A FIRST LOOK AT THE 2018 NFL SCHEDULE – Includes initial team Power Ratings and season win information. 2018 NFL Schedule: Power Ratings and Season Win Information.

Starting with the AFC East, here is my first look at each team’s 2018 schedule.

BUFFALO: Buffalo finally made the playoffs in ’17 but getting back to the postseason in ’18 may be difficult. Warren Sharp calls their 1st six games the toughest in the NFL. The Bills play five of their 1st seven games on the road, including visits to Baltimore, Minny, GB and likely improved Houston. They host the Chargers, a team that has a strong win history vs. Buffalo and scored 54 on the Bills in ’17. Buffalo will host a MNF game for the 1st time since ’08. Unfortunately, it will be vs. a rested Patriot team that has won 15 of their last 16 at Buffalo. 3-5 looks like the absolute ceiling for a 1st half record. Buffalo’s 2nd half schedule is much easier.

The Bills have historically played well off rest. They host Jacksonville and Doug Marrone, who comes back to Buffalo for the 1st time since he quit on them in ’14. Four of their last five games are inside their Division. That might give them a chance to control their own destiny if they get out to any sort of decent start. The other game could be in cold weather hosting dome team Detroit. I look for regression, as they will have a new QB who is unlikely to replicate Tyrod Taylor’s contribution to a +9 turnover ratio, face a 2nd place schedule, and have a plus point ratio, meaning their 9-7 record from last year was really a lot worse. Season win totals are at 6.5, which seems too high. My very early initial Power Rating is 22.

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MIAMI: In both the ’17 draft recap and in this spot last year I predicted Miami’s fall from contention. Miami is in roster transformation trying to rid themselves of problem players. Miami is likely to fix its -14 turnover ratio but their point ratio is still minus, so ’18 playoff contention is not a given. Games 1-12 show only NE and 9-7 Tennessee with a winning record, although Green Bay and a supposedly healthy Houston will be formidable opponents.

An easy way for gamblers to look at Miami is to look underdog 1st. That is because games vs. Tennessee and Oakland are usually close and Miami has covered just 12 of 52 games when favored vs. the Jets. Their only back-to-back road games are at NE and then at Cincy. Games 6-9 have to result in 3-1 as it features home games vs. the new staffs of Chicago and Detroit, at Houston, and home to the Jets. New RB Frank Gore faces his old team when Miami goes to Indy 11/25. Games 13-16 are the toughest. They host NE, travel to Minny, host Jacksonville and close at cold Buffalo. Miami has to play better in home games.

The Dolphins are average but the schedule is generally fair, with only one game not on a Sunday and just one prime time game, giving them practice time consistency. All games are in Eastern or Central Standard Time. Season win totals opened 7 and are now 6. My post-draft Power Rating is 22.

NEW ENGLAND: New England is always the team to beat in the AFC. Last year’s schedule was actually a bit tougher than usual but this year’s schedule is one of the two easiest in the NFL! From games 3-9 they will be playing at night five times. The home schedule brings some good teams into Foxboro, including nemeses KC (Pats have 10 days to prepare), GB (NE short week off MNF road game) and Minny. Jacksonville hopes for playoff revenge 9/16.

The bye week is late this year (11/18), the latest they have had that bye since ’01. Four of their final six games are inside the AFC East. In the strange but true category, their final four games are exactly the same as a year ago, including where each game is to be played. Included in the mix is a road game at Pittsburgh. That game a year ago was both meaningful and controversial. Despite the soft schedule NE’s season win total has gone from 12 to 11 and in some spots 10.5! My post-draft Power Rating opens at 32.

NEW YORK JETS: The Jets may not have the greatest NFL roster but the schedule-maker has given this team a chance to get out to another quick start. Three of the 1st four games are on the road, and yes, the opener is a MNF road game, meaning one less day for preparation. Still, the three road games are at Detroit, Cleveland and Jacksonville and the home game is vs. Miami. Can they achieve 2-2? Games 5-7 are all at home, vs. Denver, Indy and Minny.

New York has three more games before the bye week, including road games at Chicago and Miami, and home to Buffalo. Neither the Bears nor the Dolphins have great home field advantages so the goal should be 2-1 in this stretch. It’s interesting that in the 1st ten games only Matt Stafford, Kirk Cousins and a rusty Andrew Luck represent any QB challenges! Games 11-16 are tougher as the Jets will face Tom Brady twice, Aaron Rodgers and young QB Deshaun Watson. The other two games are both on the road, at Tennessee and at Buffalo. The staff hopes all the young players will be up to the challenges late in the season. On player news, new RB Isaiah Crowell returns to Cleveland 9/20, and Mo Wilkerson, the DL who wore out his welcome with the Jets, will be back with GB on 12/23.

The Jets opened with a season win total of 5 which post-draft is now at 6.5! My post draft Power Rating is 20.

SPECIAL NOTE: I believe the NFL schedule-maker put together the fairest schedule I’ve ever seen, with more bye weeks off MNF games and few, if any road Sunday to road Thursday games. Only three teams have a trio of consecutive road games.

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Continuing with the AFC North here is my first look at each team’s 2018 schedule

BALTIMORE: Baltimore has been mediocre for a few years. Hoping to rebound, the early schedule won’t do them any favors. Games 2-6 include a road trip to Cincinnati on a short week (Thursday game), home to Denver, and then three straight road games, at Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Tennessee. The Ravens will have finished their Divisional road schedule by October 7th! Cincy has won seven of their last nine vs. Baltimore and were the team that knocked the Ravens out of the ’17 playoffs with a late 49 yard TD pass. The Tennessee game matches Joe Flacco against former Raven defensive coordinator Dean Pees, coaxed out of retirement by John Harbaugh.

