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2022 strength of schedule: Did Cowboys and Eagles benefit from a soft start?

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.

NFL: NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on your point of view, the Cowboys played the Super Bowl-contending Bucs, last year’s Super Bowl runner up Bengals, and the resurgent Giants so far this year - or they played the Tom-Terrific-took-so-much-time-off Bucs, the overrated Bengals, and the suckalot Giants.

But no matter the narrative being pushed for each team, those three teams have a combined W/L record of 6-4 for a winning percentage of .600. That’s the sixth-toughest season-opening schedule based on the 2022 opponent win percentage. The toughest schedules so far belong to the Commanders, Packers, Lions, and Vikings, whose opponents combined for a 6-3 record (.667). The easiest schedules so far have been faced by the Broncos, who faced teams with a combined 0.278 winning percentage (2-6-1), as well as the Raiders and Browns, whose opponents have a .333 winning percentage through three weeks.

And the mighty, mighty Eagles? Despite assurances from their fans to the contrary, Philly has played a softer schedule so far than the Cowboys, with their opponent W/L coming in at 4-5 (.444), tied with 10 other teams for the 7th softest schedule.

We get a similar picture when we look at the combined points differential of each team’s opponents. The Cowboys’ opponents have a combined +42 points differential, the sixth highest total in the league, while the Eagles at -14 have the 14th lowest. Leading all teams is Washington with +84 opponent point differential, while the 0-3 Raiders sit at the opposite end of the scale with -84.

Before we get any deeper into Strength of Schedule (SOS) discussions, here’s something to keep in mind: This early in the season, a team’s strength of schedule is largely determined by its own W/L record.

Take the 3-0 Eagles. If they were 0-3 instead of 3-0, their combined opponent W/L record would be 7-2 (.778) instead of 4-5 (.444). 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 hoping that a tough start will lead to a softer schedule down the road for the Cowboys, you’re about to be disappointed.

Remember when the schedule watchers were trumpeting from every tower that “By nearly every metric, the Cowboys are set to face one of the easiest schedules in the NFL”?

That was then, this is now: The Cowboys’ opponents for the remainder of the season currently have a combined winning percentage of 0.590 (22-15-2), which makes the Cowboys’ remaining schedule the toughest in the league. Some of that has to do with playing in the NFC East, which, after three games, has a better winning record (.667, 8-4) than any other division. And it doesn’t help to have two games remaining against the currently 3-0 Eagles.

The table below summarizes the remaining Strength of Schedule for all 32 teams.

Rank Team W L T PD W/L% Rank Team W L T PD W/L% Rank Team W L T PD W/L%
1 DAL 22 15 2 +26 0.590 T10 TEN 19 17 4 +23 0.525 T23 MIA 18 21 1 +2 0.462
T2 GB 23 17 0 -24 0.575 13 PIT 21 19 1 +107 0.524 T23 KC 18 21 1 +54 0.462
T2 DET 23 17 0 +23 0.575 14 MIN 20 19 1 -81 0.512 25 OAK 17 20 2 -46 0.461
4 WAS 21 16 2 -17 0.564 T15 NE 20 20 1 -20 0.500 T26 LAC 17 21 2 -75 0.450
T5 NYJ 22 18 0 +92 0.550 T16 NO 20 20 0 +46 0.500 T26 ATL 18 22 0 -8 0.450
T5 HOU 22 18 0 +38 0.550 17 CLE 20 21 1 +76 0.488 T26 TB 18 22 0 +8 0.450
T5 CHI 22 18 0 +27 0.550 T18 IND 19 20 0 -74 0.487 T26 SF 18 22 0 -85 0.450
8 NYG 20 17 2 +9 0.538 T18 PHI 18 19 2 -108 0.487 30 LAR 17 22 0 -30 0.435
9 BUF 22 19 0 -2 0.537 T18 ARI 19 20 0 -37 0.487 31 DEN 16 22 1 -52 0.423
T10 BAL 21 19 0 +135 0.525 21 CAR 19 21 0 +39 0.475 32 SEA 16 23 0 -85 0.410
T10 CIN 21 19 0 +74 0.525 22 JAC 17 19 3 -35 0.474

So, did the Cowboys and Eagles benefit from soft starts? While we know that a team’s SOS over the first three weeks is in large part a result of its own W/L record, the Cowboys in particular had a tough start - as measured by the opponents combined W/L record so far in 2022. The Eagles on the other hand ...

Three weeks is almost certainly too short a period to make any meaningful conclusions about SOS. Collectively we may feel very good about the Cowboys’ 2-1 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. But early indications are the Cowboys 2022 schedule could end up a lot tougher than it appeared back in May when the schedule was released.

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