NFL Strength of Schedule: Which Teams Face the Toughest Matchups in 2021?

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror, the NFL turns its attention firmly to the upcoming season on Wednesday night.

The schedule for all the 32 franchises for the 2021 season is set to be released during a three-hour show, which begins at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network and NFL.com.

Aside from the slate for each team, the show will also reveal which games have been allocated the primetime slots of Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football.

Precious little is known about the upcoming season, aside from the fact that it will feature 17 games per team for the first time in history and that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to begin the season at home, as has become tradition for the reigning Super Bowl champions.

While dates for each of the 32 teams' matchups are yet to be set, the opponents each franchise will face are already known thanks to the formula the NFL uses to compile its slate.

Each team plays home and away games against its three divisional opponents, and four games against teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle.

Four games are scheduled against teams from the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle, with two intra-conference games based on the previous season's standings. The final game is also an intra-conference game based on the previous season's standings on a four-year cycle, in which a team that has won its division faces a division winner from the opposite conference that it wasn't scheduled to play.

The identity of the opponents means the strength of schedule for each team—as calculated by their opponents' combined winning percentage last year—is also already known. At .574, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the hardest schedule in the upcoming season, facing eight teams that made the playoffs last season.

Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium on February 7 in Tampa, Florida. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Pittsburgh finished 12-4 last season and will collide with five of the other six AFC teams that qualified for the postseason in 2020, including AFC North rivals Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. Three of the Steelers' NFC opponents— the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears—also reached the playoffs last season.

The Steelers' road schedule is particularly grueling, with trips to Buffalo and Green Bay—the Bills and Packers both reached the Conference Championship Games last season—and Kansas City to take on the Chiefs, Super Bowl LV's runners-up.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Philadelphia Eagles have the easiest schedule this season, facing just four teams that made the playoffs last year.

The Eagles will host the Chiefs and the reigning Super Bowl champions Bucs, with the New Orleans Saints also set to visit Lincoln Financial Field. The Washington Football Team, the other team on Philadelphia's schedule that made the postseason last year, headlines a weak-but-improving NFC East slate.

At .465, the Bucs have the fourth-easiest schedule this season and all eyes will be on Foxborough when Tom Brady returns to New England for the first time since leaving the Patriots as a free agent in March of last year.

Kansas City, meanwhile, faces a considerably harder schedule, the eleventh-hardest in the league at .511. The Chiefs will host the Bills in a rematch of last season's AFC Championship Game, the Packers and the Cleveland Browns, and face potentially difficult trips to Baltimore and Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans.

Behind the Steelers, the Ravens, Bears, Packers and Vikings round-up the top five.

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

1. Pittsburgh Steelers. 574
2. Baltimore Ravens .563
3. Chicago Bears .550
4. Green Bay Packers .542
5. Minnesota Vikings .531
6=. Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions .529
8. Las Vegas Raiders .526
9. Cleveland Browns .518
10. Los Angeles Rams .515
11=. Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks .511
13=. Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals .507
15=. Washington Football Team, Houston Texans .504
17. Los Angeles Chargers .493
18. Jacksonville Jaguars .491
19=. San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, New England Patriots .489
22. New Orleans Saints .483
23=. Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts .478
25. New York Giants .474
26. Carolina Panthers .472
27=. Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins .471
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers .465
30. Atlanta Falcons .454
31. Dallas Cowboys .452
32. Philadelphia Eagles .451