Games 7-9 are also difficult. They host New Orleans, travel for the 5th time to play Carolina and return home to face bitter rival Pittsburgh.

The schedule pacing eases up after the bye but the opponents faced are still difficult. Michael Crabtree faces his former Raider team 11/25. Games at Atlanta and KC are likely tossups at best. Game 15 is at the Chargers, which means Eric Weddle returns to the place he used to play. At least the finale is “easy” as it’s a home game vs. Cleveland. The Ravens have won 13 of their last 15 hosting the Browns but have to play better than usual in their final game of a season.

Baltimore is unlikely to replicate a +17 turnover ratio but their plus point ratio entering ’18 means they played better than their ’17 record. They have no prime time home games but as a tradeoff they are home the entire month of November.

Their current season win total is 8.

My very early initial Power Rating for the Ravens is 26.5.

CINCINNATI: This will be the 9th time in ten seasons Cincy opens on the road. For the 4th season in a row mentally challenged LB Vontaze Burfict will miss the season opener (at Indy), and this is the 3rd year he starts a season on suspension. They started poorly without him in the past and he will also miss games vs. Baltimore (Raven revenge) and at very tough NFC South teams Carolina and Atlanta! Can they go more than 2-2 in the next quartile of games, which includes hosting Miami, Pittsburgh and Tampa, and traveling to KC? If not, this looks like a 3-5 record at best prior to their bye week.

Three more home games appear in the next quartile, but two of them are vs. the Saints and Broncos. Cincinnati closes the season at the LA Chargers, home to Oakland at Cleveland and at Pittsburgh. This is the 1st year since ’11 that Cincy will not play on Sunday or Monday night. That’s good, as the Bengals have won just nine times in their last 32 night games! There’s a chance Cincy can improve upon its -9 turnover ratio, but the change in defensive coordinators has me worried.

Cincy’s season win total opened at 7, a fair number. It’s currently at 6 and 6.5, even taking a strange dip at 5.5, Overs PLUS 165 at Bet Online offshore. That # was too good to pass up. My post draft

Power rating has opened at 23.

CLEVELAND: Cleveland enters ’17 with yet another new starting QB. It is their 135th new QB since ’99 (slight exaggeration) and their 10th since Thanksgiving ’14 (accurate). The schedule isn’t daunting, although when you’re 1-31 the past two seasons and have made late losses an art form, anything looks hard. Here are some scheduling tidbits: 9/9 they host Pittsburgh. Todd Haley gets to face his former team, who chose not to renew his contract. Cleveland is 1-18 in game one, losing their last 13 openers! The Browns lost 17-14 hosting the Jets last year. In riveting Thursday Night Football action, they hope to beat the Jets at home. They get ten days to prepare for Oakland and get to play the Ravens after Baltimore has had its usual slugfest vs. Pittsburgh. Divisional rival QB’s are outstanding vs. the Browns.

Leaving Big Ben out of the equation, Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco are a combined 28-5 vs. Cleveland. Cincy has won their last seven in the series with a 213-63 point ratio. The team roster has improved so now it’s time to show on-field results. The home schedule is favorable and the overall schedule has decent pacing.

Prognosticators agree, moving their opening season win total from 4.5 at +120 up to a fairly flat 5.5. Reducing turnovers form a possible NFL record -28 could really help. My post-draft opening Power rating is 20.

PITTSBURGH: Pittsburgh as usual will face a 1st place AFC Schedule. That means they have double revenge vs. Jacksonville, losing to them in the regular season and in the playoffs, and single revenge vs. NE, whose controversial win over the Steelers changed the playoff seeding. They open at Cleveland and former offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Big Ben has more wins at Cleveland than most if not all Brown’s QB’s, but this one could be tricky.

Pittsburgh has never been a great MNF road favorite. They play at Tampa 9/24 but in my opinion that’s better than a Sunday “letdown” game sandwiched between KC and rival Baltimore. It won’t be easy hosting Matt Ryan and Atlanta before closing out their pre-bye schedule at Cincy, where fights and suspensions are bound to occur. This is an unusual schedule in that after 11/4 (at Baltimore) the Steelers only have one Divisional game left, their finale hosting Cincy.

There’s some question as to whether or not Pittsburgh matches up the right way vs. Jacksonville and their thriving defense but at least this year the Steelers have ten days to prepare.

The Steelers must remain focused after that as they stay on the road, going to the higher altitude of Denver. These are the only back-to-back road games on the schedule. Games 13-15 are not easy. They travel to Oakland, host NE and travel to New Orleans. Plenty of emotion must be bottled up if they are to get at least two wins in this sequence.

Pittsburgh is taking longer road trips in ’18. Until now I did not think much about any technical factors that might impact the Steelers. Upon closer review, going 13-3 with a +98 point ratio suggests that the “real” record might be closer to 10-6 or 11-5. Could that mean some regression?

Like last year, Pittsburgh’s win total is 10.5 across the board. I will open Pittsburgh with a post-draft Power Rating of 29.

