2014 NFL Strength of Schedule Predictions
Courtesy of Teddy Covers
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Last week in this space, I looked back at last year’s final NFL standings and discussed the impact of strength of schedule models on those results. I differentiated between mainstream ‘widely available’ numbers for the 2013 strength of schedule (simply adding up wins and losses for every opponent) and my own formula, relying on power rating numbers from the week that the game was played.
The goal was simple — getting more accurate numbers to properly assess last year’s results in a strength of schedule context as a starting point for 2014.
We’re done with last year now. This week, I’ll focus on the 2014 NFL strength of schedule as they relate to season win totals. Once again, my goal is to differentiate between the mainstream numbers and the meaningful ones.
Google ‘2014 NFL Strength of Schedule’ and you’ll find countless charts exactly like this one.
Rank – Team – Opponent Win Pct.
1 Oakland Raiders .578
2 Denver Broncos .570
3 St. Louis Rams .564
4 San Diego Chargers .563
4 San Francisco 49ers .563
6 Seattle Seahawks .561
7 Kansas City Chiefs .559
8 Arizona Cardinals .547
9 New York Jets .520
10 New England Patriots .516
11 Atlanta Falcons .512
12 Miami Dolphins .508
13 Green Bay Packers .504
14 Buffalo Bills .500
15 Chicago Bears .496
16 Detroit Lions .492
17 Washington Redskins .490
18 Dallas Cowboys .488
19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers .484
20 Philadelphia Eagles .479
21 Minnesota Vikings .477
22 Carolina Panthers .473
23 Cincinnati Bengals .469
23 New Orleans Saints .469
23 Pittsburgh Steelers .469
26 Cleveland Browns .465
26 New York Giants .465
28 Baltimore Ravens .461
29 Jacksonville Jaguars .453
30 Houston Texans .441
31 Tennessee Titans .438
32 Indianapolis Colts .430
The standard ‘mainstream’ formula is simple. Take every opponent’s wins from last year and every opponent’s losses, add them up and voila, you’ve got numbers showing that the four teams from the AFC South face the four easiest schedules in the NFL with the AFC North teams not far behind. On the ‘hard’ side, it’s all about the teams out West, with the eight toughest schedules coming from AFC West and NFC West teams.
The good news for us is that this information is widely available and quoted everywhere. The oddsmakers use this information when setting their season Over/Under win totals for the upcoming season. In addition, much of the betting marketplace relies on these numbers when making their own wagers.
This is good news for us because the win-loss record of last year’s teams means very little in reality when it comes to projecting three things. First, how good those teams actually were to earn those varying records. Second, how tough a schedule those teams faced to earn that win-loss record. And third, how good those teams will actually be in 2014, as opposed to how good they were last year.
I’ve already focused on how tough a schedule every team faced to earn their record from 2013. Now the focus shifts towards how good their opponents actually are supposed to be this year! Again, the concept is simple and makes perfect sense, but it requires a fair bit of work to execute.
The ‘wiseguy’ or ‘advanced metric’ methodology is not based on last year’s, win-loss records. Rather, they’re based on the projected strength and weaknesses of each team in 2014, based on THIS YEAR’s current Over/Under win totals as set by the betting marketplace. The current juice (vig) is factored into the equation as well, using the standard wiseguy formula of 50 cents of juice equating to approximately half of a win.
An ‘end of the season’ analysis, year after year, will show that trying to use the mainstream numbers for any type of serious betting is an exercise in futility – they’re consistently wrong, from top to bottom. Look at last year for some clear illustrations of why this formula is so flawed. Coming into 2013, the mainstream formula said that the Carolina Panthers would face the toughest schedule in the league, with Detroit, New Orleans, St Louis, Baltimore and Green Bay not far behind. On the easy end of the spectrum were the Broncos, Chargers, Colts, Raiders, Chiefs, Texans and Bills.
When we looked at the actual results at the end of the season, we saw a completely different picture than those mainstream projections. The toughest slates in the NFL were faced by St Louis, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Atlanta, Denver and Indy. The mainstream formula got the Broncos and Colts laughably wrong and didn’t come close on three of the other five.
Meanwhile, Detroit, Baltimore and Green Bay faced three of the easiest schedules in the league (not the hardest, as projected) along with KC, Oakland and Philly. The mainstream method got only one right on this side of the equation; the type of numbers that can legitimately hurt bettors who take them seriously.
Bettors who concentrated on 2013 strength of schedule numbers based on season win totals – the formula I’m touting here — had a much better chance to accurately predict how tough or weak any team’s schedule was going to be. For example, Minnesota, Washington and Baltimore (all of whom went Under their season win totals) were the first three teams I discussed in this space last year as facing ‘tougher than projected’ slates.
So, what do the advanced metric ‘wiseguy’ numbers show for 2014? The toughest schedules aren’t just concentrated in two divisions (AFC West and NFC West) like they are with the mainstream formula. My numbers show that Oakland, Arizona, Carolina and Minnesota face the four toughest slates.
On the easy end of the spectrum, again, it’s not just about two divisions (AFC South and AFC North) like the mainstream formula shows. Yes, Houston, Tennessee, Cleveland and Pittsburgh rank among the easiest, but Cincy faces an above average SOS and Jacksonville’s is the toughest in their division (because, obviously, they don’t face themselves twice). Other notable ‘easier than average’ slates include New England and Washington, neither of whom merits attention in that regard from any mainstream formula.
Developing accurate strength of schedule numbers for the upcoming campaign is no easy task, but these ‘wiseguy’ numbers are absolutely essential when it comes to accurately predicting final regular season records. Bettors who do their homework in this area have a legitimate edge over bettors who don’t.