The NFL is full of speculation, with predictions constantly streaming through Las Vegas booking rooms, analyst programs, and comment boards across the internet. Before each season, we speculate on how difficult a given team's schedule will be, based on how their opponents performed the year prior. So how did the Strengths of Schedule at the end of the year line up with the predictions at the beginning of the season?
Going in to the 2013 season, the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints were expected to have two of the most difficult schedules in the NFL, while the Denver Broncos were expected to have the easiest schedule. While the Broncos made the Super Bowl after wading through a schedule that was in fact one of the easiest in the league, the Saints were the only team to make the playoffs after facing a season schedule among the top ten in the NFL's most difficult.
|Projected SoS||SoS in Review||2013 Wins|
|2||New Orleans Saints||10||11|
|2||St. Louis Rams||4||7|
|17||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1||4|
|19||New York Jets||20||8|
|24||New York Giants||8||7|
Tough Breaks: The Houston Texans (2-14) were expected to face the 5th-easiest (tie: No.26) schedule in the league, but ended the season with the second most difficult schedule of any team. Only the Oakland Raiders (4-12) faced a schedule that was comparably more difficult than expected, with a differential of minus 21 from what was expected.
Got off Easy: The Detroit Lions (7-9) entered the 2013 season looking at the second-most difficult schedule in the league, but in fact had the third easiest schedule. Their inability to capitalize undoubtedly contributed to some of the coaching changes currently underway in Detroit. Only the Green Bay Packers (8-7-1) received a similarly significant break -- no pun on Aaron Rodgers' collarbone intended -- as the year progressed, with a differential of plus 24; else they likely wouldn't have even limped into the playoffs.
Battling it out in the NFC: The NFC South and NFC West, who faced each other, had four of the five toughest schedules among all playoff teams. Teams from these two conferences also ended the year with four of the five toughest schedules in the entire NFL. It is impressive that the NFC South and NFC West had such a strong showing throughout the season, especially considering their bruising games against the other tough conference. The NFC West had an easier time of things, however, resting up against the league-worst AFC West while the Saints and the South were battling the largely-northern AFC East, which only had one losing team this year.
Skipping through the AFC: Other than the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, who each made the playoffs largely thanks to the mediocre state of their divisions, the AFC's playoff teams faced significantly easier schedules in 2013 than their NFC counterparts. The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs were able to take advantage of two of the league's easiest schedules, based on their opponents' performances in both 2012 and 2013; and both the Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots faced easier schedules than those faced by the core of the NFC postseason.
Gift-Wrapped Playoff Berths: Six teams made the playoffs this season by running roughshod over the AFC South, and a seventh came close. The NFC West had the good fortune of being paired with the NFL's worst division, and the Seahawks and 49ers clearly took advantage of the situation. From the other conference, the AFC West sent three teams to the postseason -- Broncos, Chiefs and San Diego Chargers -- after being matched with the league's weakest divison. Of course, the Indianapolis Colts made the most of facing their division opponents twice each, and the NFC West's Cardinals came close to making the postseason as well.
It is rare for a shoddy NFL team to make the postseason. However, it certainly helps a franchise's record (and the health of its players) when a quarter of the team's schedule is against some of the league's easiest opponents.
|SoS in Review||Projected SoS||2013 Wins|
|1||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||17||4|
|4||St. Louis Rams||4||7|
|8||New York Giants||24||7|
|10||New Orleans Saints||3||11|
|16||San Diego Chargers||31||9|
|17||San Francisco 49ers||9||12|
|20||New York Jets||19||8|
|25||New England Patriots||14||12|
|30||Green Bay Packers||6||8.5|
|32||Kansas City Chiefs||28||11|
This coming year, the Saints face the NFC North and the AFC North. Neither of these conferences did exceptionally well in 2013, though Sean Payton should have plenty of opportunity to prove our team has what it takes to succeed in cold, hostile environments.