Thursday, August 30, 2018

2018-19 NFL Preview: Strength of Schedule Projections

In addition to NFL power ratings (which will be released prior to Week 1), I also create strength of schedule (SOS) power ratings during the offseason. The formula is fairly simple and solely based on season win total numbers.

I prefer to use season win totals from reputable sports books to forecast strength of schedule for the upcoming season. It doesn't make much sense to use win/loss records from the previous year. Not only do NFL teams naturally regress/progress from year to year, but transactions take place during the offseason that can either ameliorate or worsen a roster.

The season win totals posted on have been used to construct SOS power ratings for each team.

The formula used to create an NFL schedule consists of six games between divisional opponents, eight games against two different divisions, and two games versus two different conference opponents based on division ranking from the previous year (sometimes referred to as "interconference games").

To use Arizona as an example, the Cardinals will play the AFC West and NFC North. They also have to face San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles two times each because they reside in the same division. Furthermore, Arizona plays Atlanta (3rd place in NFC South) and Washington (3rd place in NFC East) in their two interconference games because each team finished third in their respective divisions last year.

I simply added up the season win total expectations for all 16 of Arizona's opponents and arrived at a strength of schedule rating of 136.4, which projects the Cardinals to have the toughest schedule.

An underrated benefit of this activity is that it adds perspective to the season win numbers and helps identify teams getting respect from the market and oddsmakers alike. New Orleans and Green Bay have similar win totals, but the Saints play a tougher schedule by a fairly wide margin according to the SOS ratings. This suggests the market holds New Orleans in a higher regard than the Packers, but the same conclusion could not be drawn by simply considering raw season win numbers.

The NFC North projects to be the toughest division with the NFC South being a close second. Contrarily, the AFC East grades out as the weakest division by a relatively wide margin.

Although this may not be a flawless exercise, it provides a decent snapshot of the easiest/toughest schedules and certainly has more predictive value than previous season's win percentage.

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