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2014 NFL Schedule: Teams with an uphill battle

We knew the opponents for every NFL team way back in January. Every opponent is determined by a strict, simple formula, so it's hard to say any team was unfairly treated when it comes to determining what teams they face.

Six games are against division opponents, and eight more are based on a simple rotation of out-of-division games. The final two games are against conference teams that finished in the same position. So a first-place team like the New England Patriots face other first-place teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals.

Some teams can be slighted when it comes to how the schedule is laid out. No one wants to go on the road for three straight games. Coaches want to avoid as many short weeks as possible. Teams love to have their bye week in the middle of the season, and they would rather not bunch all their difficult games together.

With that in mind, let's look at a few teams that might feel they got the short end of the stick.

Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One of the first things I look for in the schedule: Teams that have to go on the road for three straight weeks. Tampa has a stretch where they go to Atlanta, Pittsburgh and New Orleans between Weeks 3 to 5. That's a recipe for a slow start to the season unless the Buccaneers can sweep their two home games to start 2014 against St. Louis and Carolina.

The Bengals embark on a three-game road trip starting in Week 11 that goes through New Orleans, Houston and Tampa Bay. It's not a brutal swing, but it's part of a trend for the whole season. Many of their toughest games (New England, Indianapolis and New Orleans) are on the road. Cincinnati's season also ends on a tough note, with a Monday night game against Denver, and then a short week before heading to Pittsburgh.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams have the toughest schedule in the league on paper. Like the Bengals and Buccaneers, they have a three-game road trip. That's part of an eight game stretch where they play seven playoff teams from a year ago. The only exception: a tough road tilt in Arizona. St. Louis is going to have to be a lot better just to win seven games again. Then again, the Rams aren't alone with tough schedules ...

Both western divisions

The NFC West is just brutal. The Cardinals, like the Rams, have four games against Seattle and San Francisco. The AFC West also has to face the NFC West out of conference, setting up a very challenging schedule for Denver, Oakland, San Diego and Kansas City.

The AFC West sent three teams to the playoffs last year. That means Oakland's schedule is absolutely loaded with matchups against playoff teams from a year ago. Now the entire AFC West will beat up on each other while having to solve the difficult defenses of the NFC West. The Raiders have a tough slate.

Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars

The NFL usually tries to help out teams coming off poor seasons with easier games. It's a philosophy that goes back decades: Many losing teams face each other in the first three weeks of the season. The Titans and Jaguars don't have brutal overall schedules, but their toughest stretches come in the season's first month.

Both teams start with three road games in four weeks. The Titans face three playoff teams from a year ago, all on the road, in that stretch. The Jaguars' only home game in the first four weeks comes against the defending division champion Indianapolis Colts. There is room for upward movement in the AFC South, but both teams have an uphill climb in September.

Minnesota Vikings

Starting in St. Louis isn't too bad. Facing the Patriots, Saints and Packers in the first five weeks of the season is rough. Minnesota has to go to the Superdome early and they go to Lambeau Field on a short week to face the Packers on a Thursday night game. We also think that the NFC North will experience a return to form this season. Three teams have quarterbacks. The Vikings don't.

The "Around The League Podcast" NFL Schedule Extravaganza will change the way you look at everything.

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