NFL schedule 2024 winners and losers: Caleb Williams has chance to thrive; Jets face treacherous slate

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NFL schedule 2024 winners and losers: Caleb Williams has chance to thrive; Jets face treacherous slate


We’re nearly halfway between the conclusion of the NFL’s 2023 season and the dawn of its next season.

And now finally, teams and their fan bases can appropriately prepare for the upcoming slate. While teams have known their opponents for quite some time, now they can handle the logistical preparations for the 2024 season.

Not all schedules are created equal, of course. (And no, this has nothing to do with the formula to determine opponents with these unbalanced schedules. That process is just dandy.)

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Glance through the quirks of each team’s schedule, and anyone can find a few gripes and even some friendly bounces. That’s where we come in, as we run through some of the winners and losers from the 2024 NFL schedule reveal.

WINNERS

Chicago Bears

The Bears are gearing up for their most anticipated season in decades with the arrival of quarterback Caleb Williams and wide receiver Rome Odunze to headline their exciting offseason. Those big-ticket personnel moves came on the heels of an impressive 5-3 finish to the season that drew the attention of front offices around the league.

More reason for optimism: The Bears have the third-easiest strength of schedule (.467) based on their opponents’ records in 2023.

Of note, Williams may get a chance to square off against fellow top-three picks Jayden Daniels (Commanders, Week 8) and Drake Maye (Patriots, Week 10) in a three-week stretch.

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Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons and Saints are tied for the easiest strength of schedule in 2024, based on their opponents’ records from last season (.453). While this could just be an NFC South thing — the four divisional foes rank in the top six in strength-of-schedule ease — the Falcons are the team with the shiny new quarterback(s).

Veteran Kirk Cousins is expected to boost a team that is coming off three consecutive 7-10 records, and the league has backed Atlanta’s excitement with four prime-time games.

The Falcons have a tough early schedule, but four of their first five games are at home, which helps mitigate the challenge. If Cousins hasn’t recovered from his torn Achilles, rookie quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is going to have a heck of a welcome to the NFL, as the Falcons open with the Steelers, Eagles and Chiefs right out of the chute.

Dallas Cowboys

It won’t be hard to find the Cowboys on TV. They’re tied with the 49ers and Jets with a league-high six prime-time games, as they’re scheduled to face the Giants, Steelers, Niners, Texans, Bengals and Bucs after dark.

They’ve also got five games in that marquee 4:25 p.m. ET time slot that tends to draw a heavy spotlight. And let’s throw in a Thanksgiving matinee against the Giants to top it off.

The Cowboys only have four 1 p.m. kickoffs plus the TBD start time in the finale against Washington.

It’s going to be a busy year with the Cowboys, as the storyline regarding the heat on head coach Mike McCarthy coupled with the looming availability of Bill Belichick doesn’t seem to be going away. Quarterback Dak Prescott’s expiring contract is another major focus in Dallas, along with the pending negotiations with linebacker Micah Parsons and receiver CeeDee Lamb. All of this after another early playoff disappointment, and the Cowboys in prime time will be a broadcaster’s dream.

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The Week 14 bye week draw

Somehow, six teams have the last bye of the season, which is tied with Week 12 for the most byes in a given week. The Patriots, Ravens, Texans, Colts, Broncos and Commanders will get a welcomed chance to rest in early December.

On the flip side, it may be wise to avoid stocking up on fantasy players from those teams in case you’ve got a must-win matchup in the regular-season finale.


Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift should have plenty of reason to celebrate this year as the Kansas City Chiefs look like they have a pretty light schedule. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

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The two-time defending champs enter the season with five prime-time games, but it’d hardly be a shock to see the Chiefs get flexed into an extra window before it’s all done.

Sure, the Chiefs have a tough opening pair of games against the Ravens and Bengals, but they’re both at home. And after raising the Super Bowl banner and then losing to the Lions last season, Chiefs coach Andy Reid shouldn’t have a problem getting his team’s attention.

The Chiefs also take on the NFC South, so they caught a break with that one.

Washington Commanders

The Commanders won’t be racking up many frequent flier miles. They travel a league-low 10,550 miles this season, according to Bookies.com. Twelve teams are traveling at least twice that many miles on road trips.

LOSERS

New York Jets

The Jets’ Achilles’ heel in 2024 may be their early-season schedule. (Too soon?)

Six of their first 11 games are in prime time, which will work to their benefit if they get off to a hot start and send a message to the rest of the league. But if things go south, the Jets have seen when they’re overcome with negative attention. And remember, prime-time games come with wonky scheduling quirks, including a Monday-Sunday stretch with the Bills and Steelers and a Sunday-Thursday string with the Patriots and Texans from Weeks 6-9.

