When we first took a look at the 2017 Strength Of Schedule (SOS) at the end of last season, we saw that the Cowboys' 2017 opponents finished the 2016 season with a combined 134-118-4 record for a .531 winning percentage, the 10th "toughest" schedule in the league.
Now that the regular season is nearing its end, we can take a look at how the schedule has actually played out so far. Through Monday, Dec. 4, the Cowboys SOS is .479, which is the ninth easiest schedule in the league.
That swing in SOS didn't help the Cowboys much, as they're still only 6-6, but one of the reasons we're keeping a keen eye on SOS is because it is used as a tiebreaker to determine final draft spots.
These are the rules for determining the draft order for the 2018 draft:
- Teams that make the playoffs receive the last 12 draft picks from position 21-32, ordered by which round of the playoffs they were eliminated.
- Teams that didn't make the playoffs are ordered by their regular season W/L record.
- The tiebreaker for teams with identical records is the Strength of Schedule. For the draft order, the lower SOS results in an earlier pick.
- If the SOS does not resolve a tie, a division or conference tiebreaker is used. If that fails as well, draft order is determined by a coin toss during the NFL Combine.
So there you have it. SOS will play a key role in determining the Cowboys' draft position, and a soft SOS is definitely a good thing to have. An extract of the current 2018 draft order illustrates the point.
9. Cardinals: 5-7 (.490 SOS)
10. Jets: 5-7 (.516 SOS)
11. Redskins: 5-7 (.521 SOS)
12. Dolphins: 5-7 (.552 SOS)
13. Bengals: 5-6 (.468 SOS)
14. Chargers: 6-6 (.453 SOS)
15. Cowboys: 6-6 (.479 SOS)
16. Raiders: 6-6 (.490 SOS)
17. Lions: 6-6 (.495 SOS)
18. Bills: 6-6 (.508 SOS)
19. Packers: 6-6 (.532 SOS)
20. Falcons: 7-5 (.557 SOS)
Six teams currently have a 6-6 record, and if the draft were to start now, they'd be picking between the 14th and the 20th overall picks. The Cowboys have the second-lowest SOS of that group, so they'd be picking 15th.
That's some significant draft capital determined by SOS alone. The trusty draft value chart suggests the difference between the 14th pick, currently held by the 6-6 Chargers, and the 19th pick, currently held by the 6-6 Packers, is 225 points, the equivalent of a pick at the top of the third round.
Of course, there's a chance the Cowboys could win their remaining four games, which would push them a little lower on the draft board, but if they were vying with another 10-6 team for a draft spot, odds are the Cowboys would get the better spot - unless that team are the Chargers with their fourth-softest SOS.
But there's also a chance the Cowboys finish the season 8-8, and then they'll be competing with a lot of the teams above for a draft spot. And SOS is firmly in their favor.
If you are unsure which teams to root for over the coming weeks and want to secure a favorable draft pick for the Cowboys, root against the teams the Cowboys have already played or will play this year. The more losses the Cowboys' opponents pile up, the more the Cowboys' SOS goes down. In the end, this may well be worth a couple of draft spots between April 26 and April 28.