The meaningless “strength of schedule” discussion

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One of the topics inevitably discussed when the new schedule arrives relates to the strength of a given team’s schedule based on the won-loss records of the team’s opponents in the prior season.

It’s meaningless, for various reasons.

First, we’d known for more than three months the opponents each team will play.  With the “who” and the “where” locked in as soon as the regular season ends, the only question to be resolved by the official schedule is the “when.”

Second, a team’s record in one year has little connection to how good, or otherwise, it will be in the next.

Third, the schedule of one team in a given division is, for 14 out of 16 games, identical to the schedule of every other team from the division.  The only difference comes from two games.

For more on these wrinkles or others relating to the “strength of schedule” discussion, here’s a slice of Wednesday’s PFT Live.

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19 responses to “The meaningless “strength of schedule” discussion

  1. Really, the difference between divisional schedules is four games, not two. Miami’s schedule is undoubtedly a little bit harder than New England’s, if only because they have to play the Patriots, who of course can’t play themselves.

  2. they actually have 4 different games i.e. the patriots dont have to play the patriots twice making their schedule the easiest in the afc east

  3. Its something that has always blown my mind. fans who see the schedule, and immediately start making Super Bowl plans because of the “easy schedule” their team has, or how a rival team will be “in the basement” because of their difficult schedule.

    Guess I have to keep reminding myself just how many morons there are in the world…

  4. Not entirely true. Are any teams consistently good or consistently bad? Yes. Can you guess who they might be? Let’s go out on a limb and say that Indianapolis will probably not be excellent this year, but that Baltimore might. Let’s extend that argument.

    Under the umbrella of teams very likely to be better than average:

    New England
    Green Bay
    New Orleans

    Any substantive argument to be mad,e given the likelihood that Brees will play in New Orleans this year?

    Teams likely to be better than average:

    Denver (old QB health dependent)
    New York Giants
    Philadelphia Eagles
    Detroit Lions

    Teams with a shot to be better than average, based not on last year’s record, but on last year’s quality of play and anticipated impact due to offseason changes:

    New York Jets
    San Diego
    San Francisco

    Teams that would be considered a surprise if they were to be anywhere near good:

    Jacksonville (I think they’ll be average to above average if Gabbert gets lost before training camp and they have to play someone else at QB)
    Tampa Bay
    St. Louis

    Can you find a better than 80% disagreement with the top and bottom end of this grouping system? Doubt it. If you are willing to discuss the quality of a team’s free agent and/or drafting maneuvers, project the improvement or decline of individual players during the offseason, or make any sort of argument about anything other than the prettiness of their new hats, then you have accepted all that is required to project strength of schedule.

    Not meaningless, any more than any other offseason assessment of a team’s vector for success is meaningless.

    Seriously Buzzkill, back off and let people have a little optimistic fun before you shower their parade with warm rain.

  5. .

    My favorite NFL question :

    Q. Who’ve you beaten so far ?

    A. The teams I was assigned to play by the league.


  6. Ross Tucker and Bob Papa talked about this on the Opening Drive on Sirius NFL Radio. Every team in your division plays the same teams except for 2 in which you play the team in the division you don’t play that finished in the same position you did in their respective division the previous year.


    The Browns play the NFC East, The AFC West, and of course the 6 games against their own AFC North. Plus they play the last place Bills (AFC North) and Colts (AFC South). Except for two games you can know who your team is playing every year for the next 20 years.

    People who talk of strength of schedule are stupid in todays NFL.

  7. Got to throw the BS flag on this…

    “Second, a team’s record in one year has little connection to how good, or otherwise, it will be in the next.”

    Teams will usually be with 2 or 3 wins up or down from their previous years record. Don’t believe me…check it out.

    There will be some exceptions, but approx 75% of the teams will fall within the 2 to 3 games (up or down) of the previous years record.

    Looking at the schedule, the NFL did not do the Cleveland Browns any favors, as they will be playing the 3rd toughest schedule in the NFL behind the Giants and Broncos.

    Then on the opposite end of the spectrum, the team with the 2nd best record in football last year is playing the weakest schedule this season.

