Friday, August 9, 2013

NFL 2013: Strength of Schedule


We have all by now read SOS numbers using 2012 final regular season records.  But truthfully those figures are almost entirely useless as there is a lot of turnover on teams each season, along with the fact many teams over or under achieved record wise last season when basing it on “true performance.”  But the main reason using last year’s records for current season SOS is not a good exercise is each season we can expect at least 8 & usually no more than 12 teams will shift their win total by four or more – hence, not a lot of promise in doing any SOS analysis based on last year’s records. 

Below I have broken down 2013 SOS using the following three metrics:

·         2013 Initial Power Ratings

·         2012 Final Power Rankings

·         2012 Final Performance Rankings

I will lay out the data in those three buckets, and analyze what each of those metrics tell us, along with doing an aggregate SOS of those 3 metrics at the end.

Here are my main SOS figures which breaks it down using the initial 2013 team by team power ratings:

USING 2013 POWER RATINGS
SOS for Road
SOS for Home
TOTAL SOS
NYG
190.5
1
184.0
3
374.5
1
MIN
180.5
3
175.0
7
355.5
2
BAL
175.5
8
179.0
4
354.5
3
TB
178.0
6
170.5
14
348.5
4
ATL
173.0
14
175.0
7
348.0
5
WAS
178.5
5
169.0
16
347.5
6
CHI
172.0
15
175.0
7
347.0
7
ARI
160.0
25
186.0
1
346.0
8
STL
184.5
2
161.5
25
346.0
8
DAL
166.5
20
178.5
5
345.0
10
GB
175.0
9
169.5
15
344.5
11
DET
172.0
15
172.0
12
344.0
12
NO
175.0
9
167.5
18
342.5
13
PHI
177.0
7
165.0
22
342.0
14
CAR
167.5
19
173.5
10
341.0
15
SF
156.0
27
184.5
2
340.5
16
NE
169.0
18
171.0
13
340.0
17
JAC
174.0
12
163.0
24
337.0
18
OAK
175.0
9
159.5
26
334.5
19
SEA
179.0
4
154.5
31
333.5
20
TEN
173.5
13
158.0
27
331.5
21
CIN
160.5
23
169.0
16
329.5
22
CLE
172.0
15
156.0
30
328.0
23
SD
152.5
29
175.5
6
328.0
23
MIA
160.5
23
166.5
19
327.0
25
IND
158.5
26
166.5
19
325.0
26
KC
152.5
29
172.5
11
325.0
26
PIT
165.0
21
156.5
29
321.5
28
BUF
153.0
28
166.5
19
319.5
29
HOU
148.5
31
164.0
23
312.5
30
DEN
165.0
21
140.5
32
305.5
31
NYJ
140.0
32
158.0
27
298.0
32

 

The above data is stacked in order of strength with the #1 team NYG estimated to face the toughest 2013 schedule based on my initial Power Ratings, while their neighbor NYJ are estimated to face the easiest.

In addition to overall SOS (the last column shaded in grey), I have also included SOS broken out by home and road games.  That breakout is absolutely critical because in a perfect world teams prefer to face a bulk of their tougher opponents at home, and the easier opponents on the road.  While total SOS is a great gauge when looking at your favorite team’s chances at a solid, double digit win season, using the home versus road comparison can add even more value.

Let’s discuss a few teams that stand out for having a tough schedule, easy schedule, and favorable or unfavorable breakdowns using the home versus road comparison:

·         NYG: this season the Giants are estimated to face the toughest schedule in the NFL, and it’s by a wide margin of 19.0 SOS points.  What is an SOS point?  The easiest way to explain this is a team that is projected to be middle of the pack, 8-8 type team, is given a power rating of 21.  If you multiple 21 times the 16 games a team will play that equals 336.0 – the Giants right now total a 374.5, which is an average opponent power rating of 23.4 – that rating is typically equal to a borderline double digit win team.  It all means on average the Giants are facing 9/10 win teams this upcoming season – extremely tough.  Their opponents that really boost their rating is facing DEN, NFC North, CAR & SEA.  By facing the toughest schedule in the NFL, combined with obviously then facing the toughest schedule of all teams in the ultra-competitive NFC East, this could be the difference between earning a playoff berth versus just missing out.

·         STL: the Rams check in with a Top 10 SOS, and a significant split between their home (#25) and road (#2) strength, which will negatively impact their chances at making a run at a Wild Card berth in a deep NFC.

·         DAL: the Cowboys have the 3rd toughest schedule in the NFC East, the 10th toughest schedule overall, however, will enjoy a favorable split getting many of their tougher games at home (5th toughest home slate).

·         SF/SEA: the two teams that figure to battle for the NFC West title have interesting splits, which will likely favor SF in their hopes of winning back to back NFC West titles.  SF will face the 27th toughest road schedule (SEA is #4), while the Niners face the 2nd toughest home schedule (SEA is #31). 

·         DEN/HOU/PIT: these three teams all have one of the 5 easiest schedules this season, and I project all three to win their respective divisions.  With the Broncos on paper having the best team in the NFL it’s highly likely they at least secure a first round bye in the AFC playoffs, and very possible they secure the #1 overall seed; in a still weak AFC South I look for HOU to secure the #2 seed; PIT will bounce back in a big way this season and get back to the playoffs.

