ARIZONA CARDINALS

FiveThirtyEight.com: Cardinals have a very back-loaded schedule

Jul 24, 2016, 8:09 AM | Updated: Jul 26, 2016, 11:10 am

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, right, walks away after talking with Minnesota Vikings h...

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, right, walks away after talking with Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer prior to an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

If the Arizona Cardinals are to repeat as NFC West champions and earn one of the NFC’s top playoff seeds, they’ll have to put in some serious work in the first part of the 2016 season.

At least, that’s the thought over at FiveThirtyEight.com, where Chase Stuart took a look at the 2016 NFL slate and pointed out which teams’ schedules are tougher in the beginning compared to the end.

In the Cardinals’ case, the slate is significantly more difficult late than early. The only team with a greater disparity between the front half of the schedule and the second half is the Baltimore Ravens.

Along with Baltimore, Arizona and Oakland figure to have the league’s most back-loaded schedules next year, with their toughest games coming relatively later in the year. Meanwhile, the Jets, Bengals, and Steelers all have the opposite problem, as their toughest challenges come before the midpoint of the season.

Stuart looked at potential point-spreads when creating his table, and of course there is plenty that could happen between now and when each game is played to alter the betting lines. Injuries and surprise performances will undoubtedly play a role, and just because a team looks good (or bad) right now does not mean they will play well (or poorly) when the time comes.

However, do the Cardinals really have a more favorable beginning than end?

The first half of their season sees them play just three teams who were in the 2015 postseason in the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers. The Patriots and Seahawks will be faced at University of Phoenix Stadium, however, but the Pats will be without star quarterback Tom Brady for their Week 1 matchup.

Following a nicely-placed Week 9 bye, the Cardinals will have games against 2015 playoff teams Minnesota, Washington and Seattle, with just the Redskins coming to Glendale. The Cardinals will also square off against the Falcons (road) and Saints (home), two 2015 underachievers whom more is expected of in 2016.

Besides the opponents themselves, location does seem to favor the Cardinals more early than late, with Arizona hosting five of its first eight games. Of course, hitting the road five times in the season’s second half.

Then again, maybe playing away from University of Phoenix Stadium will not be problematic for the Cardinals, as last season they were 7-1 on the road and 6-2 at home.

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FiveThirtyEight.com: Cardinals have a very back-loaded schedule