2024 NFL Schedule Release Takeaways

The much awaited 2024 NFL schedule has been released, and fans are already trying to determine whether their teams have a shot to win it all. Vegas has posted win totals for the 32 teams, and websites everywhere are poring over each detail hidden in these schedules. I’m not going to bother with any of that. I’ve looked at the schedules and the release itself, and I’ll share my top takeaways. If I didn’t touch on your team, their schedule is probably average. I tried to boil it all down to easy-to-comprehend, overarching notes to give you a sense of what’s in store. Predicting too much this early is probably foolish (but admittedly fun).

Things Lining up for Falcons and Bears

Teams often take major leaps forward based on their offseason actions and because easier schedules give them a better chance. No two teams match both of these cases better than Atlanta and Chicago. First and foremost, these teams acquired major QB upgrades in Kirk Cousins and Caleb Williams, respectively. The Falcons went 7-10 with Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke dragging the roster down, and the NFC South is very winnable. Chicago has a much tougher task sharing a division with Detroit, but they were a formidable team down the stretch last year and seemed to be tanked by Justin Fields.

From a schedule-oriented perspective, both teams finished last in their divisions. That gives them last-place schedules, which come with easier opponents. Looking at every team’s strength of schedule based on their projected win totals, Atlanta has the league’s easiest schedule, while Chicago ranks third. The Falcons benefit from playing in the NFL’s worst projected division. The Bears simply “earned” the right to play squads like Carolina, Washington, and Arizona as a last-place team. Based on the improvements both teams have made, they could easily capitalize on their schedules. Playoff spots are within reach for each.

It’s Tough to be an AFC North Team…Except the Bengals

When your entire division finishes above .500, the first time that has ever happened in the Super Bowl era, your schedule is going to feel rough. That checks out in the strength of schedule rankings. Pittsburgh has the league’s toughest schedule, while Cleveland Baltimore rank 3rd- and 4th-worst, respectively. The exception here is the Bengals, who have a last-place schedule despite a 9-8 finish. Thus, while Cincy’s divisional slate is brutal, they have the 6th-easiest schedule overall. I suppose that’s the apology they get for being stuck in 4th with a winning record.

It’s easy to anticipate some regression from Baltimore and Cleveland. The Ravens lost half of their offensive line, and that’s never good. Baltimore took advantage of an easy list of opponents last year, but can they do the same with this batch? Cleveland is facing a confluence of factors. In addition to the difficult schedule, Deshaun Watson is quarterbacking this team. Saying this 3 years ago would’ve been lunacy, but the Browns are likely to be much worse with Watson than they were under Joe Flacco. I don’t know why, but Watson simply hasn’t looked good in Cleveland. This could go down as an all-time bad trade.

The Bengals and Steelers can feel much more optimistic. Cincinnati is a legitimate worst-to-first candidate, as QB Joe Burrow is returning and the schedule is much easier than it was in 2023. Pittsburgh’s schedule got harder, but their team also greatly improved. No matter how things went in Denver, Russell Wilson is an upgrade over Kenny Pickett. These teams both have simple times ahead in terms of travel. They each rank in the top-5 of the “fewest miles traveled” list this upcoming season. The entire AFC North likely won’t exceed .500 again, but these two squads should.

Revenge Games Litter the Schedule

We’ve got all kinds of revenge games on the schedule this year, starting right away in week 1. That week, new Steelers OC Arthur Smith will return to Atlanta, who just fired him as their head coach this offseason. Atlanta is part of a second revenge game in week 14, with new QB Kirk Cousins back in Minnesota. I sense Cousins won’t be as pumped after his new team blindsided him with a 1st-round QB pick. Week 2 should also be very juicy, as Russell Wilson will be in Denver to play the team that traded for him, benched him, and dumped him.

One with a bit more mystery will come in week 5, with WR Stefon Diggs’ Texans hosting his former team, the Buffalo Bills. We don’t know what REALLY went down between him and Buffalo, but he threw some tantrums, is nearly due for a big extension, and just became a hassle. Hopefully the reunion will be amicable. We get a Super Bowl rematch in week 7, this time in San Francisco. The Chiefs have nothing to prove, but the 49ers do. In week 17, two people will seek revenge: former Raiders HC Dennis Allen and QB Derek Carr, both unceremoniously dumped, want to light up LV when the Saints host them.

Last, we have a pair of RBs who left for division rivals. Saquon Barkley felt he could never get a fair contract from the Giants, so he went to the Eagles as a free agent. The Packers signed RB Josh Jacobs this offseason, viewing him as an upgrade over the oft-injured yet highly effective Aaron Jones. The latter quickly signed with Minnesota. Each of these players wants to prove that his former team messed up. They’ll both get two chances to do that in 2024.

Broncos, Patriots, and Commanders to Compete for #1 Pick in 2025 NFL Draft?

