2013 NFL schedule: Which teams face the toughest path?

USA TODAY Sports

One young quarterback is given a brutal schedule, while one of the greatest of all time is given the easiest schedule, and best bye week in the NFL. It's schedule time, and we take a look at the strengths and weaknesses teams face.

Preconceived notions of how difficult or easy a team is will be put to the test when the season begins on September 5th. The only idea of how the 2013 season will go comes from intuiting how difficult a team's road is by looking at their strength of schedule. It shows that one of the NFL's brightest young quarterbacks has a difficult job this year if his team hopes to have postseason aspirations.

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers stand alone at the top of the mountain with the league's toughest record. Facing a 2012 win/loss record of 132-116-2, they are one of 17 teams up against a .500+ schedule. The Panthers have not managed to make the playoffs in Newton's first two seasons, combining for a record of 13-19. Getting over that hump in 2013 will be vital for first-year general manager Dave Gettleman, as he'll need to make a determination on head coach Ron Rivera's future following the season.

On top of their difficult schedule, the Panthers also need to content with a poor drawing on bye week. Most teams like to have their break as close to the middle of the season as possible, but in Carolina's case they have theirs in week four. This poses a problem for a team looking to get off to a fast start, as the back-end of their schedule drags, and if the Panthers are able to get a few wins early, it could derail what little momentum they hope to gain early.

A team who caught a break with their bye week is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite having to log the most miles in the NFL this year, they are met with a favorable week nine bye that allows the team a full week to recover following their trip to London to face the San Francisco 49ers on October 27th. The 49ers are equally lucky, also getting their bye following the game at Wembley Stadium.

Five most difficult schedules of 2013

1. Carolina Panthers (.543)

2. Detroit Lions (.539)

3. New Orleans Saints (.539)

4. St Louis Rams (.539)

5. Baltimore Ravens (.535)

You can find the full NFL strength of schedule for 2013 here.

In an almost unfair twist of fate, it's the Denver Broncos who boast the easiest projected schedule of 2013. Largely attributable to their weak divisional match-ups (all four of the AFC West have easy schedules), it means that Peyton Manning will have an excellent shot to get his team deep into the playoffs. Last year they lost in the divisonal round to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. This year they'll look to improve on an almost-flawless 13-3 record, and attempt to get the elder Manning his second ring.

Converse to the Panthers situation, the Broncos get a good bye on top of their easy schedule. Coming in week 9, it should give the team plenty of time to reflect on the early part of the season, and prepare themselves for their final playoff push. Denver couldn't have asked for a better schedule, all things considered.

Five least difficult schedules of 2013

1. Denver Broncos (.430)

2. San Diego Chargers (.457)

3. Indianapolis Colts (.461)

4. Oakland Raiders (.469)

5. Kansas City Chiefs (.473)

Star-divide

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