Insiders

Three Key Matchups for Every NFL Team

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With the NFL schedule being out for a while now, it’s time to see which three games will be the toughest for each team in the league.

Denver Broncos (vs. Carolina, at Cincinnati and vs. New England) – After winning the Super Bowl, there will be a huge target on Denver’s back this upcoming season. Having to play Kansas City and Oakland two times each will already be challenging enough, but when you add these three powerhouses to the schedule, it’s clear the Broncos will have their work cut out for them.

Oakland Raiders (at Jacksonville, vs. Carolina and at Denver) – Following years of disappointment, the Raiders are finally in a position to compete again. Oakland has one of the most talented teams in all of football. However, in order for them to make the playoffs, they’ll have to prove they can beat some of the league’s best.

Kansas City Chiefs (at Pittsburgh, at Oakland and at Carolina) – Ever since Alex Smith arrived in Kansas City, the Chiefs have been at a stand still. Sure, they’re competitive more often than not, but will they ever take that next step? If so, this has to be the year because time is running out.

San Diego Chargers (vs. Jacksonville, at Indianapolis and at Carolina) – Whether they want to admit it or not, San Diego is clearly rebuilding. With that in mind, it’s tough to imagine they’ll be able to win even one of these three games. Oh yeah, don’t forget they have six games against Denver, Oakland and Kansas City. Good luck.

Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Green Bay, vs. Oakland and vs. Denver) – Similar to Oakland, this organization is prepared to start contending again. Offensively, they have all of the tools to become of the league’s most explosive units and defensively, Jacksonville improved with potential rookie stars in cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack. The Jaguars also added Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson in free agency.

Indianapolis Colts – (at Denver, at Green Bay and vs. Pittsburgh) – With Andrew Luck back in the fold, the Colts are looking for a bounce back season. As Indy preps for the 2016 campaign, they’ll need Luck to be at his best when facing these three teams. Green Bay and Pittsburgh can score at will and Denver’s defense will still be amongst one of the best in the world.

Tennessee Titans – (vs. Oakland, vs. Green Bay and vs. Denver) – After going (2-14), Tennessee can only go up from here, right?

To their defense, this is a very young team, so it’s only natural for them to experience growing pains right now. Yes, they’ll win more than two games, but don’t expect a major leap in the win column.

Houston Texans (at New England, at Denver and at Green Bay) – From a pure offensive perspective, Houston is nearly unwatchable, which is why they went out and reeled in Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller. Now, no one knows how Osweiler will pan out, but he can’t be worse than Brian Hoyer or can he?

Only time will tell.

Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Denver, at Dallas and at New England) – Talk about three tough out of division games, but at the end of the day, Bengals fans jus want a playoff win.

Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. New England, vs. Dallas and at Cincinnati) – After a season riddled with injuries, Pittsburgh will have plenty of opportunities this upcoming season to prove if they’re serious or not.

Baltimore Ravens (at Jacksonville, at Dallas and at New England) – The Ravens are fresh off their worst season since 2007 after going (5-11). For a franchise that’s staple has been defense, Baltimore was dreadful on that side of the ball. With offenses like these on the schedule, they have to get better fast or it could be another rough season.

Cleveland Browns (vs. New England, at Cincinnati and at Pittsburgh) – When you’re the Cleveland Browns, there is no such thing as an ‘easy’ game, but the three listed above will be harder than the rest.

New England Patriots (at Arizona, at Pittsburgh and vs. Seattle) – Luckily for New England, there schedule for the first four games without Tom Brady is manageable with the exception of the opener at Arizona. However, when Brady returns, he’ll have tough matchups against Pittsburgh and Seattle.

New York Jets (vs. Cincinnati, vs. Seattle and at New England) – We’re still not sure who the Jets starting quarterback will be, but one thing we do is that they’ll be facing some fierce defenses this year.

Buffalo Bills (vs. Arizona, at New England and at Seattle) – Is this the year Buffalo breakthrough?

