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Detroit Lions have toughest 2018 schedule in NFC North per Football Outsiders

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It’s going to be a tough road for the Lions in 2018, especially early on.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions have it tough enough. They’re fighting against a division with some of the best quarterbacks the league has to offer. They have decades of failure to overcome and seemingly permanent stigma to shed. They have the local expectations of immediate success thanks to back-to-back 9-7 seasons, and they have the adversity of overcoming all of that with a first-time head coach.

Unfortunately, their 2018 schedule isn’t doing them any favors, either.

Football Outsiders came up with their 2018 strength of schedule rankings based on their DVOA metric. While imperfect since it has no real data to go upon, it may be a little more predictive than last year’s win-loss record, which would rank Detroit’s schedule as the second-hardest in the entire NFL. According to the ESPN Insider article detailing the strength of schedule, it does take into account preseason injuries, suspension and newer dealings, like the Bears acquiring Khalil Mack in a trade.

So taking all of that into account, Football Outsiders projects the Lions to have the 11th-hardest schedule in the league. While that may not seem so bad, it’s not exactly great when comparing to the rest of their division rivals.

The Vikings have the next toughest schedule at 16th, the Bears follow at 18th, and the Green Bay Packers have the easiest schedule among the division, ranking 25th overall.

The NFL schedule is set up in a way that is supposed to make things easier for the worst teams. It’s a small advantage, but two games a season are scheduled against teams that finished in the same place in their respective division. So since the Lions placed second in the NFC North this year, they are playing the second-place finishers in the NFC East (Cowboys) and NFC South (Panthers).

Given this setup, you would think the Vikings would have the toughest schedule in the division and the Bears would have the easiest, but it doesn’t always work out that way due to drastic year-to-year changes.

One interesting note from Football Outsiders was the steep change in difficulty the Lions face from the first half of the season to the second half.

“Detroit has one of the largest gaps between the average DVOA of its first eight opponents (3.3 percent) and the average DVOA of its last eight opponents (minus-2.2 percent),” Aaron Schatz writes.

That means the Lions are going to have to get off to a hot start and be prepared to face some serious competition early in the year. While they may have a Jets and a rookie quarterback in Week 1, the Patriots, Cowboys and Packers all await in the next 30-some days.