NFL Strength of Schedule 2021: 49ers have easiest schedule heading into 2021

In any NFL season, the strength of schedule (SOS) a team faces can make a huge difference, and 2021 sees some intriguing discrepancies. Whether it is in terms of earning a first-round bye, netting home-field advantage, or simply making it into the playoffs at all, a club’s SOS can be an all-important differentiator.

2021 NFL Strength of Schedule | 32-21

When looking at the team-by-team opponents, which 12 franchises have the easiest schedules in the 2021 season according to Vegas projected win totals?

32) San Francisco 49ers
31) Dallas Cowboys
T-29) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
T-29) Cleveland Browns
28) Denver Broncos
T-26) Philadelphia Eagles
T-26) Carolina Panthers

The Buccaneers, Cowboys, and 49ers benefit from a good draw in 2021

It seems unfair that the NFC’s two Super Bowl participants in the past two seasons are among the easiest schedules in the NFL when it comes to 2021 SOS. However, both benefit from their finishing position last season. The Buccaneers being second in the NFC South ensures they avoid the Packers. Meanwhile, the 49ers managed to avoid several dangerous teams thanks to their fourth-place finish in 2020.

The Cowboys and Browns are a pair of teams who have benefited from their finishing position in 2021. By ending the season in third place, both avoid tough matchups. The Browns dodge the Indianapolis Colts and will face the Houston Texans instead. Meanwhile, the Cowboys escape a tough bout with the Buccaneers by finishing in third last season. According to Vegas win projections, one other schedule to point out is the Broncos, who, despite facing the Chiefs twice, still have the fifth-easiest schedule.

25) Jacksonville Jaguars
24) Los Angeles Chargers
23) New York Jets
T-21) Miami Dolphins
T-21) Buffalo Bills

The Dolphins and Bills have intriguing schedules as they look to maintain the top two spots in the AFC East

This group brings us the highest placed finisher so far from the AFC in 2021. The Bills’ strength of schedule in 2021 benefits immensely from their 17th NFL game being against the Washington Football Team.

Equally, with the Steelers winning the AFC North, the Bills avoid a Ravens team expected to be among the best in the conference in 2021. The Dolphins’ schedule is also worth noting. Despite games against the Colts, Ravens, Bills, and Buccaneers, their schedule places among the top-12 easiest in the league.

2021 NFL Strength of Schedule | 20-11

Which 10 teams see their schedule fall in the middle of the pack in terms of difficulty in 2021?

T-19) Green Bay Packers
T-19) Atlanta Falcons
18) Indianapolis Colts
T-16) Tennessee Titans
T-16) Seattle Seahawks

The Packers, Colts, Titans, and Seahawks headline an intriguing batch loaded with playoff contenders

In the middle of the 2021 NFL SOS rankings, this group contains four very enthralling names in the Packers, Colts, Titans, and Seahawks. These teams should be in contention for the playoffs in 2021, and schedules in the middle of the pack could help them down the stretch. The Titans and Colts’ strength of schedule in 2021 is significantly helped by playing the Houston Texans twice. Houston is projected to win just 4.5 games next season by Vegas.

The Falcons would have hoped finishing in fourth place in the NFC South in 2021 would have resulted in a more effortless strength of schedule. Yet, a clash with the 49ers has undoubtedly boosted the difficulty. With that being said, there are only six NFC teams with easier schedules than the Falcons.

T-14) Minnesota Vikings
T-14) Kansas City Chiefs
13) Baltimore Ravens
T-11) New York Giants
T-11) New England Patriots

Three big AFC competitors and two NFC hopefuls sit just outside the top 10

The grouping of the Ravens, Chiefs, and Patriots is very appropriate given their combined domination of this conference in recent years. The Patriots’ schedule being among the top 12 hardest will be a concern given where the Dolphins and Bills’ schedules sit on these rankings.

The Ravens and Chiefs are both teams that are arguably schedule-strength proof. Despite schedules within the top 15 most difficult in the league, both are still expected to emerge victorious from their division this season.

The Vikings and Giants are eyeing the playoffs in 2021. Having schedules that rank among the toughest in the league does not aid their aspirations. Still, among the six teams with stiffer schedules, at least three are likely competing for those final playoff spots.

2021 NFL Strength of Schedule | 10-1

Which 10 NFL teams have the most formidable strength of schedule according to Vegas projected win totals in 2021?

T-9) Los Angeles Rams
T-9) Detroit Lions
T-7) Washington Football Team
T-7) New Orleans Saints
6) Chicago Bears

NFC teams dominate the bottom half of the top 10

That is a mouth-watering group of NFC playoff contenders, oh, and the Lions. Washington, the Rams, Saints, and Bears will be targeting a return to the playoffs in 2021. However, with other NFC teams presumably on that hunt with easier schedules, these teams do not have much room to make mistakes. In what should be a very competitive NFC playoff race, all four teams will be desperate to make a solid start.

Discussing the Lions seriously, a rigid schedule may not be a bad thing for them. Detroit needs to evaluate whether Jared Goff is their QB and the best way to do that is in games against stout opposition. Best-case scenario, Goff performs well, and the Lions know they have found their man. Worst-case scenario, Goff struggles, and the team earns a high draft pick to select their next QB of the future.

5) Cincinnati Bengals
4) Arizona Cardinals
3) Las Vegas Raiders
2) Pittsburgh Steelers
1) Houston Texans

A tough road lies ahead for these teams

Joe Burrow must be wondering what he did to upset the NFL. First, he gets drafted by a team with no offensive line, leading to him getting hurt. Then he returns to face a top-five most challenging schedule in his sophomore season. Yet, much like Detroit, a demanding schedule is not bad for a Bengals team that needs to keep adding top-level talent through the draft.

As for the Texans, who sit atop the NFL in terms of SOS rankings for 2021, when it rains it pours. With question marks over their QB situation in 2021, the Texans may be struggling to even reach their projected win total of 4.5 with such a brutal schedule.

The Cardinals, Raiders, and Steelers are in an unenviable position. All three teams will view themselves as potential playoff contenders. Still, to achieve that, they have to navigate a tough schedule. There is absolutely no margin for error for these three teams. They have to come out of the games they should win with victories because they will face many outstanding teams in 2021.

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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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