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The 49ers Have the Easiest 2021 Schedule, Raiders Have Toughest Based on Proper Strength of Schedule Calculation

Matt McEwan

by Matt McEwan in NFL Football

May 12, 2021 · 5:24 PM PDT

49ers tight end George Kittle flexing
George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates on the field. Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire.
  • The 2021 NFL regular season schedule has been released
  • The 49ers have the easiest schedule in the league based off our proper method for calculating strength of schedule
  • See the teams with the easiest and most difficult schedules in the 2021 NFL season

The 2021 NFL schedule has been released! The season will start with the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, September 9. Week 1 continues with 14 games on Sunday, September 12, and just one Monday Night Football game on September 13 – Baltimore Ravens vs Las Vegas Raiders.

Now that we know who each team plays each week, the next question is, “which team has the easiest/toughest schedule?” We’ve got the correct answer!

Stop listening to others who use last year’s records to calculate strength of schedule – the 49ers should not be viewed as a six-win team. Here’s our more accurate SOS based off NFL win totals, which says San Francisco has the easiest schedule, while the Raiders have the toughest.

Easiest Schedules in 2021 NFL Season

Rank Team Sum of Opponents’ Win Totals
1 San Francisco 49ers 138.2
2 Cleveland Browns 141.9
3 Denver Broncos 142.4
4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 142.6
5 Jacksonville Jaguars 142.7

In calculating our NFL SOS, we take the sum of each team’s opponents’ average win total. Of course, the higher the number, the more difficult your schedule is.

The 49ers were badly bitten by the injury bug in 2020, seeing all of Jimmy Garoppolo (six games played), Raheem Mostert (eight games played), Deebo Samuel (seven games played), Brandon Aiyuk (12 games played), George Kittle (eight games played), Richard Sherman (five games played), and Nick Bosa (two games played) among others, miss significant time.

The result was a 6-10 season that followed their appearance in Super Bowl 54, good for last place in the NFC West. While no team likes being in the basement of their division, the 49ers are going to benefit heavily from this in 2021. No team has an easier schedule than San Francisco this season.

The Browns come in with the next easiest schedule for the 2021 NFL season, although it’s a fair bit tougher than the 49ers. For comparison’s sake, San Francisco’s average opponent in 2021, based off the sum of their opponent’s win totals, is an 8.1-win team, while Cleveland’s is an 8.3-win team. Baker Mayfield and company benefit from a couple games against the Bengals and a third-place schedule.

The Broncos, who had the fifth-toughest schedule in 2020, now enjoy the third-easiest this season after finishing last in the AFC West.

But let’s take a closer look at the 49ers’ 2021 schedule:

49ers 2021 Schedule

Week 49ers’ Opponent Opponent’s Average Win Total
1 at Detroit Lions 5.2
2 at Philadelphia Eagles 6.5
3 vs Green Bay Packers 10.5
4 vs Seattle Seahawks 9.5
5 at Arizona Cardinals 8.2
7 vs Indianapolis Colts 9.8
8 at Chicago Bears 7.5
9 vs Arizona Cardinals 8.2
10 vs Los Angeles Rams 10.5
11 at Jacksonville Jaguars 6.5
12 vs Minnesota Vikings 8.5
13 at Seattle Seahawks 9.5
14 at Cincinnati Bengals 6.5
15 vs Atlanta Falcons 7.5
16 at Tennessee Titans 9.5
17 vs Houston Texans 3.8
18 at Los Angeles Rams 10.5

I was admittedly a little taken aback to see San Francisco come out with the easiest record when I ran the calculation, simply because the NFC West is a pretty tough division. Arizona’s average win total is 8.2, LA’s is 10.5, and Seattle’s is 9.5. There’s no easy game in there.

