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2016 Strength Of Schedule: Did Cowboys And Eagles Benefit From A Soft Start?

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The NFC East is off to the strongest start it has enjoyed in quite some time, and there are grumblings about the soft schedule the East may have faced. We take a look at the numbers.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

2-1, 2-2, 1-3, and 1-3. Those are the records of the four teams the Cowboys have faced so far this year. That combined opponent W/L record of 6-9 means a winning percentage of .400, the ninth-lowest any team in the league has faced through Week 4. The easiest schedules so far have been faced by the Broncos and Chargers, who faced teams with a combined 0.313 winning percentage (5-11), as well as the Eagles and Lions, whose opponents have a .333 winning percentage through four weeks.

The Eagles? But didn't they just beat up on the mighty, mighty Steelers? Doesn't matter, because they also faced the 0-4 Browns and 1-3 Bears. The Eagles, despite assurances from their fans to the contrary, have played a softer schedule so far than the Cowboys.

We get a similar picture when we look at the combined points differential of each team's opponents. The Cowboys' opponents have a combined -63 points differential, the sixth lowest total in the league, while the Eagles have the seventh lowest total in the league with a -63 opponent point differential (though the Eagles still have a game in hand). Leading all teams are the Broncos with a combined -81 opponent points differential.

Before we get any deeper into Strength of Schedule (SOS) discussions, here's something to keep in mind: To a large degree, a team's strength of schedule is determined by its own W/L record.

Take the 3-1 Cowboys. Assuming they were 1-3 instead of 3-1, their combined opponent W/L record would be 8-7 (.533) instead of 6-9 (.400). That's quite a significant swing 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.

The rest of the season:

If you're worried that the soft start will lead to a tough schedule down the road for the Cowboys, you may be right. The Cowboys' opponents for the remainder of the season currently have a combined winning percentage of 0.550 (22-18), which makes the Cowboys' remaining schedule the eighth-toughest in the league. But a lot of that has to do with having to play in the NFC East.

  • The NFC East has a better winning record (.714, 10-4) than any other division.
  • The NFC East is the only division without a losing team (regardless of the outcome of tonight's game)
  • The NFC East leads all divisions with a +81 points differential.

That automatically means that the remaining schedules of the other NFC East teams must be hard too. In fact, all three have tougher remaining schedules than the Cowboys do. The Eagles have the toughest remaining schedule of any NFL team with a .636 (28-16) opponent win percentage, the Giants follow at No. 3 with .585 (24-17), and the Redskins come in at No. 5 (.575, 23-17).

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 to your heart's content.

2016 Strength Of Schedule by team (click column subheaders to sort)

Teams Opponent records Weeks 1-4
Opponent records Weeks 5-17
W
L
% Point Diff. W L % Point Diff.
CAR 11 4 0.733 82 21 23 0.477 -9
TB 11 5 0.688 74 20 24 0.455 22
CHI 10 5 0.667 81 17 23 0.425 -112
TEN 10 5 0.667 15 15 28 0.349 -123
SF 10 6 0.625 59 18 26 0.409 -68
CLE 9 6 0.600 46 23 20 0.535 65
NO 9 6 0.600 45 19 25 0.432 -53
NYG 9 6 0.600 22 24 17 0.585 105
PIT 9 6 0.600 39 21 22 0.488 -14
ARI 9 7 0.563 -25 20 23 0.465 44
CIN 9 7 0.563 31 24 18 0.571 74
NYJ 9 7 0.563 60 20 24 0.455 -32
WAS 8 7 0.533 16 23 17 0.575 158
BUF 8 8 0.500 18 21 23 0.477 -34
KC 8 8 0.500 11 23 21 0.523 -16
MIA 8 8 0.500 29 19 25 0.432 -1
OAK 8 8 0.500 2 19 25 0.432 -34
JAC 7 8 0.467 16 24 19 0.558 -11
GB 5 6 0.455 -10 26 19 0.578 74
HOU 7 9 0.438 -46 20 22 0.476 -5
IND 7 9 0.438 26 23 19 0.548 -60
NE 7 9 0.438 9 23 21 0.523 33
MIN 6 8 0.429 -21 19 23 0.452 2
DAL 6 9 0.400 -63 22 18 0.550 23
ATL 6 10 0.375 -74 22 20 0.524 100
BAL 6 10 0.375 -47 23 19 0.548 68
LA 6 10 0.375 -2 19 24 0.442 30
SEA 6 10 0.375 -74 21 21 0.500 75
DET 5 10 0.333 -66 25 15 0.625 34
PHI 4 8 0.333 -48 28 16 0.636 120
DEN 5 11 0.313 -81 21 23 0.477 -11
SD 5 11 0.313 -69 24 20 0.545 -19

So, did the Cowboys and Eagles benefit from soft starts? We saw above that a team's SOS over the first four weeks is in large part a result of its own W&/L record. In hindsight, it looks like both the Eagles and the Cowboys have played soft schedules so far, but if both teams were at 1-3, nobody would be talking about a soft schedule.

Four weeks is probably too short a period to make any meaningful conclusions about SOS. Collectively we may feel very good about the Cowboys' 3-1 record, just as we collectively may look down our noses at Philly's 3-0 record, but at the end of the day, the wins are in the books and it doesn't matter how they were achieved.

Ultimately, you can only play the teams on your schedule, whoever those teams may be, and whatever those teams' W/L record might look like at any given time. You just need to be careful not to assume that because you won three out of your first four games, you'll automatically win nine out of your remaining 12 games.