5 toughest schedules for 2021 include Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers

Following the release of season-long win totals from bookmakers, the schedules of all 32 NFL teams can now be ranked based on their opponents’ projected win totals. Which five NFL teams have the toughest 17-game schedules for the 2021 season?

Toughest 2021 NFL schedules | 2-5

Which four teams are ranked from second to fifth when it comes to the toughest schedules in 2021?

5) Cincinnati Bengals

Narrowly ahead of the Chicago Bears in the 2021 strength of schedule rankings is the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati’s schedule is especially difficult at home, where it ranks the second-toughest in the NFL in 2021. In their stadium, the Bengals play just one team projected to win fewer than eight games (Jacksonville Jaguars).

The Bengals’ schedule sees them face five teams expected to win double-digit games. Four of those come at home, with only a matchup against the Baltimore Ravens on the road. Their entire road schedule has them battle just three teams estimated to win over eight games. Matchups against the New York Jets and Detroit Lions ensure the Bengals have the seventh-easiest home schedule in the league.

The Bengals’ schedule is certainly intriguing. How will Joe Burrow fare on his return from injury? Can he lead the Bengals to a solid season despite one of the toughest schedules in the 2021 NFL season? How will the first few matchups of Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, and Zach Wilson go, in what could be the first of many in the AFC?

4) Arizona Cardinals

The 2021 NFL season must be a solid one for the Arizona Cardinals and head coach Kliff Kingsbury. With Kingsbury and Kyler Murray entering their third season in the league, all eyes are on Arizona for signs that progress is being made. Unfortunately, that will not be easy when playing the fourth-toughest schedule in the league.

Overall, the Cardinals will play six games against teams projected to win 10 or more contests. Four of those are divisional bouts with the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. The other two come against the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers. Additionally, they face the Seattle Seahawks twice, Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, and Tennessee Titans, with all teams expected to win 9.5 games. In total, that is 11 games against teams expected to win over nine games this season.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals face just three teams estimated to win fewer than seven games. Bouts with the Jaguars, Houston Texans, and Detroit Lions add some respite to the schedule. Still, the Lions have recently enjoyed the better of the Cardinals with a record of 3-0-1 in the last four meetings.

3) Las Vegas Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders enter the 2021 season with the third-toughest schedule in the NFL. Much like the Cardinals, this season is very much crunch time for Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and Derek Carr. A step back from the performance of the last two seasons could leave one or both jobs at risk heading into 2022.

Las Vegas’ schedule is challenging on the road, tied for the fourth-toughest road 2021 schedule in the NFL. A critical reason for their stout schedule is two games against the Kansas City Chiefs and a third against the Baltimore Ravens.

They have four “easier” games against the Bengals, Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants. However, those contests are no walk in the park, and the Raiders cannot afford to lose these games in such a tough overall schedule.

2) Pittsburgh Steelers

Another team in an intriguing situation in 2021 is the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are at a crossroads in their franchise, with Ben Roethlisberger potentially heading to retirement upon the conclusion of the year. Therefore, heading into the 2021 NFL season with the second-toughest schedule in the league is less than ideal.

Their road schedule ranks as the most grueling in the league, with three fixtures facing opponents projected to win double-digit games in 2021. They battle just one club on the road that is anticipated to win fewer than eight games. Yet, at home, they face five teams projected to win fewer than eight games. Pittsburgh will need to cash in on that home schedule. Otherwise, they could find themselves struggling and out of playoff contention down the stretch.

Which team has the toughest NFL schedule in 2021?

Entering the 2021 NFL season, which team stands out as having the toughest schedule based on Vegas projected win totals?

1) Houston Texans

There is no way to sugarcoat this — the 2021 season is not shaping up to be a good one for the Houston Texans. Their current quarterback situation is a significant problem, but the NFL schedule has handed them the toughest draw in 2021.

There is very little breathing room on this schedule. Only three matches come against franchises projected to win fewer than seven games, and all of those are against rookie quarterbacks with new head coaches. That combination makes those matchups extremely hard for the Texans to game plan for and find an advantage.

In contrast, 12 games on the Texans’ schedule in 2021 are against teams predicted to win over nine games. Those games are split evenly between home and road. Still, with just one “easier” bout on the calendar, the Texans’ home schedule ranks as the third-toughest in the NFL. This is shaping up to be a long season for Houston and its fan base.

Want more NFL news and analysis?

Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@PFN365) to stay in the loop on all things around the NFL. Also, continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis concerning the 2021 season and beyond.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN

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