Power Ranking AFC West Strength of Schedule in 2015

The NFL released the full 2015 schedule of games on Tuesday night, and parsing of the slate, game-by-game has already begun. One of the more interesting ways to look at it is through the lens of strength-of-schedule, which is determined by the 2014 win-loss records of each team.

All four AFC West teams have difficult 2015 seasons ahead, with games scheduled to be played against the AFC North (where three out of four teams made the playoffs last year) and the NFC North (which had two).  Let’s take a look at who has the easiest and toughest go of things in the division, in a convenient, power-ranking format.

1. Kansas City Chiefs

Opponent Winning Percentage: .545 (7th)

Games vs. Playoff Teams: 7

The Kansas City Chiefs have tough tasks already built into their schedule, given they have to play the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos twice. Both Broncos games also come at points in the schedule that are looking to be particularly difficult—Week 2 and Week 10.

In Week 2, they follow up their home stand against the Broncos with road games against two playoff teams, the Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals. The second, a road game, comes a week after playing the Detroit Lions in London and a week before heading to San Diego to play the Chargers. The Chargers may have been an 8-8 team last year, but they are no slouches themselves, nor strangers to the postseason.

The Chiefs, at least, have a relatively easy denouement to their 2015 season, playing their final two games at home against the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders.

2. Oakland Raiders

Opponent Winning Percentage: .545 (8th)

Games vs. Playoff Teams: 7

The Raiders have the same slate of 2014 playoff teams on their schedule this year, with the three AFC North teams, the Green Bay Packers, the Detroit Lions and two contests against the Denver Broncos up ahead. However, they have only two particularly brutal stretches.

The first comes in Weeks 1 and 2 when the Raiders first play host to the Cincinnati Bengals and then the Baltimore Ravens. The second happens in Weeks 14 and 15 when they travel to Denver and then host the Green Bay Packers. Just four days later, on Christmas Eve, they then face the San Diego Chargers on Thursday Night Football.

Given the Raiders’ longstanding struggles and strength-of-schedule is the least of their problems. No matter who the Raiders were scheduled to face this year, it would be an uphill battle to post a winning record. The Raiders have not fared better than 8-8 in a season since 2002, and even that’s an accomplishment they have reached only twice since then.

3. Denver Broncos

Opponent Winning Percentage: .541 (10th)

Games vs. Playoff Teams: 7

Even though the Denver Broncos don’t have to play themselves this year, they still are facing seven of 2014’s playoff teams. These include the Lions and Packers, the Steelers, Bengals and Ravens, the Indianapolis Colts and the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

Things start tough for the Broncos, who host the Ravens in Week 1, travel to Kansas City in Week 2 just four days later for Thursday Night Football and then head to Detroit to face the Lions in Week 3. The only saving grace here is that the Broncos get 10 days of rest between Week 2’s Thursday night game and Week 3’s Sunday Night Football contest.

Another rough two-game stretch comes at midseason, with the Broncos hosting the Packers for Sunday Night Football in Week 8 and then traveling to Indianapolis to face the Colts in Week 9. It may not be a very happy reunion between quarterback Peyton Manning and his old team.

The season also winds down on a difficult note, with a road game against the Steelers followed up by a Monday Night Football meeting with the Bengals before closing out the season at home against the Chargers. In the Broncos’ favor, though, is that they themselves have been playoff contenders as long as Manning has been under center; they shouldn’t struggle too much even with a relatively difficult schedule.

4. San Diego Chargers

Opponent Winning Percentage: .518 (16th)

Games vs. Playoff Teams: 7

Though the San Diego Chargers have the easiest 2015 schedule of all the AFC West teams, their opponents still finished, on average, above .500 last year. And they still have seven 2014 playoff teams to face, just as the rest of their division-mates. With the Chargers themselves posting up an 8-8 finish last year, this supposedly easier schedule could still cause as many struggles as the Chiefs could have with their season.

Like the rest of the AFC West, the Chargers being their season with two big challenges. First, they host the Detroit Lions in their season opener before traveling to Cincinnati to face the Bengals at what is typically 10:00 in the morning for San Diegans. Just a few weeks later, the Chargers then play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5’s Monday Night Football matchup and then head to Green Bay to face the Packers in Week 6.

Week 8’s meeting with the Baltimore Ravens is bookended by home games against the Raiders and Chiefs, but the Ravens are a difficult team to match wits with on their home turf and, again, it features an early start time, which can cause problems for West-Coast teams. Finally, the season wraps in Week 17 in one of the most painful ways—at the Broncos.

The Chargers have their toughest stretches better spread around than the AFC West’s other teams, one reason why, in tandem with strength-of-schedule, they rank fourth in difficulty level. But if they cannot look better than the 8-8 team they were a year ago, or if they lose quarterback Philip Rivers in a trade, it could be just as trying for San Diego this year as it projects to be for the Chiefs or Raiders.

Photo: USA Today Sports