Looking ahead to next year's schedule just two days after the end of the regular season is always a tricky proposition. The Dallas Cowboys are a good example for the vagaries of Strength of Schedule (SOS) calculations yo-yoing from 12-4 in 2014 to 4-12 in 2015, and back up to 13-3 in 2016.
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 2017. 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 the last ten years:
|SOS by Year|
Overall SOS: The Cowboys' 2017 opponents finished the 2016 season with a combined 134-118-4 record for a .531 winning percentage (if we count each tie as half a win), one of the toughest schedules they've faced over the last decade. Overall, that .531 SOS is the 10th "toughest" schedule.
Part of that tough schedule is driven by the six divisional games the Cowboys will play against the 11-5 Giants, the 8-7-1 Redskins, and the 7-9 Eagles. Part of it is also driven by the Cowboys having to play the AFC West, which combined for 38 wins in 2016, one less than the league-leading NFC East. And having to play a first-place schedule, which entails games against the 11-5 Falcons and 10-6 Packers, does the rest.
The four AFC West teams have the toughest 2017 schedules, led by the Broncos with .578. The AFC West has the dubious honor of playing the NFC East, the best division in football in 2016, and the AFC East, the third-best division in football with 36 wins in 2016.
The Colts have the softest schedule in the league with .424, first because they play in the decrepit AFC South, and second because they have the equally decrepit NFC West on their schedule. But there are more ways to look at SOS than just winning percentage.
Winning opponents: Another way to understand just how tough a schedule a team may be facing is to look at the number of with a winning record (teams with nine or more wins in the 2016 regular season). Two teams (Chargers, Chiefs) play 10 such games, nine teams only play six such games next season. All four NFC East teams face exactly eight such opponents each.
Point differential: Yet another way to look at the quality of your opponent is through point differential. The Raiders play 16 games in 2017 against opponents that had a positive combined point differential in 2016 of +478 points. Bringing up the rear are the Jaguars, whose 2017 opponents combined for a -508 point differential in 2016. The Cowboys are 9th on this list with a combined opponent score of +237.
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).
|2017 Strength Of Schedule By Team
|Team||Opp W/L||Opp Win %||9+ win opponents||Point Differential|
Like every year, the Cowboys will play three home games and three away games against the NFC East in 2017. The NFC division on the schedule for 2017 is the NFC West; the AFC division is the AFC West. Finally, they'll play the first-placed teams from the NFC South and NFC North.
The home and away matchups have also already been determined. Per the NFL Record & Fact Book these are:
|NFC 1st place teams
The incredible 2016 regular season is behind us, and while we'll now focus our attention on the playoffs, a little peek at the 2017 schedule won't hurt anybody.
What are your thoughts on the 2017 schedule?