The talent is there, but it takes more than that in this league. When looking at their toughest matchups, it makes me cringe a little bit. Rex Ryan’s defense has to be ready to keep them in games.

Miami Dolphins (at Seattle, at New England and at Cincinnati) – For a team in limbo, this set of road games doesn’t look too promising. You’ll be hard pressed to find a tougher trio of road games than this one.

Arizona Cardinals (at Carolina, at Minnesota and at Seattle) – Arizona is capable of putting up points in bunches, but Carson Palmer isn’t getting any younger. These three road challenges will truly test this Arizona offense.

Seattle Seahawks (at Arizona, at New England and at Green Bay) – Seattle knows how tough it is to win in Arizona, however, you add road games against Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers?

Richard Sherman better be ready.

Los Angeles Rams (at Arizona, vs. Carolina and at New England) – At least for year one, the city of Los Angeles will just be thrilled about having football. Nonetheless, the honeymoon period will vastly disappear if they don’t start winning soon.

San Francisco 49ers (at Carolina, at Seattle and vs. New England) – It feels like yesterday when San Francisco was just a few yards away from winning the Super Bowl. Now, they’re one of the laughing stocks in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers (at Denver, vs. Arizona and at Seattle) – After being so close to obtaining their first ever Super Bowl title, the Panthers will be looking to complete some unfinished business. Ironically, they’ll be facing the three teams they faced in the postseason last season.

Atlanta Falcons (at Oakland, at Denver and at Seattle) – When it comes to a team that consistently underachieves, Atlanta is near the top of the list. As the NFC South looks to be more competitive in 2016, it’ll be interesting to see where the Falcons fit in at.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at Arizona, vs. Denver and vs. Seattle) – The Bucs are one of the sexy picks heading into this season and for good reason. With Jameis Winston leading the way, there’s no telling how high Tampa Bay’s ceiling is. With that being said, we’ll for sure learn a lot about this squad early on.

New Orleans Saints (vs. Oakland, vs. Seattle and at Carolina) – Scoring has never been an issue for Drew Brees and company, but keeping opponents out of the end zone is a totally different story. Unless this defense shows major strides, don’t expect much from the Saints.

Green Bay Packers (at Jacksonville, vs. Dallas and vs. Seattle) – Despite missing top receiver Jordy Nelson for the entire season, Aaron Rodgers and company still managed to make it to the playoffs. With Nelson back in the fold, this offense should be right at the top of the league.

Chicago Bears (at Dallas, at Green Bay and at Tampa Bay) – The Bears defense made great strides last year, but with questions at left tackle and with Matt Forte taking his talents elsewhere, it’s unclear how good this offense can be.

Minnesota Vikings (at Carolina, vs. Arizona and at Green Bay) – We know Minnesota’s defense measures up with the best of them, but when facing other elite defensive units, can they score?

The Vikings haven’t done anything in the offseason that makes me believes their offense will be any better.

Detroit Lions (at Indianapolis, at Green Bay and at Dallas) – It’s looking to be another long season in the motor city. Whenever your best player retires at 30-years-old, it’s hard to be optimistic.

Dallas Cowboys (vs. Cincinnati, at Green Bay and at Pittsburgh) – If the Cowboys can stay healthy, there’s a good chance they will win the NFC East, but these three non-division games will be very tough to say the least.

New York Giants (at Green Bay, vs. Cincinnati and at Pittsburgh) – This past season, teams were able to zero in on Odell Beckham Jr., but Victor Cruz returning, things should open more in the passing game. Considering how poor the Giants were defensively last year, they’ll need Eli and company to put up as much points as possible.

Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Pittsburgh, at Dallas and at Seattle) – The Chip Kelly era is officially over and while it may be for the better, don’t expect immediate success. This franchise is currently under heavy construction.

Washington Redskins (vs. Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati and vs Carolina) – With a tough schedule upon them, we’ll find out soon enough if Washington was a one year wonder.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.