NFL Strength of Schedule: Which Teams Face the Toughest Matchups in 2020?

The New England Patriots could be in for a rough ride this season—and that has nothing to do with Tom Brady leaving Foxborough after two decades, nor with the several key players who have opted out of the season due to concerns related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

At .537, Bill Belichick's team has the highest strength of schedule of any of the 32 NFL franchises—as calculated by their opponents' combined winning percentage last year—just marginally ahead of AFC East rivals New York Jets.

The Patriots will face seven teams that have qualified for the playoffs last season—the joint-highest in the NFL—as they will play the Buffalo Bills twice, the Baltimore Ravens, the Houston Texans and the Seattle Seahawks as well as the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, the two teams that reached Super Bowl LIV in February.

New England faces trips to Seattle—when the Patriots will meet the Seahawks for the first time since defeating them in Super Bowl XLIX—and Kansas City to take on the defending Super Bowl champions within the first four weeks.

Following a bye in Week 6, the Patriots face a potentially crucial stretch with home games against San Francisco and the Ravens bookending road games against the Bills and the Jets.

It is the first time in the Belichick era the Patriots have the toughest strength of schedule in the regular season and it marks a significant change from last season, when the Patriots had the joint-second easiest schedule.

On the flip side, New England's strength of schedule ranked in the top-10 in five of the nine seasons the Patriots reached the Super Bowl under Belichick.

The Patriots can also draw solace from the fact their AFC East rivals will also all have to play both Super Bowl LIV teams and, unsurprisingly, the Jets, Bills and the Miami Dolphins all rank in the top-five of toughest schedules.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Ravens have the easiest schedule this year as only three of their opponents won 10 or more games in the last regular season, when Baltimore recorded a league-best 14-2.

The Ravens' most difficult assignment comes on Monday Night Football in Week 3 when they host the Chiefs a week after playing the Texans in Houston.

Trips to Indianapolis and New England following the bye in Week 8 could prove potentially tricky, while a home matchup against Tennessee in Week 11 could be intriguing given the Titans pulled off a surprise win in Baltimore in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last season.

The Ravens host the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football in Week 13, with home games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Giants in Week 15 and Week 16 sandwiched in between road games against AFC North rivals in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

At .500 the Chiefs have the 18th-hardest schedule in the league and one which is distinctly front-loaded. Kansas City begins its title defense with home games against the Texans and the Patriots with a trip to Baltimore sandwiched in between in the first four weeks.

The schedule gets considerably easier from then on with trips to Buffalo and New Orleans in Week 6 and Week 15 respectively, the only other games the Chiefs will play against teams that finished last season with a winning record.

The road to a second Super Bowl is riddled with pitfalls for the 49ers, who have the fourth-hardest schedule in the league.

San Francisco has a relatively easy start with the Philadelphia Eagles the only team among its first five opponents to have finished with a winning record last season, but the scenario changes drastically from Week 6 when the 49ers host the Los Angeles Rams, before trips to New England and Seattle and New Orleans with a home game against the Green Bay Packers sandwiched in between.

Here's the complete strength of schedule for the 32 NFL franchises in descending order of difficulty.

  • New England Patriots .537
  • New York Jets .533
  • Miami Dolphins .529
  • San Francisco 49ers .527
  • Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons .525
  • Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans .518
  • Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams .516
  • Denver Broncos .512
  • Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks .509
  • Green Bay Packers .504
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts .502
  • Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers .500
  • Tennessee Titans .498
  • Las Vegas Raiders .496
  • Jacksonville Jaguars .494
  • Los Angeles Chargers .492
  • New Orleans Saints .490
  • Philadelphia Eagles .486
  • New York Giants .482
  • Cincinnati Bengals .477
  • Washington .465
  • Cleveland Browns .461
  • Dallas Cowboys .459
  • Pittsburgh Steelers .457
  • Baltimore Ravens .438
Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, looks on during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium on January 4 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Patriots face the toughest schedule in the NFL this season. Maddie Meyer/Getty