With every 2022 schedule officially set, we can now see how NFL teams match up against each other in more ways than one.
Sure, we can see who they actually play on the field when, but with divisional opponents sometimes separated by a win here or a loss there, we can now truly compare notes and predictions. And that's exactly what this story is.
We're going to take a quick look at the NFC South, comparing the 2022 schedules of the Falcons, Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers.
It's going to be a difficult 2022 for all four teams, but just who has the toughest matchups? And why? We'll dive into all of that and more here.
WEEK 1 MATCHUP
Atlanta Falcons: vs. Saints
Carolina Panthers: vs. Browns
New Orleans Saints: at Falcons
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: at Cowboys
TOUGHEST FOUR-GAME STRETCH
Atlanta Falcons: Week 2 through Week 5
at Rams, at Seahawks, vs. Browns, at Buccaneers
The Falcons will be coming off a home opener against their arch rival the week before making the long journey west to face the reigning Super Bowl champions. Likely to stay on the west coast, the Falcons will hop on another plane north to Seattle the week after. They're on the road three of the four weekends through this stint and face some of the their toughest competition... all on the tail end of a tough Week 1 matchup to consider.
Carolina Panthers: Week 4 through Week 7
vs. Cardinals, vs. 49ers, at Rams, at Buccaneers
This is a doozy of a four-game slate for the Panthers. They're looking at playing four 2021 playoff teams in a row. They'll like up to play quarterbacks like Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady. Throw Trey Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo in there, too, but focus on that 49ers defense more. There's no easy way for Carolina to look at this chunk of the schedule.
New Orleans Saints: Week 10 through Week 13
at Steelers, vs. Rams, at 49ers, at Buccaneers
This may be the part of the season that makes or breaks the Saints in 2022. Though they'll ease into the final four games before their bye week with the Steelers, they host the Super Bowl champions, hop on a plane west and visit Brady in Tampa Bay. They'll do all of this before their bye week and with 10 games having already been played. That definitely qualifies as "tough."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Week 1 through Week 4
at Cowboys, at Saints, vs. Packers, vs. Chiefs
Two back-to-back away games to start the season against the Cowboys and Saints is no easy task for Brady and Co. The Bucs will have to see how solid their pass defense is against Dak Prescott right before seeing how solid their offense is before facing the Saints defense a week later. Then, they come home to face the Packers and Chiefs? Neither game will be a walk in the park, even playing at home.
Rise up! It's a new season, and we can't wait to get started!
EASIEST FOUR-GAME STRETCH
Atlanta Falcons: Week 10 through Week 13
at Panthers (Thursday night), vs. Bears, at Commanders, vs. Steelers
With the Falcons bye week being so late (more on that in the next section), that Week 10 mini-bye after facing the Panthers will be important time for the Falcons to regroup before hosting the Bears at home. Though these games will present their own challenges, this is a slate that the Falcons could garner a couple wins in.
Carolina Panthers: Week 14 through Week 17
at Seahawks, vs. Steelers, vs. Lions, at Buccaneers
Though another trip out to the west coast isn't ideal, the Panthers will be well rested as their bye week is the week before they have to fly out to Seattle. Then, they come home to host back-to-back teams with a lot of questions in the Steelers and Lions. Take away Brady in Week 17 and here is a chance for the Panthers to put up two wins in a row, perhaps? If they don't, it's going to be tough time for Matt Rhule... if it isn't before this point in the season.
New Orleans Saints: Week 1 through Week 4
at Falcons, vs. Buccaneers, at Panthers, vs. Vikings (in London)
Whereas the other three teams of the division have it tough in the first few weeks of the season, the Saints may not, and its because they're playing mainly in said division. Doing so early is key to this notion. Facing Atlanta in Week 1 could be a good thing for the Saints if the Falcons are not firing on all cylinders in Week 1. They host the Buccaneers in Week 2, which will play to their advantage before traveling to Carolina in Week 3. They do have to go all the way to London to face the Vikings, but that should be a winnable game, especially for a defense like what the Saints have.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Week 5 through Week 8
vs. Falcons, at Steelers, at Panthers, vs. Ravens
Many believe there is a significant difference between the top teams of the NFC South (the Bucs and Saints) and the bottom two teams (the Falcons and Panthers). If that is true, facing both teams with the Steelers sandwiched between them is a good part of the season for the Bucs to pick up some wins. Also, it should be noted that three of the four teams in this stretch could have a quarterback position in flux. The Falcons, Steelers and Panthers used a draft pick on a rookie quarterback. Who's to say something happens that brings them out onto the field at this point in the season?
Atlanta Falcons: Week 14
For a team that will play a lot of young guys throughout the 2022 season, the Falcons better hope they're conditioned. Atlanta will play an entire college season plus a bowl game before their bye week. Welcome to the NFL, rookies.
Carolina Panthers: Week 13
Though not ideal like that of the Falcons bye week situation, the Panthers do have a trip out west immediately after their bye week that they have to worry about. They'll be coming off two games against the Ravens and Broncos prior to this week. Those won't be easy to get past with minimal bumps and bruises.
New Orleans Saints: Week 14
Just like the Falcons, the Saints will be meeting their bye week towards the end of the season. They'll come back from the bye with four games left, and one could argue that is the easiest slate of games for New Orleans. They'll face Atlanta and Carolina again, and travel to the Browns and Eagles... all after a week off.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Week 11
Tampa Bay will take a week off directly following their travels to Munich to face the Seahawks in Week 10. If you're a fan of bye weeks falling around the mid-way point of the season, well, then you'll like where the Bucs' bye week falls.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Atlanta Falcons: Ninth toughest schedule (opponents winning percentage in 2021 was .524)
Carolina Panthers: Tied for the 12 toughest schedule with the Steelers and Bills (.512)
New Orleans Saints: Tied for the seventh tough schedule with the Raiders (.528)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Fourth toughest schedule (.535)