I’m not a big fan of strength of schedule. It’s fun to speculate about beating up on a string of cupcake defenses, but in reality it’s hard to tap into any meaningful sort of meaningful advantage.
Consider, for example, the teams that have played the easiest schedules in the last 10 years. We can look at which teams played the easiest schedules, then reconstruct things and see what kind of schedule they were supposed to play. That is, we might in January point to Miami as having benefitted from playing an easy schedule, but nobody right now expects that will happen (the Dolphins are supposed to play an average schedule).
On this one, I took the three easiest schedules from each of the last 10 years, based on how things actually played out. Then I looked at the preseason expectation for those schedules (tied to the previous season’s performance of opponents).
If we were using strength of schedule as a drafting tool, for example, me might realistically attempt to target players on teams expecting to play top-5 schedules. But with the 30 easiest schedules of the last 10 years in front of me, I see only four that in the preseason were expected to have top-5 schedules (in bold). Two were reverse-barometer teams – offenses that were expected to play bottom-5 schedules.
In this group, 10 of the 30 teams (a third) were expected to play bottom-10 schedules going in. In fairness, I’ll point out that 13 of the 30 were expected to play top-10 schedules, so slight advantage to teams projecting to have easy schedules actually seeing some of that stick.
|EASIEST SCHEDULES OF LAST 10 YEARS|
|2015||• St. Louis||24.0||2||21.1||29|
Continuing this look, we could also go into drafts attempt to avoid teams projecting to play bottom-5 schedules. Working from this direction, the correlation holds up better. Of the 30 hardest schedules of the last 10 years (three from each season), nine were teams that were expected to play bottom-5 schedules going in (in bold). Only one was of the flip-flop variety (expected to have a top-5 schedule, with everything going wrong). That team is tagged with a dot.
This isn’t an overwhelmingly strong case. A jury wouldn’t convict anyone of anything with this kind of evidence. But the schedules here are coming out ahead of simply flipping a coin.
|HARDEST SCHEDULES OF LAST 10 YEARS|
|2009||• San Francisco||19.3||31||23.6||2|
Ultimately, I just don’t see enough here. Of the 30 easy schedules – the teams playing opponents that allowed 24.0 points per game, those offenses in the preseason were supposed to play opponents allowing 22.5 points per game. That’s hardly different than the 30 hard schedules, who were expected to be at 22.0 in the preseason (but closed at 20.6).
If you want to try to use strength of schedule, proceed at your own peril. The numbers suggest the Jaguars, Patriots, Jets, Texans and Chargers will play the easiest schedules this year – they’ll see the softest defenses (in theory). The Saints, Steelers, Lions, Bucs and Kansas City project to play the hardest schedules.