Continuing with the AFC South here is my first look at each team’s 2018 schedule

HOUSTON: Houston was decimated by injuries to very important players in ’17. They hope to stay healthy in ’18. That, combined with a -12 turnover ratio and their 4th place schedule could translate into instant improvement. Those who understand Power Ratings know that you can NOT judge schedule difficulty based solely on last year’s won-loss record of your opponents. In Houston’s case, maybe you can as some “experts” say that along with New England, this team has a clear top two easiest schedule for ’18. I can’t confirm or deny that until I set my Power Numbers but it’s certainly easier than a year ago.

Games 1-2 are tough road contests at NE and Tennessee. After that, the pacing and scheduling is ideal. Non-Divisional home games are vs. the NYG, Dallas, Buffalo, Miami and Cleveland. They have three prime time night games, all at home! Six of their games are vs. teams who held the top five picks in this draft. They could end up facing several rookie QB’s.

While the schedule is manageable, Houston must improve in the following areas to be successful in ’18: 1) Fixing their 1-5 Divisional record. 2) Improving upon their 17-37 non-Divisional record and 5-20 non-Divisional road record (1-9 the past two seasons). Finally, they must play better on opposing turf surfaces. Houston came close to having a plus point ratio, which would have given them the “triple crown” of positive indicators (see Jacksonville). I expect them to be a serious Divisional contender in ’18. Houston’s win total is 8.5, but threatening to go to 9. My very early initial Power Rating for the Houston is 26.5.

INDY: Indy has started 0-2 the last four seasons. I said in this spot a year ago that a similar slow start could spell the end of the Chuck Pagano era. That it did, despite what looked on paper to be a soft schedule. Of course Andrew Luck never played a down and many of us maxed out on under 9 seasonal wins. This year’s schedule starts out rough, with four road games in the 1st six weeks. New Coach Frank Reich returns to Philly 9/23. Their short week Thursday Night game is at NE. QB Luck is 0-5 vs. the Patriots. Josh McDaniels pulled a switch on the Colts, turning down the coaching gig. These teams do not like each other.

Ex- Colt DB Vontae Davis returns to Indy 10/21 with Buffalo. Indy’s goal is 1st, a healthy Andrew Luck and 2nd, finding a way to get to 4-4 before their bye week. That won’t be easy. Indy’s 2nd half of the season begins with three consecutive home games. Counting games 12-13, Indy will play four Divisional games in this critical five week stretch. Closing games are home to Dallas (Cowboys off an emotional game with Philly) and to the NYG, and at Tennessee.

The schedule looks manageable the last ten games but Indy will be -11 in rest differential (worst in NFL). That translates to their opponents having more days off as compared to Indy. Speculating, the initial opener of 5.5 wins seemed low, as long as Andrew Luck comes back healthy. The # is now 6.5, so the speculation looks good. I will open Indy with a very tentative post-draft Power Rating of 21.

JACKSONVILLE: Was Jacksonville’s rise to prominence that surprising? Last year I noted how much improved the roster was and said that the nicely paced all Sunday schedule with 14 1:00 PM time slots could work to their advantage. Even better was the fact that the Jags were plus in all three formula driven indicators. They had a solid plus point ratio. 3-13 with a -82 point differential is more like 6-10. They could easily earn between 56-60 “free points” if their -16 turnover ratio got to zero.

Finally, they had another 4th place schedule. This year they have a +10 turnover ratio which is much tougher to replicate, but they still have a plus point ratio, indicating they actually played better than their 10-6 record. Of course they now have to navigate a 1st place schedule. The Jags are home weeks 2-4 but the schedule is very front loaded. They open week one at the NYG. On the field, it’s WR Beckham vs. DB Ramsey.

Off the field, it’s the return of GM Tom Coughlin vs. the team that let him go as Head Coach! The very next week finds the Jags seeking revenge vs. New England. Somehow they must focus early, as in week three they host Tennessee, a team they went 0-2 vs. last year. Games 5-6 are at KC and Dallas. Game #8 is in London vs. Super champ Philly. The 2nd half of the schedule seems easier but the Jags will be on the road three of their final four games.

The two  potential cold weather games, at Buffalo on 11/25 (Bills seek playoff revenge) and perhaps at Tennessee 12/6 (short week Thursday road game).

The Jags close at Miami and Houston. This is not an easy schedule but at least they do not have any West Coast trips. Their current win total is 9. MY post draft Power Ranking opens at 28.

TENNESSEE: The early Tennessee schedule is nicely paced, with no back-to-back road or home games and no prime time games. The opponents are not easy as they face Houston, Philly and Baltimore at home and Miami, Jacksonville and Buffalo on the road. The game vs. Baltimore features defensive coordinator Dean Pees vs. his old Raven team. They have only seven true road games, as their other road game is in London vs. the Chargers. The schedule is easier after the bye but they will need to navigate through three prime time games. After playing at Dallas they have a short week before hosting New England. Tennessee has been awful post MNF.

This year Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler are Titans, and for different reasons will try hard vs. their old team. They have another short week hosting the Jets after playing Houston on MNF. They will have ten days to prepare for a road trip to the NYG. Closing games are at home, hosting Washington (dog series deluxe) and Indy (Titans have fared well in their last home game). In fact, four of their final five games are at home. I love the coaching changes but replicating a 5-1 Divisional record won’t be easy.

Tennessee opened at a soft 7.5 (+105) win total. They currently are at 8. My early post-draft Power Rating for the Titans is 26.

Continuing with the AFC West here is my first look at each team’s 2018 schedule

DENVER: All AFC West teams will face the AFC North and NFC West in ’18. Last year’s schedule was perceived to be the toughest in the NFL by some folks. This year they get the 4th place schedule, meaning they will face the Jets, Browns and Texans. They might be a home underdog several times in ’18. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as they are 26-14 vs. the spread their last 40 games in that role, and have upgraded at QB along with adding Bradley Chubb to their defense. It’s not often that I mention punter revenge as motivation.