    The NE Patriots will be playing the weakest schedule in the NFL this season but they had the second best record in the NFL in 2011.

    Sorry, but someone at the NFL needs to explain how the Patriots rate the weakest schedule in the NFL?

    Then there is the team with the NFL best regular season record in 2011, the Packers…they will be playing the nearly the weakest schedule (31 rated)…go figure??

    Sorry, but something smells at NFL Hqts.

  8. What about the 1st place in conference vs. other 1st place games? Don’t they count? Seems like 4 different games to me.

  9. If you figure out the Strength of scedule at the end of the season you will get a better idea of how it really is a factor. Example 2008 dolphins played easiest schedule and went 11-5 from 1-15 the previous season, same with falcons, another example is 2010 chiefs, didn’t beat a team with winning record and won division because of it. Figuring out SOS for the next season doesn’t do much.

  10. macbull: “Sorry, but someone at the NFL needs to explain how the Patriots rate the weakest schedule in the NFL?…. something smells at NFL Hqts”

    Hey mac,

    Do you realize that every single game is determined by a precise formula?
    -six games vs. division opponents
    -three games vs. teams finishing last year with the same rank in their division as you did
    -three more games, vs. the rest of the teams in one of the other divisions in your conference, rotates on a three year cycle
    -four games against all of the members of a division in the other conference, rotates on a 4 year cycle

    6+3+3+4=16 games

    no hocus pocus, no slight of hand, no magic

    Why is this year supposedly easy for the Patriots?

    simple: It is their turn, in the fixed 3 and 4- year cycles described above, to play the AFC South and the NFC West, two very bad divisions except for Houston and SF.

  11. @all4patriots: Not entirely accurate.

    It’s 6+4+4+2 … Your first 14 teams have already been predetermined (you play every team in two divisions, one AFC and one NFC), regardless of where you finish.

    Only 2 games are determined by your finish, this year it was AFC West (Broncos) and AFC North (at Baltimore). You obviously play a 3rd team that finished in the same place as you in your respective divisions, but the difference is you play them regardless of where you finished.

    (Example: Patriots already knew they were going to face Houston in 2012, even before the 2011 season started, but they didn’t know Baltimore and Denver would be on the schedule until the 2011 season ended).

    As for the fixed cycle you described, they had an 8-year schedule matrix from 2002-09; I believe they have one from 2010-17 that follows the same basic pattern, though there were tweaks to it. But the divisions that individual teams will play matches up, based on the last 2 seasons (ex: Patriots should face AFC North/NFC South in 2013; AFC West/NFC North in 2014; AFC South/ NFC East in 2015, etc.). Google it.

  12. After the draft you guys should project all 32 W-L records and then use those records to get a pre-season strength of schedule instead of last year’s records.

  13. The formula that determines who plays who has been around for a long time now. It amazes me that there’s still people who think the NFL office is trying to hurt 1 team or help another team when it comes to opponents.
    Florio wrote that you know where a team plays as well as who the play months before the schedule comes out so the only question is when. I’ve never seen how they determine where the games are played. For example, the Raiders usually travel to Miami & the Jets usually travel to Oakland. Why that is I have no idea.
    By the way, the 3 year intraconference rotation + the 4 year interconference rotation makes for a 12 year cycle. A lot can happen in 12 years, though, like another expansion.

  14. I am a little surprised how none of you mentioned the timing, place and intervals. We all know the Opponents are a fixed formula, but what about the Pats not having to play Miami in South Florida at 1:00 in Sept since 2001? that’s right, they first play them twice in December? Why are the Bills playing 6of 9 first games on the road? Not whining or bashing the Pats, but the favortism is loud and clear. Just like playing a Thursday Night game across the country, means a Team literally has 3 days of Prep time. Some Teams have a real Home Team advantage like Bills, Packers, NE, Bears in December, just as Dome Teams always have in a Kickng Game. It is what it is, but certainly is not fair.

  15. Is there any chart showing what the winning percentage of each team’s opponents is without the divisional games?

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