After outlining how difficult each NFL team's 2014 schedule is roughly projected to be, based solely on the performance of every team during the 2013 season, we have decided to bring you a more thorough look at how each team performed this year, as well as how their final SoS for 2013 compares to their projected SoS at the beginning of the 2013 season.
Toughest 2014 Schedule
The Oakland Raiders have the toughest road to the Super Bowl in 2014, based on the strength of their schedule, which is calculated from how well all of their 2014 opponents performed during the 2013 regular season. After going 4-12 against teams with a combined record of 134-122 in 2013, the Raiders will play teams in 2014 with a combined record of 148-108 this past season. Their .578 SoS indicates that Oakland's 2014 opponents won 57.8% of their games in 2013. Ten of their sixteen games will be against opponents who ended the 2013 season with winning records. It almost doesn't seem fair that they would have to face the NFC West in addition to their own AFC West opponents, particularly since they could barely handle the AFC South in 2013. Barring multiple drastic events, Raiders fans can likely expect another year of irrelevance.
Easiest 2014 Schedule
It's the nature of the NFL: somebody had to win the AFC South. Andrew Luck and the Indianaoplis Colts had the good fortune of frolicking among the proverbial lilies for much of the season, and managed to turn the heat on against a few tough opponents, to boot. One would assume that at least one of their divisional opponents -- most likely the Texans -- should improve significantly in 2014. But as things sit currently, the Colts have the most enviable 2014 schedule in the league: eight games against the undaunting AFC North and mediocre NFC East, plus six games against their own weak AFC South division. And this comes on the heels of the third-easiest projected SoS, and one of the easier actual strengths of schedule for the 2013 season.
Top Seeds from 2013
The Denver Broncos entered the 2013 season expected to face the easiest schedule in the NFL, which wasn't far from the truth in the end. After reaching the Super Bowl against teams with a paltry combined 2013 record of 120-136 (46.9% wins), Peyton Manning will face opponents in 2014 whose records combine to 146-110 (57% wins).
The Seattle Seahawks were expected to have one of the ten most difficult schedules in the league in 2013, but were able to take advantage of the same floundering AFC South which boosted three AFC West teams (and almost three NFC West teams) into the playoffs. After facing a schedule of teams which only won 49% of their games in 2013, the Seahawks will face a 2014 schedule of teams which were victorious over 56% of the time this past season.
In the upcoming season, each of 2013's conference champions will have ten games against teams which had winning records in 2013.
2013 Bottom Feeders
The Houston Texans (2-14) entered the 2013 season projected to have one of the five easiest schedules of the year, and ended up suffering the worst record in the league at the hands of 2013's second-toughest schedule. Fortune smiles upon them, however, as they are currently looking at the third-easiest schedule in 2014. With the first pick in the 2014 draft, Houston may be able to take advantage of the same good luck (scheduling-wise, if not in quarterbacks) befalling the Colts, and at least break even in 2014.
The Washington Redskins (3-13) have nobody to blame but their own organization for the implosion suffered in RGIII's second year. They were projected to have a rather average schedule, and ended the season having faced a slightly harder-than-average schedule. In 2014, The District's team will be facing a schedule that currently sits right at the median for all teams next year. So there will once again be few places to place blame for any improvement, or lack thereof, in the performance of the team currently stuck with the title of NFC's worst.
Sean Payton + Rob Ryan... Part Deaux
The New Orleans Saints were projected to have the second most difficult schedule heading into 2013. And although their final SoS wasn't quite that bad, they still had one of the ten most difficult schedules in the league. Furthermore, the Saints were the only team in the NFL to reach the postseason after facing opponents which combined for a winning record, making the 2013 playoffs against teams with a combined record of 132-124.
In 2014, they look forward to an easier schedule of teams who combined for a record of 119-135-2 last year. And with one of the ten easiest schedules in the league, only five of their games will be against teams with winning records: Panthers (12-4) twice, 49ers (12-4), Bengals (11-5), and Packers (8-7-1).
Admittedly, playing the Falcons (4-12) and Buccaneers (4-12) twice each skews the picture, especially when one considers that both of those teams always play hard against the Saints. And while the AFC North and NFC North were both largely mediocre last year, the 2014 Saints opponents which had winning records in 2013 are likely to be tough, solid teams again in 2014. Still, if Mickey Loomis can work enough of his magic on the salary cap, the Saints should do at least as well in 2014 as they did in Rob Ryan's first year with the team. This is especially true if New Orleans isn't so unlucky in the injury department again.
See For Yourself
For a more in-depth picture of the 2014 and 2013 (projected and final) strengths of schedule, and how any given team's final ranking compares to its SoS, check out the table below (click column headers to sort).