Oakland cut Marquette King for “personality” reasons. He’s now kicking for Denver. Oakland visits Denver 9/16. KC has won their last five games vs. Denver. Denver hosts KC on MNF week five. That could be their most critical game of the season! Lose that, and look for a letdown the next week at the Jets. Denver hosts the improving Rams 10/14. This will be interesting, as Wade Phillips returns to Denver as does DB Aquib Talib!

Unfortunately for the Broncos the next game is on the road and is the short week Thursday game. At least they’ll have ten days before traveling to face Divisional rival KC. Right after the bye week Denver has shutout revenge at the Chargers. Hosting Pittsburgh at altitude could be a good thing. On paper, Denver’s final five games are not bad. They read at Cincy, at SF, Cleveland, at Oakland on MNF and the short week finale vs. the Chargers.

Denver is not always reliable late in the season and that needs to change.

Denver’s win total is at 7, which seems reasonable and maybe beatable given that they are very likely to earn “free points” based on last year’s -17 turnover ratio.

The very early (post-draft) Power rating will open at 25.

KANSAS CITY: KC had a tough schedule last year and it looks like the same could be true this year. New QB Pat Mahomes will play five primetime games, only one of which is at home! KC also faces a 1st place schedule. They open with four of six on the road, plus home games vs. SF and Jacksonville.

The road games will be at the Chargers, Pittsburgh, Denver on MNF and New England on SNF. New England has ten days to prepare for its revenge. Their home game vs. the Jags will find KC on a short week. This doesn’t look like an ideal way to break in a new QB. Games 7-10 are home vs. Cincy and Denver, at Cleveland and home to Arizona. This has to result in at least 3-1. The bye week is late, after their trip as the designated road team in Mexico vs. the Rams.

KC faces Oakland twice in the final five games, along with Baltimore, a Thursday home game vs. the Chargers and a Sunday Night game at Seattle. Last year KC actually has 12 more rest days than any other NFL team! They also played two road games in the same stadium (NYG, NYJ). They even had a very late three game home stand. In my post draft report I predicted a -60 drop in free points off turnovers.

With gunslinger Mahomes taking over for Alex Smith I don’t think KC can come close to replicating their +17 turnover ratio! Given that, I moved quickly on going under their projected win total, which was set at 9.

The number is mostly 8.5 now, with one offshore place at 7.5!

My post-draft Power Rating is 26.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: LA has an interesting schedule, and it starts off with only one trip out of the city in games 1-5. Of course the Chargers need to play better in their cozy 28,000 seat temporary stadium. They will try to break an eight game losing streak vs. KC in the opener. After a trip in warmer weather to Buffalo the Rams “travel” to face the Rams before hosting SF and Oakland. Can’t this be a 4-1 start? Game #6 is at Cleveland and the game before the bye is in London vs. the new staff of Tennessee. No excuses! Games 8-11 will find this team still on the west coast, at Seattle and Oakland and home to Denver and Arizona.

This is amazing! The toughest games are the final five. They read at Pittsburgh, Cincy, at KC on Thursday Night, home to pesky Baltimore but on ten days rest and at potentially cold Denver in the finale. LA might find it difficult to replicate a +12 turnover ratio but will enter ’18 with a plus point ratio! Please fix your special team unit! With a middle of the road performance this team would have been squarely in the playoffs last year, and with this schedule they could very well be the AFC West favorite this year.

LA’s season win total opened low at 8. It is now 9.5!

My opening Power Rating is 27.5.

OAKLAND: The Jon Gruden era should be fascinating. The NFL thinks so, as despite a disappointing ’17 campaign Oakland plays four prime time games. I like Gruden’s staff, but I wonder if the highly emotional Head Coach will cause this team to have more peaks and valleys (volatility) in his return to the sidelines.

Oakland has eight true road games, one game in London as the designated home team and one “home” game vs. the LA Chargers. Oakland opens ’18 on MNF vs. the Rams. That means the Raiders must immediately navigate a short week (at Denver), followed by another road game (at Cincy). Games 4-5 are easier (at Miami, home to Cleveland) before they head to London to face Seattle. Their Thursday Night game is at SF, giving them ten days to prepare to host the Chargers.

The goal will be to split road games at Arizona and Baltimore. That Raven game is the start of a tough six game closing stretch which will include two games vs. KC, a Sunday Night game hosting Pittsburgh, a game at Cincy and a MNF host of Denver. Oakland is the only team in the NFL who will have three road games off of short weeks, including their closing game at KC. December games at Cincy and KC could be played in cold weather. The good news is that Oakland could easily improve off a -14 turnover ratio, picking up some “free points”. Remember, each turnover is worth about 3.75 points.

I don’t like this schedule. Like I said a year ago, I will be checking for letdown situations throughout the season. Oakland’s win total is mostly at 8, but one offshore company is at 8.5, over -160. That creates interesting advantages for the wise handicapper. My post-draft Power Rating is 25.5.

Continuing with the NFC East here is my first look at each team’s 2018 schedule

DALLAS: The NFC East faces off vs. the tough NFC South as well as the AFC South. The Cowboys open at Carolina. This is their 1st opening day road game since ’12. The NYG come next, followed by a revenge game at Seattle. Dallas is 3-1 historically vs. in state rival Houston. That’s the 1st game of an interesting October which includes games hosting Jacksonville and at Washington. Predicting their pre-bye record seems impossible as almost every game could go either way! Games vs. Philly greatly favor the home team. Dallas has a short week off MNF going to their place, and Philly will be off their bye week.

