2021 NFL strength of schedule rankings: Texans in middle of pack

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Success comes with a price in the NFL, where last year's better teams usually face a tougher schedule, and are awarded later picks in the draft. These mechanisms and others are meant, in theory, to maintain a degree of competitive balance.

The wrinkle in this year's schedule is the adoption of a 17th game. To account for an extra game on each team's calendar, every team will have one additional matchup against a non-conference opponent who finished in the same place in their respective division.

This year, the schedule burden falls heaviest on the teams of the AFC North, arguably the league's strongest division in 2020, the only one to send three teams to the postseason, all of which won at least 11 games.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns all rank in the top 9 -- a cruel twist for the Bengals as they look to continue rebuilding in year two under Joe Burrow, assuming he's back healthy. Interestingly, the tough slate for the AFC North represents a stark reversal from last season, when those teams' schedules were among the easiest.

Read on for a look at the strength of schedule for all 32 NFL teams, per CBS Sports. To buy tickets to see your favorite team in action next season, click here.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (.574)
2. Baltimore Ravens (.563)
3. Chicago Bears (.550)
4. Green Bay Packers (.542)
5. Minnesota Vikings (.531)
6. Cincinnati Bengals (.529)
6. Detroit Lions (.529)
8. Las Vegas Raiders (.526)
9. Cleveland Browns (.518)
10. Los Angeles Rams (.515)
11. Kansas City Chiefs (.511)
11. Seattle Seahawks (.511)
13. Tennesse Titans (.507)
13. Arizona Cardinals (.507)
15. Washington Football Team (.504)
15. Houston Texans (.504)
17. Los Angeles Chargers (.493)
18. Jacksonville Jaguars (.491)
19. San Francisco 49ers (.489)
19. New York Jets (.489)
19. New England Patriots (.489)
22. New Orleans Saints (.483)
23. Buffalo Bills (.478)
23. Indianapolis Colts (.478)
25. New York Giants (.474)
26. Carolina Panthers (.472)
27. Denver Broncos (.471)
27. Miami Dolphins (.471)
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (.465)
30. Atlanta Falcons (.454)
31. Dallas Cowboys (.452)
32. Philadelphia Eagles (.430)

The AFC North teams play their divisional counterparts in the NFC, as well as the AFC West, plus the usual same-place teams in the AFC. With the extra game against same-place teams in the NFC, the AFC North teams drew the NFC West. That sets up the Steelers to play the Seattle Seahawks, giving them a whopping 10 games against teams that reached the postseason in 2020 -- twice against the Ravens and Browns, and once against the Chiefs, Bills, Packers, Bears, Titans and Seattle.

The only other team with as many games against playoff teams is the Green Bay Packers, who, like the Steelers, could be at something of a crossroads with their franchise quarterback. It almost seems cruel for teams to have to run the gauntlet while facing the prospect of upheaval at the sport's most important position, but such is life in the NFL.

On the other side of things, the teams of the NFC East face a relative walk through a meadow after last year's anemic division failed to produce a team with a .500 record, let alone a winning one. Washington, the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys all rank in the bottom-third of the league in strength of schedule this year.

Tom Brady and the Bucs look to have a relatively easy path back to the postseason, drawing non-division games against the East divisions of both the NFC and AFC.

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