Now to wrap up the discussion of “gauntlet” game scheduling for the 2010 NFL Regular Season, I move on to the National Football Conference’s 16 teams. As a recap of the prior story, I’ve repeated my opening few paragraphs. If you are familiar with what I’m working with here, feel free to hit the jump and read on.
To further explore that idea, I’m defining a “gauntlet” schedule as a series of at least three or more games in a row that are taxing to a team either because they have to face strong teams or because there is significant travel involved. A team can have a difficult schedule but avoid this “gauntlet” idea if the games against the tougher teams are further spread out across the season; by the same token, a team with an easier schedule who has to face good teams multiple weeks in a row can still face a “gauntlet.”
If a team does face such a “gauntlet” during their schedule, it is also important to note when it happens in the scope of a season. If a team has a series of tough games at the beginning of the season, then it’s problematic because they might stumble out of the gate and never recover. If the “gauntlet” comes at season’s end, there will be added pressure on building up a good record before those games so that the team can “absorb” losses if they have to. And “gauntlets” in the middle of the season are perhaps most problematic, because they can jostle teams into and out of playoff position with little time left to recover.
- Week 12: vs. New Orleans Saints
- Week 13: @ Indianapolis Colts
- Week 14: vs. Philadelphia Eagles
- Week 15: vs. Washington Redskins
- Week 16: vs. Arizona Cardinals
- Week 17: @ Philadelphia Eagles
Last year’s NFC East champions are the “proud” owners of the single longest gauntlet of the 2010 season, by far. Not only does Dallas have to face the two teams who played in Super Bowl XLIV back-to-back, they also get two games against the Eagles in their final four games of the season with match-ups against Donovan McNabb’s Redskins and 2009 playoff contender Arizona sandwiched in-between. With the 3rd-toughest schedule in the league for 2010, the Cowboys have very little room for error in making an attempt to repeat as division winners.
- Week 13: vs. Washington Redskins
- Week 14: @ Minnesota Vikings
- Week 15: vs. Philadelphia Eagles
- Week 16: @ Green Bay Packers
- Week 17: @ Washington Redskins
The Giants will also face a lengthy “gauntlet” at the end of their season, with games against the Redskins serving as bookends for match-ups with the Vikings, Eagles, and Packers from last season’s playoff pool. If the Giants wish to avenge a disappointing 2009 campaign, they will have to make sure that they get business taken care of before this stretch, which will push them to the limit at the end of the season.
- Week 9: vs. Indianapolis Colts
- Week 10: @ Washington Redskins
- Week 11: vs. New York Giants
In their first “gauntlet” of the season, the Eagles will need to take on the tough Colts and then face an emotional game against former QB Donovan McNabb in D.C. before returning home to face the Giants. New starter Kevin Kolb will be tested in this stretch of the season, but not as much as he’ll be tested when…
- Week 14: @ Dallas Cowboys
- Week 15: @ New York Giants
- Week 16: vs. Minnesota Vikings
- Week 17: vs. Dallas Cowboys
…the Eagles bookend their last four games of the year with match-ups against the Cowboys—who won all three games over Philadelphia in 2009 including the playoffs—with a road visit to Meadowlands Stadium and a home game against the Vikings sandwiched in-between. If the Eagles intend to make the postseason in 2010, they will have to pick up a few tough wins here at the end of the regular season.
- Week 4: @ Philadelphia Eagles
- Week 5: vs. Green Bay Packers
- Week 6: vs. Indianapolis Colts
While the Redskins, as a last-place divisional finisher in 2009, manage to avoid much “gauntlet” activity, they do have the 8th-toughest schedule in the league for 2010. The stretch of games beginning with McNabb’s return to Philadelphia and finishing with home games against the Packers and Colts will do a lot to determine the team’s chances at success early in the season.
- Week 2: @ Dallas Cowboys
- Week 3: vs. Green Bay Packers
- Week 4: @ New York Giants
After starting the season with a home game against the Lions, the Bears get alternating road-home-road games with two playoff teams from 2009 and one team looking to defend its reputation at their new Meadowlands Stadium. Given the competition, the Bears might face a 1-3 record out of the gate.
- Week 10: vs. Minnesota Vikings
- Week 11: @ Miami Dolphins
- Week 12: vs. Philadelphia Eagles
At mid-season, the Bears again face two playoff teams from a year ago and a team that finished just outside of the playoff pool.
- Week 14: vs. New England Patriots
- Week 15: @ Minnesota Vikings
- Week 16: vs. New York Jets
- Week 17: @ Green Bay Packers
The end of the season gets no easier for the Bears, as all four games are played against 2009 playoff teams, including road games against divisional rivals Minnesota and Green Bay. Hosting the #1 and #2 finishers from the AFC East won’t be easy either as Chicago will be attempting to finish the season in playoff position.
- Week 2: vs. Philadelphia Eagles
- Week 3: @ Minnesota Vikings
- Week 4: @ Green Bay Packers
The Lions have made some moves to improve this offseason, but the schedule hasn’t done them any favors despite their last place finish in the NFC North. After going to Chicago to play the Bears in Week 1, the Lions get a sole home game against the Eagles and then hit the road to battle division rivals and 2009 playoff participants Minnesota and Green Bay. Even with improvements, the Lions could very well face an 0-4 start.
- Week 11: @ Dallas Cowboys
- Week 12: vs. New England Patriots
Not a true “gauntlet” here, but the Lions will have to face the Cowboys in Texas on a Sunday afternoon and then come home to Detroit to prepare for a Thanksgiving match-up against the unofficial team of the 2000’s, the New England Patriots. This would be a tough back-to-back for any team, let alone the Lions.
