The NFL released its complete 2020 schedule on Thursday night, and as usual, the upcoming season slates aren’t created equal for all 32 teams.
Some teams already knew they were facing a high degree of difficulty based on the strength of their own divisions, the level of their 2019 finishes and the strength of other divisions. Other teams were set up for multiple big breaks with projected runs of weaker opponents for 2020.
When the times and dates were announced, the games got even tougher for some and a little easier for others. Before any of the 256 games in the new season’s 17-week slate are played, let's look at which teams “won” and “lost” with the schedule makers.
2020 NFL schedule winners & losers
Winners: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The stars have aligned for Tom Brady making a serious Super Bowl run with the revamped Bucs. He gets the first Drew Brees duel right off the bat in New Orleans in Week 1, but things look mostly up for Tampa Bay.
Before playing the Saints again at home in Week 9 on Nov. 8, the Bucs face only one other 2019 playoff team, the overrated Packers at home in Week 6. Then from Week 9 through Week 17, the Bucs have five home games with a well-timed Week 13 bye right in the middle.
Around that bye, the Bucs do get the Chiefs before it and the Vikings after it. But both of those games also are in Tampa Bay. The Falcons-Lions-Falcons finish is also nice.
Losers: Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders go into their new home in the desert with glitzy optimism, but unfortunately, Jon Gruden’s hopes to improve upon last season's progress might fold early.
Week 1 at the Panthers is manageable, but it’s on the road. Then it gets brutal through Week 7. The Raiders, from Weeks 2 through 5, face this: vs. Saints, at Patriots, vs. Bills, at Chiefs. They get a Week 6 bye, only to host the Bucs right after it before going to the Browns.
The second half gets easier for the Raiders, but by November, they could be stuck digging out of a big hole.
Winners: Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have a longer, easier opening than they had last season, plus a manageable mid-November, December and January after their Week 10 bye to avoid another late-season fade.
The Cowboys face only two 2019 playoff teams in the first half, at the Seahawks in Week 3 and at the Eagles in Week 8. Their standout breaks include hosting Atlanta in Week 2 and three consecutive home games against the Browns, Giants and Cardinals from Week 4 through Week 6.
The Vikings (Week 11) and Ravens (Week 13) on the road are very tough, but that’s balanced out by the Redskins, Bengals and Giants. The Cowboys’ schedule gives them a slight edge against the Eagles in the NFC East race.
Losers: New York Giants
This team will need to wait a season before being a factor in the NFC East. The Giants have a couple of home Monday night games — Week 1 vs. the Steelers and Week 8 vs. Buccaneers — to stamp the first half of their schedule. In between, the challenges include at 49ers (Week 3), at Rams (Week 4), at Cowboys (Week 5) and at Eagles (Week 7).
The second half is easier, but the Giants need to wait until Week 11 for their bye, after hosting the Eagles in Week 10. There also are two difficult December road games against the Seahawks (Week 13) and Ravens (Week 16). For good measure, the Cowboys rematch is the January game.
The Giants can be much improved but converting that into a wild card will be difficult in the first season under Joe Judge.
Winners: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs’ schedule is more favorable than it looks at first glance. They do get the Texans, Ravens and Patriots in three of their first four games, but only the middle one is on the road.
Once those fellow 2019 first-place teams are out of the way, the Chiefs’ three remaining toughest games — at Bills in Week 6, at Buccaneers in Week 12 and at Saints in Week 15 are well spread out, with a Week 10 bye in between.
The rest of AFC West remains relatively weak to help throughout the slate. The Chiefs also face the Jets, Panthers, Dolphins and Falcons in the second half, with three of those games at home. There’s nothing daunting to here to suggest the Chiefs will fall from their mighty perch as division and Super Bowl champions.
Losers: New York Jets
The Jets seem to occupy this space often for different reasons in different seasons. Adam Gase’s second year with the team doesn’t look promising.
The Week 1-Week 2 punch of at the Bills and vs. 49ers doesn’t allow for a good start, with a tricky trip to the Colts on the heels of that. In both Week 6 (Chargers) and Week 15 (Rams), the Jets have to fly all the way to Los Angeles.
From Week 7 through Week 9, it’s the Bills rematch, at the Chiefs and vs. the Patriots. Week 14 is a trip to Seattle and the season ends in New England. This New York pretty much has two favorable Miami games and that’s it, given it’s not really evenly matched with Denver, Arizona, Las Vegas or Cleveland in home games.
Winners: Cleveland Browns
The Browns get their trip to Baltimore out of the way in Week 1. They don’t see another 2019 playoff team until Week 10, when they host Houston after a Week 9 bye. Before the Week 9 bye, Cleveland can take advantage of its pair against Cincinnati, and also has Washington, Indianapolis and Las Vegas at home.
The second half has some real toughness with a trip to the Titans and a rematch with the Ravens. But the Jaguars, Giants and Jets also provide three winnable home games.
The Browns will be more efficient offensively with Kevin Stefanski and will be better equipped to maximize their talent in 2020. They have a good shot at enjoying that elusive playoff breakthrough.
Losers: Los Angeles Rams
The Rams were expecting to face a high floor of challenges in the same division as the 49ers, Seahawks and much-improved Cardinals. Unfortunately, before then, they also play the Cowboys, Eagles and Bills, the latter two on the road, in their first three games.
Los Angeles plays at San Francisco in Week 6, with the rematch in Week 12. After a Week 9 bye, it’s vs. Seattle in Week 10 and at Tampa Bay in Week 11, too. December for the Rams opens with a trip to the Cardinals in Week 13 before hosting the Patriots in Week 14. Then it’s at the Seahawks and vs. the Cardinals in the final two games.
The Rams were forced into some key roster turnover for Sean McVay in the offseason. After just missing the playoffs post-Super Bowl, it’s an uphill climb to get back to NFC relevance.
Winners: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts have a difficult game in Week 2 at home against the Vikings. But the rest of their first half in their first season with Philip Rivers at quarterback gives them a great opportunity to rebound into the playoffs
Week 1 is a favorable road trip to Jacksonville. Week 3 through Week 8, brings the Jets, Bears, Browns, Bengals and Lions, with a bye in Week 7.
The Colts do get the Ravens and Packers outside of the division in the second half, but both games are at home. The Titans-Texans two steps come after Week 8, but Indianapolis has a chance to build very good momentum into the hardest part of the slate.
Losers: Houston Texans
The Texans don’t get any chance to catch their breaths before diving headfirst into the hardness. They open the season at the Chiefs on Thursday night before going home for the Ravens in Week 2. They also need to go to the Steelers in Week 3 and to the Titans in Week 6.
Outside of the division before their Week 8 bye, the Texans also have two dicey home games against the Vikings in Week 4 and Packers in Week 7. After the bye, they have five road games and three more tough home games against the Patriots, Colts and Titans.
Houston has won the AFC South for two consecutive years, but has seen wild-card Indianapolis and then wild-card Tennessee go deeper in the playoffs. Getting in an early hole will force the Texans dig hard to avoid finishing second or lower.