Early Look At 2013 NFL Strength Of Schedule

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Each year the NFL makes a big production about 'releasing the schedule' in April. But with the close of the regular season, the NFL's scheduling formula has already determined which teams will face each other, just not when and in what sequence.

And with that info, we can take a quick look at how the 2012 Strength Of Schedule plays out for the Cowboys and other teams. But there's more to Strength of Schedule than just the outliers.

Understanding Strength of Schedule (SOS)

One thing that's often misunderstood in discussion about SOS is the impact a team's own record has on its own SOS: Let's assume you're an 8-8 team and your SOS is exactly .500, meaning your opponents in a 16 game regular season have a combined 128-128 W/L record. Now let's assume you're own W/L record is 0-16. Everything else being equal, your opponents W/L record would increase by eight wins and decrease by eight losses to 136-120 or .531. Same thing in reverse, a 16-0 record would result an opponent W/L of 120-136, or .469. That is a significant swing in opponent winning percentage (.469 to .531) based on your own winning percentage alone, which in very simple terms means that the more games you win, the softer your SOS gets.

The volatility inherent in the league makes it almost impossible to figure out which teams will have a soft schedule and which teams will have a tough schedule in 2013. On paper, the NFL scheduling formula actually delivers a fairly balanced schedule year after year. Here's how the highs and lows in terms of SOS compare over time:

SOS by Year
Year 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
High 0.543 0.539 0.598 0.594 0.547 0.555 0.547 0.543
Low
0.445 0.461 0.387 0.414 0.445 0.441 0.453 0.430
Cowboys 0.504 0.496 0.523 0.516 0.543 0.504 0.504 0.475

Overall SOS: The Cowboys' 2013 opponents finished the 2012 season with a combined 121-134-1 record, a winning percentage of 0.475. That is the 25th "toughest" schedule, which makes the Cowboys 2013 schedule easier than that of most other teams. The Panthers have the toughest schedule with .543, the Broncos have the softest with .430, courtesy of playing in the decrepit AFC West: Denver's three division opponents combined for only 13 wins this year, by far the lowest win totals of non-division winners among all eight divisions (AFC East and AFC South each with 19, all other divisions above 20) . But there are more ways to look at SOS than just winning percentage, and that's what we'll do below.

Quality opponents: Another way to understand just how tough a schedule a team may be facing is to look at the number of quality opponents (teams with nine or more wins in the 2012 regular season). The Lions and Packers face a daunting task next year, both having to face 10 quality opponents. The Vikings rank third with 9 quality opponents. Five teams (NE, ATL, TB, NYJ, BUF) get a fairly easy schedule in terms of quality opponents, as they only have to face such opponents five times.

Points differential: Yet another way to look at the quality of your opponent is through points differential. The Panthers face 16 opponents in 2013 who had a positive combined points differential in 2012 of +507 points. At the other end of the spectrum, the Broncos face 16 teams next season who combined for an astonishing -784 points differential. Of course, if you get to face the Chiefs (-214) and the Raiders (-153) twice each next year, those numbers start adding up mighty fast. The Cowboys are 23rd on this list with -118.

2013 Schedule under the Microscope (click column subheaders to sort)

Team OPP.
W/L
Opp.
Win %
Games vs quality
opponents
Point
Differential
CAR 138-116-2 0.543 7 507
NO 137-117-2 0.539 6 439
STL 137-117-2 0.539 8 283
DET 138-118-0 0.539 10 366
BAL 137-119-0 0.535 8 504
GB 136-119-1 0.533 10 398
ARI 131-121-4 0.520 7 96
SF 132-122-2 0.520 7 8
MIA 133-123-0 0.520 6 249
SEA 130-122-4 0.516 7 -107
MIN 132-124-0 0.516 9 447
JAC 129-125-2 0.508 7 -369
CIN 130-126-0 0.508 7 163
NE 130-126-0 0.508 5 46
ATL 128-126-2 0.504 5 284
CHI 128-127-1 0.502 8 110
TB 127-127-2 0.500 5 160
WAS 127-128-1 0.498 8 24
NYJ 127-129-0 0.496 5 115
PHI 127-129-0 0.496 8 92
CLE 126-130-0 0.492 8 64
PIT 126-130-0 0.492 8 -3
TEN 124-130-2 0.488 7 -380
NYG 123-133-0 0.480 7 -133
DAL 121-134-1 0.475 8 -118
BUF 121-135-0 0.473 5 0
KC 121-135-0 0.473 6 -409
HOU 120-134-2 0.472 7 -480
OAK 120-136-0 0.469 6 -446
IND 117-137-2 0.461 6 -488
SD 117-139-0 0.457 7 -638
DEN 110-146-0 0.430 6 -784

In 2013, the Dallas Cowboys will play three home games and three away games against the NFC East; they will play one game each against the NFC North and the AFC West; finally, they'll play the third-place teams from the NFC South (Saints) and NFC West (Rams).

The home and away matchups have also already been determined. Per the NFL Record & Fact Book these are:

  • Home: Redskins, Giants, Eagles - Packers, Vikings, Broncos, Raiders, Rams.
  • Away: Redskins, Giants, Eagles - Bears, Lions, Chiefs, Chargers, Saints.

The 2012 season is behind us, and now we begin our transition to the 2013 season. What are your thoughts on 2013's schedule?

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