Now that the full NFL schedule has been released, we have a better sense of how each team’s season might go. There are difficult travel schedules to factor in, as well as international games. The NFC is considerably weaker than the AFC this year after an offseason of blockbuster moves that saw stars switch from the NFC to the AFC, but for the NFC West and NFC South, their schedules are particularly grueling.
We ranked each NFC team’s schedule from easiest to toughest, with the defending champions appropriately having the hardest in the conference.
You’ll notice how favorable the Commanders’ schedule is when you look at the teams they’ll face on the road outside of their own division: Lions, Bears, Colts, Texans and 49ers. The 49ers and Colts could be tough opponents, but the other three are weaker teams expected to finish near the bottom of the league again.
They do have to play host to the Titans, Packers, Vikings and Browns, but at least they get those teams at home instead of on the road. Combined, their opponents only won 46.2% of their games last season, tied for the worst in the NFL. If the Commanders struggle again in 2022, it won’t be due to a grueling schedule.
15. Detroit Lions
The Lions will benefit from a last-place schedule, which sets them up with games against the Seahawks, Giants, Jaguars, Jets and Panthers. Those are favorable games for Detroit, as none of the five are expected to contend for their respective division titles. The Lions aren’t going to be much of a threat to make the playoffs themselves, but if they can take care of business against weaker opponents, they could be in line to win seven or eight games.
Teams like the Cowboys, Dolphins, Packers, Bills and Packers will be tough to beat, but the NFC North as a whole is relatively weak, which helps the Lions. They also only have two sets of back-to-back road games.
14. New York Giants
The Giants have one of the easiest schedules in the league when looking at their list of opponents, but they get the short end of the stick among the NFC East teams by having to face the Titans and Packers on the road in the first five weeks of the season. The rest of their schedule includes the Panthers, Bears, Jaguars, Seahawks, Texans, Lions, Vikings and Colts.
It’s a slate of games you’d expect a last-place team to get, and given the construction of the Giants’ roster, they could finish at the bottom of the NFC East again.
13. Chicago Bears
The Bears’ toughest opponent in the NFC North is the Packers, of course, but the Vikings and Lions look like beatable teams, even for Chicago. Outside the division, the Bears will host the 49ers, Dolphins and Bills, who are three of their toughest opponents. And on the road, they don’t have to travel to the West Coast at all, which is a plus.
They do have to face the Cowboys and Patriots on the road, but they also finish the year with four of their last five games at home – with all three of their December games at Soldier Field.
The Eagles’ road schedule is manageable, getting the Lions, Texans, Colts and Bears away from home. Where Philadelphia will be tested is at home against the Vikings, Packers, Titans and Saints. Although the Eagles are one of the few teams with three straight road games at any point during their season, but they also alternate road and home games for most of the year and get to finish the season at home in Weeks 17 and 18.
11. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys won the NFC East last season going 12-5, so they get a first-place schedule – albeit, a much easier one than any other division winner in the NFL. The start of their schedule is absolutely brutal, though. They host the Buccaneers and Bengals in the first two weeks, and also visit the Rams in Week 5. Things get easier in the second half when they face the Texans and Jaguars, but they also have to face the Packers, Vikings and Titans on the road.
The opponents aren’t all that difficult, but the layout and road trips do make things tougher for Dallas.
The Vikings’ road schedule includes trips to New Orleans, Miami, Buffalo and Green Bay. None of those games will be easy for them to win. Yhey also get the Cowboys and Patriots at home, teams that made the playoffs last year. Fortunately, the end of their campaign is manageable, taking on the Jets, Lions, Colts, Giants, Packers and Bears in the last six weeks. Minnesota should win at least four of those six, which could be enough to propel them into the playoffs.
We all know the Packers are going to win at least four or five of their divisional matchups, but it’s the games outside the NFC North that will test Green Bay. They’ll face the Buccaneers, Patriots, Bills, Cowboys, Titans and Rams. Again, their divisional slate is one of the more favorable in the NFL unless the Lions and Bears suddenly become contenders, which seems unlikely at this point in time.
Assuming the Packers make the playoffs, their Week 14 bye will be a nice break before the home stretch, too. And fortunately, their London game will be against the Giants, so they’re not losing their home-field advantage to a playoff team.
