Comparing the Best

For the first time in NFL history, there are two teams with perfect records of 11-0 through the first 12 weeks of regular season competition. How to compare those teams to others that have started the seasons strong is one of the most difficult assessments to make, particularly when those teams have not played head-to-head.

To start each new season, after the schedule-makers have completed their task, sports media attempts to judge each teams' schedule based upon their opponents' records from the previous season. This method of determining "strength of schedule" is often fruitless as each team in the NFL goes under changes in the off-season, and through the draft process, that will impact its chances for success in the new year.

Take for example the Tennessee Titans. Any team that was slated to meet the Titans, the team with best regular season record a year ago, would be projected to have a "harder" schedule than those teams who did not face opponents with strong regular season records in 2008. However, after six games, the Titans had not won and it would seem logical that the projected strength of schedule for teams slated to play the Titans would decrease as a result.

Adjusting the strength of each teams' schedule based upon the more relevant regular-season record, the one for each team this year, should come a little closer to getting an accurate determination of the level of competition each team has faced. While not perfect, it is relied upon at the beginning of the year by every major sports news source in America, so it should at least be discussed two-thirds of the way through the season.

The Indianapolis Colts have had an interesting response from much of sports media, in the face of their perfect 11-0 record, to date. At the beginning of the year, most of the sports media predicted that the Colt' window for success had closed, that the team would likely fall short of extending their streak of seasons with at least 10 wins, and that the loss of Marvin Harrison and Tony Dungy would drastically impact Indy's ability to win.

After a shaky win in Miami, the media tended to agree that it was only a matter of time that the Colts would lose a game. Indianapolis responded by dominating opponents over the next four weeks. Since week seven, the Colts have relied upon their ability to come back against their opponents in the fourth quarter to win ball games (for an NFL record five weeks in a row).

All of this has led the NFL talking heads to discuss a vast array of opinions and concerns about the Colts. A mantra of, "they have not played anyone," or, "they have been virtually beaten in multiple games," or, "they are lucky" can be heard each week from a variety of different sources.

Other teams, like the Brett Favre-led Minnesota Vikings, Tom Brady-led New England Patriots, and Drew Brees-led New Orleans Saints have typically been discussed as superior football teams than the Colts; despite the fact that only the Saints have a record that equals Indianapolis'.

This leads one to wonder: if the Colts have been lucky or just have not played anybody yet — and that is why their record is not indicative of being arguably the best team in the NFL — just who have these other teams played?

Through 12 weeks of the 2009 season, six teams have put together records of 8-3 or better. Each of those teams have faced 11 opponents who have also played 11 football games. Let's break down the "raw" strength of schedule for each team, which looks at the total wins and losses of opponents through eleven weeks, and the "adjusted" strength of schedule for each team, which takes out losses from opponents based upon team wins and wins from opponents based upon team losses.

The theory behind the "adjusted" strength of schedule is that a more accurate strength reading can be made when the individual team's wins and losses against their opponents are removed. In other words, the Colts opponents' raw record will include 11 losses in games against the Colts themselves, which means the Colts opponents are regarded as "worse" than they would be just because they played the Colts.

Similarly, the Browns opponents have 10 wins in games against the Browns, which would make their opponents appear stronger than they might otherwise be just because they played the Browns. It would be a better indication of the Colts' and Browns' schedule strength to remove those games from consideration and look at their opponents' records in games not against Indianapolis and Cleveland themselves.

Raw Strength of Schedule

16. New England Patriots (7-4) 58-53
23. San Diego Chargers (8-3) 52-59
23. Indianapolis Colts (11-0) 52-59
28. Cincinnati Bengals (8-3) 48-63
30. Dallas Cowboys (8-3) 46-65
31. New Orleans Saints (11-0) 44-67
32. Minnesota Vikings (10-1) 40-71

Adjusted Strength of Schedule

9. New England Patriots (7-4) 54-46
14. Indianapolis Colts (11-0) 52-48
22. San Diego Chargers (8-3) 49-51
26. Cincinnati Bengals (8-3) 45-55
28. New Orleans Saints (11-0) 44-56
30. Dallas Cowboys (8-3) 43-57
32. Minnesota Vikings (10-1) 39-61

Upon examining the strength of schedule for the teams that are arguably the best in the league, to this point, some things become very clear.

First, the Colts' opponents have won eight more games than the Saints' opponents have won throughout the season (on both raw and adjusted because they both have the same record). Second, the Minnesota Vikings have been arguably the most touted team in the league this year, despite losing a game, but have faced the easiest schedule in the league through 11 weeks. Third, the only team to face a more difficult schedule than the Colts, based solely on opponent record, has lost four games.

That team is the oft-praised New England Patriots who, despite losing to the Colts, have been picked to have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl than Indianapolis by much of the sports media.

Now of course, opponent record alone should not be the only consideration for a team's schedule strength or to legitimize the team's record.

One could consider that the Colts made it through back-to-back primetime road games without a loss, dominating last year's NFC Super Bowl representative in Arizona after a long and physical game for the Colts defense in Miami. One could also consider five straight fourth quarter come-from-behind wins, including one against the Patriots.

The same assessments could be made for other teams that would add to the debate concerning which team is the best in the NFL through 12 weeks. The one that is not mentioned, however, is the strength of a team's opponents based upon record.

This analysis shows that the Colts have handled a more difficult schedule than nearly every powerhouse in the league, winning three or more games more than any team who has faced opponents within seven games of the Colts' schedule strength.

