NFL Strength of Schedule Projections

Evaluating teams’ remaining slates

Football is unpredictable–even at the NFL level–for a lot of reasons. There’s all your cliches: it’s a game of inches, games aren’t played on paper, etc. There are match-up peculiarities, small sample sizes and just plain luck. Yet, sometimes the ‘unpredictability’ is because, especially early in the season, a lot of what we predict is based on projections tied to previous years. Now, every team has at least a quarter of its season played and several teams are 5 games in. So the 2017 season can really start to mean something in and of itself for projecting ahead.

One way to capitalize on this is to look at the schedule ahead for each team. Before the season, most strength of schedule metrics are measured by opponents’ prior year win percentage. That yielded this list:

TEAM Opponents W% RANK
Broncos 0.578 1
Chiefs 0.576 2
Chargers 0.568 3
Raiders 0.564 4
Bills 0.561 5
Dolphins 0.547 6
Redskins 0.543 7
Giants 0.535 T-8
Jets 0.535 T-8
Eagles 0.531 T-10
Cowboys 0.531 T-10
Patriots 0.527 12
Falcons 0.521 13
Buccaneers 0.518 14
Saints 0.51 15
Panthers 0.504 16
Rams 0.482 17
Packers 0.48 18
Bears 0.479 19
49ers 0.475 20
Browns 0.469 T-21
Lions 0.469 T-21
Cardinals 0.467 23
Ravens 0.461 24
Seahawks 0.455 T-25
Texans 0.455 T-25
Vikings 0.453 T-27
Steelers 0.453 T-27
Bengals 0.449 29
Titans 0.439 T-30
Jaguars 0.439 T-30
Colts 0.424 32

5 weeks in, we can better use this season’s performances to judge remaining schedules. Football outsiders does this by averaging the DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value over Average) of teams remaining opponents. That gives these rankings:

TEAM FUTURE SCHED RANK
Colts 0.087 1
Dolphins 0.067 2
Giants 0.064 3
Cardinals 0.062 4
Cowboys 0.058 5
Browns 0.049 6
Saints 0.041 7
Raiders 0.036 8
Packers 0.028 9
Bears 0.025 10
Buccaneers 0.023 11
Seahawks 0.015 12
Steelers 0.01 13
Bengals 0.002 14
Falcons 0.001 15
Panthers 0 16
Jets -0.003 17
Vikings -0.005 18
Charers -0.006 19
Rams -0.014 20
Chiefs -0.019 21
Lions -0.024 22
Broncos -0.026 23
49ers -0.03 24
Patriots -0.035 25
Eagles -0.042 26
Redskins -0.054 27
Texans -0.07 28
Ravens -0.074 29
Bills -0.089 30
Jaguars -0.11 31
Titans -0.134 32

Stats-based projections are nice, but I want to bring in speculation as well. I played out the rest of the season with this predictor (https://playoffpredictors.com/Football/NFL?L=Aw18ZXTt-DFOS1b0ckA). I used teams’ record in remaining games to build my own projections. This is not truly a strength of schedule metric because a good team might get wins against a hard schedule and vice versa, but its still an insight into what teams are facing. Here’s how it comes out:

Team My prediction: Rank
Browns 1-10 1
Jets 1-10 T-1
Dolphins 2-10 3
Giants 2-9 4
Colts 3-8 T-5
49ers 3-8 T-5
Bills 4-7 T-7
Lions 4-7 T-7
Bears 4-7 T-7
Bengals 5-6 T-10
Titans 5-6 T-10
Jags 5-6 T-10
Raiders 5-6 T-10
Cardinals 5-6 T-10
Vikings 5-6 T-10
Saints 5-7 16
Texans 6-5 T-17
Rams 6-5 T-17
Broncos 7-5 T-19
Redskins 7-5 T-19
Buccaneers 7-5 T-19
Ravens 7-4 T-22
Chargers 7-4 T-22
Panthers 7-4 T-22
Patriots 8-3 T-25
Seahawks 8-3 T-25
Cowboys 8-3 T-25
Eagles 8-3 T-25
Packers 8-3 T-25
Steelers 8-3 T-25
Falcons 9-3 31
Chiefs 9-2 32

As the season crystallizes you can see some teams face a much harder slate than expected (e.g. Colts), while some face an easier road than projected (e.g. Broncos). I also want to note that when I simulated the season for the chart above, I received the following playoff projections. I’d be shocked if they are exactly right, but they make sense in a lot of places based on early season returns.

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Author: Josh Dulany

Founder/Editor of Scoring Plays. Providing articles, podcasts, picks and more on the world of sports.

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