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 2014 Strength Of Schedule plays out for the Cowboys and every other NFL team.
Understanding Strength of Schedule (SOS)
One thing that's often misunderstood in discussions about SOS is the impact a team's own record has on its own SOS: Let's assume you're an 8-8 team (no pun intended) 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 actual 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 2014. 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|
Overall SOS: The Cowboys' 2013 opponents finished the 2013 season with a combined 125-131 record for a .488 winning percentage. That is the 18th "toughest" schedule, smack bang in the middle of the league. The Raiders have the toughest schedule with .578, the Colts have the softest with .430, courtesy of playing in the decrepit AFC South: Indy'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 (NFC East 18, NFC AFC South 19, all other divisions 20 or more). But there are more ways to look at SOS than just winning percentage.
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 2013 regular season). The Raiders, Broncos, and Rams all have quite a task ahead of them next year, as they'll all have to face ten quality opponents. The 49ers and Seahawks follow with nine quality opponents each. At the other end of the spectrum, the Vikings will only face three quality opponents next year, five teams (CHI, DET, NO, HOU, IND) get a fairly easy schedule in terms of quality opponents, as they only have to face such opponents four times.
Points differential: Yet another way to look at the quality of your opponent is through points differential. The Raiders face 16 opponents in 2014 who had a positive combined points differential in 2013 of +811 points. At the other end of the spectrum, the Titans face 16 teams next season who combined for an astonishing -732 points differential this year. Of course, if you get to face the Texans (-152) and the Jaguars (-202) twice each next year, those numbers start adding up quickly. The Cowboys are 23rd on this list with -228.
2014 Schedule under the Microscope (click column subheaders to sort)
|Games vs quality
In 2014, 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 West and the AFC South; finally, they'll play the second-place teams from the NFC North (Bears) and NFC South (Saints).
The home and away matchups have also already been determined. Per the NFL Record & Fact Book these are:
- Home: , , - , - , - Saints
- Away: Eagles, Giants, Redskins - , - , - Bears
The 2013 season is behind us, and now we begin our transition to the 2014 season. What are your thoughts on 2014's schedule?