The 2023 NFL schedule has been a topic of conversations after the NFL released each teams’ schedule for the 2023-24 season on May 11th. After viewing your favorite teams’ schedule for this season, you might have asked yourself, “How much will a beer cost in Germany?”, or “Why doesn’t my favorite team play in any Prime Time games this year?”. Well, the answer to that second question is because the Colts sucks, okay, Kevin!? Oh, and a beer at a German sports event costs about $10 (9 euros). Drink responsibly, mein Freund!
Other websites and blogs seem to be infatuated with “Strength of Schedule”, as if THAT is what’s going to determine just how well your team does in the upcoming season. But just how much of a factor does the strength of schedule play? I, being the open-minded and impartial, unofficial NFL analyst that I am, decided to dig into this little quandary. And I mean DIGG. Like, more digg’n than there are Diggs in the NFL…which there are three (Stefon, Trevon, and Quandre). You dig?
When we look at the 2022 Strength of Schedule, we see that the 2021 Champion Los Angeles Rams had the toughest road BACK to the Super Bowl in 2022, which is how it should be for the previous years’ Super Bowl winner, right? The fact that the Rams finished the 2022 season with the sixth worst record could be because of the difficult schedule, OR it could be because Quarterback, Matt Stafford sustained a season-ending injury during their ninth regular season game and the Rams were left to rely on John Wolford, Bryce Perkins, and eventually Baker Mayfield at QB for the duration of the season. Ouch!
Not to mention that the Rams also lost one of the best Wide Receivers in the game, Cooper Kupp, to a season-ending injured during that very same game. Double OUCH! The fact that the Rams were 3-5 going into that game wasn’t good, but the “strength of schedule” didn’t help their chances of finishing the season with a winning record.
The Arizona Cardinals had the second toughest schedule coming into 2022, and they sure let it show by getting repeatedly pummeled, finishing the season with the third worst record in the NFL. To be fair, Kyler Murray is a bad quarterback. Yes, that IS fair, because I only used the word “bad”. Murray started 11 of 17 regular season games, missing two games in each of November, December, and January. However, in the games that Murray started, the Cardinals were 3-8 (winning one of those games in OT), and pretty much out of the playoffs just based on that alone.
So, I can’t imagine that the Cardinals would have finished any better than their 4-13 record even if Murray had played every game.
At this point you may be thinking, “Geez, Jeff, it sure looks like Strength of Schedule is a direct factor in the outcome of how a team will finish a season”, but much like a bad infomercial, you have to wait…because there’s more! The Cincinnati Bengals, who were the AFC Champions in 2021, had the third toughest schedule set for 2022.
However, the Bengals finished 2022 with a record of 12-4 (sixth best record in the NFL) and made it back to the AFC Championship game where they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, who (coincidentally) were tied with the fifth hardest schedule of 2022, but still managed to go 14-3, which was tied for the best record in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles! Do you want to know who the Chiefs were tied with at fifth for the hardest 2022 schedule? Of course you do! It was the San Francisco 49ers, who finished the 2022 season at 13-4, which was good enough to be tied for the fourth best record in the NFL!
Nobody must have told the Bengals, Chiefs, nor 49ers that they were going to have it tough for 2022, because they didn’t seem to care.
The only other team I didn’t mention that was in the top five for toughest schedules of 2022 was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished wildly mediocre with a record of 8-9.
The Bucs made the playoffs in 2022 but were promptly bounced by the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card round. Without having Tom Brady and playing in arguably the worst division in the NFL (NFC South), the Bucs probably would have finished just as poorly as the Arizona Cardinals. The good news is that the Bucs are still in the same garbage division this year, so they have a shot at making the playoffs again.
The bad news is that Tom Brady retired, so they will likely end up in the basement being led by Baker Mayfield who also leads the NFL over the last five season in interceptions. Sorry Tampa! Looking at the other end of the 2022 Strength of Schedule (or Ease of Schedule), the Cowboys and the Washington Commanders were tied with the easiest schedules for the 2022 season, followed by the Eagles, and then the New York Giants. If you didn’t catch that, it was ALL the NFC East teams. And some people have the gall to say that after last year, the NFC East is the toughest division in football?! HA! You’re funny.
As mentioned before, the Cowboys beat the worst division winner in the NFC (Bucs) in the Wild Card round, and then proceeded to the Divisional Round where they lost to the 49ers, who started Mr. Irrelevant (Brock Purdy) at quarterback. Some people might say that the Cowboys took advantage of an easy schedule just to make it as far as they did. And by “some people” I mean “me”. The Commanders on the other hand, were such a bad team that they couldn’t even put together a winning record for the season despite having the “easiest” schedule in the league. How do you have the easiest schedule in football, and you can’t even get above .500!? I fear for the Commanders to finish dead last in the NFC in 2023.
As mentioned before, the Eagles finished tied for the best record in the NFL in 2022, but they also had the third easiest schedule. Honestly, I don’t think it would have mattered. Yes, they have a young quarterback in Jalen Hurts, but they also have one of the most complete teams in the NFC, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles finish 2023 with the best record in the NFC again.
The Giants also made the playoffs (luckily, as the seventh seed) in 2022 with a record of 9-7-1 (again, with the fourth easiest schedule), and went to Minnesota for the Wild Card round, beating the Vikings convincingly. This doesn’t mean that the Giants were a serious contender though. It just means that the Vikings continue to be one of the NFLs biggest choke-artists.
The Detroit Lions and the Jacksonville Jaguars had the fifth easiest and tied for sixth easiest schedules respectively in 2022, and coincidentally finished with the same record of 9-8. The Jags won the weakest division in the AFC (South) but went on to beat the San Diego Chargers in the Wild Card round, while the “Motor City Kitties” were not as lucky meow. The Lions were able to claw their way past the Packers to finish second in the NFC North but didn’t make the playoffs. Both big cat teams had help with the ease of schedule, but the Jags benefitted a bit more by playing their division rivals.
The Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, and Tennessee Titans finished 2022 with a combined record of 14-35-2. To put it in perspective, the Colts, Texans and Titans combined for as many wins as the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles INDIVIDUALLY. Speaking of the Colts, they were tied with the Lions for sixth easiest schedule and finished the 2022 season with the fourth WORST record. That’s right, Kevin! That’s why you have no Prime Time games!
After everything is said and done, how much weight does the Strength of Schedule hold for predicting how a team will finish the season? Not much actually. There were only four teams that finished the 2022 season with an overall record that could be considered as “close” to matching the Strength or “Ease” of Schedule based on the previous years’ records. The Las Vegas Raiders were tied with the New Orleans Saints for the 25th easiest schedule, and the Raiders finished with the 26th best record overall. The Carolina Panthers were tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills for the 19th easiest schedule, and the Panthers finished tied for the 20th best record overall with the Saints, Titans, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, and Cleveland Browns.
The New England Patriots had the 17th easiest schedule for 2022 and they finished tied for 17th best record along with the Buccaneers, and Packers. Finally, the Miami Dolphins had the 12th easiest schedule in 2022 based on Strength of Schedule, and finish tied for the 11th best record with the Lions, Jaguars, Steelers, and Seattle Seahawks. Clear as mud, right?
When you look at your favorite teams’ schedule this year, don’t put too much weight in the records of seasons past. You also don’t have to be Will Hunting to figure out the equation of a winning season. If the team you cheer for has a great quarterback who can stay healthy, and they’re playing either the AFC or NFC South, they have a great shot at making the playoffs. Thanks for the “read”!