Based on the New NFL Schedules, Which Teams Could Start and Finish Strong Next Season?
The NFL released its schedule for the 2016 season last week, and fans are already starting to project the records of their favorite teams.
Emotional fandom aside, how can we expect the 2016 year to play out mathematically?
We can look by analyzing each team's schedule and that team's nERD -- which is numberFire's way of quantifying a team's efficiency throughout the season. nERD uses a mathematical formula combined with an advanced algorithm for factoring in situational variables to get a much clearer and more accurate sense of performance. You can read more about the specifics behind nERD in our glossary.
By utilizing each team's nERD rating from last year (available on our power rankings page), we can see which team's schedules line up favorably against weaker, less efficient competition.
Granted, rosters have altered and changed from the end of last season thanks to free agency, but we can still use last season's efficiency metrics to project relative difficulty.
By breaking down the season into each team's first and last eight games and summing last year's nERD finishes, we can start to visualize who could have an early jump on playoff spots and who could have an easy final stretch to clinch their way to the postseason.
Which NFL Teams Could Start the Season Hot?
Green Bay Packers
Combined First Half Opponent nERD: -29.42
The Packers enter the season with the most favorable opening schedule in the league. Taking on only one playoff team from last season (Minnesota Vikings) in their first eight games, the Packers could race to a red-hot start.
Green Bay also gets a nice four-game stretch of home games from Weeks 3 through 7, with a Week 4 bye. A healthy Jordy Nelson should only help an offense that finished outside the top-10 in points per game for the first time since 2006.
Combined First Half Opponent nERD: -27.39
The Titans have the second-most favorable schedule in their first eight games of the year, playing just two playoff teams from last season and getting a nice stretch of four-straight games against teams that finished in the bottom 10 in nERD last year.
After acquiring DeMarco Murray and Rishard Matthews to bolster their offense and making a blockbuster trade in which they acquired multiple picks, the Titans have the potential to quickly evaluate their newly acquired talent.
Combined First Half Opponent nERD: -19.68
The second AFC South team on this list, Jacksonville has the third easiest start to the season. An early Week 5 bye followed by games against Chicago, Oakland, and Tennessee could help propel the Jaguars off to a nice start.
Chris Ivory was added to a team that struggled mightily converting short-yardage rushing attempts and was forced to throw the ball 65.02% of the time last year -- second highest in the league. Ivory should help round out their offense, relying less on the pass in 2016. Owning the fifth overall draft pick this year could help land them another blue-chip defensive talent to help a defense that finished with the third-lowest overall defensive Net Expected Points (NEP).
Which NFL Teams Could Finish the Season Hot?
Combined Second Half Opponent nERD: -24.15
The Texans have another opportunity to finish the season on a hot note with the easiest final eight game schedule in the league. In 2015, Houston finished 6-2 in their final eight games to help propel them to a playoff appearance. Can they capitalize similarly in 2016?
Active free agency spenders, the Texans added Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller to provide a new look to coach Bill O'Brien's offense. Anchored by a top-five defensive unit, if this offense can find it's groove, Houston could find themselves right in the midst of another playoff chase in 2016 with a favorable end of season schedule.
Combined Second Half Opponent nERD: -20.70
Pittsburgh gets a terrific end-of-season schedule with only one playoff team from last season (Cincinnati Bengals) in their last eight games. Injuries plagued the Steelers in 2015, as their starting offense had less than 60 minutes of on-field time together. Back to back home games to finish the season against Baltimore and Cleveland could help Pittsburgh reclaim the AFC North title from Cincinnati.
Adding the uber athletic 6'6" Ladarius Green will add a new wrinkle to this offense while providing a big red zone target for Ben Roethlisberger. Health is never something to count on, but if Pittsburgh can find some luck in that department, their roster has few holes to keep them from returning to the playoffs in 2016.
Combined Second Half Opponent nERD: -17.59
The Lions final eight games amount to the third-easiest schedule in terms of nERD. From Week 11 through Week 16, Detroit plays against only one team (Minnesota) that finished in the top-half of teams in nERD last season.
Going from big time playmaker Calvin Johnson to newly signed Marvin Jones, will put the burden of the offense's success squarely on Matthew Stafford's shoulders. Luckily for Stafford, he faces a light end of season schedule against weak pass defenses in which four of their last five opponents ranked in the bottom-half of Pass Defense NEP last year. That could lead to a lot of high-volume passing games from Stafford as Detroit fights for a playoff spot among the tough NFC North.