When we initially looked at the 2016 Strength of Schedule (SOS) immediately after Week 17 of the 2015 season, we found that the Cowboys' 2016 opponents finished the 2015 season with a combined 119-137 record for a .465 winning percentage. On paper, that makes the 2016 schedule the "easiest" the Cowboys have had had in the last 11 years. Overall, the combined opponent win percentage of .465 is only the 28th "toughest" schedule - or the fifth "softest", as you prefer.
However, the inherent volatility in the league means that SOS is not a very reliable predictor of future opponent strength, and 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.
Which is why Rotoworld's Warren Sharp looks at strength of schedule based on "forecasted 2016 wins from the current betting market."
Sports books project win totals for every team, and at this point in the summer, several independent and seasoned linemakers have posted their numbers. The longer their lines are up, the more efficient they become, as the linemakers adjust their win totals based on volume as well as respect they have for certain money that is bet.
Sharp's rationale is that the closer we get to the start of the season, the more efficient the sports book forecasts become, which means we can get a better read on the true SOS as using those data points. Sharp also explains that because bettors tend to bet towards positive outcomes, the average win totals have increased across the league (24 teams saw their win totals bet higher from February 2016 to July 2016, and only 7 saw their win totals bet lower), which means that the cumulative opponent win totals have increased for all teams, though that doesn't change how a team's SOS compares relative to other teams.
Sharp last looked at this betting-line-adjusted SOS in April before the NFL draft, and has just repeated the exercise in July. At first glance, nothing has changed for the Cowboys in Sharp's analysis between April and July; the Cowboys have the softest schedule in the NFL in both periods. But compared to April, the Cowboys' schedule got even easier over the last three months. Here's what Sharp had to say about the Cowboys' SOS:
Cowboys (#32 SOS)
The Cowboys had an easy schedule. The easiest in the NFL. And it got even easier based on the current betting market as compared to the open. Playing 4 games against the Redskins and the Eagles -- the two most faded teams on the market -- was extremely helpful for Dallas' SOS. They also play two teams (Detroit, Pittsburgh) where the market has been neutral, and so overall the Cowboys are still looking at the NFL’s friendliest slate.
While the Cowboys do not have any particularly empty spots on the schedule, they do play two of the three worst teams based on projections (@ CLE, @ SF). From a schedule standpoint, a team should want to play bad opponents on the road and save the most difficult games for their own building. Dallas is also slotted to the maximum primetime games (5), and if you factor in a traditional home game for Thanksgiving, 4 of their 6 highest-profile games will be in Dallas. The only downside to their schedule appears to be that their three toughest opponents (GB, PIT, MIN) all will be played on the road. However, after playing in Pittsburgh on November 13, the Cowboys (a dome team) play just 2 more games outdoors (@ NYG, @ PHI).
Earlier today, our own Dave Halprin looked at the latest ESPN roundtable, where three of the NFC East writers like the Cowboys to win the NFC East in 2016. One writer, John Keim out of Washington, likes the Redskins to take the East, but he may want to reconsider once he looks at at the schedule the Redskins will be facing:
In the Rotoworld ranking, the Redskins face the second-toughest schedule (up from fourth in April), thanks to the first-place schedule Washington will be playing this year. The Eagles face a similarly daunting schedule, as they are ranked with the fifth-toughest schedule (up from 12th). Which may just leave the Giants (30th toughest schedule) and Cowboys to duke it out for the NFC East crown.
And we all know how that will end for the Giants: