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2016 NFL Strength Of Schedule For Each Team: An Early Look At All 32 Teams

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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 2016 Strength Of Schedule plays out for the Cowboys and every other NFL team.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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
Year 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
High .543 .539 .598 .594 .547 .555 .547 .543 .578 .579 .555
Low
.445 .461 .387 .414 .445 .441 .453 .430 .430 .406 .457
Cowboys .504 .496 .523 .516 .543 .504 .504 .475 .488 .467 .465

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:

Division Home
Away
NFC East Eagles
Eagles
Giants
Giants
Redskins Redskins
NFC North Bears
Packers
Lions
Vikings
AFC North Ravens
Steelers
Bengals Browns
NFC 4th place teams
Buccaneers
49ers

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?