2014 Strengths of Schedule
|Team|| 2013 SoS
| 2013 SoS
| 2013 Rank
vs Winn. Opp
|St. Louis||.539||.551||07-9||12 (NFC)||144-111-1||.565||10||643|
|San Francisco||.520||.494||12-4||05 (NFC)||144-112-0||.563||9||610|
|San Diego||.457||.496||09-7||06 (AFC)||144-112-0||.563||8||469|
|Kansas City||.473||.445||11-5||05 (AFC)||143-113-0||.559||8||539|
|NY Jets||.496||.488||08-8||09 (AFC)||132-122-2||.520||6||203|
|New England||.508||.473||12-4||02 (AFC)||131-123-2||.516||6||-13|
|Green Bay||.533||.453||08-7-1||04 (NFC)||128-126-2||.504||5||26|
|Tampa Bay||.500||.574||04-12||15 (NFC)||123-131-2||.484||6||20|
|New Orleans||.539||.516||11-5||06 (NFC)||119-135-2||.469||5||-101|
|NY Giants||.480||.520||07-9||10 (NFC)||119-137-0||.465||6||-184|
Teams in italics made the 2013 playoffs.
The Divisions at a Glance
In the below table, each team is listed by its standing within its division, and how the team's final 2013 SoS compares to their projected 2014 SoS. The AFC West and NFC West will be playing each other, instead of molesting the AFC South; and those two divisions are projected to have the eight most difficult schedules for the coming season. The Broncos and Chiefs may have the rudest awakenings of all, as they are projected to have the NFL's two harshest changes in schedule difficulty by far.
The AFC South is looking forward to the four easiest schedules in the league, with the Texans getting the biggest schedule relief of any team from 2013 to 2014. While the AFC North figures to have the second-easiest block of schedules of any division, their schedules last year weren't much more difficult; they simply weren't able to take advantage of the light load in 2013.
The NFC South, by the numbers, seems to be getting the second-most significant schedule relief. And the NFC North, perhaps providing some of that schedule relief to the Saints, is facing an increase in difficulty.
|2013 Div. Rank||Team||2013
|2013 Div. Rank||Team||2013
|NFC S1 (12-4)||Carolina Panthers
||17||22||AFC S1 (11-5)||Indianapolis Colts
|NFC S2 (11-5)||New Orleans Saints
||10||23||AFC S2 (7-9)||Tennessee Titans
|NFC S3 (4-12)||Atlanta Falcons
||3||11||AFC S3 (4-12)||Jacksonville Jaguars
|NFC S4 (4-12)||Tampa Bay Buccaneers
||1||19||AFC S4 (2-14)||Houston Texans
|NFC W1 (13-3)||Seattle Seahawks
||19||6||AFC W1 (13-3)||Denver Broncos
|NFC W2 (12-4)||San Francisco 49ers
||17||4||AFC W2 (11-5)||Kansas City Chiefs
|NFC W3 (10-6)||Arizona Cardinals
||5||8||AFC W3 (9-7)||San Diego Chargers
|NFC W4 (7-9)||St. Louis Rams
||4||3||AFC W4 (4-12)||Oakland Raiders
|NFC E1 (10-6)||Philadelphia Eagles
||30||20||AFC E1 (12-4)||New England Patriots
|NFC E2 (8-8)||Dallas Cowboys
||21||18||AFC E2 (8-8)||New York Jets
|NFC E3 (7-9)||New York Giants
||8||27||AFC E3 (8-8)||Miami Dolphins
|NFC E4 (3-13)||Washington Redskins
||10||17||AFC E4 (6-10)||Buffalo Bills
|NFC N1 (8-7-1)||Green Bay Packers
||30||13||AFC N1 (11-5)||Cincinnati Bengals
|NFC N2 (8-8)||Chicago Bears
||28||15||AFC N2 (8-8)||Pittsburgh Steelers
|NFC N3 (7-9)||Detroit Lions
||29||16||AFC N3 (8-8)||Baltimore Ravens
|NFC N4 (5-10-1)||Minnesota Vikings
||13||21||AFC N4 (4-12)||Cleveland Browns
The 1st-ranked SoS is the most difficult schedule in the NFL, whereas the 32nd-ranked SoS is the weakest strength of schedule in the league. A change of +11 indicates significantly easier projected schedules for a division, while a change of -3.5 indicates a slight increase in difficulty.
Reviewing the 2014 New Orleans Saints Schedule
In 2014, the New Orleans Saints will play each of their three NFC South opponents twice: once at home, and once on the road. Each NFC South team will play one game against each team in the NFC North and AFC North; two teams from each of those divisions will be played at home. Finally, the Saints will play the second-place teams from the NFC West (49ers) and NFC East (Cowboys).
|NFC South||NFC North||AFC North||NFC 2nd Place|
|Home||Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers||Packers, Vikings||Ravens, Bengals||49ers|
|Away||Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers||Bears, Lions||Browns, Steelers||Cowboys|
Outdoor games in 2014, in order of decreasing average temperatures:
Tampa Bay, Carolina, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago
With the 2013 season behind us, what are your thoughts on 2014's schedule?
Will the NFL schedule the Saints in Atlanta on a short week after the 49ers game yet again?
Will the Saints be traveling north to outdoor stadiums in November and December?