NFL schedule 2023 winners, losers: Which teams were dealt toughest breaks?

After portions of it were predictably announced and leaked in dribs and drabs over the preceding days, the NFL's 2023 regular-schedule and all 272 of its games were formally revealed Thursday night. And suffice it to say, this year is going to have a significantly different vibe than perhaps what the league's fans have become accustomed to.

As we'll see, Aaron Rodgers' change of address is mere microcosm of an emphasis on an increasingly stacked AFC as the balance of power seemingly continues to accrue within the NFL's junior conference. But that evolution is mere part and parcel of sorting though the winners and losers now that the league has winnowed down its quadrillion schedule options − seriously − to this particular docket:


Jets: Rodgers' new team, recently one occasionally shoehorned into Thursday night slots, is suddenly relevant again − opening Sept. 11 (yep) at home against the Buffalo Bills on Monday night, the NYJ's first "MNF" appearance in three years, while landing in the Sunday night showcase (two times) for the first time since 2011. The first "SNF" appearance comes in Week 4, when the reigning champion Chiefs come to The Meadowlands for what is scheduled to be Rodgers' first meeting with league MVP Patrick Mahomes, COVID-19 preventing Rodgers from posting in Kansas City two years ago. And chew on this Jets fans (and haters): New York only has two 1 p.m. ET kickoffs before December and seems like the presumptive favorite to be featured on HBO's "Hard Knocks." If that wasn't enough, with one contest a "road" game "at" the Giants on Oct. 29, Rodgers and Co. will only have to really travel seven times ... given the new QB1 ample free time to explore his extracurricular interests in his new Big Apple backyard.

Packers: Rodgers may be gone, but the TV execs apparently still love Green Bay. Jordan Love, the new Leader of the Pack, and Co. are ticketed for five prime-time dates ... though it should be noted three occur after November, giving networks the option to flex away if Love breaks Titletown's collective heart.

Damar Hamlin: The man at the center of the most gut-wrenching episode the league has witnessed in years will return to the field where he collapsed in January, the Bills visiting the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 5 for a Sunday night game. Should be a great opportunity for Hamlin to acknowledge the people of a city that had such an instrumental role in saving his life.

ESPN: The Worldwide Leader is really starting to enhance its inventory. This season will include three "Monday Night Football" doubleheaders and an ESPN+ exclusive for the Jaguars-Falcons game in London. Overall, ESPN will air 25 games, including Rodgers' debut for the Jets, a doubleheader on the Saturday of Week 18 (January 6), one matchup in the wild-card round and another a divisional playoff showdown. Oh, did we mention Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will be on the call in Kansas City on Nov. 20 when the Chiefs and Eagles meet in a rematch for Super Bowl 57?

Flex scheduling: Another new asset for ESPN, Monday night games scheduled between Weeks 12 and 17 are now eligible to be rotated out.

Dan Campbell: His Lions were flexed into the final regular-season game of the 2022 season and kick off 2023 on opening night in K.C. Good opportunity for more casual fans to become acquainted with the passionate Campbell and a young team featuring DE Aidan Hutchinson, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and first-round rookie RB Jahmyr Gibbs.

Kellen Moore: The Dallas Cowboys' deposed offensive coordinator, now in the same role for the Los Angeles Chargers, gets to face his former team and HC Mike McCarthy − whose post-Moore reflections on Dallas' offensive approach haven't exactly been glowing − coming off a bye week ... while the Cowboys will have just played the always-physical 49ers on the road. Favorable conditions for Moore to take aim and get a little payback.

Charles III: The United Kingdom's new king can enjoy live NFL football for three straight weekends (Oct. 1-15) with visits from bona fide playoff contenders and their superstar quarterbacks (Jaguars, Bills, Ravens), one of the league's most physically imposing players (Titans RB Derrick Henry) and perhaps its most compelling rookie (Falcons RB Bijan Robinson). Not a bad way to start your reign.

Germany: After hosting its first regular-season contest last year, Deutschland gets a pair in 2023 − including this year's best international matchup (Dolphins-Chiefs). Now it's up to Frankfurt to replicate, at least, and perhaps build on the joyously raucous environment Munich showcased last year.

Not-so-dirty South: Most NFL pundits won't be expecting much from the AFC or NFC South this year, Jacksonville perhaps the only team in the bunch that seems likely to achieve double-digit victories. But it won't hurt that the South divisions feature teams with the six easiest schedules of 2023, based on last year's winning percentages: Falcons, Saints, Texans, Colts, Titans, Panthers. Should make it quite a bit easier for the apparent have-nots to battle the heavyweights for wild cards.

Black Friday: For the first time, the league will slot a game on the day after Thanksgiving, the Jets hosting the Dolphins on Nov. 24. Even better, kickoff will be at 3 p.m. ET, giving plenty of time for the turkey tryptophan to wear off and for viewers to finish looking for shopping bargains online or at brick-and-mortar venues. But if you are stuck at the mall, Amazon Prime has an early Holiday gift, allowing for free streaming even if you're not a Prime member.


