With the release of the 2012 NFL schedule Tuesday night, the team with seemingly the easiest route to the postseason is the New England Patriots. In 2011, the Patriots upcoming opponents had a combined record of 116 wins and 140 losses which translates to a .453 winning percentage.
For the games that will be played in Foxborough there are two opponents that stand out, the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos. The 49ers, which lost to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game last season, failed to sign future hall of fame quarterback Peyton Manning but were able to convince Alex Smith to return. In addition the Smith’s return, they also added Super Bowl star Mario Manningham and re-signed pro bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers.
The other tough home game will be against the Denver Broncos. After beginning last season 1-4 with quarterback Kyle Orton, they made a change starting Tim Tebow. The Broncos would go 7-1 over their next eight games and win a playoff game over the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Tebow gone to New York, the Broncos have upgraded by signing Peyton Manning. In addition to Manning, the Broncos signed his former receiving partner in Indianapolis, Brandon Stokley.
Apart from games with the 49ers and Broncos, the Patriots will also face the Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and Houston Texans. Of these opponents, the Houston Texans seem to pose the biggest threat after 2011. Though they finished the season 10-6 winning the AFC South, it’s unlikely they’ll repeat that feat in 2012.
Only two teams the Patriots could face on the road seem to be dangerous, the New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens. However, with the turmoil going on in New York, the Ravens are the one team to fear. After all, without the missed field goal attempt in the closing seconds of the AFC Championship Game in January by Billy Cundiff, it could’ve been the Ravens heading to Indianapolis instead of the Patriots.
The teams that don’t seem to pose a threat to the Patriots on the road are the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, and Tennessee Titans. While the Seahawks or Titans could surprise an unprepared team having certain players with individual talent, it’s not likely to faze the Patriots who are usually one of the most prepared teams in the league for any opponent.
While the schedule looks to be in the Patriots favor for 2012, that doesn’t necessarily mean good news. In each of the past five seasons, the team with the easiest schedule, based on the previous year’s records, failed to reach the playoffs.
YEAR TEAM OPP WIN % OPP RECORD RECORD
2007 Arizona Cardinals .461 118-138 8-8
2008 New England Patriots .387 99-157 11-5
2009 Chicago Bears .414 105-149 7-9
2010 Arizona Cardinals .445 114-142 5-11
2011 Arizona Cardinals .441 113-143 8-8
2012 New England Patriots .453 116-140
In 2007, 2010, and 2011, the Arizona Cardinals failed to reach the postseason going 8-8, 5-11, and 8-8 in those seasons. In 2009 the Chicago Bears went 7-9 with their supposedly easy schedule.
The one team that finished above .500 with the easiest schedule was the Patriots in 2008 and despite missing the playoffs they did go 11-5. They only missed the playoffs that season by losing the tiebreaker to the hated Jets. In 2008 the Patriots’ opponents had a combined record of 99-157 (.387) the previous year which is far worse than the 2012 opponents who were 116-140 (.453) in 2011. However, the Jets in 2008 posed a much greater threat to the Patriots than any team in the AFC East can in 2012.
While no one knows what will happen next season, the New England Patriots seem to have been given a very favorable schedule. For the defending AFC Champions who have made moves that will seemingly improve the team, the easiest strength of schedule in the league combined with a weaker division seems to give the team a great shot at the 2012 postseason.