Here is a division by division analysis, examining which teams may have an edge in their search of a division title based on SOS:

·         AFC East: the Patriots have clearly lost some of their buffer zone between the rest of the division they have dominated for the last decade, but with QB Tom Brady still playing at a high level, the difference in QB play among contenders in the division will once again likely lead to another title for NE.  That being said NE will face the toughest schedule in all 3 buckets (overall, road, home), with NYJ facing the easiest in those buckets.  MIA is a trendy selection to compete this season for an AFC East title, and the schedule is there for them to accomplish just that.  This division should be more bunched up 1-4 than usual, but still appears to be NE’s to lose.

·         AFC North: the defending SB champs will face the toughest schedule of the four teams, and by a VERY WIDE MARGIN.  The Ravens overall SOS is #3, while CIN is #22, CLE #23, and PIT #28.  I am quite bullish on PIT this season, and their SOS only strengthens my feelings as they will face the easiest schedule they have faced since I started tracking these statistics in 2008.  I expect BAL to struggle versus this schedule, while all three of their division counterparts will make up ground on them quickly, including CLE.

·         AFC South: in a still weak division somehow the weakest team in the division JAC has the toughest schedule in 2 of the 3 buckets including overall.  What will make it even tougher for anyone to catch HOU, clearly the most talented team in the division, is the Texans will face the #30 SOS overall including the second easiest road schedule in the league.

·         AFC West: similar to the AFC South the clear cut top team in the division DEN will face the easiest schedule, while the weakest team in the division OAK will face the toughest schedule including an extremely difficult #9 slate on the road.  Many will fancy the chances of SD and/or KC making a run at a Wild Card this season, which could definitely be in the cards for those teams especially when considering the schedules they will face are both inside the top 10 easiest in the league, including both facing the #29 SOS on the road.  Look for those schedules to favor DEN in their drive for the #1 seed in the AFC, while SD & KC could make a run at a surprise Wild Card.

·         NFC East: this division is one of the deepest in the NFL, and each team’s SOS represents that.  NYG, discussed in this entry, will face the toughest schedule including the #1 slate of road games which will make it tough for them to win the division considering all four have a decent shot at earning the crown.  PHI will face the easiest schedule, #14 overall, but they have the weakest roster of the four teams and will still face the 7th toughest road schedule.  DAL has perhaps the best schedule breakout considering they will face just the 20th toughest road schedule in the league.  WAS, the defending NFC East champs, will face a much stiffer schedule this season, making it tough to see them repeating.  From an SOS perspective DAL sits best.

·         NFC North: defending NFC North champ MIN has the toughest schedule of the four division teams, and a tough schedule overall checking in at #2, #3 on the road and #7 at home – all three the toughest in the division (tied with CHI for toughest home slate).  DET, a team many of my metrics is extremely bullish on heading into 2013, faces the easiest schedule amongst division teams, including being tied with CHI for the easiest road schedule at #15.  All four teams face top 12 overall slates, and top 15 both home and road slates – so the sledding will not be easy.  But look for DET to potentially make a run at a Wild Card berth with a favorable SOS, and many other metrics favoring a turnaround for the Lions.

·         NFC South: ATL, the defending NFC South champ, and TB, one of last season’s darling’s, will face the toughest schedules amongst the four division teams; CAR & NO are both about mid-point in the NFL, and these are two teams many of my metrics favor for a turnaround in 2013.  CAR is the only team of the four in the division that has a double digit SOS in all 3 buckets, including facing just the 19th toughest road schedule in the NFL.  The SOS seems to point towards drops by ATL & TB, along with improvements from NO & CAR – and keep in mind many of my other metrics favor the same moves.

·         NFC West: somehow, despite SF & SEA being the clear-cut favorites in the division, and both team’s coming off playoff berths LY, they will face the easiest schedules in the division (#16 & #20 respectively), while STL & ARI both tie for #8.  This division also has the biggest discrepancies between home & away SOS, laid out as follows:

o   SEA: #31 home, #4 road

o   SF: #2, #27

o   ARI: #1, #25

o   STL: #25, #2

o   With those significant differences in SOS we can see SF has a big edge on SEA schedule wise, while STL has clearly drawn the toughest, which will make it tough for Jeff Fisher in his second season to make a run at a playoff berth.  ARI, facing the toughest home schedule but one of the easier road slates, has a shot at making a Wild Card run with new QB Carson Palmer, but it seems that will also be a longshot.

