Looking ahead to next year's schedule just two days after the end of the regular season is always a tricky proposition. After the Cowboys finished 12-4 in 2014, fans of the Cowboys' 2015 opponents were definitely not looking forward to playing the Cowboys, but that changed pretty quickly once Tony Romo was out for the Cowboys.
The 2015 Cowboys are a good example for the vagaries of Strength of Schedule (SOS) calculations. In 2015, the 4-12 Cowboys dropped eight wins versus the previous season's 12-4 W/L record, by far the largest such drop in the league and quite a bit ahead of the second-place Ravens and Chargers, who both dropped five wins from their total. At the other end of the spectrum, the Panthers (+8), Jets (+6) and Redskins (+5) all significantly increased their win totals.
This inherent volatility in the league makes it almost impossible to figure out in advance which teams will have a soft schedule and which teams will have a tough schedule in 2016. 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' 2016 opponents finished the 2015 season with a combined 119-137 record for a .465 winning percentage, the "easiest" schedule they've had in the last 11 years. Overall, that .465 SOS is only the 28th "toughest" schedule - or the 5th "easiest", as you prefer.
The Falcons and 49ers have the toughest schedule with .555. The Packers have the softest with .457, courtesy of playing against the decrepit NFC East and having the equally decrepit AFC South on their schedule. But there are more ways to look at SOS than just winning percentage.
8+ win opponents: Another way to understand just how tough a schedule a team may be facing is to look at the number of non-losing opponents (teams with eight or more wins in the 2015 regular season). Three teams (Patriots, Jets, Dolphins) play 10 such games, three teams (Giants, Redskins, Cowboys) only play six such games next season.
Point differential: Yet another way to look at the quality of your opponent is through point differential. The 49ers, in large part because they face the Cardinals and Seahawks twice next year, play 16 games in 2016 against opponents had a positive combined point differential in 2015 of +590 points. Bringing up the rear are the Bears, whose 2016 opponents combined for a -502 point differential in 2015. The Cowboys are 26th on this list with a combined opponent score of -335.
Here is the full list SOS data for all NFL teams. 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 %||8+ win opponents||Point Differential|
|SF||142 - 114||0.555||9||590|
|ATL||142 - 114||0.555||7||272|
|STL||141 - 115||0.551||9||489|
|NO||140 - 116||0.547||8||340|
|TB||139 - 117||0.543||8||257|
|SEA||139 - 117||0.543||8||153|
|NYJ||136 - 120||0.531||10||365|
|ARI||136 - 120||0.531||9||173|
|NE||134 - 122||0.523||10||253|
|BUF||133 - 123||0.520||8||316|
|MIA||132 - 124||0.516||10||424|
|CAR||131 - 125||0.512||8||-44|
|SD||130 - 126||0.508||8||-161|
|DEN||129 - 127||0.504||8||88|
|OAK||128 - 128||0.500||9||-57|
|KC||127 - 129||0.496||8||-143|
|WAS||126 - 130||0.492||6||41|
|MIN||125 - 131||0.488||7||-160|
|BAL||124 - 132||0.484||8||67|
|HOU||124 - 132||0.484||8||-189|
|CLE||123 - 133||0.480||8||139|
|IND||122 - 134||0.477||8||-100|
|PIT||121 - 135||0.473||8||-132|
|JAC||121 - 135||0.473||9||-336|
|TEN||121 - 135||0.473||8||-412|
|PHI||120 - 136||0.469||8||-63|
|CIN||119 - 137||0.465||8||-162|
|DAL||119 - 137||0.465||6||-335|
|DET||119 - 137||0.465||7||-436|
|NYG||118 - 138||0.461||6||-383|
|CHI||118 - 138||0.461||7||-502|
|GB||117 - 139||0.457||7||-352|
Like every year, the Cowboys will play three home games and three away games against the NFC East in 2016. The NFC division on the schedule for 2015 is the NFC North; the AFC division is the AFC North. Finally, they'll play the fourth-placed teams from the NFC South and NFC West.
The home and away matchups have also already been determined. Per the NFL Record & Fact Book these are:
|NFC 4th place teams
The 2015 regular season is behind us, and while we'll now focus our attention on free agency and the draft, a little peak at the 2016 schedule won't hurt anybody.
What are your thoughts on the 2016 schedule?