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The Proper Way to Calculate 2020 NFL Strength of Schedule

Updated January 26th, 2021
Published June 4, 2020
  • Using last year’s records to calculate SOS is so flawed
  • How should we be calculating strength of schedule in the NFL?
  • See how all 32 teams rank in terms of strength of schedule using the proper calculation

For too long we have wasted our time reading articles that use each team’s record from the previous season to calculate strength of schedule for the upcoming season. Stop this! There are far too many flaws involved in this method.

This is how we should be calculating SOS.

Note: 1 is the most difficult, while 32 denotes the easiest 2020 schedule.

Updated NFL SOS After Week 1

Rank Team Combined Win Totals of Remaining Opponents
1 Atlanta Falcons 124.8
2 Philadelphia Eagles 124.7
3 New York Jets 124.4
T4 Cincinnati Bengals 124.1
T4 Denver Broncos 124.1
T4 Las Vegas Raiders 124.1
7 New York Giants 124
8 Carolina Panthers 123
9 Houston Texans 122.8
10 Buffalo Bills 122.7
11 Jacksonville Jaguars 122.5
12 New England Patriots 122.3
13 San Francisco 49ers 122
14 Minnesota Vikings 120.1
15 Washington Football Team 119.9
16 Pittsburgh Steelers 119.6
17 Los Angeles Rams 119.5
18 Indianapolis Colts 119
19 Tennessee Titans 118.9
20 Detroit Lions 118.6
21 Green Bay Packers 118
22 Baltimore Ravens 117.9
23 Chicago Bears 117.8
24 Miami Dolphins 117.6
25 Seattle Seahawks 117.4
26 Los Angeles Chargers 117.1
27 New Orleans Saints 116.7
28 Arizona Cardinals 116.2
29 Kansas City Chiefs 116.1
30 Dallas Cowboys 115.1
31 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 114.4
32 Cleveland Browns 113.1

Using average 2020 NFL win totals, we have come up with our own strength of schedule by adding the projected wins of each team’s 16 opponents this season.

With sportsbooks releasing updated win totals after Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season, we’ve updated the SOS for the remaining 15 games. The Falcons still have it the toughest the rest of the way, but the Browns are back to having the easiest schedule – they had the easiest when win totals first opened as well.

The mean SOS based on win totals for the final 15 games is 120

Some teams who experienced significant change in their strength of schedule after Week 1 include:

  • New Orleans Saints: went from ninth-toughest to 27th-toughest
  • Arizona Cardinals: went from 15th-toughest to 28th-toughest
  • Indianapolis Colts: went from the easiest schedule to 15th-easiest
  • Tennessee Titans: went from second-easiest to 14th-easiest
  • Los Angeles Rams: went from seventh-toughest to 17th-toughest
  • Philadelphia Eagles: went from the 11th-toughest to the second-toughest
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: went from 24th-toughest to 16th-toughest

Of course, some of the movement in ranking above is a result of their Week 1 opponent being out of the way, and that game being particularly easy/tough.

You can see what the SOS numbers were prior to kickoff below.

2020 NFL SOS Based on Win Totals

Rank Team Post-Schedule Release Proj. Wins of 2020 Opponents (May 7) Post-FA Proj. Wins of 2020 Opponents (Mar 19) Proj. Wins of 2020 Opponents at Opening (Feb 5)
1 Atlanta Falcons 136 135 133.5
2 New York Giants 135.3 137.5 132.5
3 New York Jets 133.3 134.5 133
4 Carolina Panthers 133 133.5 130.5
5 Denver Broncos 133 134.5 132.5
6 Las Vegas Raiders 132.9 132.5 132.5
7 Los Angeles Rams 132.1 133.5 129.5
8 Washington Redskins 132 134 132
9 New Orleans Saints 131.2 131.5 132
10 Houston Texans 131 134.5 134
11 Philadelphia Eagles 130.5 133.5 129.5
12 Cincinnati Bengals 130.3 134 131
13 New England Patriots 130.3 132.5 129
14 San Francisco 49ers 129.3 132.5 129.5
15 Arizona Cardinals 129.2 131 131
16 Buffalo Bills 129.2 133.5 131
17 Green Bay Packers 129.1 130.5 131.5
18 Jacksonville Jaguars 129 132 129
19 Minnesota Vikings 128.5 130 129
20 Seattle Seahawks 128.4 132.5 130.5
21 Miami Dolphins 128.2 131 131.5
22 Dallas Cowboys 127.2 130.5 129.5
23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 127 129 131.5
24 Pittsburgh Steelers 126.9 128.5 127.5
25 Kansas City Chiefs 126.5 127.5 127.5
26 Los Angeles Chargers 126.4 127 128
27 Baltimore Ravens 126.1 129.5 129
28 Detroit Lions 125.9 129.5 129
29 Chicago Bears 125.7 128 129
30 Cleveland Browns 125.4 129 126.5
31 Tennessee Titans 124.8 127.5 128.5
32 Indianapolis Colts 122.3 128 127.5

