NFC Predictions: Handicapping the Strength of Schedule for Accurate NFL Picks

Kevin Stott

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 7:05 PM GMT

The NFC’s Seahawks, Packers and Cowboys are three of the best teams in the NFL right now but their 2015 schedules are absolutely horrible. Let’s wrap up our Two-Part look at schedule strength and pick some NFC Schedule winners.

As we talked about for the 16 teams in the AFC and their Strength of Schedule in Part 1, in some seasons, the NFL schedule appears to have some beautifully dumb balance to it and it looks like the 2015 season is one of those, with the league’s stronger and weaker conferences accidentally and organically being scheduled against each other. How this plays out in terms of individual Team Win Totals, the final standings and who ends up making the 2015 Postseason obviously remains to be seen, and, between the NFL Draft (April 30-May 2), Free Agency and various other Offseason occurrences, many things will be happening between now and NFL Kickoff 2015 Weekend—when the Super Bowl XLIX champion New England Patriots host the season’s lidlifter against an opponent yet to be named on Thursday, Sept. 10 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. 

If you’re a fan of one of the NFL’s better teams and you’ve already looked over the coming season’s schedule and are as worried as a Walmart greeter on Black Friday morning, don’t fret my Furry Friends as all of the talented and likely contending teams in the NFL also seem to have tough schedules this coming season. We will all make it through. Tomorrow always comes. And without further meaninglessness, let’s examine the four Divisions in the National Football Conference (NFC) in the second installment of this special 2-part series.

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NFC East
The teams in the NFC East will be playing teams from the AFC East and the NFC South this coming 2015 NFL season, and that is what we call a Big Blessing for this particular division. Santa Claus may have been a little late, but he really hooked this division up right. The Philadelphia Eagles (20/1 to win Super Bowl 50, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) are always a team opponents don’t want to play, and this season—besides interdivisional opponents—the Eagles will face Carolina, Super Bowl champions New England and Detroit on the Road and New Orleans and Arizona at Home. Playing the G-Men, Redskins, Buccaneers, Bills and Dolphins all at Lincoln Financial Field in the City of Brotherly Love should be a great thing for Philadelphia. Defending division champions, the Dallas Cowboys  (14/1) and QB Tony Romo have an incredibly rugged schedule as the Cowboys have to play the three toughest teams currently in the NFL next season—the Super Bowl champion Patriots and the 2013 titlists, the Seattle Seahawks—both at Home—and Dallas also has to play Green Bay at Lambeau Field. Lovely. A plethora of Pain. Best invest in Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), makers of Bengay™ before the bastards beat you to it, Bubba. And Jerry’s Boys also have a date with the New Orleans Saints and QB Drew Brees in The Big Easy. And, with the aforementioned Eagles on tap twice, the Cowboys 2015 schedule is absolutely loaded with landmines, so re-signing Free Agents DeMarco Murray (RB) and Dez Bryant (WR) seems almost necessary in Big D.

The New York Giants (30/1) have regressed much and with Eli Manning at QB, don’t look to be much of a threat to the Eagles or Cowboys. The G-Men play Carolina, New England and San Francisco at Home and have to face New Orleans, Buffalo and Miami on the Road, so, although not the end of the world, it will still be hard for New York NFC to get their hard-plastic, shell-covered heads above the .500 mark this season. And the Washington Redskins (100/1) have regressed even more than the Giants probably have, and despite only New Orleans out of division looking like a tough opponent at FedEx Field—and Carolina and New England on the Road—this 2015 season will likely be difficult because of the Redskins personnel. But with Atlanta, Chicago and the Jets all Away and Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Miami and St. Louis on home soil, Washington honestly has one of the best schedules—for them at least—this coming season. But they will be trying to make pizza out of tortillas, Wendy’s ketchup packets and processed American cheese. No bueno. 

 

NFC North
QB Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (8/1) came oh-so close to making Super Bowl XLIX but an onside kick and some Bad Luck shredded the Cheeseheads in Seattle in the NFC Championship game. This season, the Packers schedule is extremely difficult, with Green Bay having to face San Francisco, Arizona, Denver and Carolina all on the Road and the NFC champion and those 2013 Super Bowl champion Seahawks, upstart Kansas City, San Diego and Dallas all at Home at Lambeau Field. Mercy. But the Cheeseheads are the class of the league and one of the best teams in the NFL and the NFC North should have an identical order of finish in 2015 as it did last season. The Detroit Lions (25/1) played some great D last season and getting to play the Bears and Vikings twice may be a good thing. On top of playing Green Bay twice—which seems to have Detroit’s number of late—the Lions will face Arizona, San Francisco, Denver and Philadelphia at Home; NFC champions Seattle, St. Louis, San Diego and New Orleans on the Road; and, the Kansas City Chiefs over in London’s Wembley Stadium (November 1). One of the tougher schedules in the league, no doubt.