Conversely, Dallas will be off ten days rest when hosting an Eagle team off MNF on 12/9. Their home game at Philly is on Sunday Night and is followed by another road game, this time at tough Atlanta. This is the only set of back-to-back road games they will have in ’18. A split vs. the Eagles could work, as closing games are at Indy, home to Tampa and at the NYG. I felt last year was going to be tough because each team had film on QB Dak Prescott, and year two for new QB’s can be challenging. This is now year #3 and his comfort level should rise.

Dallas opened with a season win total of 9 with the OVERS at -145.

The current number is 8.5. My very early Power Rating for Dallas will be set at 28.

NEW YORK GIANTS: Let’s revisit last year’s brutal schedule! The NYG had four “west coast” trips. None were back-to-back, so they had to fly east coast to west coast often. Their schedule pacing was terrible, with a net of -22 rest days. That figure was at the bottom of the NFL by a whopping 10 days! Finally, they played four teams who were off bye weeks. Coupled with injuries and questionable coaching ’17 was a season to forget.

What about ’18?

The staff is an upgrade and the pacing and west coast trips (1) help, but games 1-7 might represent the toughest schedule in all of the NFL. They will likely be underdogs all seven games. Here they are: Game one: Home to Jacksonville and former Head Coach Coughlin. Game two: at Dallas on Sunday Night. Game three: at Houston. Game four: Home to Drew Brees and New Orleans. Game five: at Carolina. Game six: Thursday Night vs. Philly. Game seven: at Atlanta on MNF. That gives them a short week before hosting Washington in a renewal of the WR Beckham vs. CB Josh Norman rivalry (Beckham hurt in ’17). Is a 3-5 record the ceiling?

The first game after the bye is at SF on MNF. On 11/18 The NYG host Tampa and former Giant Jason Pierre-Paul. December is manageable but will the NYG be close enough to make a playoff run. They host Chicago, go to Washington, host Tennessee, go to Indy and close hosting Dallas. Things I like: Eli Manning’s road record, the pacing of the 2nd half schedule. Things that need fixing: Their 4-20 record vs. Philly, their 1-5 Divisional record from ’17 and their road MNF record. Things that concern me: New offensive coordinator Mike Shula’s track record.

The NYG opened with six as their season win total but post-draft the number is now 6.5, at -140, and one offshore is using 7.5, OVERS at +140. My post-draft opening Power Rating opens at 22.5.

PHILLY: The bad news for Philly is facing a 1st place schedule, plus trying to duplicate a +11 turnover ratio. The good news is that the Eagles have just one west coast trip, play 13 games in their own time zone, and play no teams coming off their bye week. Philly opens the NFL season facing Atlanta, who will be out for playoff revenge. It’s not until week #6 that Philly opens Divisional play. That 1st game is at the NYG on Thursday Night, October 11th.

The Eagles are the designated road team in London when they face Jacksonville, meaning they have only seven true road games. As documented in the Dallas schedule preview (above), the games vs. the Cowboys favor each home team.

The late schedule is their trickiest part. New Orleans is at home 11/18. The 1st of two vs. Washington is on MNF. They play at revenge-minded LA (Rams) on Sunday Night, 12/16. They close hosting Houston and at Washington.

Philly’s season win total is 10.5. My post-draft Power Rating will be initially set at 30.5.

WASHINGTON: Can Jay Gruden survive another so-so season in Washington? Games 1-2 are at Arizona and home to Indy. Both teams have new coaching staffs and both teams have QB “situations”. That “should” be good news and it better be as the rest of schedule is going to be rough. The bye week is 9/30, after just three games! Washington has three prime time games, all on the road!

The Skins play at New Orleans on MNF 10/8. The short week game is a host of Carolina. Josh Norman will be excited to face his former team but note that Washington has been historically poor after playing on MNF! They’ve also been poor against NFC East foes, even in home games. Games vs. Dallas and at the NYG are almost must wins if Washington is to be relevant in ’18. Can they hold serve hosting Atlanta?

The next two games are at Tampa and vs. Houston. No game shapes up as too easy for this team but this stretch of games should give them some win shots. Three straight Divisional games follow. It starts on Turkey Day at Dallas, then after a long break, continues on MNF at Philly and finishes up with the short week game vs. the NYG. Games 14-15 are also on the road, at Jacksonville and at Tennessee. That gives them four road games in a five week stretch.

The finale is hosting Philly. The favorite has been quite solid in this home matchup. Washington better win their opening two games and better win in November because the rest of the slate seems too difficult for them. In addition to playing poorly after MNF and playing poorly vs. NFC East foes, Washington has won just one of their last ten and two of their last 15 MNF games.

The bad news keeps on coming with a history of playing poorly in the 2nd of two straight road games. Overall this team has won just eight of their last twenty-five night games. There has been many a season where this team has failed to consistently win at home. That won’t cut it in ’18.

Washington’s season win total has been set at 6.5. My post-draft Power Rating is at 23.5.

Continuing with the NFC North here is my first look at each team’s 2018 schedule

CHICAGO: Chicago had a decent draft, and enters ’18 with a plus point ratio. I’m not sure how ready this new Head Coach is to oversee an entire team but I’m quite sure that firing John Fox was a good idea. I do like it when new coaches receive an early scheduling bye. Chicago’s comes after week four, giving the staff time to make adjustments with many games still to come. In the strange but true column, Chicago was 4-0 vs. the AFC last year and 2-10 vs. the NFC.

