All those “2018 strength of schedule” discussions don’t mean much

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Once the Super Bowl has ended and we start looking ahead to 2018, a common point of discussion is each team’s strength of schedule. We’re told that this team has an easy schedule next season and is therefore likely to improve, while that team has a hard schedule next season and is therefore facing an uphill battle.

And the reality is, all that talk is meaningless.

There are obvious problems with strength of schedule, and the most obvious is that it’s based entirely on each team’s 2017 records. But 2017 record is simply not a great predictor of 2018 performance. Teams fluctuate. Some get better, some get worse. Some were better than their 2017 records suggest, some were worse. Teams regress toward the mean. Teams add and lose free agents. Teams draft players who may or may not contribute as rookies. Key players get hurt in training camp and the preseason. The fact that a team was 11-5 in 2017 tells us very little about whether that team will be a tough opponent in 2018.

After all, a year ago, if you were calculating a team’s strength of schedule for the 2017 season, and that team had a game scheduled against the Eagles in 2017, you would’ve said that contributed to an easy schedule: In 2016, the Eagles were a 7-9 team that finished in last place. And then the Eagles were the No. 1 NFC seed in 2017 and won the Super Bowl.

Looking ahead at this time last year, you also would’ve said the Rams and Jaguars were easy opponents, while the Cowboys, Giants and Raiders were tough opponents. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

For that matter, even within a season, the strength of any given opponent can vary wildly based on when you catch that opponent: Playing the 49ers when Jimmy Garoppolo was their starting quarterback was a lot harder than playing the 49ers when Brian Hoyer was their starting quarterback. Playing the Packers when Aaron Rodgers was their starting quarterback was a lot harder than playing the Packers when Brett Hundley was their starting quarterback. And there’s simply no way to know today which team will be changing quarterbacks nine months from now.

Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis has thoroughly researched strength of schedule and found that the winning percentage of a team’s opponents last year is virtually meaningless in assessing a team’s actual strength of schedule this year. It’s simply not a useful statistic.

So while a look ahead at the schedule might seem like something interesting to analyze in the offseason, your analysis had better be a lot more detailed than just adding up the 2017 wins and losses of a team’s 2018 opponents if you want to find any value in it at all.

23 responses to “All those “2018 strength of schedule” discussions don’t mean much

  1. Strength lf schedule only matters to break ties for draft position. In terms of “toughest” schedules, its as worthless as ‘Team A is 23-1 when RB rushes 25 times or more’

  2. That’s NOT what the calculations SHOW. There is still a statisically significant, positive correlation between the previous W/L and the next season’s W/L.

    So while you have outlier teams rising up and others dropping down, the overall numbers show more consistency. Which makes sense – it’s not like Tom Brady is randomly switching teams.

  3. The thumbs down I get when I talk about the AFC Least is just Pat fan in denial.

    Since Peyton Manning left the division after 2001 what great QBs have you had to worry about twice a year? What coaches made you cringe when you thought about facing them twice? Rex Ryan? LOL. Dick Jauron? LOL. Dave Wannestedt? LOL.

    Gus Ferotte, Kellen Clemens, Cleo Lemon, Jay Cutler, Jay Fiedler, Josh McCown, Mark Sanchez, Trent Edwards, JP Lossman, Tyrod Taylor, Matt Cassel and plenty of others. Yeah you guys had to worry about some real champs didn’t ya.

  4. Couldn’t agree with this headline more. Look at the Raiders. They were 12-4 in 2016, so that would look like a strong opponent in 2017. But they ended up finishing 6-10 in 2017, so for 2018 they look like a weak opponent. But in 2018 they will be coached by Jon Gruden, so … who knows.

  5. .
    Between now and the start of the season rosters will fluctuate wildly. So any and all predictions will be moot. However, you can take a look at the divisions as each team will draw an inter-conference division and an intra-conference division as rivals. Right now I’d rather draw the AFC and NFC North rather than the AFC and NFC South. With Goff, Garopollo, and Wilson the NFC West is no day at the beach either.
    .

  6. you always want to play the afc east. except the pats, losing to any of the other 3 teams is your own fault. there a re 3 perennial winnable games in there.

  7. It’s even dumber when you’re comparing strength of schedule for teams in the same division. The teams play exactly the same schedule except for two games. The Vikings played a third-place schedule so they played the Rams and the Redskins. The Packers played a first-place schedule so they played the Seahawks and the Cowboys. The Rams were by far the best team out of those four and the Redskins were the worst, while the Seahawks and Cowboys were a little above average. The only reason the Packers had a harder schedule was because they had to play the Vikings twice and the Vikings got to play the Packers twice.

  8. Isn’t Warren Sharp the bozo that tried to prove that the Patriots deflated footballs just by looking at cherry-picked fumble statistics?

