Toughest NFL schedules in 2017? Cowboys lead pack

The NFL schedule won't help Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott avoid a sophomore slump.

The law of Cowboys gravity under owner Jerry Jones goes something like this: Dallas teams that get puffed up one year usually deflate the following season. The Cowboys haven't won double-digit games in back-to-back years since 1995-96, and they won't get many cheap wins in 2017.

The 'Boys highlight my list of teams with the hardest schedules in large part because of their division. The NFC East has no easy outs. The division also faces tough non-conference games against a similarly deep AFC West. And the Cowboys finish with three out of four games on the road, the only home December date coming against Seattle.

The NFL schedule is nearly impossible to handicap in April, but Dallas' slate has few weak spots. Football Outsiders ranks the Cowboys' schedule as the toughest in football. There are five Cowboys prime-time games and they will probably be flexed into a sixth, leading to some funky travel weeks.

At least misery loves company. The Cowboys' division rivals also rank among the teams with the toughest slates in 2017:

The rest of the NFC East

The biggest schedule losers were apparent well before Thursday's release. The best two divisions on paper -- the AFC West and NFC East -- face off against each other. That will result in few walkovers for the Redskins, Eagles and Giants. They all have schedules ranked among the seven toughest slates in the league, according to Football Outsiders.

The Eagles should be especially ornery. The team starts with two road games (at Washington and Kansas City) and then draws the dreaded three-game road swing in December, with two straight coming on the West Coast in Seattle and Los Angeles. (New England, Atlanta, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Denver and San Francisco are the other teams with three-game "road trips.") The Eagles also drew the Christmas night short straw with a home game against Oakland. Get those tired Santa jokes ready now!

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders give up a home game against the Patriots to play in Mexico City. That's a game that hometown Raiders fans, not to mention coach Jack Del Rio, surely would love to have in Oakland.

The Raiders also play Christmas night in Philadelphia and then head to Los Angeles on a short week for a potentially decisive Week 17 matchup against the Chargers. At least they are in prime time five times.

Kansas City Chiefs

Get ready for a lot of Andy Reid, Alex Smith, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce in your life. The Chiefs are in prime time six times, including five times in the first eight weeks of the season. They drew perhaps the toughest assignment of the season Week 1 in Foxborough and have to play in Oakland and Dallas on short weeks. The Chiefs have the fourth-hardest slate, according to Football Outsiders.

As alluded to above, every AFC West rep could fit on this list because the division is so deep, although the Broncos have to like four of their first five games coming at Mile High.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns represent the other four NFL teams that have to give up a home game to play abroad. It's a significant disadvantage, especially for a Browns squad that will only play in Cleveland three times after Week 7. Hue Jackson's untested quarterback to be named later starts out of the gate with division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and closes the season with two road games. The AFC North schedule is difficult, especially when Cleveland is the only team in the division that doesn't get to play Cleveland. Finally, the Browns and Jaguars suffer the indignity of being the only two squads without a prime-time game scheduled. That's a bummer for fans.

The other teams that are giving up home games to travel to London: the Jags, Dolphins and Rams. Losing a home game is a certain detriment. Very little else about the schedule can be written in stone in April. Some of the matchups that look great now can take on a much different feel when injuries and reality strike. The teams on this list can only hope their schedules don't play out as difficult as they first appear.

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