Taking it easy in 2009

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
11:45
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The end of the NFL season gave my colleagues over in ESPN Stats & Information a chance to compile official strength of schedule for the 2009 season. The Reader's Digest version: The Detroit Lions have effectively bombed what already was a suspect statistic.

Largely because the Lions finished 0-16, the NFC North will feature the three "easiest" schedules in the NFL next season. Because the statistic is based on opponents' winning percentage for the previous year -- and because they each play the Lions twice -- the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears pull up the rear on the 2009 list.

The Bears play a division-high seven games against 2009 playoff teams, but the combination of their games against the Lions, Cincinnati, San Francisco and St. Louis conspired to drive their opponents' winning percentage to .414.

Here is the full list:

Highest Opponents' Combined Win Pct (2009 Schedule)

Win Loss Tie Opp. Combined
win pct*
1. Miami Dolphins 152 104 0 .594
2. Carolina Panthers 151 104 1 .592
3. New England Patriots 151 105 0 .590
4. Atlanta Falcons 150 105 1 .588
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 148 107 1 .580
6. Buffalo Bills 146 110 0 .570
7. New York Jets 145 110 1 .568
8. New Orleans Saints 142 113 1 .557
9. Philadelphia Eagles 137 119 0 .535
10. New York Giants 134 120 2 .527
11. Dallas Cowboys 131 123 2 .516
11. Jacksonville Jaguars 132 124 0 .516
13. Indianapolis Colts 131 125 0 .512
14. Tennessee Titans 130 126 0 .508
15. Houston Texans 129 126 1 .506
16. Washington Redskins 125 129 2 .492
17. Kansas City Chiefs 123 131 2 .484
17. San Diego Chargers 123 131 2 .484
19. Denver Broncos 122 132 2 .480
19. Oakland Raiders 122 132 2 .480
21. Detroit Lions 119 136 1 .467
22. Cincinnati Bengals 119 137 0 .465
22. St. Louis Rams 119 137 0 .465
24. Seattle Seahawks 117 139 0 .457
25. Cleveland Browns 114 140 2 .449
26. San Francisco 49ers 113 142 1 .443
27. Arizona Cardinals 113 143 0 .441
28. Baltimore Ravens 111 143 2 .438
29. Pittsburgh Steelers 110 144 2 .434
30. Green Bay Packers 109 146 1 .428
31. Minnesota Vikings 107 148 1 .420
32. Chicago Bears 105 149 2 .414
* Based on opponents' 2008 record

I've never understood the allure of the strength of schedule chart, especially in a league where fortunes can turn wildly on a yearly basis. Maybe you can safely say that the team at the top of the list will have a tougher task than the team at the bottom of the list. I don't know if you can even say that for 2009 because of the Lions' skewed contribution.

The NFC North will play the AFC North in 2009, meaning each Black and Blue team will have to face both participants in the AFC Championship Game: Pittsburgh and Baltimore. And while we're on the topic of the Steelers, we should point out they won Super Bowl XLIII with the most difficult schedule in the NFL based on 2008 strength of schedule.

For me, it's more interesting to take a look at the postseason strength of schedule. That statistic is compiled based on the combined records of each team's opponents through the course of the season in which they played. For example, the Steelers' 2008 opponents had an NFL-high .598 winning percentage in 2007. But during the season, those teams' winning percentage was .525, the seventh-highest in the league.

In 2008, Cleveland faced the most difficult schedule based on its opponents' final records. Detroit was second. Interestingly, the Bears had the "easiest" schedule; their opponents had a .475 winning percentage. While there are still some flaws, this list provides better context for determining how tough a schedule was:

Highest 2008 Regular-Season Strength of Schedule**
  Win Loss Tie Win% Strength of
Schedule
Opponents'
Combined W-L-T
Cleveland 4 12 0 .250 .572 145-108-3
Detroit 0 16 0 .000 .559 143-113-0
Cincinnati 4 11 1 .281 .553 141-114-1
Jacksonville 5 11 0 .313 .537 137-118-1
Kansas City 2 14 0 .125 .537 137-118-1
St. Louis 2 14 0 .125 .533 136-119-1
Pittsburgh* 12 4 0 .750 .525 133-120-3
Baltimore* 11 5 0 .688 .521 132-121-3
Oakland 5 11 0 .313 .520 133-123-0
Houston 8 8 0 .500 .518 132-123-1
San Diego* 8 8 0 .500 .516 132-124-0
Philadelphia* 9 6 1 .594 .514 131-124-1
Minnesota* 10 6 0 .625 .504 129-127-0
Green Bay 6 10 0 .375 .504 129-127-0
N.Y. Giants* 12 4 0 .750 .502 127-126-3
Indianapolis* 12 4 0 .750 .498 127-128-1
Dallas 9 7 0 .563 .498 126-127-3
Seattle 4 12 0 .250 .498 127-128-1
New Orleans 8 8 0
.500 .496 127-129-0
Carolina* 12 4 0 .750 .488 125-131-0
Arizona* 9 7 0 .563 .486 124-131-1
New England 11 5 0 .688 .480 123-133-0
Tampa Bay 9 7 0 .563 .480 123-133-0
Washington 8 8 0 .500 .479 121-132-3
Chicago 9 7 0 .563 .475 121-134-1
N.Y. Jets 9 7 0 .563 .471 120-135-1
Miami* 11 5 0 .688 .461 118-138-0
Tennessee* 13 3 0 .813 .459 117-138-1
Atlanta* 11 5 0 .688 .459 117-138-1
Denver 8 8 0 .500 .457 117-139-0
Buffalo 7 9 0 .438 .453 116-140-0
San Francisco 7 9 0 .438 .447 114-141-1
* Designates playoff team
** After 2008 season, based on opponents' 2008 W-L

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