While NFL fans have their own opinions on which team has the hardest schedule (and it’s probably the team they root for), there actually are statistical ways to figure out the strength of each NFL schedule.
In fact, there are two good ways to decide who will coast into the playoffs and who will have to battle their way there.
The first method, as SB Nation shows, simply uses 2014’s regular-season results. Here are the top five most difficult and easiest schedules based on last season.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (0.579 opponent win percentage)
2. Cincinnati Bengals (0.563)
3. San Francisco 49ers (0.561)
4. Seattle Seahawks (0.559)
5. Arizona Cardinals (0.557)
1. Atlanta Falcons (0.409 opponent win percentage)
2. Indianapolis Colts (0.417)
3. Houston Texans (0.417)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0.425)
5. New Orleans Saints (0.429)
Still, there are some obvious issues with that method. Going by opponent win percentage alone doesn’t account for any personnel changes in the offseason, and it assumes teams will remain healthy (or injured) and suspension-free. So, The Washington Post used a method that takes more of that into account by comparing schedules using estimated opponent win totals for 2015 and opponents’ odds to win Super Bowl 50.
The Post combined these factors to figure out the top three teams on each side.
The common theme between both lists is that the NFC West has it hard, while it’s relatively smooth sailing in the NFC South. This makes sense because those divisions are a couple of the strongest and weakest, respectively.
As for the New England Patriots, they fell toward the easy side of the middle on both lists. The Post declared the Pats’ schedule the 10th easiest, while SB Nation placed it at 11th easiest. That seems about right, as they’ll take on two relatively weak divisions in the NFC East and AFC South and face a whole lot of mediocre quarterbacks and only a few superstars. Still, as the Pats showed last season when they barely beat the 4-12 New York Jets both times they faced them, AFC East games can be hard to predict and often make the teams’ schedules look a little tougher.
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