For example, the New York Giants scraped together a lowly 9-7 record to capture the NFC East crown last season, and managed to run rough-shot through the playoffs for their second Super Bowl in four seasons.
New York's easier schedule to start the season helped to make that run possible. They played St. Louis, Arizona, Buffalo and Miami in the first nine weeks of the season, and then went 1-4 against winning teams before going on their 7-1 run. Without those early wins, the Giants could not have put together their magical rally.
The below predictions take each NFC East team's schedule and last year's performance under consideration. This year the division is matched up with the AFC North.
Washington starts the season on the road for three of the first four weeks, opening against the Saints and a Week 4 trip to Tampa Bay, who still fields one of the best young defenses in the league.
Coming off their bye week in Week 10, the Redskins have a tough four-game stretch: Philadelphia, at Dallas, New York, Baltimore.
As good as rookie Robert Griffin III has looked so far, he has never faced anything like the defenses in the NFC East and will have difficulty putting up points against New York's pass rush and Philadelphia's top-flight secondary. He should help Washington improve by one game from 2011 at least.
2011 Record: 5-11
Predicted 2012 Record: 6-10
New York Giants
The Giants have the No. 1 ranked toughest schedule in the NFL, including a gauntlet from Week 12 to Week 17: Green Bay, at Washington, New Orleans, at Atlanta, at Baltimore, Philadelpha.
Even if they are 6-4 heading into their Week 11 bye, New York will have to close the last six weeks of the season with at least a 4-2 record to even sniff the playoffs in a loaded NFC.
2011 Record: 9-7
2012 Predicted Record: 8-8
Dallas fell apart in their last five games of 2011, going 1-4, and losing their last two games by an average of 15 points.
This season their closing schedule isn't nearly as difficult in the final half. From Week 11 to 17, the Cowboys play Washington twice, and Cleveland, which should be three wins.
Still Dallas starts the season on the road at the Giants, then at Seattle, and come out of their Week 5 bye with four out of their next five games on the road. If they can make it through that stretch, a wild card berth could be in the cards.
2011 Record: 8-8
2012 Predicted Record: 10-6
To start the season the Eagles have a moderate six-game stretch before their Week 7 bye: at Cleveland, Baltimore, at Arizona, New York, at Pittsburgh, Detroit.
In that stretch they could go 4-2, rest up and play most of their games against a possibly-shaky NFC South, before finishing the season with three of their last five games on the road.
One plus for Philadelphia is that they play back-to-back road games only once all season, while the Giants do it twice, and Dallas and Washington each do it three times.
2011 Record: 8-8
2012 Predicted Record: 11-5