My rank order (toughest to easiest):
2 @ Philadelphia Eagles - if Vick stays healthy, toughest division opponent this year
4 Philadelphia Eagles - see 2, although Vick may be gone by Dec
5 @ Atlanta Falcons - good team, extremely tough at home
6 New York Giants - SB aura starting to fade, payback game
7 Pittsburgh Steelers - hey, its the Steelers
8 New Orleans Saints - who knows how they will go this year, but Brees makes them tough
9 Chicago Bears - not sure I am buying the Bears, but probably tougher than the rest below, even in Dallas
10 @ Carolina Panthers - bubble may burst this year, so this could drop
11 @ Seattle Seahawks - Seattle lacks a quality tested QB, but its a long trip
12 @ Washington Redskins - this one might rise if RG3 does a Cam Newton, but the rook may be running out of steam by week 16.
13 @ Cincinnati Bengals - haven't put consecutive winning seasons together since the 80s. History repeating.
14 Washington Redskins - we better beat them at home
15 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - rebuilding
16 Cleveland Browns - our easiest W (touching wood)
The above being said, every season springs surprises both good and bad - e.g. 2011 Arizona loss and 49'er away win; 2009 beat undefeated Saints away.
And the preseason rankings are always off-base for a few teams, I am sure most of you are familiar with Raf's posts on the fact that there are invariably at least 4 teams in the playoffs that had losing records the year before.
But if you buy my rankings then the season progress like this if you average the above rankings by month (lower numbers are thus tougher months):
Sept - average 9.0
Oct - avg 7.0
Nov - avg 9.3
Dec - avg 8.8
So December doesn't loom that much tougher than the rest of the season and October looks like the easiest month. November, which always seems to be our best month (maybe aided by the Thanksgiving game?), currently looks like our easiest month again.
Even better, if the Boys can take Philly at home, a 7-0 run to finish the season isn't out of the question. That would see us heading into the playoffs with great momentum, which has proven to be crucial for the SB winners in recent years.
So where do you think I have it wrong - or where might the big surprises lie?