As the disclaimer on investments goes, past performance is no guarantee of future success. As it relates to the NFL schedule, the cautionary tale of predictions could change to something like this: Past struggles are no guarantee of easier times ahead.
The NFL released its regular-season schedule on Thursday night, but even before that, the home and away opponents for each team were already determined. All that was left was putting an order and dates on the games. That part isn’t taken into consideration when the NFL determines its strength of schedule; only the opponents’ records from 2015 matter in determining the 2016 strength of schedule.
With that, many of the non-playoff teams from 2015 have the hardest schedules in 2016, led by the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers, who tied for the hardest schedules in 2016 with their opponents at a .555 winning percentage last year. The Falcons finished the season 8-8 and the 49ers were 5-11.
The Los Angeles Rams, who worked their way to a 7-9 record in their final season in St. Louis and who made a blockbuster trade to move up for the top spot in this year’s draft, have the third-hardest schedule with their opponents averaging a .551 winning percentage in 2015.
The Rams are followed by the New Orleans Saints, whose opponents had a .547 winning percentage in 2016, and it isn’t until the Seattle Seahawks, who tied with Tampa Bay for the fifth-hardest schedule, that you find a playoff team from 2015.
On the other side of the equation, five of the six easiest schedules, at least according to the strength of schedule, reside in the NFC. The Green Bay Packers, who won a playoff game last year, have the easiest road in the NFL, with their opponents having a cumulative winning percentage of .457 in 2015. The Chicago Bears and New York Giants are tied for 30th, and the Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals are all tied for 27th with their opponents in 2016 having a winning percentage of .465 last year.
No doubt free agency, the draft, injuries and myriad other factors (like how the schedule lays out), will all play a factor in determining how tough a team’s 2016 road really is, but when it comes to strength of schedule based on opponents’ 2015 records, it seems the non-playoff teams from 2015 weren’t cut many breaks.
2016 STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
T-1. Atlanta Falcons (0.555)
T-1. San Francisco 49ers (0.555)
3. Los Angeles Rams (0.551)
4. New Orleans Saints (0.547)
T-5. Seattle Seahawks (0.543)
T-5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0.543)
T-7. Arizona Cardinals (0.531)
T-7. New York Jets (0.531)
9. New England Patriots (0.523)
10. Buffalo Bills (0.520)
11. Miami Dolphins (0.516)
12. Carolina Panthers (0.512)
13. San Diego Chargers (0.508)
14. Denver Broncos (0.504)
15. Oakland Raiders (0.500)
16. Kansas City Chiefs (0.496)
17. Washington Redskins (0.492)
18. Minnesota Vikings (0.488)
T-19. Baltimore Ravens (0.484)
T-19. Houston Texans (0.484)
21. Cleveland Browns (0.480)
22. Indianapolis Colts (0.477)
T-23. Jacksonville Jaguars (0.473)
T-23. Pittsburgh Steelers (0.473)
T-23. Tennessee Titans (0.473)
26. Philadelphia Eagles (0.469)
T-27. Cincinnati Bengals (0.465)
T-27. Detroit Lions (0.465)
T-27. Dallas Cowboys (0.465)
T-30. Chicago Bears (0.461)
T-30. New York Giants (0.461)
32. Green Bay Packers (0.457)