But when you see the 49ers’ out-of-division schedule, it all makes sense. The NFC West matches up with the NFC North, which brings at least one (perceived) easy game against Detroit (where the 49ers have opened as 7.5-point favorites in Week 1), and the AFC South, which brings two (perceived) easy games against the Jaguars and Texans. Then their extra three games come against the Eagles, Falcons, and Bengals – the benefit of finishing last in your division the year prior.

Five of San Francisco’s 17 games will be played against teams with win 2021 totals lower than seven, while another two come against teams with win totals lower than eight. They only have to deal with two teams whose win totals are greater than ten: the Rams (twice) and Packers. The latter’s win total would drop significantly without Aaron Rodgers as well.

What can you do with this information? Based off our performance last year, betting the over on San Francisco’s win total, which is set at 10.5 (with +107 odds on the over at DraftKings), would be a smart play. Last year, four of the teams with the five toughest schedules, based off our SOS model, went over their respective win totals.

Another betting opportunity would be to take the 49ers to win the NFC West. They are the favorites right now, but you can still find their NFL divisional odds at +185 at FanDuel. Looking to their divisional foes, everyone else has a much tougher road in 2021.

If we focus in solely on those three extra games – since they all play each other, the NFC North, and the AFC South – San Francisco’s opponents’ win totals only add up to 20.5. The Seahawks’, who possess the 16th-toughest schedule, three extra opponents (Washington, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh) add up to 25.9 projected wins; the Rams’, who possess the 13th-toughest schedule, extra opponents (New York Giants, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore) add up to 29.5 projected wins; and the Cardinals’, who possess the seventh-toughest schedule, extra opponents (Dallas, Carolina, and Cleveland) add up to 26.8 projected wins.

Toughest Schedules in 2021 NFL Season

Rank Team Sum of Opponents’ Win Totals
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

On the other end of the spectrum, we don’t have one team that really stands out above the rest as being a lot more difficult than others. The Raiders do hold the title of most difficult schedule in 2021, though.

Pittsburgh trails closely behind with the sum of their opponents’ win totals being 152.8, just 0.7 wins easier than Las Vegas. Houston, Cincinnati, and Detroit, all teams who already had lower expectations coming into the season, round out the top five toughest schedules this season.

Raiders 2021 Schedule

Week Raiders’ Opponent Opponent’s Win Total
1 vs Baltimore Ravens 10.8
2 at Pittsburgh Steelers 8.5
3 vs Miami Dolphins 8.8
4 at Los Angeles Chargers 9.2
5 vs Chicago Bears 7.5
6 at Denver Broncos 8.8
7 vs Philadelphia Eagles 6.5
9 at New York Giants 7.2
10 vs Kansas City Chiefs 12.2
11 vs Cincinnati Bengals 6.5
12 at Dallas Cowboys 9.5
13 vs Washington Football Team 8.2
14 at Kansas City Chiefs 12.2
15 at Cleveland Browns 9.8
16 vs Denver Broncos 8.8
17 at Indianapolis Colts 9.8
18 vs Los Angeles Chargers 9.2

The Raiders jump right into a tough opponent to open the 2021 season, as they host the Ravens on Monday Night Football of Week 1. Las Vegas has opened as a 5-point underdog. It doesn’t get a ton easier over the first month, as they head to Pittsburgh in Week 2, host the Dolphins in Week 3, and visit the Chargers in Week 4, all of whom have average win totals of 8.5 or better.

Of course, seeing the Chiefs, who have an NFL-high average win total of 12.2, twice in one season isn’t something many would look forward to. Las Vegas only plays four teams with average win totals lower than 8.2, and play eight games against teams with win totals higher than nine.

What should you do with this as a bettor? Last year, four of the five teams with the toughest schedules, based on our SOS model, went under their respective win totals, while one pushed. Not a single one went over. So that would suggest betting the under on Vegas’ win total, which is set at seven on DraftKings, would be a good bet.

I’d avoid paying the -455 price on the Raiders missing the playoffs, however. The odds are just too short.

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