colts team that has Super Bowl aspirations.