Judging overreactions to 2024 NFL schedule release

ByDan Graziano ESPN logo
Thursday, May 16, 2024

Admit it. You got your favorite NFL team's full 2024 regular-season schedule Wednesday night, went through it game-by-game and came to the only conclusion any good fan can reach at a time like this.

"We're going 17-0!"

Spoiler alert: No, you're not. The beautiful thing about the NFL is that stuff happens year-round to which we can overreact. The schedule release is no exception. Heck, it's actually one of the best examples.

Maybe you looked at your team's schedule and thought, "I can't find the first loss!" Maybe you looked and thought, "I can't believe how badly the league cheated us!" Maybe you don't like the travel schedule, or the rest days relative to your team's division rivals. Or maybe you're trying to figure out an excuse that will let you ignore the family on Christmas Day because your team ended up with a game on Dec. 25. But whatever your reaction was to the schedule release, there's a decent chance it was an overreaction.

That's what makes it fun, of course. And it's also what gives us a chance to fire up another offseason overreactions column, where we judge some of the biggest potential takeaways from teams' 17-game slates.

Jump to potential overreactions:

Jets | Eagles | Falcons | Bengals|Bears

The Jets will be in first place going into their Week 12 bye

The Jets could very well start 0-1, as they open with a road Monday night game against the defending NFC champion 49ers. But after that, only three of their next 10 games come against teams that made the playoffs last season: vs. Bills in Week 6, at Steelers in Week 7 and vs. Texans in Week 9.

Things start to look pretty rough when the Jets come out of their bye and start December, though. Both of their games against the Dolphins are post-bye, and their road game in Buffalo is on Dec. 29 (brrr!). But a healthy Aaron Rodgers should give them a chance to pile up wins in the first two-thirds of the season.


"A healthy Aaron Rodgers" at this point is still an Aaron Rodgers who turns 41 years old on Dec. 2. The list of quarterbacks who have performed at a championship-caliber level at this age or older is basically Tom Brady. There's a lot riding on a quarterback who hasn't been on the field much since he showed up in Florham Park, and on a coaching staff that didn't handle adversity very well last season.

The Dolphins have been a hot-starting team the past couple of years, and the Bills are still a force in the division. Of the three teams we think have a chance to win the AFC East -- sorry, New England -- the Jets are by far the least proven. The schedule may set up well for them after they get home from San Francisco, but we still don't know for a fact that they're a team capable of taking advantage of it.

Saquon Barkley will lead the Eagles to the playoffs by running all over his old team in Week 18

The former Giants running back signed a big free agent deal with division rival Philadelphia this offseason. This has led to quite a range of reactions, including Barkley getting booed at a Sixers-Knicks playoff game and tweeting that he can't believe fans aren't over it yet. He's likely to get an earful when the Eagles play the Giants at MetLife Stadium in Week 7, but if the Week 18 matchup at home means anything to the Eagles' (or I guess the Giants') playoff chances, he'll have the opportunity to show his old team just who it let walk out the door.


The Eagles may well win the NFC East. Heck, they may well have it wrapped up by the time they face the Giants in Week 18. I'm just not imagining Barkley as the difference-maker so many seem to be assuming he will be this season.

Only twice in his six-year career has Barkley made it through a full season without missing at least one game due to injury. And even if 2024 is the third such season for him, I believe the Eagles' success is going to have a lot more to do with whether the passing game rebounds behind quarterback Jalen Hurts and his receivers. The Eagles also have some questions to answer along the offensive line, including how to replace longtime center Jason Kelce, who retired this offseason.

Assuming Barkley can be the key player who elevates a team from good to great ignores the fact that he has not been that over six years in the NFL. Again, the Eagles may well be favored to win the division, but I find it hard to believe Kellen Moore's offense is going to make a running back its focal point.

The Falcons could win the NFC

Atlanta is tied with division mate New Orleans for the easiest schedule in the league, if we're basing things on opponents' 2023 records (.453). The Falcons answered their biggest roster question -- twice! -- this offseason by signing Kirk Cousins to a huge free agent deal and then using the No. 8 pick in the draft on Michael Penix Jr. Only four teams in the league -- the Steelers, Colts, Bengals and Commanders -- have to travel fewer miles than the Falcons do in 2024. And no one in their division has won more than nine games in either of the past two seasons.