USING 2012 FINAL PERFORMANCE RANKINGS
TOTAL SOS
MIN
200.0
1
BAL
215.0
2
GB
218.0
3
NO
223.0
4
NYG
232.0
5
DET
236.0
6
CLE
237.0
7
ATL
245.0
8
CHI
248.0
9
PHI
248.0
9
WAS
248.0
9
STL
250.0
12
ARI
251.0
13
NE
252.0
14
CIN
255.0
15
MIA
255.0
15
TB
256.0
17
CAR
264.0
18
NYJ
269.0
19
DAL
270.0
20
PIT
277.0
21
SF
280.0
22
BUF
283.0
23
OAK
283.0
23
TEN
284.0
25
KC
298.0
26
JAC
299.0
27
SEA
299.0
27
SD
303.0
29
IND
304.0
30
DEN
323.0
31
HOU
324.0
32

 

The second matrix shows 2013 SOS using my final 2012 Performance Ratings (which are discussed in previous entries including my weekly entry during the season).  This version is also sorted in order of strength with MIN checking in at #1 (toughest) and HOU #32 (easiest).  You may notice in the first matrix the bigger the total number the tougher the schedule (because that was measured by opponent’s power rating; the higher the power rating the tougher the team hence the bigger the number shaded grey the tougher the schedule); in the second matrix it uses the Performance Ratings ranking – DEN was #1 in that last season, so the smaller the number shaded grey the tougher the schedule.

When analyzing this data the one phenomenon that stands out is some of the variances team by team between this matrix and the first one.  Here are some of the biggest jumps either way:

Up (meaning SOS measured by 2012 Performance Rankings shows a stronger 2013 SOS versus using initial 2013 Power Ratings):

·         BUF, DET +6

·         CIN, PIT +7

·         GB +8

·         NO +9

·         MIA +10

·         NYJ +13

·         CLE +16 – to provide an explanation, key drivers here are the fact CLE will face the AFC East this season, and three of those four teams I have listed as being WEAKER in my initial 2013 Power Rankings than they rated in my Performance Ratings LY: BUF was #17 in 2012 Performance Ratings, but just #25 in my initial 2013 Power Rankings, NE #4/#6, NYJ #21/#25.  If you notice above all AFC East teams are listed in this grouping because of that same reason.  In addition they will face BAL twice this season – the Ravens were #13 in my 2012 Performance Ratings but head into the 2013 season at #19 in my initial Power Rankings.

Down (easier):

·         SD, SF (6)

·         SEA (7)

·         JAC (9)

·         DAL (10)

·         TB (13)

 

USING 2012 FINAL POWER RATINGS
TOTAL SOS
NYG
373.0
1
BAL
358.4
2
MIN
351.3
3
NO
348.6
4
STL
347.1
5
ATL
346.6
6
ARI
344.8
7
TB
344.5
8
GB
341.4
9
CAR
341.0
10
DET
339.1
11
SF
338.4
12
NE
337.8
13
WAS
337.0
14
CHI
336.8
15
PHI
335.0
16
CLE
334.4
17
TEN
333.4
18
MIA
333.3
19
CIN
331.1
20
JAC
331.1
20
DAL
330.9
22
IND
330.5
23
PIT
328.5
24
BUF
327.8
25
SEA
327.0
26
KC
324.9
27
OAK
324.4
28
SD
323.3
29
HOU
318.0
30
DEN
305.8
31
NYJ
303.0
32

 

Up (meaning SOS measured by 2012 Final Power Ratings show a stronger 2013 SOS versus using initial 2013 Power Ratings):

·         BUF, NE, PIT, SF +4

·         CAR +5

·         CLE, MIA +6

·         NO +9

Down (easier):

·         SD, SEA (6)

·         CHI, WAS (8)

·         OAK (9)

·         DAL (12)

 

BLENDED SOS RANK
MIN
1
BAL
2
NYG
2
ATL
4
NO
5
GB
6
STL
7
ARI
8
DET
9
TB
9
WAS
9
CHI
12
PHI
13
CAR
14
NE
15
CLE
16
SF
17
DAL
18
CIN
19
MIA
20
TEN
21
JAC
22
OAK
23
PIT
24
SEA
24
BUF
26
IND
27
KC
27
SD
29
NYJ
30
HOU
31
DEN
32

 

This last matrix is perhaps the 2nd most important in my eyes as it shows an equal weighting blended SOS for the upcoming 2013 season using my initial 2013 Power Ratings, my final 2012 Power Rankings and my final 2012 Performance Rankings.  One last time let’s compare the blended SOS ranks versus my initial 2013 Power Rankings SOS:

Up (meaning SOS measured by Blended SOS show a stronger 2013 SOS versus using initial 2013 Power Ratings):

·         GB, MIA +5

·         CLE +7

·         NO +8

Down (easier):

·         CHI, TB (5)

·         SD (6)

·         DAL (8)

At a high level we can define these shifts in SOS by either my initial Power Ratings in 2013 show team’s opponents to be stronger and having improved this past offseason compared to LY (the first grouping “up”), or the opposite case where I have rated team’s opponents down and weaker than LY (the second grouping).

What does it all mean?  SOS is a good metric to analyze, in particular when placing season long win total wagers, or selecting which teams may win a division because SOS can often be the difference between making the playoffs or just barely missing (that is a big reason we see an average of 5 new playoffs teams each season in the NFL – the differences between the 6th and 20th teams in the NFL is minor believe it or not).  However, in an overall sense, it is not overly important on a week to week basis; and you must keep in mind these SOS figures will change by the week when Power Ratings shift due to how well or poorly teams perform.

 

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