NFL Picks for AFC Teams: How Important is Strength of Schedule When Handicapping Sports?

Kevin Stott

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 7:08 PM GMT

Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015 7:08 PM GMT

If you are worried your favorite NFL team has a tough schedule this coming season you can stop as the way it looks the best divisions will randomly be playing the best divisions when the new season kicks off in New England in September.

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 the NFL Draft (April 30-May 2), Free Agency and various other Offseason, 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. It’s never too early to buy Triscuits.

So, 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 absolutely scared to death because it looks so damn hard for your team, forcing you to curled up in the fetal position laying under a giant beanbag pillow with a pound of Beef Jerky, intermittently crying and eating and crying and eating and crying and eating for 11½ hours as reruns of ‘Family Guy’ blare mercilessly from the TV—please don’t fret my brother man, all of the talented and likely contending teams in the NFL seem to also have very tough schedules on tap in 2015. It’s okay. I promise. You can come out now. Put the Slim Jims® down. We’re here for you.
Let’s start with a look at the four Divisions in the American Football Conference (AFC) in this special 2-part series.

Click Here to Read the NFC Strength Schedule Picks

AFC East
The AFC East plays the AFC South and the NFC East this coming season and that’s a good thing for all three fairly average divisions involved. And, the New York Jets get to play the New York Giants—at MetLife Stadium in beautiful East Rutherford, NJ, of course—so, what more could we want? It to rain chocolate? Snow money? Drizzle kitty cats? Gisele Bündchen as one of our 11 wives? QB Tom Brady and the NFL champion New England Patriots (6/1 to win Super Bowl 50, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) are the first good team to have it a bit rough with games against Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas and Denver on the Road and perennial Keystone State heavies Pittsburgh and Philadelphia at Home in Foxboro. But head coach Bill Belichick is too smart and this talented team too tested and the Pats should find a way to win at least four of those tilts. The Miami Dolphins (30/1) had a nice 2014, but 2015 could be very sobering for the Turquoise & Orange with meetings against Rob Gronkowski the champs twice, Indianapolis, Dallas and Baltimore at Home, and, Buffalo, Philadelphia and San Diego, all Away. The Fish will also be banging heads with the Jets across The Pond in London’s Wembley Stadium (Oct. 4).

The upstart Buffalo Bills (50/1) and electric young WR Sammy Watkins also have a date over in Londontown, theirs with the Jacksonville Jaguars (Oct. 25). So, quite soon, the Brits will think all our bleeding American Football teams are about as exciting as wheat toast and butter. Our choice of exported NFL football clubs seems to leave a lot to be desired. Or maybe Commissioner Roger Goodell is hoping one or more of the dregs stay in the UK but his uptight secretary wouldn’t put my telephone call through to Mr. Big to find out. Perhaps using the alias ‘Baron von Butterbean’ wasn’t the best idea. Buffalo also faces dreaded New England twice—as always, Ralph—and the Bills also have to play at Miami, Philadelphia and Kansas City and they host Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas and Cincinnati. The 2015 season could be hard on evolving Buffalo with this schedule. And then there’s the New York Jets (100/1). Those lovable Jets who may finally settle on a QB long after we have all left the planet and colonized the third moon of Jupiter or something. Anyway, New York AFC gets New England, Buffalo, Miami, Philadelphia and Cleveland at Home and its Road slate is pretty jagged too with Buffalo, NE, Houston, Indianapolis, the Giants and Raiders maybe producing just 1 win, if that. You can send all get well cards, gifts or QB prospects to the New York Jets, LLC c/o new Head Coach Todd Bowles at their corporate headquarters located at 1 Jets Drive, Florham Park, New Jersey 07932.

 

AFC North
You can often judge the strength of an NFL division by the quality of its last-place team and with the Cleveland Browns (60/1) having such a decent 2014, this division and the NFC West are, for now at least, probably the two strongest in the league which is why you might want to back them with your NFL picks. And teams in this AFC North will be banging helmets with teams from that NFC West as well as the above-average AFC West in 2015, so expect this division to possibly slip a notch after the season with the Cincinnati Bengals (25/1) probably being the team that potentially determines that slip. QB Andy Dalton and Cincinnati have to deal with playing its own talented divisional opponents twice and the Bengals will also travel to Denver, Arizona, San Francisco and Buffalo and host underrated Kansas City and Houston, San Diego, feisty St. Louis and the NFC champion Seahawks. So, a .500 season may be perceived as a win for this team which may have gotten about as high as its going get up the NFL Ladder these last couple of seasons. Hasta.

