Three the hard way: NFL's toughest opening schedules
For anyone who’s played sports, you know the first three steps are the most important. Exploding with all your might through those first three strides will give you momentum and carry you a long way.
The same goes for NFL teams kicking off the season. Setting the tone through the first three games of the schedule can give a club momentum and confidence that extends well into the fall. But picking up wins in those first three games is not an easy task.
Players are shaking off the rust and getting their timing back. Coaches are introducing new schemes and systems while adjusting others. And opponents are looking to make a statement and right the wrongs of past seasons.
Winning in the first three weeks is tough – and it will be even tougher for these four teams who open the schedule with a three-headed monster of matchups:Denver Broncos First three opponents: vs. Pittsburgh (-1), at Atlanta (+2.5), vs. Houston (pick’em)
The Broncos have the league’s second-toughest slate according to the strength of schedule rating
and it begins in Week 1. Denver debuts Peyton Manning against the best defense in the NFL, then travels to Atlanta for a Monday nighter with a Falcons squad that won 10 games and made the playoffs last year. The Broncos cap the grueling three-game run with a home date versus Houston, which is healthy and ranked among the Super Bowl sleepers.Baltimore Ravens
First three opponents: vs. Cincinnati (-5.5), at Philadelphia (+3.5), vs. New England (+1.5)
The only soft spot through the Ravens’ first three contests is a heated division rivalry with the Bengals, who shocked the world with a postseason appearance last winter. Baltimore travels to the unfriendly confines of Lincoln Financial to face the Eagles in Week 2, then turns around and comes home to find another rival, the Patriots, waiting for a Sunday Night Football showdown in Week 3. Outside of a generous spread in Week 1 – which already moved from -7 to -5.5 – the Ravens are dirty dogs to begin the year.Pittsburgh SteelersFirst three opponents: at Denver (+1), vs. N.Y. Jets (-4.5), at Oakland (-3)
The Steelers are tied for 14th in terms of strength of schedule thanks to the slew of nasty road trips on their calendar. Pittsburgh gets two of those away games in the first three weeks. It opens with a Sunday night game in Mile High, which will be rocking in the thin air. The Steelers then host the Jets and “backup” QB Tim Tebow, who tore Pittsburgh a new one in the playoffs last year. The Steelers then cross the country for a long trip to Oakland, hoping to avoid a letdown with Week 4 bye on the horizon.Green Bay PackersFirst three opponents: vs. San Francisco (-6.5), vs. Chicago (-7.5), at Seattle (-6)
It doesn’t seem fair that a team like the Packers, who lost just one game last year, would have the second-weakest schedule in the NFL. Green Bay is getting the tough ones out of the way early, opening at home against the 49ers, who are among the faves to win the Super Bowl. The Cheese Heads stay home for a classic NFC North rivalry in a standalone Thursday game in Week 2, welcoming the Bears to Lambeau Field, before heading to the loudest house in the league - CenturyLink Field – for a deafening Monday Night Football matchup with the Seahawks. Oh, and there's a possible look-ahead spot with the Saints on deck in Week 4.Odds provided by Cantor Gaming.