Most of the time, when discussing NFL strength of schedule, the metric is based on the teams’ record from the previous season.
Going by that traditional methodology, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the most difficult schedule in the NFL for 2021, with their opponents holding an aggregate record of 155-115-2, for a .574 winning percentage.
But of course, those teams won’t be the same when the Steelers play them in 2021. A round of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft have dramatically changed the league’s power dynamic.
ESPN NFL analyst Mike Clay attempted to quantify those changes by building a computer model to track those roster changes and how it will impact the projections of those teams for 2021.
But using Clay’s model, the Steelers’ schedule is still the league’s toughest. Pittsburgh has the hardest schedule, with quality division opponents and out-of-division road trips to potential playoff teams Buffalo, Green Bay, Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers.
2021 NFL strength of schedule based on current rosters.
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) May 4, 2021
Because divisional teams have similar schedules, the rest of the AFC North also faces a harder-than-average road, with Cincinnati fifth-toughest, Baltimore 10th-hardest and Cleveland 13th-most difficult.
Meanwhile, defending champs Tampa Bay will have the easiest path in the NFL, followed by Atlanta, Buffalo, the New York Jets and Miami.