They open with three games in 11 days, including road trips against the 49ers and Titans before opening at home against the Patriots. Although again, since many teams have daunting stretches in a short spurt, it’s an advantage to get it out of the way at the start of the season when they’re theoretically healthier and better rested.

But for those obstacles to turn into advantages, the Jets are going to have to answer some early-season tests.

On the road … again

The Bills, Browns, Bears and Vikings each have the unenviable task of playing three road games in three weeks.

The Bills’ stretch happens from Weeks 4-6 against the Ravens, Texans and Jets. Compounding the issue, they also visit the Dolphins in Week 2. That’s a date that always draws an eye roll from the Dolphins’ AFC East foes due to the heat.

The Browns’ stretch also goes from Weeks 4-6 against the Raiders, Commanders and Eagles.

The Bears will have a pivotal swing from Weeks 13-15 when they visit the Lions, 49ers and Vikings. For a team with real playoff hopes, the Bears are going to need to survive that series of hurdles.

The Vikings head out to meet the Jaguars, Titans and Bears from Weeks 10-12.

Another bye-week quirk

As if the 49ers’ schedule wasn’t challenging enough, they’ll play the Bills, Chiefs, Cowboys and Seahawks all coming off their byes.

The Colts will play three teams coming off their byes (Dolphins, Titans, Broncos), but Indy will be coming off its own bye for the Denver game.

Four teams will play two opponents coming off their byes, without the benefit of coming off a bye week themselves. Those are the Dolphins (Texans, Raiders), Commanders (Steelers, Bears), Saints (Browns, Commanders) and Seahawks (Jets, Cardinals).

Twelve teams won’t play anyone coming off a bye: Bills, Patriots, Jets, Ravens, Bengals, Jaguars, Titans, Eagles, Vikings, Packers, Panthers and Falcons. So, hey, good for them.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are the only team in the league without a prime-time game, which isn’t a surprise considering they just had the worst record in the NFL.

Not just that, but they’ve got to visit Chicago in Week 5 to get a firsthand look at the QB whom the Bears drafted with the Panthers’ top pick in April. So as the Panthers continue to reel after the Bryce Young–C.J. Stroud decision, they’ve got to hope for a bounce back in 2024 that includes Young outdueling Caleb Williams.

Drake Maye’s spotlight

As if the No. 3 pick doesn’t have enough pressure on him — the ongoing search for Tom Brady’s replacement extending into the first season of the post-Bill Belichick era, in case you’ve forgotten — the Patriots might be taking on the most loaded schedule of quarterbacks in the NFL in 2024.

Maybe the Patriots will just go with Jacoby Brissett. Or maybe Maye will play well, and the Patriots will exceed expectations.

If Maye and the Patriots struggle, however? Yeah, they’ll get a glimpse of how far he’s got to go. And surely, very little of this would be fair to Maye for jumping into the fray with a roster that has major holes on offense.

But the fact is this. They’re scheduled for two tilts each against Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers and Tua Tagovailoa. They’ll visit Caleb Williams and the Bears. They’ll host 2023 first-rounders C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson. They’ll also greet Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Matthew Stafford, Trevor Lawrence, Brock Purdy and Kyler Murray.

Injuries will likely erase some of those matchups, but those QBs currently are the Patriots’ adversaries in 15 of their 17 games.

The Patriots’ primary goal in 2024 will be to develop Maye to create optimism and momentum for 2025. Everything else takes a back seat. But in the NFL where every storyline is hyper-magnified, Maye won’t get much of a reprieve from his opposing quarterbacks.

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Old-school remote controls

The NFL has more streamers than a Dunder Mifflin party.

With games now streaming on every platform short of your nephew’s YouTube channel, viewers of a certain age will surely roll their eyes when it’s time to determine which platform is carrying any given national game. Or even if you’re technologically savvy, you’ll still need a moment to mentally prepare if you’re planning to flip between channels during commercials.

The future is here, and we’ll embrace it appropriately, but it’s a slower crawl for some.

The Christmas slate

The Chiefs-Steelers and Ravens-Texans games have a chance to carry a ton of significance, so viewership will be strong. But all four teams will be required to make serious scheduling adjustments to handle a Wednesday game in Week 17.

It essentially amounts to two consecutive short weeks, as each team will play Saturday in Week 16 before the Wednesday game in Week 17. That’ll lead to three games in 11 days for all four teams, which isn’t an unprecedented stretch but is surely an inconvenient one at that stage of the calendar.

(Photo illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; photos of Aaron Rodgers, Caleb Williams and Dak Prescott: Cooper Neill, Michael Reaves and Nick Cammett / Getty Images)





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