Christmas: Why are we inviting fractious family reunions by putting football on all day? Didn't the league learn the folly of a Yuletide tripleheader last year, the Rams literally asking their season ticketholders to donate their seats rather than having SoFi Stadium packed with empty seats ... for what was ultimately a 51-14 Rams walkover of the Broncos? Oof. And before you point to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers surviving in overtime on Christmas night, think back to the fact TB12 was picked off twice by an also-ran Cardinals team led that day by QB Trace McSorley. This year, we get Raiders-Chiefs, which seems like a lump of coal in the stocking even if Kansas Citians are likely to turn out in force. And Giants-Eagles? Y'all know how Philly treats Santa. And Ravens at 49ers should be compelling ... even if no Harbaugh brothers at the Christmas table.

Tom Brady: New England is inviting their retired hero back to Gillette Stadium for Week 1 ... and will cap the celebration by getting spanked by the Eagles? The Patriots let him go once and apparently never want him to come back if this is what he has to witness.

Mexico: The NFL won't venture south of the border in 2023 as Mexico City's Estadio Azteca continues undergoing renovations.

Schedule release programming: Did NFL Network really need to dedicate five hours of live programming ... to reveal a schedule? ESPN restrained itself to two hours, though it was relegated to ESPN2. But on a night when there were a pair of NBA playoff games and two NHL playoff games, seemed a bit excessive. And given the massive Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Phoenix, Dallas and Seattle TV markets were among those focused on actual games of consequence, maybe don't force the NFL talking heads to parse matchups at least four months away?

Tyreek Hill: The former Kansas City wideout was clearly relishing the opportunity to return to Arrowhead Stadium in 2023, telling Chiefs fans he'd be "y'all worst enemy" when he showed up with the Miami Dolphins. Oops. The NFL gave Hill the deuces and sent the Cheetah and the Fins to Germany for the reunion with his original team, one coming off a championship season achieved without him.


Management of Chiefs' schedule: In addition to their Christmas duty against the Raiders and first soiree with Hill, a year after he was traded, occurring in Europe, it's hard to square other aspects of the Chiefs' docket. In theory, sure, their Week 17 AFC championship game(s) rematch with the Cincinnati Bengals could be a battle for home-field advantage. But a lot of things have to break in that direction − including the overall performance and health of both teams − to match the hype of starting the season with Cincy coming back to "Burrowhead." Kicking off the 2023 campaign with the reigning champions hosting the Detroit Lions − and, sure, they'll probably start out as NFC North front-runners − is nice, but it feels like the Chiefs will be favored by a touchdown. Wouldn't we all be better off by flipping the Lions' visit to Week 17, a game still likely to have significant playoff ramifications for both sides, while raising the curtain with the Bengals (in their all-white uniforms) in barbecue country?

Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud: The top two picks of the 2023 draft should square off Oct. 29 when Young's Carolina Panthers host Stroud's Houston Texans ... in 1 p.m. ET obscurity. Given how hard it is to find national time slots for teams that generally don't enjoy huge followings, we couldn't have at least tossed this one into the midseason Thursday night rotation?

Eagles: The NFC may be perceived as a bit of a cakewalk this year, but the reigning conference champs must navigate the league's toughest schedule − Philadelphia's opponents with a collective .566 winning percentage based on 2022 records.

AFC East: Rodgers' arrival should make it more competitive − top to bottom − than it's ever been in the 21st century. But before we make it the first division to collectively qualify for postseason, consider that its members all face schedules ranked among the league's seven toughest. Seems a likely formula for serious cannibalization.

Prime pine: The Cardinals, Falcons, Texans and Colts were all benched from appearing in prime-time games in 2023, though Atlanta and Indianapolis will be in exclusive international windows

Jaguars: Three years ago, the Jags were scheduled to become the first team to play multiple games overseas, but the COVID-19 pandemic postponed Jacksonville's seeming inexorable march toward dual citizenship. However this year, the Jaguars will be playing in London for Weeks 4 and 5 ... which makes any observer wonder if this is a precursor to a "study abroad" program amid the revelation the team likely won't be able to play in Jacksonville's TIAA Bank Field for two full seasons as the stadium is renovated, likely starting in 2025. Bollocks, mates.

Bills: They "host" the Jags at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in that Week 5 matchup of 2022 divisional champions. Buffalo gets to face Trevor Lawrence and jet lag with Jacksonville more acclimated than ever to their United Kingdom environs.

Aaron Rodgers: Pressure's on, boss. Six (maybe seven) national stages, including Black Friday, and a season-opening minefield that includes the Bills, Cowboys, Patriots, Chiefs, and Eagles before the Week 7 bye? AR8 will naturally be expected to end the league's longest current playoff drought, one that dates to 2010, but he's going to have to work hard to do it under the brightest of spotlights, a glare that will only be augmented by the New York media market.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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