Incredibly, all AFC games will be played in a row, in games 5-8 right after their bye week! Back in week two the Bears host Seattle on MNF. Can they win this one vs. the occasionally road challenged Seahawks, a team that could slide a bit in ’18? The staff will have to learn quickly how to handle the shorter practice time but at least they play Arizona, another team trying to find its identity with a new coach.

Going 2-1 in in weeks 2-4 (hosting Tampa is next) could keep them relevant when they face the AFC East, as Buffalo, Miami and the Jets are hardly dominant teams.

Chicago stays inside their Division games 9-11. They are on a 7-1 run vs. Detroit, a team they’ll see twice in a three week span. They get ten days before traveling to face the NYG, another team with a new staff. Games 13-16 won’t be easy. They host the Rams and GB and travel to SF and Minny. Chicago has been in a rut with last place finishes in the NFC North. Escaping the cellar will only be possible if the Bears build up win equity in games two through ten.

Chicago has held fast with a season win total of 6.5. The very early post-draft Power Rating is 23.

DETROIT: Last season saw the Lions miss the playoffs despite a +10 turnover ratio and a surprising 5-1 Divisional record. New Head Coach Matt Patricia has the daunting task of facing many top tier teams in ’18. The Lions open the season on MNF hosting the Jets. Former NE defensive coordinator Patricia then goes to SF on a short week to face former NE QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Weeks 3-5 are tough, with NE coming to town (Sunday Night), followed by games at Dallas and vs. GB. The Lions swept the Packers last year but Aaron Rodgers missed both games. The early bye week follows, and again that scenario is nice for new coaching staffs.

Expectations have to be that the Lions can at least split games at Miami and home to Seattle. Detroit will play three Divisional games in the next four weeks including two vs. the new staff of Chicago. The 2nd Chicago game is on a Thursday Night and is in the middle of a three game home stand which starts with Carolina and ends with the Rams (Lions off ten days rest, Rams off a bye). Game 13 is at Arizona. The Lions last won at Arizona in 1993 but maybe this particular Arizona squad is not that good? Games 14-16 are challenging. The dome Lions go to Buffalo in the middle of December, host Minnesota and close at cold GB.

The Lions may challenge for a wildcard spot but their margin for error against this schedule is awfully slim. Detroit opened with a season win total of 8, OVERS +120.

The number is currently 7.5, OVERS +140. The initial post-draft Power Rating will be set at 24.5.

GREEN BAY: GB found out that life without a healthy Aaron Rodgers is no fun at all. I like the early and late part of their ’18 schedule so if Rodgers can stay healthy all 16 games good things might happen. This is especially true if the two new coordinators are as good as I think they are. On 9/16 GB hosts NFC North winner Minnesota. Aaron Rodgers was visibly as well as verbally upset at Anthony Barr, who broke his collarbone last October. Is a heated rivalry blooming? The Packers have a shot at sweeping the six games before their bye week, with other “tough” games being at Washington and Detroit and perhaps a host of SF on MNF. Games 7-11 will determine GB’s playoff and seeding fate. In that stretch are four road games, with a “trap” home date vs. Miami right in the middle.

The first two road games are at the Rams and the feature matchup of GB and Rodgers at NE and Brady. Following Miami the Packers have a short week Thursday Night game at revenge-minded Seattle (Packers have trouble up there), followed by a Sunday Night game at Minny. 3-2, plus a seasonal split vs. Minny might be all that’s needed to make them the Divisional favorite. The December schedule could set them up for that ever elusive playoff bye! They host warm weather Arizona and dome team Atlanta, travel to non-playoff teams Chicago and the Jets, and close vs. dome team Detroit. This is a no excuses closing slate, especially for a team that is on a 22-4 roll in December home games!

The Packers currently have a win total of 10, with the OVER +120. My early post-draft Power Rating is 29.

MINNESOTA: Minnesota has an interesting schedule that seems favorable at home but carries two deadly back-to-back road trips. The Vikings have a road date at GB early on, and in weeks 4-5 travel to play the Rams and the Eagles. The Rams game is on Thursday Night (LA revenge). Minny therefore has ten days to prep for their revenge vs. the Eagles. The Vikings have lost their last five games at the Jets. They have the talent edge in ’18 and can’t afford a 6th straight loss. NBC gets a marquee night matchup when Minny hosts New Orleans 10/28. The Saints have major playoff revenge on their minds.

November has Minny playing all three Divisional rivals, with a bye week in the mix as well. The 11/25 host of GB is followed by super tough road games at New England and at Seattle on a Monday Night. Anytime a team plays Seattle on Monday Night it is a challenge. Minny is 0-4 lately vs. the Seahawks including a gut wrenching 10-9 playoff loss in their last meeting (easy field goal missed). Playing on a short week vs. Miami means they must be focused. Closing games are at Detroit (bad last road game record) and home to Chicago. Will Minny start out just 2-3 thanks to those tough opening road games? If so, GB could have a leg up in the NFC North standings.

Minny started at 9.5 season wins but is now 10, and 10.5 at one place.

My opening Power Rating is 29.5.

