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Offseason Research

NFL Schedule Already Providing Betting Edges

by Warren Sharp
Updated On: May 12, 2022, 3:00 pm ET

Every year we wonder how strong each team is going to be and how they will perform.  Odds to win the Super Bowl get released in February.  Shortly thereafter, we have odds to win conferences and divisions.  Studying these odds allows the public to gain perspective on how strong each team should be perceived relative to the other teams in the league.

Eventually, we get to a point in the offseason where the oddsmakers have seen key coaching and player movement and have done enough research to publish their season win totals.

This is a big moment.  Because it marks the first time that bettors can short teams in the most direct manner possible – by betting on the team’s under.

Prior to season win totals being released, there was no way to do this.  The closest way to short a team would be to bet on the other teams in their division to take home that title.  Because unfortunately, books don’t offer yes/no markets on these futures.  Ideally, if you can bet “yes” that a team wins the Super Bowl, you would be able to bet “no” that they do not.  But oddsmakers are not brave enough to set those lines, so we must wait until season win totals are released to short teams directly.

But there is one other important thing that the release of regular season win totals allow us to do:  and that is to analyze schedules more effectively.

We don’t yet know when teams will play their opponent, and that timing is vital and I will report back on its impact on team’s potential in 2022 as soon as the NFL releases the 2022 schedule in May.

But we do know who each team will play this year.  And thus I have what I need to complete my methodology and share my NFL strength of schedule for the upcoming season.  Below is the list of all 32 teams, ranked from #1 (easiest 2022 schedule) to #32 (hardest 2022 schedule)

1.  New York Giants
2.  Philadelphia Eagles
3.  Indianapolis Colts
4.  Chicago Bears
5.  Detroit Lions
6.  Washington Commanders
7.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8.  Cleveland Browns
9.  New Orleans Saints
10.  Dallas Cowboys
11.  Baltimore Ravens
12.  Jacksonville Jaguars
13.  San Francisco 49ers
14.  Carolina Panthers
15.  Green Bay Packers
16.  Minnesota Vikings
17.  Denver Broncos
18.  Buffalo Bills
19.  Miami Dolphins
20.  Los Angeles Chargers
21.  Tennessee Titans
22.  Seattle Seahawks
23.  Atlanta Falcons
24.  Arizona Cardinals
25.  New England Patriots
26.  Cincinnati Bengals
27.  New York Jets
28.  Houston Texans
29.  Pittsburgh Steelers
30.  Las Vegas Raiders
31.  Los Angeles Rams
32.  Kansas City Chiefs

You may be asking two questions:

First:  “how close does Warren’s calculated strength of schedule in March track with actual strength of schedule by the end of the season?”

Second:  “what can we use this information both now and in the future?”

First thing is first:  no strength of schedule will perfectly predict in March what the actual strength of schedule will be by the January at the end of the season.  Understanding that, this methodology is superior to using prior year win-loss record of current year opponents.

We also need to emphasize that what is important is the edges of this list, not the middle.  Top-10, bottom-10, top-5, bottom-5.  The extremes are what is most meaningful.  Whether a team was projected at 12 and finished at 19 is of very little use for us.

What helps is to identify the few teams that have the toughest schedule next season and the few teams that have the easiest schedules.

So how accurate did my strength of schedule released last March track to what actually happened?

Last season, of the Top-8 teams with the most difficult schedule by the end of the season, this methodology from last March forecasted all of them would have Top-8 toughest schedules except for one (Chiefs, #20).

Last season, of the Top-7 teams with the easiest schedule by the end of the season, this methodology from last March forecast 6 of these 7 teams would have Top-10 easiest schedules.

Not perfect, but extremely close given the levels of uncertainty we are working with.

So yes, the strength of schedule a very useful tool.  And has been quite accurate when predicting scheduling extremes.

But what might you use it for?  

In short, a lot.  But specifically:

Of the 10 NFL teams that actually had the hardest 2021 schedules, only 3 went over their projected win total: Cardinals, Steelers, Raiders

Of the 10 NFL teams that actually had the easiest 2021 schedules, only 3 went under their projected win total: Bills, Broncos, Browns

So what we know is trying to exceed and overachieve against a brutal schedule rarely happens (3 out of 10) and likewise, winning against an easy schedule and overachieving compared to expectation was quite regular (only 3 out of 10 did not).

And if we know that this strength of schedule tends to be more accurate at the extremes, we can use it for many applications, including betting on futures, drafting players for fantasy football, season long player props and more.

When we compare team’s actual strength of schedule last season with what I’m forecasting for this season, several things clearly jump out:

The Washington Commanders schedule gets much easier:  last year Washington played the #1 toughest schedule in the NFL.  This year? The #1 easiest schedule.

Last year Washington went:

2-7 vs playoff teams
2-9 vs teams top-15 in efficiency 

But…

5-3 vs non-playoff teams
5-1 vs teams bottom-15 in efficiency

An easier schedule should help massively.

On the other end of the spectrum, last year the Bengals played the #3 easiest schedule in the NFL.  This year?   The #7 hardest schedule.

Last year they played 11 games vs non-playoff teams, 2nd most of any team.

Now they face the largest increase in schedule difficulty in 2022 of any team.

Last year the Buffalo Bills played the #1 easiest schedule.  They played only six teams that made the playoffs, second lowest number in the NFL.  They went just 2-4 in those 6 games (9-2 vs non-playoff teams).  In games they won the turnover margin, they went 7-0.  In all other games, they went 4-6.

This year, instead of playing the #1 easiest schedule, the Bills play the 20th easiest schedule.  It’s the 2nd largest increase in schedule difficultly in the NFL.

A key note to remember:  because this methodology is based on the betting markets, as they change so will the strength of schedule.  As such, today’s strength of schedule calculation is likely to change slightly over the course of the offseason.
 

Warren Sharp

Warren Sharp is a football and betting analyst for NBC Sports. As a leading voice in football analytics, Warren writes a yearly book previewing the upcoming season from all angles at his Sharp Football Analysis website. You can follow Warren Sharp on Twitter @SharpFootball.