- Week 7: vs. Minnesota Vikings
- Week 8: @ New York Jets
- Week 9: vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Packers face the league’s 22nd-toughest schedule in 2010, and as a result they typically get breathers between big match-ups on the season. However, they will still face some trouble in the three weeks leading up to their Week 10 Bye, with consecutive games against 2009 playoff teams. Fortunately for Green Bay, they get to play at home for the Vikings and Cowboys. The Bye week will be much-deserved after these big games.
- Week 5: @ New York Jets
- Week 6: vs. Dallas Cowboys
- Week 7: @ Green Bay Packers
- Week 8: @ New England Patriots
- Week 9: vs. Arizona Cardinals
As if it wasn’t hard enough on the Vikings already to try and figure out whether or not Brett Favre will return; they’ll also have to weather a major storm in the early stages of their 2010 campaign as part of the league’s 15th-toughest schedule. After their Bye in Week 4, the Vikings will face five playoff teams from 2009—three of them division champions—including road games against the Jets, Packers, and Patriots. The Vikings had a fairly smooth road to the postseason last year, but there are significant challenges ahead both in terms of opponents and the personnel the team will have to work with.
- Week 2: vs. Arizona Cardinals
- Week 3: @ New Orleans Saints
- Week 4: vs. San Francisco 49ers
If Ben Roethlisberger were not suspended, this “gauntlet” would include a Week 1 match-up at Heinz Field against the Steelers as well. Still the first four games of the season for the Falcons include at least these three contests with teams who are legitimate competitors in their divisions for 2010. The Falcons will be inside for all of the games between the Georgia Dome and the Louisiana Superdome, but they will have to come ready to play to get out of this early-season stretch with a record above .500.
- Week 14: vs. Atlanta Falcons
- Week 15: vs. Arizona Cardinals
- Week 16: @ Pittsburgh Steelers
- Week 17: @ Atlanta Falcons
The Panthers hope to return to the playoffs through the arm of first-year starter Matt Moore, but the end of the season sets down a “gauntlet” that may jeopardize their chances. Home and road games against the Falcons bookend their final four contests while a home game against the Cardinals and a road game against a Steelers team that will have Roethlisberger conspire to keep the Panthers out of the postseason hunt; unless, of course, they take care of business earlier in the season.
- Week 15: @ Baltimore Ravens
- Week 16: @ Atlanta Falcons
Despite being the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Saints have only the 27th-toughest schedule in the NFL for 2010 and really have the benefit of a schedule that does not gang up on them in terms of frequent tough opponents. No true “gauntlets” on the schedule, but late-season games on the road against the Ravens and Falcons could potentially derail their championship defense if they’re in trouble in the standings at year’s end.
- Week 12: @ Baltimore Ravens
- Week 13: vs. Atlanta Falcons
- Week 14: @ Washington Redskins
Despite being the last-place team in the AFC South, the Buccaneers don’t get any love from the schedule-makers in terms of making it easy for them to rebound in 2010. Weeks 12 through 14 in particular stand out as a “gauntlet” of games against tough teams; particularly since the games against the Ravens and Redskins will move Tampa Bay out of their warm-weather comfort zone for November and December games in colder climates.
- Week 4: @ San Diego Chargers
- Week 5: vs. New Orleans Saints
Despite winning the NFC West and making it to the Divisional Round of the 2009 Playoffs, the Cardinals have the easiest schedule in the NFL for 2010. As a result, no real “gauntlets” on their schedule, though they will have a tough back-to-back in Weeks 4 and 5 against the #2 and #3 overall teams from 2009. Luckily for Arizona, Week 6 is their Bye week so they can replenish after two big match-ups.
- Week 12: @ Arizona Cardinals
- Week 13: @ Green Bay Packers
- Week 14: vs. Seattle Seahawks
- Week 15: @ San Diego Chargers
With the 28th-toughest schedule in 2010, the 49ers are in a good spot considering that they finished 2nd in the NFC West. That said, the four games from Week 12 through Week 15 feature three road games against playoff teams from last year along with a home game against division rival Seattle. If the 49ers are going to take advantage of Kurt Warner’s retirement to push for control of the NFC West, they will need to take care of business before this tough stretch towards the end of the season.
- Week 1: vs. San Francisco 49ers
- Week 2: @ Denver Broncos
- Week 3: vs. San Diego Chargers
Though only the Chargers made the 2009 playoff pool of the Seahawks’ first three opponents, Seattle will be tested right out of the gate. The Seahawks faced a bad loss to the 49ers in Week 2 last season, and can’t afford to give up ground in the division early in 2010. The Broncos, while not a top-tier team in the league, will be tough to play on the road, and the Chargers will be a huge test for Seattle, even at Qwest Field.
- Week 9: vs. New York Giants
- Week 10: @ Arizona Cardinals
- Week 11: @ New Orleans Saints
The Giants will come into Seattle looking to avenge a poor 2009 result, and then the Seahawks will pack their bags for consecutive road games in indoor stadiums against teams that went deep into the playoffs in 2009. If Seattle truly wants to compete on the same level as the NFC’s elite, they will need to escape this “gauntlet” with a few W’s.
- Week 12: @ Denver Broncos
- Week 13: @ Arizona Cardinals
- Week 14: @ New Orleans Saints
While the Rams have the 31st-toughest schedule (of 32 teams) and have to be excited about adding Sam Bradford as a new franchise quarterback, the team will still face an uphill battle to become contenders. Three road games in a row from Week 12 through Week 14—including two games in a row against the Cardinals and the Saints—won’t make things any easier for a St. Louis team looking to rebound.
With that, the rest of the NFL teams and the “gauntlets” looming for them in the 2010 season have been discussed; let us know who you think faces the toughest stretch of games in the comments below!