6 Things to Know About the 2014 NFL Schedule

Perhaps you didn't hear, but the NFL hates the St. Louis Rams.

We knew which matchups were in store just as the 2013 regular season ended. We just didn’t know when the games would take place.

But on Wednesday, that all changed. The NFL published the schedules for all 32 teams, and with the release, we now get to do some fun NFL analysis in April.

Many of the schedule breakdowns you’ll find on the web are subjective ones. That’s only natural – everyone has strong sports opinions, even when it’s just about a handful of team schedules. But at numberFire, while we like subjectivity (sometimes), we love straight facts a little more, homie. And that’s why our schedule studying is a little different.

Instead of looking at win-loss records like many do, we’re going to look at some advanced analytics and determine which teams got off easy and which ones may have it tough. Specifically, the things to know below are based off of numberFire’s nERD metric, which measures the expected point differential a team would see in a game against an average NFL squad. If a team has a nERD score of 10, they would be expected to win by 10 points against a league average team.

Keep in mind that the nERD numbers used to determine the facts below are from 2013. Clearly players have changed teams, while others are bound to get better with experience and through the NFL Draft. But it’s April, and all we can do is use the information we have. It’s still better than a win-loss record analysis with some sort of opinion about Jim Harbaugh’s wardrobe.

1. San Francisco has the toughest schedule.

Speaking of Harbaugh, his team has the toughest schedule numbers-wise in 2014. The cumulative nERD score – using our 2013 numbers – of San Francisco’s 2014 opponents equals 44.65. In other words, you’d expect a random San Francisco opponent in 2014 to be a team with a 2.79 nERD, playing consistently above expectation.

We can obviously thank the NFC West for this, as the Seahawks and Cardinals both finished with top 10 nERD scores last year. But San Fran will face a decent NFC East in the upcoming season, as well as an AFC West division that gave us the 1st (Denver), 8th (Kansas City) and 11th (San Diego) best teams last year.

The 49ers are going to have to play well right out of the gate, too. No team has a higher average opponent nERD over the first half of the season than San Francsico (3.20 average) – they’ll face Arizona, Philadelphia, Kansas City and Denver over a five-week span between Weeks 3 and 7. Thankfully they’ve got a Week 8 bye to rest up after that brutal run.

2. Tennessee has the easiest schedule.

Again, we already knew who Tennessee was going to play against, but now we know when they’re playing. And although nothing unique from a schedule perspective was done to calculate their -53.25 opponent nERD, we now know that, really, Tennessee should have a cake walk of a time next season.

Their campaign doesn’t start easy against a much improved Kansas City squad (4.12 nERD last season), and Week 3 and 4 matchups versus Cincinnati (6.24) and Indianapolis (1.57) should be difficult contests too. But after those games, the Titans go on a stretch against four teams listed 25th or lower in nERD rankings last season: Cleveland, Jacksonville, Washington and Houston. And then, after their Week 8 bye, Tennessee has just two games against 2013 top-10 teams (Philadelphia and Indianapolis).

Remember though – division rivals face similar schedules, aside from two opponents. So while Tennessee is listed as easiest in terms of 2013 nERD scores, Houston, Indy and Jacksonville are right there with them.

3. Denver has the hardest first three games.

Peyton Manning better be ready to roll with his new offense to start the year, as the team will face Indianapolis, Kansas City and Seattle to start the season. The average 2013 nERD from those three teams is 5.46, nearly a full point higher than what Minnesota, the team with the second-hardest first three games, will face.

4. Washington may start 4-0.

The new-look Redskins could be a feel-good early-season story, but not necessarily because of any stellar play. I’m almost certain that the numberFire guys and I could field a team that could compete and maybe win a game against the Redskins’ first-quarter schedule. They’ll face the Texans in Week 1, the Jags in Week 2, the Eagles in Week 3 and the Giants in Week 4. While these teams can – and probably will – be better in 2014, Houston and Jacksonville were the two worst NFL teams a season ago, and, well, we know how the Giants’ story went.

5. Baltimore could make a late-season playoff push.

The Ravens’ missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2007, mostly due to two key losses to end the year against New England and Cincinnati. The scheduling gods fixed that right up for them this year, as Baltimore will play against four below-average teams during their final four games. Even easier, the Ravens will face three of the four worst teams according to nERD last season over their final three weeks of the season: Jacksonville, Houston and Cleveland. You're welcome, Joe Flacco.

6. St. Louis got hosed.

Many times, the middle of the NFL year is where seasons are won. Fans tend to focus on how teams start and finish, but really, it’s the meat of the sandwich that matters most.

And the Rams’ sandwich is full of meat. Lots of meat. More meat than any other team in the NFL. Get ready for the meat sweats, St. Louis.

After starting their season off against three really mediocre teams (Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Dallas), St. Louis hits their bye. After the bye, things get a little cray. Between Weeks 5 and 12, St. Louis will play eight straight games against top 11 teams from 2013. Eight! Eight in a row!

They travel to Philadelphia in Week 5, then play back-to-back games at home against division rivals San Francisco and Seattle. After that vicious three-week stretch, the NFL thought it’d be fun to have the Rams travel to Kansas City and play a good Chiefs team, and then leave Kansas City to go to San Francisco for another contest against the 49ers.

Oh, it only gets worse. After their Week 9 game against San Fran, St. Louis then has to play a surging Arizona Cardinals team in Arizona, the defending AFC Champions at home, and the Chargers on the road. Wut.

It’d be surprising to see St. Louis win, I don’t know, negative one games during that stretch? Completely ridiculous. Of course, right after those eight games are over, St. Louis will see the Raiders, Redskins and Giants during three of their final five games. I know teams will perform differently next year but, man, that’s going to be a rough time as a St. Louis Rams fan. Especially because you’ll have to watch Sam Bradford through it all.