What could be more important to consider, as the push for the playoffs ensues for each of the NFL's best teams, is how difficult the schedules for each of the teams will be over the last five weeks. Through 12 weeks, the undefeated Saints look to have the easiest road to the playoffs, while the inconsistent Cowboys look to have the toughest.

Saints 22 wins 5 opponents
Patriots 22 wins 5 opponents
Chargers 25 wins 5 opponents
Colts 27 wins 5 opponents
Bengals 28 wins 5 opponents
Vikings 29 wins 5 opponents
Cowboys 35 wins 5 opponents

It will be interesting to see how the season plays, out but one thing is certain: the Indianapolis Colts have the best record in football, against better competition, than any other team in the NFL with eight or more wins.


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To start each new season, after the schedule-makers have completed their task, sports media attempts to judge each teams' schedule based upon their opponents' records from the previous season. This method of determining \"strength of schedule\" is often fruitless as each team in the NFL goes under changes in the off-season, and through the draft process, that will impact its chances for success in the new year.

Take for example the Tennessee Titans. Any team that was slated to meet the Titans, the team with best regular season record a year ago, would be projected to have a \"harder\" schedule than those teams who did not face opponents with strong regular season records in 2008. However, after six games, the Titans had not won and it would seem logical that the projected strength of schedule for teams slated to play the Titans would decrease as a result.

Adjusting the strength of each teams' schedule based upon the more relevant regular-season record, the one for each team this year, should come a little closer to getting an accurate determination of the level of competition each team has faced. While not perfect, it is relied upon at the beginning of the year by every major sports news source in America, so it should at least be discussed two-thirds of the way through the season.

The Indianapolis Colts have had an interesting response from much of sports media, in the face of their perfect 11-0 record, to date. At the beginning of the year, most of the sports media predicted that the Colt' window for success had closed, that the team would likely fall short of extending their streak of seasons with at least 10 wins, and that the loss of Marvin Harrison and Tony Dungy would drastically impact Indy's ability to win.

After a shaky win in Miami, the media tended to agree that it was only a matter of time that the Colts would lose a game. Indianapolis responded by dominating opponents over the next four weeks. Since week seven, the Colts have relied upon their ability to come back against their opponents in the fourth quarter to win ball games (for an NFL record five weeks in a row).

All of this has led the NFL talking heads to discuss a vast array of opinions and concerns about the Colts. A mantra of, \"they have not played anyone,\" or, \"they have been virtually beaten in multiple games,\" or, \"they are lucky\" can be heard each week from a variety of different sources.

Other teams, like the Brett Favre-led Minnesota Vikings, Tom Brady-led New England Patriots, and Drew Brees-led New Orleans Saints have typically been discussed as superior football teams than the Colts; despite the fact that only the Saints have a record that equals Indianapolis'.

This leads one to wonder: if the Colts have been lucky or just have not played anybody yet — and that is why their record is not indicative of being arguably the best team in the NFL — just who have these other teams played?

Through 12 weeks of the 2009 season, six teams have put together records of 8-3 or better. Each of those teams have faced 11 opponents who have also played 11 football games. Let's break down the \"raw\" strength of schedule for each team, which looks at the total wins and losses of opponents through eleven weeks, and the \"adjusted\" strength of schedule for each team, which takes out losses from opponents based upon team wins and wins from opponents based upon team losses.

The theory behind the \"adjusted\" strength of schedule is that a more accurate strength reading can be made when the individual team's wins and losses against their opponents are removed. In other words, the Colts opponents' raw record will include 11 losses in games against the Colts themselves, which means the Colts opponents are regarded as \"worse\" than they would be just because they played the Colts.

Similarly, the Browns opponents have 10 wins in games against the Browns, which would make their opponents appear stronger than they might otherwise be just because they played the Browns. It would be a better indication of the Colts' and Browns' schedule strength to remove those games from consideration and look at their opponents' records in games not against Indianapolis and Cleveland themselves.

Upon examining the strength of schedule for the teams that are arguably the best in the league, to this point, some things become very clear.

First, the Colts' opponents have won eight more games than the Saints' opponents have won throughout the season (on both raw and adjusted because they both have the same record). Second, the Minnesota Vikings have been arguably the most touted team in the league this year, despite losing a game, but have faced the easiest schedule in the league through 11 weeks. Third, the only team to face a more difficult schedule than the Colts, based solely on opponent record, has lost four games.

That team is the oft-praised New England Patriots who, despite losing to the Colts, have been picked to have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl than Indianapolis by much of the sports media.

Now of course, opponent record alone should not be the only consideration for a team's schedule strength or to legitimize the team's record.

One could consider that the Colts made it through back-to-back primetime road games without a loss, dominating last year's NFC Super Bowl representative in Arizona after a long and physical game for the Colts defense in Miami. One could also consider five straight fourth quarter come-from-behind wins, including one against the Patriots.

The same assessments could be made for other teams that would add to the debate concerning which team is the best in the NFL through 12 weeks. The one that is not mentioned, however, is the strength of a team's opponents based upon record.

This analysis shows that the Colts have handled a more difficult schedule than nearly every powerhouse in the league, winning three or more games more than any team who has faced opponents within seven games of the Colts' schedule strength.

What could be more important to consider, as the push for the playoffs ensues for each of the NFL's best teams, is how difficult the schedules for each of the teams will be over the last five weeks. Through 12 weeks, the undefeated Saints look to have the easiest road to the playoffs, while the inconsistent Cowboys look to have the toughest.

It will be interesting to see how the season plays, out but one thing is certain: the Indianapolis Colts have the best record in football, against better competition, than any other team in the NFL with eight or more wins.

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