*Win totals were updated on May 7

The average projected wins of 2020 opponents is 129.3, while the variance is 10.2.

Toughest 2020 Schedule

For the second straight season, the Texans appeared to face the most difficult schedule in the league. It was lighter than last year, when their opponents combined for 138.5 wins, but they lost that title after a crazy free agency period that saw many big-name players on the move.

The Giants then faced the toughest schedule in the league after free agency. Their opponents picked up five extra wins after free agency. The Eagles and Rams also saw their schedules get significantly tougher after free agency, as their respective opponents added four wins through free agency.

However, after the NFL released the 2020 schedule, the Falcons now face the toughest schedule in the league.

Easiest 2020 Schedule

When win totals opened, the Browns were expecting to face the lightest schedule in the league, with just 126.5 combined wins for their opponents. But their foes picked up some extra wins after free agency, increasing their difficulty by a few games.

The Chargers took over the title of having the easiest schedule after free agency, as their opponents’ projected wins fell from 128 to 127.

After the NFL Draft and release of the 2020 schedule, the Colts now have, by far, the easiest schedule in the NFL. Their opponents are only projected to win 122.3 games combined, 2.5 games less than the Titans, who have the second-easiest.

1st Half SOS

Rank Team 1st Half Strength of Schedule
1 Las Vegas Raiders 70.6
2 New York Jets 70.1
3 New York Giants 69.5
4 Green Bay Packers 69.4
5 Pittsburgh Steelers 68.4
6 Houston Texans 67.8
7 New England Patriots 67.4
8 Denver Broncos 67.3
9 Cincinnati Bengals 66.9
10 Seattle Seahawks 66.8
11 Washington Redskins 66.5
12 Miami Dolphins 65.9
13 Minnesota Vikings 65.8
14 Philadelphia Eagles 65.6
15 Kansas City Chiefs 65.4
16 Baltimore Ravens 65
17 Carolina Panthers 64.4
18 Los Angeles Rams 63.8
19 Detroit Lions 63.8
20 Buffalo Bills 63.6
21 New Orleans Saints 63.4
22 Chicago Bears 62.6
23 Atlanta Falcons 62.2
24 Cleveland Browns 62
25 San Francisco 49ers 61.9
26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 61.4
27 Dallas Cowboys 61.2
28 Los Angeles Chargers 60.2
29 Indianapolis Colts 60.2
30 Tennessee Titans 60
31 Arizona Cardinals 59.2
32 Jacksonville Jaguars 57.9

*Again, number 1 denotes the toughest schedule, while 32 is the easiest.

The Raiders possess the toughest first eight games of the season, while the Jaguars have it very easy. The average here is 64.6 with a variance of 11.4.

As a bettor, you should be using this information to help determine whether the price you’re getting on a futures bet for the latest NFL odds is the best value you’ll find.

For example, if you wanted to bet the Jaguars to miss the playoffs this season, it’s important to know they could win a few games out of the gate, potentially resulting in their odds to make the playoffs improving, and their odds to miss worsening. So you’d want to consider waiting to make this bet to hold out for a better price.

The same goes for betting division winners. You may love the Texans to win the AFC South, but could get a better price on the bet if you hold out until they get through their first four games – Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, and Vikings. It’s likely they lose a couple of those, if not more, meaning you could get a better price later.

The opposite is true for a team like the Cowboys, who have the sixth-easiest first half of the season. If you like them to win the NFC East, you probably want to bet them now before their odds shorten.

