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ESPN: Cardinals’ 2016 schedule difficulty is middle-of-the-pack

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera talks to Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians before the NFL football NFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

The Arizona Cardinals play in one of the toughest divisions in the league and have a first-place schedule, yet when looking at their 2016 slate, they apparently got off fairly easy.

According to Aaron Schatz, in an ESPN Insider piece that ranks every team’s schedule, the Cardinals have the league’s 17th-toughest schedule. It is the least difficult of all the teams in the NFC West.

As noted several times this offseason, the Cardinals get a huge advantage hosting the Patriots during Tom Brady’s suspension while the Seahawks must travel to New England after Brady’s return. Arizona’s schedule is generally split into two months of mostly harder opponents at home followed by two monthsof mostly easier opponents on the road. They don’t really have a tough three-game stretch based on what we know about teams right now, although that could change down the road. But the final two games of the season are certainly the hardest two-game stretch.

If you need a refresher on the Cardinals’ 2016 schedule, you can find it by clicking here.

But did the Cardinals catch some breaks? Though they have to face the Seahawks twice and travel to Carolina, just six games will be played against teams who were in the playoffs last season, and half of those contests will take place in University of Phoenix Stadium.

The fact that they cannot play against themselves helps keep their strength of schedule down, but that is not the only reason why they should not find a ton of trouble on a week-to-week basis. Getting the Patriots without Brady is fortuitous, and really, until Week 7 when the Cardinals host the Seahawks, there should not be an opponent who really challenges the reigning NFC West champs.

Schatz does point out that the most difficult stretch appears to be the team’s final three games, which see the Cardinals host the Saints before visiting Seattle for a Saturday night affair (the Seahawks previous game will be Thursday night so while they get extra rest, the Cardinals lose a day) and then hitting the road once more to close out the regular season in Los Angeles.

As is the case with any schedule predicting piece, no one really knows how good each team will be until the games are played and, even then, injuries will play a factor in how the season plays out.

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