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The Proper Way to Calculate 2021 NFL Strength of Schedule

Updated May 10th, 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!┬áThere 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.

2021 NFL Strength of Schedule

Rank Team Combined Win Totals of 2021 Opponents
1 Las Vegas Raiders 153.5
2 Pittsburgh Steelers 152.8
3 Houston Texans 151.8
4 Cincinnati Bengals 150.8
5 Detroit Lions 150.1
6 Washington Football Team 150
7 Arizona Cardinals 149.1
8 New Orleans Saints 148.9
9 Chicago Bears 148.6
10 New York Giants 148.3
11 Kansas City Chiefs 147.9
12 Baltimore Ravens 147.8
13 Los Angeles Rams 147.2
14 Minnesota Vikings 146.9
15 Green Bay Packers 146.3
16 Seattle Seahawks 145.6
17 New England Patriots 145.4
18 Philadelphia Eagles 145.1
19 Atlanta Falcons 145
20 Los Angeles Chargers 144.9
21 New York Jets 144.1
22 Tennessee Titans 143.8
23 Carolina Panthers 143.3
24 Buffalo Bills 143.2
25 Miami Dolphins 142.9
26 Indianapolis Colts 142.8
T26 Dallas Cowboys 142.8
28 Jacksonville Jaguars 142.7
29 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 142.6
30 Denver Broncos 142.4
31 Cleveland Browns 141.9
32 San Francisco 49ers 138.2

Using average 2021 NFL win totals, we have come up with our own strength of schedule by adding the projected wins of each team’s 17 opponents this season.

The median sum of 2021 opponents’ win totals is 145.5, while the average (mode) is 146.1. The variance in this calculation is 12.5. Also, in looking to team’s average win totals, there is a surplus of three wins.

Toughest 2021 Schedule

It should come as no surprise that a team who has to play the Kansas City Chiefs twice this season is the team with the toughest schedule. The Las Vegas Raiders are in tough in 2021, largely due to the fact that they finished second in the AFC West last season.

As a result, their extra two games against AFC opponents come against teams who finished second in their respective divisions last year, the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts. Their extra, 17th opponent this season is the Chicago Bears, who are trending in the right direction after drafting Justin Fields.

The Raiders only play two games against teams with win totals less than seven (Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles), and only four games against teams with average win totals less than 8.2. Las Vegas’ average opponent in 2021 is a nine-win team.

Easiest 2021 Schedule

After an injury-ravaged 2020 season that saw the 49ers struggle to a 6-10 record, only one year after representing the NFC in the Super Bowl, San Francisco will benefit in 2021 by having the easiest schedule in the league.

Kyle Shanahan’s squad actually has a significantly easier schedule than anyone else, as the sum of their opponents win totals only comes out to 138.2, which is 15.3 fewer wins than the Raiders (toughest) and 3.7 fewer wins than the Browns, who have the next easiest schedule.

San Francisco’s six games against other NFC West teams will be tough, but they get a weaker NFC North that includes the Detroit Lions (avg win total of 5.2), a very weak AFC South that includes the Jacksonville Jaguars (6.5) and Houston Texans (3.8), and their three extra games come against the Philadelphia Eagles (6.5), Atlanta Falcons (7.5), and Cincinnati Bengals (6.5). Their average opponent is an 8.1-win team.

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 or the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Tom Brady.

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, sportsbooks 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 seven of the last eight Super Bowls consisting of one of the top two seeds from each conference, it’s clear that home field advantage is significant in the postseason.

Past NFL MVP Winners

Year NFL MVP Team Record
2020 Aaron Rodgers 13-3
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

When it comes to player awards, the average number of regular season wins for the last ten NFL MVPs is 12.8.

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: 2020, 2019, 2018

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