I feel badly about kicking franchises when they’re down, but I have to be objective. The fact is that two of these teams (NE/WAS) just picked in the top 13, while Denver’s roster has been ravaged by their misguided Russell Wilson trade. This tells you that they all have untalented rosters (Washington is in better shape than the other two due to their free agency work). All three of them have rookie QBs, though it remains to be seen how soon they start; Jacoby Brissett could start ahead of Drake Maye for the Patriots, while I expect Bo Nix and Jayden Daniels to start week 1 for Denver and Washington, respectively.

None of this portends successful seasons ahead for any of these franchises. The Patriots, who no longer have coach Bill Belichick to squeeze the most out of the team’s defense, look to be in the worst shape. However, the longer Brissett starts, the less likely they are to finish dead-last in the league. Nix has been touted as the most pro-ready rookie QB in this class, and he has Sean Payton coaching him, so I’m a little higher on Denver. Washington usually finds a way to disappoint their fans, and I have the most questions about Daniels. Any of these teams reaching the playoffs would be a surprise, and one of them could pick at #1.

Chiefs’ and Texans’ Social Media Teams Learned NOTHING from Apple

First, I’ll address these teams’ actual schedules. KC has a murderer’s row to open the year, hosting the Ravens and Bengals in succession before heading to Atlanta to face the remade Falcons. A few challenges remain in the subsequent weeks, but the schedule improves dramatically after the first few games; KC has the 12-th easiest schedule overall. Houston’s penalty for winning the AFC South is the 7th-toughest schedule. QB CJ Stroud is a star, but getting the AFC East as your in-conference matchup is bad luck. Playing Dallas and Detroit as NFC foes doesn’t help matters either.

Now to the main point. In case you haven’t heard, Apple made an ad crushing a ton of items with a hydraulic press to promote their new thin iPad Pro. Needless to say, viewers were unhappy. I heard the message loud and clear: don’t make hydraulic press videos. Or if you’re Houston and Kansas City, you do exactly that. I don’t claim to know what they were thinking, though it’s likely that they weren’t thinking. Contrast this with what the Chargers did. They always bring their A-game for schedule releases, and they even got a shot at Chiefs K Harrison Butker into their video. This is how you do schedule releases folks.

NFL Teams to Play in 3 Non-US Countries

The NFL wants to be a global league, and it’s backing up that talk. We’ve seen games in the UK, Germany, and Mexico in the past. This year, London and Munich return, but we have a new location added to the mix. Sao Paolo, the first ever Brazilian city to host a game, will welcome the Packers and Eagles on Friday during week 1. That should be an exciting matchup between a team that overachieved last year and one who collapsed after an excellent but fluky start. This time last year, everyone would’ve taken Philly’s Jalen Hurts over GB’s Jordan Love. How about now? We’ll watch them go head to head very early in the season.

As always, the Jaguars are hosting a game at Wembley Stadium (team owner Shad Khan also owns that stadium), this time against New England. Interestingly, they’re also playing a road game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium against the Bears. London gets 3 bites at the apple, as the Jets will be playing the Vikings before those two Jaguar games. We don’t often give the city a great matchup, so hopefully one of these 3 games pans out. Finally, Munich will be the home of the Giants and Panthers for one week in November. Sorry Germany; I don’t know what the league was thinking with these cellar dwellers.

Several Week 18 Matchups Could be for Division Titles

The main reason the NFL made all week 18 games divisional matchups is that they wanted these games to mean something. Even if teams are already eliminated, at least their opponents are likely to have a stake in the action. In 2024, the league might be really happy with this paradigm. I’m talking about incredibly high-stakes games: ones in which either winning team would clinch their division. Four separate games have that potential, including Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, Cleveland at Baltimore, Miami at the Jets, and Jacksonville at Indianapolis.

The AFC South and North divisions are completely jumbled. While I believe Houston can win the South, I’m not as confident in Tennessee. Jacksonville, with better health from QB Trevor Lawrence, certainly can, while the Colts were close last year. If 2nd-year QB Anthony Richardson is healthy and takes a big leap, this team could be dangerous. I listed both matchups for the AFC North because all 4 teams were good last year. Though I stated some regression could come from Cleveland and Baltimore, they’re still plenty talented. Either one could be in the mix for the division crown in week 18, and the Bengals and Ravens should as well.

The Dolphins and Jets also lost the AFC East in 2023 due to injuries. In Miami’s case, all of their edge rushers on IR, while NY’s loss of Aaron Rodgers is well known. I still believe in the Dolphins’ offense with QB Tua Tagovailoa and elite speed everywhere. The Jets maintain their elite defense, and the offense can only improve with Rodgers, WR Mike Williams, and several new linemen. Buffalo is a little weaker this year, but they’re still in contention. The fact that they play New England, a #1 pick contender (see above) is all that keeps them from this conversation.

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