The Baltimore Ravens (20/1) are a very, very good football team who can beat anyone. But QB Joe Flacco and The Tackling Edgar Allan Poes have to dance with their rival Steelers, Bengals and Browns twice each year, and, in 2015 Baltimore hosts KC, SD, St. Louis, and QB Russell Wilson and NFC champion Seattle Seahawks and the Ravens are at Denver, Arizona, SF and Miami. So, 2015 will be yet another very challenging year for head coach John Harbaugh and his boys to simply even make the postseason. It’s trite and cliché, but every game in the NFL does really matter for some teams. But for some reason, this looks like a schedule Baltimore can possibly jam on and an undefeated start for some time may be in the making. The two Steelers games, the Seahawks at Home and the Broncos and Niners on the Road should be the Ravens biggest tests and out of all of the good teams in the NFL, Baltimore’s 2015 schedule looks the least frightening from this safe, mid-February distance. But who knows, maybe a Smith signs elsewhere and another is abducted by Aliens and this team goes 0-16. The Pittsburgh Steelers (20/1) should start 2015 with dynamic a young star RB (Le’Veon Bell) and WR (Antonio Brown), and could definitely make a run at Super Bowl 50 if QB Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, but with Home dates against Denver, Arizona, SF and Indianapolis and Road fixtures with KC, SD, St. Louis and the two Super Bowl XLIX participants—the Seahawks and Patriots—the schedule-maker was obviously out to get Mike Tomlin and his Black and Yellow Army this year, who may possibly open up the 2015 NFL season in New England (Sept. 10). Mi Bola de Cristal says, “Si, señor,” so you best pack up some strawberry jelly sandwiches and orange Fanta and load the kids into the station wagon in alphabetical order because September will be here before you know it, Bubba.

 

AFC South
The Indianapolis Colts (12/1) and QB Andrew Luck always seem to feast on its divisional counterparts (6-0 SU last season, 5-0-1 ATS) and it would be nice to say that 2015 will be different but it may only be different in the amount of pressure the Houston Texans (30/1) end up putting on the Horseshoes.  With hard Home games at the RCA Dome in Naptown against Houston, Super Bowl champions New England, New Orleans and former team legend Peyton Manning and Denver, as well as road tilts versus Houston, Buffalo, Miami, Carolina and Pittsburgh, the Colts appear to have one of the NFL’s most-difficult schedules, even though this division is weak. The AFC South does get to play the average AFC East and the below-average NFC South this coming season, but this division will remain somewhat bland until the Texans get a little better. And with defender extraordinaire JJ Watt, it’s very possible that happens in 2015. The Texans host NE, NO and KC and are Away to Buffalo, Miami, Atlanta, Carolina and Cincinnati—all almost actually winnable games. So, without the rugged Steelers and Broncos on the slate like Indy has, the schedule isn’t too bad for Houston if they can play up to their potential and stay healthy. Famous last words.

The Jacksonville Jaguars (300/1) used to be the laugh of the NFL but with young QB Blake Bortles (South Florida), the Jags aren’t even the worst team in the AFC South anymore, thanks to the 2014 season the Tennessee Titans (300/1) had. And with both of these teams having to play the Colts and Texans twice along with the AFC East and NFC South, even though the schedule is as promising as it can be for these two clubs, it’s such a mathematical battle that it’s just not worth worrying or pontificating about. The schedule may look good (on paper) because of who you play (on the field) but bad because of who you really are...a professional football team that has trouble scoring points. It’ll probably be more of The Same Old Song and Dance for the Jaguars and Titans this NFL season.

 

AFC West
It will probably be a matter of only days until league legend Peyton Manning announces his not-that-triumphant return to the QB helm of the Denver Broncos (8/1), but, unfortunately for 2013 AFC champs, teams in the AFC West have to play the bruising AFC North and the respectable NFC North this coming 2015 season. So, overall Team Win Totals should be down some in this division in 2015. The Broncos play Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay and Super Bowl champions New England, all at Home, and then dance with Pittsburgh, Detroit and Indianapolis on the Road, so, it may be the Home slate that ends up hurting the Broncos. The Kansas City Chiefs (30/1) beat both Super Bowl participants (Patriots, Seahawks) in 2014 but didn’t have WRs who scored TDs so an enigma they do be. This campaign—besides those Broncos and Chargers twice—the Chiefs host the Steelers, Lions and Bills; are at Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay and Houston; and, play Detroit a second time, the third of three NFL games in London this season (Nov. 1). A difficult schedule to say the least, so careful when looking at the NFL odds.

The San Diego Chargers (30/1) and QB Philip Rivers looked really strong to start the 2014 season but Reality and Gravity caught up with the Bolts as it always seems to do to this team this Millennium. Hey, it ain’t easy being electricity, homeskillet. In 2105, the Chargers are at Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Green Bay and host Pittsburgh, Detroit and Miami on top of two AFC West dates apiece with Denver, Kansas City and the Oakland Raiders (300/1). Life seems to always be hard for the Raiders, no matter who is head coach or QB, and with Home games against Baltimore, Cincinnati and Green Bay and Road skirmishes with Pittsburgh and Detroit, the slate looks fierce but it’s not horrible; as Oakland also gets Cleveland, Chicago and Tennessee on the Road and Minnesota and the rudderless New York Jets at Home at the O.co Coliseum. But having a favorable schedule and being the Oakland Raiders is a little like having a great body but being a wombat. A little like.

2015 AFC Strength of Schedule Winners: Baltimore Ravens (Projected 12-4), Houston Texans (9-7)

comment here