We last examined Strength of Schedule in the middle of April. The NFL schedule had just been released, and no team had participated in OTAs or minicamp. Now just a few weeks before training camp, we know more about these teams and will continue to learn through training camp and the preseason. We continually get smarter with more data, realizing teams' strengths and weaknesses as news emerges and sample sizes grow.
It is important to constantly update Strength of Schedule (SOS) projections throughout the offseason and during the season. Unfortunately, most SOS rankings use prior-year records to project current-year SOS. This is truly asinine and does not allow for any new data-driven modification. It assumes every team is exactly the quallity of its 2015 won-loss record, and completely ignores coaching changes, free agency, the draft, and OTAs.
My personal SOS numbers are constantly evolving and “telling us” new information. I use forecasted 2016 wins from the current betting market. Sports books project win totals for every team, and at this point in the summer, several independent and seasoned linemakers have posted their numbers. The longer their lines are up, the more efficient they become, as the linemakers adjust their win totals based on volume as well as respect they have for certain money that is bet.
In this column, we will rank and examine two elements of their projections. First, we will look at a ranking of how SOS has changed from initial lines posted in February. Second, we will look at where current SOS projections rank based on current Vegas lines.
If curious as to visualizations of each team’s 2016 SOS, I just finished my crowning offseason work: a season preview magazine which you can read on Amazon. Each team chapter breaks down weekly SOS through the use of the win totals technique. It should be a valuable resource.
Before we dive in, here is an updated ranking of current 2016 SOS using the most accurate method of calculation from the most difficult (#1) to the easiest (#32) schedules. Rankings from the first article in April are in parentheses. You can easily spot teams whose schedules have become easier or harder based on market perception of their opponents.
21. (18) Oakland Raiders
22. (25) Kansas City Chiefs
23. (22) Arizona Cardinals
T24. (28) Green Bay Packers
T24. (23) New England Patriots
26. (18) San Diego Chargers
27. (27) Cincinnati Bengals
28. (30) Pittsburgh Steelers
29. (21) Seattle Seahawks
30. (31) New York Giants
31. (29) Carolina Panthers
32. (32) Dallas Cowboys
Raiders (#10 opponent increase, #21 SOS)
Oakland faces a handful of middling 2015 teams who are projected stronger in 2016, such as the Ravens, Buccaneers and the previously mentioned Jaguars.
Oakland’s start features the 3rd easiest schedule (@ NO, vs ATL, @ TEN, @ BAL). Including their Week 5 game vs the Chargers, the Raiders have the single easiest first five games in the NFL. The problems for Oakland are their early-day starts and losing a home game to Mexico. Oakland plays five games at 10 AM for their body clock, including three in the season's first month. It’s the most “early starts” for any Pacific-based team. They lose their Week 11 home game vs the Texans on Monday night to Mexico. And from Week 9 on, the Raiders play the 2nd most difficult schedule in the NFL.
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