  9. The AFC East has the back to back AFC and 5 time World Champion Patriots. That kind of puts the division out of the running for “worst division in sports”, yes?

  10. Anyone with a clue already knows strength of schedule is fluid in the modern NFL with parity.

    Even the Browns might turn out to be a tougher game than people think. Actually… nah.

    🙂

  11. mmack66 says:
    February 14, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    Isn’t Warren Sharp the bozo that tried to prove that the Patriots deflated footballs just by looking at cherry-picked fumble statistics?

    ——–
    Yep!

    The Pats were also 4th in the league in fewest team fumbles per game this past season, and 27th in the league when they won the Super Bowl last year, 2nd in the league when they won the Super Bowl in 2014, and 24th in the league the year before. Very odd stats for a team supposedly deflating footballs all the time.

    Supposedly it was easier for them to deflate footballs at home and therefore that’s why they never lose at home…but the only season in the last 10 years where they fumbled less at home than away was 2015, the year after deflategate. Most of the time they’ve fumbled a lot more at home than away.

    Huh. How odd.

    🙂

  12. Lyingroger:

    1) former world champs
    2) no, it doesn’t, since 2002, there are 3 divisions with only 1 team over .500, nfc west-afc south-afc east. The 2nd place team in the afc east was 12 games under .500, the worst 2nd place record in all of football over that time (these numbers don’t include 2016 or 2017) What the patriots have done over that time would be impressive if there weren’t so much taint but the numbers suggest the afc east is in fact the afc least

  13. isithockeyseasonyet says:
    February 15, 2018 at 10:15 am

    Lyingroger:

    1) former world champs
    2) no, it doesn’t, since 2002, there are 3 divisions with only 1 team over .500, nfc west-afc south-afc east. The 2nd place team in the afc east was 12 games under .500, the worst 2nd place record in all of football over that time (these numbers don’t include 2016 or 2017) What the patriots have done over that time would be impressive if there weren’t so much taint but the numbers suggest the afc east is in fact the afc least

    ——————————-
    1) Yes but I said back to back AFC Champions and 5 time World Champions. Factual statements.
    2) If you’re calling the division the Least…don’t all the teams have to suck? Clearly one team doesn’t and I’d argue that at no time in the Brady/Belichick era has all 3 of the non Patriot East teams sucked in any given year. And why wouldn’t you include 2016-17? I think I know why. 🙂

    It’s interesting that an AFC East representative has made the Conference Championship game for 11 of the last 12 seasons. Just 3 one and dones in that timeframe by the division champ. If the division champ was a product of a weak division seems like they would get bounced a lot quicker than that. And there’s no taint whatsoever. 🙂

  14. stupid conversation anyway, always has been. It’s 2 games, that’s it. 14 of your games are set every season. 6 division, 4 in another division in your conference, 4 in a division in the other conference. The last 2 spots are filled by the other divisions in the same conference based on last years standings

    Add onto that how much teams change each given off-season (see article above), and the entire “strength of schedule” thing is a farce

  15. Oh Braz, always trolling the Patriots. You seem to know a lot of stats about a team you hate. I’m guessing you’re a closet fan, it would make sense.

    You always post about the lack of star QBs in the AFC but who are the star QBs in the NFC winning Super Bowls? I mean you have Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees and they have a combined 2 SBs over like 10 years so there’s that.

    And since you live on Patriots threads weekly we all know you’ve seen others post the winning percentage of the patriots in the AFC East, AFC and NFC and it’s not much different. Which means they would likely be just as good in another division.

    Speaking of divisions, what team do you root? It must be in one of the ‘tougher’ divisions I’m sure. Probably one with 4 HOF QBs battling it out.

  16. xxsweepthelegxx says:
    February 16, 2018 at 8:52 pm
    Oh Braz, always trolling the Patriots. You seem to know a lot of stats about a team you hate. I’m guessing you’re a closet fan, it would make sense.

    ———-
    I’m telling ya… Braz is Felger or Massarotti!

    Has to be. It’s exactly the same Im-a-Patriots-contrarian-because-I’m-Smarter-than-You gimmick!

    🙂

  17. LyinRogerMustGo says:
    February 15, 2018 at 9:23 am
    The AFC East has the back to back AFC and 5 time World Champion Patriots. That kind of puts the division out of the running for “worst division in sports”, yes?
    ======================

    Don’t you know? It’s not just the Patriots job to manage their team, they’re also responsible for improving the Jets, Bills and Dolphins. It’s the Patriots fault that the Dolphins didn’t sign Drew Brees or that they drafted Jake Long instead of Matt Ryan. It’s the Patriots fault that the Bills didn’t draft Derek Carr or the Jets didn’t select Russell Wilson. If only the Patriots would help these other teams out, the AFC East would be much stronger.

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