Continuing with the NFC South here is my first look at each team’s 2018 schedule

ATLANTA: Atlanta and the rest of the NFC South square off vs. the NFC East and the AFC North. Atlanta’s schedule before their week eight bye is interesting and somewhat difficult. The opener is a rematch with Super Bowl champion Philly. Games 2-4 are all at home, vs. Carolina, New Orleans and Cincy. Is that Bengal game a trap, coming off two Divisional games? Traveling to Pittsburgh won’t be fun. Amazingly, Atlanta wraps up their home Divisional schedule with a week six game hosting Tampa. Both the Falcons and the NYG are MNF challenged. Atlanta is the host on 10/22, but won’t have a short week after that thanks to their bye.

Games 8-9 are at Washington and at Cleveland. Atlanta beat Dallas 27-7 last year. They host the Cowboys again in ’18. Games vs. New Orleans are always exciting. Atlanta lost both games in ’17. They go to their place for Thursday Night football on 11/22, which is Turkey Day! Baltimore usually plays well on the road. At least Atlanta has ten days to prep for the game. The Falcons close with three of four on the road. It starts at potentially cold GB and a home game vs. Arizona before finishing at Carolina and at Tampa. Atlanta’s season win total has been a steady 9.5. Last year their week to week Power Rating was highly consistent and in fact started and ended at 29.

My very early post-draft Power Rating is currently set at 29.

CAROLINA: Carolina went from five prime time games down to two last year and the 1:00 PM Sunday start time routine worked to their favor. The same holds true this season as once again there are only two prime time games. Last year Carolina had an equal amount of rest or more rest than any of their opponents. While not a pronounced difference, four teams this year will have one extra day of rest as opposed to these Panthers. Carolina gets a home opener for the 1st time since ’13. It’s vs. Dallas, a team they are 0-5 against at home during the regular season but 2-0 against in the playoffs.

New Carolina DL Dontari Poe will face his old team in Atlanta week two. The bye week is after week three which is awfully early. Carolina wraps up its NFC East matchups early, as games 4-6 are vs. the NYG and at Washington and Philly.

Carolina has never won at Pittsburgh but must play there on a Thursday Night. The good news is that the Steelers will have just played on the road vs. bitter rival Baltimore. Carolina gets ten days off before playing at Detroit. Carolina beat the Lions 27-24 at their place in ’17. Four of their last five games are vs. Divisional foes, including two vs. the Saints. The other game is at Cleveland but the placement of that game is right after traveling to Tampa and that could make this one a bit tricky. As for the Saints, New Orleans beat them three times in ’17 thanks to a playoff win. There’s been some bulletin board material already posted by New Orleans.

Games 14-16 are home to the Saints on MNF, home to Atlanta and at the Saints. The NFC race may come down right to the final minute! The good news for Carolina fans is that the team travels just 4,060 miles the entire season, with the trip to New Orleans their longest of the year! WOW! The bad news is that they will open ’18 with a minus point ratio.

Carolina opened at 9 for a season win total but is now 8.5, with the OVERS at +110. My early Power Rating is set at 27.5.

NEW ORLEANS: The Saints were a miracle play away from reaching the NFC title game. The ’18 schedule starts easy but after their week six bye the level of competition ramps up big time. Games 1-5 are home to Tampa and Cleveland, at Atlanta and the NYG and home on MNF vs. prime time challenged Washington. That should produce 4-1, and the bye means no short week after MNF.

The bad news is the rest of the schedule. It begins at Baltimore and at Minny on Sunday Night. Next they host the Rams and travel to Cincy. Games 10-11 are at home vs. Philly, and on Turkey Night, home to Atlanta. Realistically, 3-3 would get them to 7-4 and if I were New Orleans I’d be happy with that. Only three teams were saddled with three road games in a row (down from nine). Unfortunately, the Saints are one of those teams, although their road games are unusually paced with a ten and eight day break between games instead of just seven.

The Saints are at Dallas on Thursday Night (won four of last five at their site), at Tampa, and at Carolina for MNF.

The Saints will have a short week when playing Pittsburgh but that game is at home and the Steelers will be off a game vs. rival Baltimore. New Orleans closes at home vs. Carolina.

The Saints opened with a season win total of 9.5 but now they are listed at 9. My post-draft opening Power Rating is set at 29.

TAMPA BAY: By definition Tampa starts with a difficult schedule due to the fact they have six games vs. Divisional rivals Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans. Games 1-3 are as difficult as they come with Tampa opening at New Orleans, hosting rested Philly and playing Pittsburgh at home on MNF. Their run D will be tested early. 2-2 is still the early goal as they are a good home MNF underdog and playing at Chicago in September is not an automatic loss although Tampa will have a short week of preparation. The bye week comes early.

Games 5-8 are at Atlanta, home to Cleveland, and at Cincy and Carolina. Games 9-11 are hosting Washington (close games), at the NYG (Jason Pierre-Paul now with Tampa) and hosting SF. The 49er game is the beginning of a three game home stand. Yes, the schedule is tough but the pacing is nearly ideal with 15 games scheduled on Sunday at 1:00 PM, plus this extended home stand! Tampa’s home Divisional games are 12/2, 12/9 and the finale vs. Atlanta on 12/30. Honestly, they should be competitive from week four or five on out.

The two December road games won’t be easy however, taking them to Baltimore and Dallas. Tampa opens ’18 with a plus point ratio so there has to be some hope that with better fourth quarter results the Bucs can make a playoff push.

Tampa’s season win total has remained steady at 6.5, but there has been some OVER movement (-130). My post-draft Power Rating opens at 24.

