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2011 Strength Of Schedule: Cowboys Have Toughest Start

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2-3, 4-1, 3-1 and 5-0. Those are the records of the teams the Cowboys have faced so far this year. That combined opponent winning percentage of .737 is the highest any team in the league has faced through week five. And with the 4-1 Patriots on the schedule for Sunday, there is no question that the Cowboys have had a tough start to the season.

The schedules of our division rivals have been nowhere near as tough. The division-leading Redskins accumulated their 3-1 record against a 0.333 winning percentage (6-12), the third-easiest schedule in the league. The Giants eked out their 3-2 record against teams with a combined winning percentage of 0.304 (7-16), the easiest schedule so far of any team in the league. At 1-4, the Eagles have done their level best to ensure that their opponents notch a couple of extra wins. As a result, the Eagles have accrued an opponent W/L of 13-11 and the tenth toughest schedule with a 0.542 opponent winning percentage.

Through the first five weeks the Cowboys’ opponents also lead the league in points differential with +150 points. The Redskins (-90, 29th) and Giants (-107, 31st) predictably rank near the bottom of the list in this category, while the Eagles rank 15th with a +9 opponent points differential.

After the break, we look at what's ahead for all NFL teams.

Strength Of Schedule: Before we look at what weeks six through 16 hold for the Cowboys and the NFC East, here's a thought on Strength Of Schedule (SOS) in general: One of the strongest drivers of a team's SOS is almost always the number of wins that team gets in a season. 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 the 2008 Lions. Your 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 for the 2007 Patriots, but in reverse: Their 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 - and vice versa.

Weeks 6-17: Down the stretch, the Cowboys face the currently still winless Rams and Dolphins, as well as the one-win Cardinals and Eagles, the latter of which the Cowboys will face twice. Especially the Philly games are likely going to be a lot harder than the teams' individual records would currently indicate, but the SOS does not take that into consideration.

The Cowboys' opponents for the remainder of the season have a combined winning percentage of 0.439 (25-32), which gives the Cowboys the seventh easiest remaining schedule in terms of opponent W/L record. In terms of opponent points differential, the Cowboys also have the seventh easiest schedule, as opponents have been outscored by 93 points so far.

The Redskins currently have an even easier remaining schedule than the Cowboys, as their opponent winning percentage currently stands at 0.431 (25-33), which gives the Redskins the fifth easiest remaining schedule in the league. The Eagles also have a soft schedule ahead of them, ranking twelfth with 0.480 (24-26). The Giants have drawn the short straw in the division as they face the most potent offenses down the stretch (+220 opponent points differential, tops in the league) and the second toughest schedule with 0.608 (31-20).

All of this data is summarized in the table below. For your convenience, the table is sortable and the NFC East teams are highlighted with colored rows. Click on any of the column sub-headers (W, L, %, PD) to sort the table in ascending or descending order.

2011 Strength Of Schedule by team (click column subheaders to sort)

Teams Opponent records through week 5
Opponent records week 6-17
 W
L
% Point Diff. W L % Point Diff.
DAL 14 5 0.737 150 25 32 0.439 -93
DEN 18 7 0.720 103 29 25 0.537 52
CHI 17 8 0.680 122 28 27 0.509 -30
MIA 15 9 0.625 66 29 24 0.547 44
MIN 15 10 0.600 -55 33 21 0.611 157
NYJ 13 10 0.565 53 26 26 0.500 19
OAK 14 11 0.560 83 28 25 0.528 -102
KC 14 11 0.560 81 28 26 0.519 49
STL 10 8 0.556 79 33 25 0.569 60
IND 13 11 0.542 -85 28 26 0.519 112
PHI 13 11 0.542 9 24 26 0.480 -41
NE 13 11 0.542 19 21 31 0.404 -168
CAR 13 12 0.520 -2 29 25 0.537 -59
JAC 13 12 0.520 49 26 27 0.491 19
ATL 13 12 0.520 -26 26 29 0.473 65
BUF 13 12 0.520 -15 24 27 0.471 -69
SEA 13 12 0.520 20 21 28 0.429 -15
CIN 12 12 0.500 -2 23 28 0.451 -57
TB 12 13 0.480 54 28 26 0.519 84
NO 12 13 0.480 17 23 31 0.426 -174
PIT 11 13 0.458 28 25 26 0.490 -36
SF 11 13 0.458 -59 23 27 0.460 5
TEN 10 13 0.435 -35 24 31 0.436 -110
BAL 8 11 0.421 -47 28 30 0.483 -60
DET 10 14 0.417 -123 32 23 0.582 85
ARI 10 14 0.417 -5 24 26 0.480 57
HOU 10 14 0.417 -36 22 31 0.415 -171
GB 10 15 0.400 -60 29 25 0.537 -95
SD 8 16 0.333 -92 31 23 0.574 58
WAS 6 12 0.333 -90 25 33 0.431 81
CLE 6 13 0.316 -57 29 28 0.509 76
NYG 7 16 0.304 -107 31 20 0.608 220