Reviewing the 2013 Strength of Schedule for the NFC South

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the season, the only team in the NFL which had a more difficult strength of schedule than the New Orleans Saints was the Carolina Panthers. The Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers each had average strengths of schedule, sitting at No.15 and No.17 (out of 32) respectively. So how have these teams done so far, and how difficult does the rest of the season look?

The below table shows the strength of schedule (SoS) for each team in the NFC South. This value is essentially determined by averaging the final 2012 win-loss percentages of all sixteen opponents on a team's 2013 schedule. So the 0.539 SoS of the New Orleans Saints means that the teams it faces this year won 53.9% of their games last year. If this value could correctly predict a team's performance this year, a perfectly average team would be expected to win 46.1% of their games in 2013. This would leave a perfectly average Saints team with a 7-8-1 final record.

Having won 83.3% of their games this year, the 5-1 Saints are well above average, and are leaving last year's predictions in the dust. How does their record stack up against their opponents so far this year? Including several losses to New Orleans, the opponents faced by the Saints this year have won 43.6% of their games thus far, meaning an average NFL team facing those opponents should win 56.4% of their games. That would put such a team at 3-3 right now, or 9-7 at the end of the season.

Clearly the Saints are not an average NFL team, but how does the rest of their season look? Including the winless Bucs, the remaining opponents for New Orleans have won 50% of their games this year. If the Saints win only 50% of their remaining games, they would end the season with a 10-6 record. Going with their comparative performance thus far, however, they should win 73.9% of their remaining games, resulting in a 12-4 record for the 2013 regular season.

Granted, the cooler weather in a few open-air stadiums ahead could be a factor, as will having to play several tough, bruising games in a row. But by the numbers, the Who Dat Nation could be looking at a first-round bye come January.

Team

SOS

Current Record

Win %

Opponents Played Win %

Remaining
Opp. Win %

New Orleans Saints

0.539

5-1

83.3

43.6

50.0

Carolina Panthers

0.543

3-3

50.0

40.9

52.9

Atlanta Falcons

0.504

2-4

33.3

51.3

53.1

TB Buccaneers

0.500

0-6

0.0

55.0

56.9

As for the rest of the NFC South:

Taking their original strength of schedule into account, Carolina is just over the 45.7% win percentage expected of an average team with their schedule this year. However, looking at the 2013 records of the opponents they have played thus far, they should be winning 58.5% of their games... putting an average team at 3-2-1, if not 4-2, after their first six games. Given the performance thus far of the teams they have yet to play -- roughly 27% more difficult than their first six teams -- the odds point to them ending the year with a 7-9 record.

Clearly, the Falcons and Buccaneers are doing significantly worse than either their initial SoS or the records of their opponents thus far would indicate for an average team's performance. While it's easy enough to label Tampa Bay as one of the worst teams in the league, it's still difficult to expect the Falcons to finish out the season with a 5-10-1 record. Their offense is above average, and their defense is not too far below average. However, the teams remaining on their schedule -- which includes hosting the Saints -- currently have better records than the teams which have left them with one of the five worst records in the NFC thus far. And with Julio Jones out for the season, is an aging Gonzales going to wreck his body trying to safe face for an Atlanta team which clearly won't deliver on his last hope for a championship run?

In summary, the current numbers point to the following year-end records for the NFC South:

Team

Current Record

Projected Record

New Orleans Saints

5-1

12-4

Carolina Panthers

3-3

7-9

Atlanta Falcons

2-4

5-10-1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

0-6

0-16

Veering away from the cold statistics, I would expect Carolina to keep the .500 record they've managed, for the first time since 2008; and the Bucs should come away with a couple of wins, at least one of them being a big upset. The Falcons might win half of their remaining games, ending with the same 7-9 record New Orleans had last year... and watching from the couch as New Orleans makes it at least two weeks into the playoffs.

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