Continuing with the NFC West here is my first look at each team’s 2018 schedule

ARIZONA: I like QB Sam Bradford and Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson are special but the deck looks stacked against Arizona in ’18. Chase Stuart is a metrics guy and he lists Arizona as having far and away the NFL’s toughest schedule. He notes that the early lines show the Cardinals as over a touchdown dog in every road game! Warren Sharp is in total agreement, saying they do not face a bottom five opponent all year. I’ll add at the end of this preview all the historical issues Arizona needs to reverse.

At 1st glance I disagree with Sharp as to how tough the early schedule reads. They host Washington, Chicago and Seattle in September. In October they play at SF and Minny before hosting Denver on Thursday Night and hosting SF on ten days rest. I think 4-4 is very easily in play prior to their midseason bye week.

The schedule heats up in games 9-12, with Oakland at home but also road games at KC, the Chargers and GB, where the weather could turn cold. They’ve played well hosting Detroit but not vs. Atlanta. The season closes with games hosting the Rams and at Seattle. To be honest I think the schedule is decent, and they have no MNF games and just one Thursday game and that one’s at home.

Arizona could build up win equity early with front-loaded Divisional games, and they barely travel out of the west coast until mid-November. So here is the bad news. Arizona opens ’18 with the dreaded minus point ratio. Going 8-8 with a -66 point differential means they were more like a 6-10 team. Their last win in Minnesota was 1993 (0-9 since). They have four losses and a 1970 tie at KC. They last won at GB in 1949 (0-10). They last won at Atlanta in 1993 (0-8). Is that too much to overcome?

Arizona opened with a 6.5 season win total but is currently at 5.5. 6.5 was clearly too high. The very early post-draft Power Rating is at 22.5.

LOS ANGELES RAMS: LA was one of those rare teams that excelled despite facing a tough ’17 schedule and a minus point ratio. 11 straight losing seasons were erased despite a mediocre performance at home. Once again they will have just seven home games as they are the designated home team in Mexico City. One of their home games is vs. the Chargers. The Rams are one of three teams with three straight road games. It’s not all bad, as games 2-4 are all at home, vs. Arizona, the Chargers and on Thursday, a revenge game vs. Minnesota.

The season opens on MNF at Oakland so there will be less preparation time before the Arizona game. LA has ten days before going to Seattle. They stay on the road for games at Denver and SF (Sunday Night). There are four more games before the late bye. They read GB, at New Orleans, Seattle, and the Mexico City game vs. KC. LA travels to Detroit and Chicago after their bye week and then comes home to play Philly on Sunday Night. This will be their 5th prime time game, most in their history. Are they ready to handle this spike up in non-routine games? The season closes at Arizona and home to SF.

Here are some other scheduling nuggets: LA has no long trips until November. Aquib Talib returns to play Denver 10/14, as will beloved defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Marcus Peters plays his old team with the Rams meet up with KC. LA gets bumped up to a 1st place schedule but does enter ’18 with a plus point ratio.

The Rams opened with a win total of 9.5, OVERS +115, but they are now 9.5, OVERS as high as -140. The post-draft Power Rating will be set at 29.5.

SAN FRANCISCO: It was a meet and greet last year with their enormous roster turnover so SF needed time to jell. Last year I said the following: December could at least set the foundation for better things to come. As everyone knows by now SF was 5-0 in December. SF spikes up to five prime time games this season. Four of those games are in a five week stretch. Will the change in schedule pacing be too much for this young team to overcome? SF has three September road games and all are tough (Minny, KC, LA Chargers). The home game is vs. Detroit and their new staff. SF has won 12 straight hosting the Lions.

The 49ers will play six games vs. teams with new Head Coaches and five of those will be in SF. That should be to their advantage. SF plays at GB on MNF 10/15. That gives them less time to prepare to face the Rams on Sunday Night. The “sandwich” game is at Arizona the following week. Watch for a letdown.

Prime time games vs. Oakland (Thursday Night) and the NYG (MNF) follow. The bye week is well-placed, so there will be rest and no letdown after all these night games. The final prime time game is at Seattle. It also marks the return of CB Richard Sherman back to his old team. That game will be intense. Games 13-15 are all at home! It starts with Denver, where GM John Lynch used to play, and continues with Seattle and Chicago.

The finale is at the LA Rams. Will this interesting schedule result in a roller coaster type season? SF opened at 7.5 wins and quickly shot up to 9. The current number is 8.5. My post-draft Power Rating will be set at 25.

SEATTLE: According to Warren Sharp, Seattle moves from facing the 2nd softest projected schedule to the 3rd toughest schedule. It starts with three of four on the road, at Denver, at Chicago on MNF and at Arizona. Seattle will host Dallas week three after playing on MNF. That could be tricky. At least they’re the designated road team in London when they play the Raiders and former RB Marshawn Lynch. November games are home to the Chargers, at the Rams, home on Thursday to GB and at Carolina.

Playing the NFC West keeps travel down even though the Raider game is in London. That nearly 5,000 mile trip is longer than Carolina travels all season! Seattle has five prime time games, three of them in December. They host SF on Sunday Night and host Minny on MNF. That puts them in a short week before going to SF. They close at home (four of five at home to end ’18) with a night game vs. KC and the finale vs. Arizona.

How good is Seattle in ’18? I think the schedule is not as bad as Sharp thinks, but will defer judgement until my Power Ratings are set. Most of their prime time games are at home.

Seattle opened with a season win total of 9 but it is down to 8 and 8.5!

My post-draft opening Power Rating will be set at 26.


2018 NFL Schedule: Power Ratings and Season Win Information

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