2013 NFL schedule: New England will have a tough road to playoffs with difficult late-season schedule

Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Facing the AFC North and the NFC South, the teams in the AFC East have a brutal schedule this season.

This season, the four teams in the AFC East have drawn matchups with the AFC North and NFC South. The Patriots, Dolphins, Bills and Jets get a short straw of sorts, going up against the Steelers, Ravens and Falcons in non-divisional play. Then, of course, there are the rivalries within the division, which have mostly favored New England in recent years. Miami has the best chance of unseating the Patriots this season, and the schedule could play an outsized role in making that happen.

The New England Patriots, perennial favorites to win the AFC East, will play six playoff teams this season. A brutal stretch between Weeks 9 and 16 feature home games against the Broncos and Steelers and visits to Houston and Baltimore. The rest of the division remains weak, and the Patriots will have to play well against those teams to extend their streak of 10-win seasons to 11.

The Jets have a rough stretch as well, but it comes much earlier in the season. Weeks 5-7 feature the Falcons, Steelers and Pats, all teams that have their eye on the Lombardi Trophy. But if the Jets can tread water into Week 13, the schedule finishes with games against the Browns, Raiders, Panthers and two against the Dolphins.

The Bills could get a big boost early in the season, playing three of their first four games at home. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of finishing the season with three of four on the road.

Miami best represents the brutality of this year's schedule, facing five of last year's playoff teams in the first eight weeks. As a potential off-season sleeper, the Dolphins could get down early and never recover.

The four teams combine for 11 prime time games, with the Patriots featured in five of them. The annual "Brady-Manning" showdown occurs in Week 12 when the Patriots host the Broncos on Sunday night. If the Bills or Dolphins have any chance of winning this division, they will most likely have to beat the Patriots late in the season. Miami hosts the Pats in Week 15, and Buffalo gets the last lick when they head to Foxborough to close out the season.

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