This is where things get a bit tougher in the NFC. The Panthers get the Browns in Week 1, a big test against a team that’s expected to be considerably better than last year after acquiring Deshaun Watson (if the NFL has not suspended the QB). They also get the NFC West, so Carolina will have to contend with the Rams, 49ers, Cardinals and Seahawks – by far the best division in football last season.
Add in matchups with the Bengals, Ravens and Broncos, and the Panthers could be in for a disappointing season.
It’s bad enough that the Seahawks parted ways with Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson this offseason. It’s even worse that they’ll face both of them in 2022 – including a Week 1 matchup with Wilson’s Broncos. The Seahawks will also face the Saints on the road, the Chargers at SoFi Stadium, the Buccaneers in Tampa, the Chiefs on the road and the Raiders at home.
Outside of games against the Falcons, Lions, Giants and Jets, the Seahawks don’t have a ton of games they’ll be favored in.
The Saints will face both of the Super Bowl teams from last season, though each of those games will be at home. They’ll also face the Cardinals, Ravens, Raiders, Buccaneers and Browns outside the division, none of which will be easy.
The Saints have a great home-field advantage at the Superdome, which helps a bit, but there are some really intriguing and challenging games on their schedule. And they’re losing a home game to a London matchup with the Vikings. They end the year with four of their last six games on the road against the 49ers, Bucs, Browns and Eagles, too. That’s no bargain.
Without Matt Ryan for the first time since 2007, the Falcons will be tested early and often. This is the way their season starts: vs. Saints, at Rams, at Seahawks, vs. Browns, at Bucs, vs. 49ers, at Bengals. It’s entirely possible the Falcons will begin the year 0-7, and at best, they probably start 2-5.
This team is already lacking talent, but their schedule doesn’t make things any easier. The Falcons will also face the Chargers, Ravens and Cardinals outside the division – three other games they’ll be underdogs in.
As brutal as the Falcons’ start to the season is, Tampa Bay’s might be worse. The Bucs go on the road against the Cowboys and Saints to start, then host the Packers and Chiefs at home. That’s right, they’re beginning the year against four straight playoff teams from last season.
And in the second half of the year after their Week 11 bye, they have to visit the Browns, host the Saints, visit the 49ers, host the Bengals and face the Cardinals in Arizona. Their home game against the Seahawks will be in Germany, too, so that’ll be a long trip. The Bucs are one of the most talented teams in football, and their first-place finish last year reflects that.
The 49ers don’t have the terrible travel schedule that some other teams have, and their road trips to Carolina and Atlanta are in back-to-back weeks, so they’ll get to stay out on the East Coast without having to fly back in between. What makes the 49ers’ schedule difficult is the number of quality teams they’ll face.
San Francisco will take on the Broncos, Chargers, Saints, Dolphins, Buccaneers and Raiders outside their division, and beating the Rams and cardinals will be no bargain. If they’re going to make it back to the playoffs, they must take advantage of games against the Bears, Seahawks, Panthers, Falcons and Washington.
The Cardinals will be tested right away when they face the Chiefs, Raiders and Rams in the first three weeks. They also get the Saints, Chargers, Patriots, Broncos and Bucs, and their home game against the 49ers will be in Mexico City, so there will be no home-field advantage.
The Panthers, Seahawks and Falcons are the most favorable teams on Arizona’s schedule, which tells you exactly how challenging this 18-week slate will be for the Cardinals. And to make matters worse, they’ll be without DeAndre Hopkins for the first six weeks due to suspension, so he’ll miss games against the Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Panthers, Eagles and Seahawks.
The team with the hardest schedule based on 2021 records also has one of the toughest when you look at projected win totals. Right off the bat they get the Bills at home, followed by games against the Falcons, Cardinals, 49ers and Cowboys. In the second half of the season, they’ll visit the Buccaneers, Saints, Chiefs and Packers. Those three teams are incredibly difficult to beat on the road. Also on their schedule are the Raiders and Broncos, in addition to the Cardinals and 49ers, of course, who are expected to be playoff contenders.
It's only fitting that the defending Super Bowl champions have the hardest schedule in the league this year.