2nd Half SOS

Rank Team 1st Half Strength of Schedule
1 Atlanta Falcons 73.8
2 Jacksonville Jaguars 71.1
3 Arizona Cardinals 70
4 Carolina Panthers 68.6
5 Los Angeles Rams 68.3
6 New Orleans Saints 67.8
7 San Francisco 49ers 67.4
8 Los Angeles Chargers 66.2
9 Dallas Cowboys 66
10 New York Giants 65.8
11 Denver Broncos 65.7
12 Buffalo Bills 65.6
13 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 65.6
14 Washington Redskins 65.5
15 Philadelphia Eagles 64.9
16 Tennessee Titans 64.8
17 Cincinnati Bengals 63.4
18 Cleveland Browns 63.4
19 New York Jets 63.2
20 Houston Texans 63.2
21 Chicago Bears 63.1
22 New England Patriots 62.9
23 Minnesota Vikings 62.7
24 Las Vegas Raiders 62.3
25 Miami Dolphins 62.3
26 Detroit Lions 62.1
27 Indianapolis Colts 62.1
28 Seattle Seahawks 61.6
29 Kansas City Chiefs 61.1
30 Baltimore Ravens 61.1
31 Green Bay Packers 59.7
32 Pittsburgh Steelers 58.5

*Again, number 1 denotes the toughest schedule, while 32 is the easiest.

The Falcons have a grueling final eight games of the season, while the Steelers have it the easiest down the stretch. The average here is 64.7 with a variance of 11.2.

Everything we discussed above should also consider each team’s strength of schedule over the second half of the season. For example, if you want to bet the Steelers to make the playoffs this season, it’s important to note they start the season with the fifth-toughest first eight games, but have the easiest second half in the league.

This can help you pinpoint the exact week you may get your best price to make this bet.

Why Using Our Strength of Schedule Method Is More Accurate

For starters, free agency, the NFL Draft, and other player/coach movement are all capable of dramatically changing a team in just one offseason – see the 2017 Los Angeles Rams under Sean McVay.

Second, injuries/suspensions to star players, namely quarterbacks, can result in a good team suffering through a bad season – see the 2017 Green Bay Packers without Aaron Rodgers. If you’re going to tell me the Packers are a 7-9 team with Rodgers under center, I’m here to call you crazy.

Sure, online betting sites can be influenced by where the money is going, but their win totals still at least reflect the current team, not the past one.

The 2018 Buffalo Bills are a great example of why using projected win totals to calculate strength of schedule is much more appropriate than last year’s record. If we were judging Buffalo by 2017 alone, they would have been counted as a very respectable 9-7 team.

However, the Bills traded QB Tyrod Taylor in the offseason, and entered 2018 with AJ McCarron and Josh Allen under center. Buffalo should not have been viewed as a nine-win team.

Their 6.5 projected wins were a much closer projection to what they actually were: a 6-win team.

Another example is the 2018 Houston Texans. Only getting six starts out of Deshaun Watson before he tore his ACL, and missing JJ Watt (among others) for 11 games resulted in the 2017 Texans posting an awful 4-12 record.

But with both of those players back in 2018, they posted an 11-5 record. Regarding them as a 9.5-win team like sportsbooks suggested was much closer to the team they were.

How Can Strength of Schedule Help You as a Bettor?

No offseason NFL bets should be made before at least considering strength of schedule.

Whether you’re betting Super Bowl futures, NFL win totals, player awards, or even a prop as obscure as the first head coach to be fired, strength of schedule is going to play a major role.

An easy regular season schedule is likely to lead to a higher-seed come playoff time. And with each of the last seven Super Bowls consisting of one of the top two seeds in each conference, it’s clear that home field advantage is significant in the postseason.

Past NFL MVP Winners

Year NFL MVP Team Record
2019 Lamar Jackson 14-2
2018 Patrick Mahomes 12-4
2017 Tom Brady 13-3
2016 Matt Ryan 11-5
2015 Cam Newton 15-1
2014 Aaron Rodgers 12-4
2013 Peyton Manning 13-3
2012 Adrian Peterson 10-6
2011 Aaron Rodgers 15-1
2010 Tom Brady 14-2

When it comes to player awards, the average number of regular season wins for the last ten NFL MVPs is 12.9.

So once you have narrowed down your list of potentials for the MVP, it would be wise to consult which of your candidates face easy/difficult schedules, since they’ll likely need to win at least 12 games to take home the honor.

Archived NFL Strength of Schedule: 2019, 2018

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