NFL Strength of Schedule and Season Win Totals
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 8/22/2013
The impact of NFL strength of schedule sometimes gets overemphasized, and sometimes it gets overlooked. Just because a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars has the easiest schedule in the NFL during a given year does not mean you should start preparing to watch the Jaguars play in January. Over a 16-game schedule in the NFL, things balance out. With the way the NFL schedule is derived, teams will play division champions and bottom-feeders alike. This is not college football where Ohio State can schedule a MAC tournament to open the season. Another reason why strength of schedule is sometimes overrated is because the ratings are derived from the previous seasons win total, and obviously a lot changes from Week 17 to Week 1 of the following season.
While some overemphasize strength of schedule, it is still important to be aware when looking at NFL future win totals. The New York Giants had the hardest strength of schedule in 2012, and the reigning Super Bowl Champions finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. But the Denver Broncos had the second-hardest strength of schedule in 2012 and still finished with the best record in football 13-3.
The Browns, Rams, Chargers and Eagles all had strengths of schedule that ranked in the Top 7, and all struggled and missed the playoffs.
On the other end of the spectrum, Atlanta and San Francisco (No. 24 SOS), Houston (No. 29 SOS), Green Bay (No. 31 SOS) and New England (No. 32 SOS) had some of the easiest schedules in the league, and those teams accounted for following records, 13-3, 12-4, 11-4-1, 11-5 and 12-4, respectively.
Teams like Tennessee (No. 28 SOS) and Buffalo (No. 29 SOS) entered the season with low expectations, and even an easy schedule could do them no favors.
If recent history tells us anything, it is that elite teams can take advantage of an easy schedule (the rich get richer), and that mediocre teams will struggle regardless if the schedule is easy or hard (the poor stay poor).
The Carolina Panthers have the most difficult strength of schedule this season. Their opponents had a .543 winning percentage a year ago. If you average the season win totals on Bovada of all their opponents, it averages out to 8.53 per opponent, the highest in the NFL. The Panthers regular season win total “over/under” is 7, with the over juiced at -175 and the under juiced at +145. This could be the case of a difficult schedule getting in the way of what otherwise could have been an improving team. The play here is UNDER 7.
A year after having the second-toughest schedule in the NFL, the Denver Broncos have the easiest schedule in the league. Not like the Broncos need it, but their opponents this season had a .430 winning percentage last season. They have the luxury of playing in the AFC West where they will meet the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders twice. Peyton Manning showed what he could do against a tough schedule last season, winning 13 games. Now that he is two-years removed from surgery and with the easiest NFL schedule, no season win total appears to be too high, not even 11.5. The player here is OVER 11.5.
The Baltimore Ravens are defending Super Bowl Champions and are tasked with the fourth-toughest 2013 NFL schedule even though much of their 2013 team looks nothing like the 2012 group. The Ravens play in the AFC North. And as defending division champions, the Ravens will be matched up with other division champions including the Broncos, Texans, Packers and Patriots. A difficult schedule did not work out well for the defending champion Giants last year, and it likely won’t this year either. Even with a low NFL season win total of 8.5, the play here is UNDER 8.5.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams won seven games last season with the fourth-toughest schedule in the league. This year they have the second-toughest based on 2012 winning percentage (.539) and based on the 2013 season win totals of its opponents, 8.44 per opponent. Bovada has the total this season set at 7.5, so you would need to bank on an improvement to cover. The play here is UNDER 7.5
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