So things are set up well for the Falcons in Raheem Morris' first year as their coach, and if they can take advantage of all those factors, they could set themselves up with a great seed in the NFC playoffs.


The Falcons had the easiest strength of schedule last season, too, and they went 7-10. The main reason for this is that the "strength of schedule" metric we're referring to here is bogus. Basing such an assessment on last year's records ignores the repeatedly proven fact that the same teams aren't good every season. We don't actually know who has the toughest strength of schedule in terms of quality of opponent, because we don't know who's going to get hurt and who's going to struggle and who's going to break out.

And while it may be easy for a Falcons fan to be optimistic based on the team's extensive offseason efforts to improve at the quarterback position, the situation the team has created for itself by signing Cousins and drafting Penix that high has a chance to be complicated -- and especially tricky for a first-year coaching staff to navigate. The Buccaneers won the division last season and brought back pretty much their whole team, so I'm not making someone else the favorite until I see some on-field proof.

A healthy Joe Burrow and the Bengals will return to the top of the AFC North

Every team in the AFC North had a winning record last season. Even with Burrow suffering a season-ending wrist injury, the Bengals still managed to finish 9-8. That was good enough for fourth place in the division, and the benefit of that is the Bengals get to play a fourth-place schedule. While the Ravens, who won the division, have to play the teams that won the other three AFC divisions (Bills, Texans and Chiefs), the Bengals play the teams that finished last in those divisions (Patriots, Titans and Chargers). They also have games against two of the teams that finished last in NFC divisions -- Washington and Carolina.

Elsewhere in the AFC North, the Browns, Ravens and Steelers have the first-, second- and third-hardest schedules based on opponents' 2023 records. Cincinnati, meanwhile, has the 16th-hardest. (Though, again, take that with a grain of salt.)


Honestly, it's still too early to know how well Burrow will recover from his injury. This isn't an ACL or an Achilles, where the recovery process and timeline are well established and relatively common. Burrow's injury is one that directly affects the way he throws the ball, and if that's off, all bets are also off.

All of that said, Burrow is not a player to be underestimated, and he and the Bengals believe he'll make a full recovery. If he does, Cincinnati is set up well. Notoriously slow starters, the early part of the Bengals' schedule is actually pretty favorable (other than that Kansas City game in Week 2). But the Chiefs are one of only two teams the Bengals will face in the first six weeks that finished with a winning record last season. By the time Burrow and the Bengals generally get going, they'll be primed for a Week 10 road matchup against the Ravens -- a team that, for me, has a fair number of question marks due to the losses on the defensive coaching staff and the offensive line.

And coming out of their Week 12 bye, the Bengals only have two tough looking road games remaining: Week 14 in Dallas and Week 17 in Pittsburgh.

Caleb Williams will go 4-0 against his fellow rookie quarterbacks and lead the Bears to the playoffs

Assuming they all win their starting jobs before long, Williams lines up to play four games against teams that drafted quarterbacks in the first round -- one each against the Commanders (Jayden Daniels) and the Patriots (Drake Maye) and two against the division rival Vikings (J.J. McCarthy).

Of those quarterbacks, you can make a strong argument that Williams was drafted into the best situation, with a receiving corps that includes DJ Moore, Keenan Allen, Cole Kmet and fellow rookie Rome Odunze. The Bears also signed running back D'Andre Swift and return a defense that finished last season playing like one of the best in the league. Ten of their 17 games -- and eight of their 11 nondivision games -- come against teams that missed the playoffs last season.


If Williams is as ready to be an NFL star as many believe, there's no reason to think the Bears won't build on their late-2023 season success and make a run at a playoff spot in 2024. They've put resources into the offensive line over the past few years, they're loaded with depth and they have real talent -- most of it quite proven -- at the offensive skill positions.

The oft-maligned coaching staff proved quite a bit over the second half of last season, in case you weren't paying attention, and added offensive coordinator Shane Waldron from the Seahawks to boost things on that side of the ball. Of the teams listed, I like Chicago better than New England, Washington and Minnesota to contend.

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