Looking ahead to next year's schedule just a day after the end of the regular season is always a tricky proposition. After last season's 8-8 finish, fans of the Cowboys' 2014 opponents were already gleefully penciling in a 'W' for their game against Dallas, but boy were they in for a rude awakening.
In 2014, Dallas was one of three teams (Packers, Lions) to increase their win total by four wins over the 2013 season, but all three were topped by the Texans, who improved by seven wins from 2-14 to 9-7. At the other end of the spectrum, the Saints, Jets, and 49ers all finished with four wins less than in 2013, the Panthers and Titans even dropped five.
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 2015. 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' 2015 opponents finished the 2014 season with a combined 119-136-1 record for a .467 winning percentage, the "easiest" schedule they've had in the last 10 years. Overall, that .467 SOS is the only the 24th "toughest" schedule - or the 9th "easiest", as you prefer.
The Steelers have the toughest schedule with .579, the Falcons have the softest with .406, courtesy of playing in the decrepit NFC South and having the equally decrepit AFC South on their schedule. 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 2014 regular season). Six teams (Steelers, Bengals, Browns; Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders) have quite a task ahead of them next year, as they'll all have to face 11 quality opponents by virtue of either playing in or against the AFC North.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Falcons and Buccaneers will only face four quality opponents next year, nine teams (among them all NFC East teams) get a fairly easy schedule in terms of quality opponents, as they only have to face such opponents six times.
Points differential: Yet another way to look at the quality of your opponent is through points differential. The Steelers face 16 opponents in 2015 who had a positive combined points differential in 2014 of +512 points. Bringing up the rear are the Falcons, whose 2015 opponents combined for a -595 points differential this year. Of course, if you get to face the Buccaneers (-133) twice, and also have the Redskins (-137), Jaguars (-163), and Titans (-184) on your schedule, those numbers start adding up quickly. The Cowboys are 20th on this list with a combined opponent score of -9.
Here is the full list SOS data for all NFL teams, with some other data points added in. For your convenience, the table is sortable (just click on the blue column headers).
|2015 Strength Of Schedule By Team
|Team||Opp W/L||Opp Win %||Games vs
Like every year, the Cowboys will play three home games and three away games against the NFC East in 2015. The NFC division on the schedule for 2015 is the NFC South; the AFC division is the AFC East. Finally, they'll play the first-placed teams from the NFC North and NFC West.
The home and away matchups have also already been determined. Per the NFL Record & Fact Book these are:
|Home Opponents||Away Opponents
The 2014 regular season is behind us, and while we'll now focus our attention on the playoffs for most of this week, a little peak at the 2015 schedule won't hurt anybody. What are your thoughts on the 2015 schedule?