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The Minnesota Vikings (50/1)—who will be playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2015 Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio on Sunday, August 9 (NBC, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT)—have to play St. Louis, Seattle, Kansas City and San Diego at Home, and, Arizona, San Francisco and Denver on the Road. Average stress. The Chicago Bears (50/1) are in a similar situation as the Purple People Eaters, with the Bears playing Arizona, San Francisco and Denver at Soldier Field in the Windy City and NFC champions Seattle, Kansas City and San Diego on the Road. As mercurial QB Jay Cutler goes, so will go Chicago and new Head Coach John Fox in 2015 but Cutler’s tendency to throw the ball to the wrong-colored jerseys is beyond troubling.

 

NFC South
The much-maligned (in 2014) teams in the NFC South will be playing the teams from the AFC South and NFC East—a very good thing for a division last season where all four teams finished below the .500 mark, a real rarity in the NFL. QB Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints (25/1) get the Lions at Home and Philadelphia, Houston, Indianapolis and Arizona all Away, so, Who Dat Nation should be thrilled to death with their beloved Saints favorable schedule in a season where favorable schedules seem few and far between. The Carolina Panthers (30/1) are also poised to have a good 2015 in my mind, and the Panthers will play Philadelphia, Houston, Indianapolis and Green Bay at Home and Dallas and the NFC champion Seahawks the Road, so, Carolina will have to deal with some of the toughest teams in the National Football League this coming season. This season will be a real test.

The Atlanta Falcons (30/1), QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones come off of an incredibly disappointing 2013 season, and this campaign, the Dirty Birds will play Philadelphia, Houston and Indianapolis at Home, and Dallas and San Francisco Away (in tough games). So, with two contests against the Buccaneers and Washington (H), Minnesota (H), New York Giants (A), Jacksonville (A) and Tennessee (A), the Falcons actually have a favorable schedule if they can do something with both meetings against the Saints and Panthers. But this team seems on the beginning of a slide. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (200/1) are one of the league’s long-shots, and if Tampa Bay can go 4-2 against its own division here, maybe a Shock Postseason appearance? It may depend on whom the Bucs take with the #1 pick in the NFL Draft—FSU QB Jameis Winston is rumored to be headed to Tampa according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper—but with only one real tough non-divisional Home game against Dallas, and potentially tough Road tilts versus Philadelphia, Houston and Indianapolis, this team may be the surprise of the season, although the car seems to be missing an awful lot of parts at this particular point in Time. Like everyone else in the NFC South and maybe more so, the Buccaneers have a really decent schedule with a surprising number of perceived winnable games.

 

NFC West
The NFC champion Seattle Seahawks (5/1) and the fellow members of the now pretty rugged NFC West will be playing the nasty thugs from the AFC North and the NFC North, so cumulative travel could ultimately be a small issue. The Seahawks will welcome Detroit, Pittsburgh and Carolina to CenturyLink Field in the Emerald City and Seattle will play Green bay, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Dallas on the Road, so, both the Divisional and Non-Divisional schedules are rough for Head Coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, who will be working to re-sign sometimes intentionally-moody RB Marshawn Lynch this Offseason. The San Francisco 49ers (25/1) lost Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and replaced him with DL coach Jim Tomsula, and the Niners play Green Bay, Baltimore and Cincinnati at Home and get Detroit and Pittsburgh on the Road. San Francisco does have some winnable games though against Minnesota (H), Atlanta (H), Chicago (A), Cleveland (A) and the New York Giants (A). As has been the last couple of season for the 49ers, much will depend on the play of QB Colin Kaepernick and San Francisco’s health—a real issue in 2014.

The Arizona Cardinals (30/1) had a surprisingly wonderful season in 2014 and will get QB Carson Palmer back from injury (torn ACL), but the Cardinals have to play Seattle, San Francisco and the St. Louis Rams (30/1) all twice in this now rugged division. Toss in hard Home games against Green Bay, Baltimore, Cincinnati and New Orleans as well as Road tilts versus Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and 2015 could be very, very tough for Arizona. This may be a good team to bet Under on its Team Win Total (Last season: 7½, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook). Fans may be very bitter in the Valley of the Sun this Fall. And those pesky little Rams, they will continue to improve and be a fly in everyone’s ointment. The only real tough-looking (non-divisional) Home game for St. Louis is against the Steelers while on the Road, only Green Bay, Baltimore and maybe Cincinnati look challenging. But at 30/1, the value in the Rams has already been diminished, but St. Louis does have a schedule favorable for improvement—if they can just deal with those 6 brutal divisional games against the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals.

 

Conclusion
It’s always a good idea to try to spend a little bit of one’s Time perusing the coming season’s NFL schedules to find any perceived advantages, and, hopefully we have done some Leg Work here. And it looks like the 2015 NFL season should be another incredibly entertaining one with the Patriots, Broncos, Steelers and Ravens in the AFC, and the Packers, Seahawks and Cowboys in the NFC all having really tough schedules this coming season. Randomnosity at its best, Billy Bob. And, Mr. Schedulemaker have been fairly kind to the Eagles, Seahawks, Ravens and Texans, among some others. Maybe a Perfect Pigskin Storm.

2015 NFC Strength of Schedule Winners: Philadelphia Eagles (Projected 11-5), New Orleans Saints (9-7)