NFL Nation: schedule strength

Tougher road ahead for the NFC West

October, 17, 2012
Sometimes, it's not who a team faces, but when a team faces them.

As San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh likes to say, you're either getting better or getting worse; you never stay the same. An opponent looking formidable now might have significant issues in a month. A struggling one might be vastly improved by then.

That's important to keep in mind when looking at NFL strength of schedule. We're looking at a snapshot, not a full motion picture.

The chart shows NFC West teams with four of the six hardest remaining schedules by opponents' winning percentage, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The NFC West can partly blame itself for the difficult road ahead. It's the only division with multiple winning teams and no losing teams.

NFC West teams also face the AFC East, which has no losing teams (every team is 3-3), and the NFC North, which has only one losing team.

Denver (.339), Oakland (.355), Kansas City (.364) and San Diego (.393) have the easiest remaining schedules. There's no secret why. They play in the same division and also face teams from the mostly struggling NFC South. All four AFC West teams have played the 6-0 Atlanta Falcons already, another reason the remaining schedules appear easier.

The St. Louis Rams have played the fifth-toughest schedule to this point (.588). San Francisco (.543) has had the 14th-toughest, Arizona the 19th-toughest (.528) and Seattle the 20th-toughest (.471).

The three easiest schedules to this point belong to Atlanta (.353), Baltimore (.371) and New Orleans (.379). The four toughest to this point belong to Dallas (.679), Jacksonville (.643), Carolina (.607) and Green Bay (.606).

2011 NFL strength of schedule: Weeks 10-17

November, 10, 2011
Not that the San Francisco 49ers need any help at this point, but the remaining NFL schedule is on their side.

The 49ers, having built a six-game winning streak against teams outside the NFC West, own the NFL's third-easiest schedule from this point forward. Schedule strength, as calculated by Elias Sports Bureau, reflects winning percentages of remaining opponents.

The 49ers still play games against the 6-2 New York Giants, 6-2 Baltimore Ravens and 6-3 Pittsburgh Steelers. But with two games against 1-7 St. Louis, two against 2-6 Arizona and one against 2-6 Seattle, their remaining opponents have a combined 26-39 overall record (counting records for the Rams and Cardinals twice).

The 49ers can clinch the NFC West title early if they win their next two games, Arizona and Seattle lose their next two and the Rams lose to Cleveland. San Francisco's five-game lead in the NFC West is the NFL's largest after eight games since the 49ers opened the 1990 season with an 8-0 record, Elias notes.

The Rams, like the 49ers, also have five remaining games against NFC West opponents, but instead of facing themselves, they draw two games against 7-1 San Francisco and only one more against Arizona. They have already faced the Giants, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints.

NFC North teams own three of the five hardest remaining schedules, largely because they must play one another. Minnesota's record is tied for the toughest because the 2-6 Vikings play each of their division opponents, but not themselves. They also face New Orleans and Atlanta.

Seattle, after facing Baltimore in Week 10, plays four games against teams that currently have losing records, with two of those games against the Rams. Three of the four are at home, giving the Seahawks an opportunity to improve upon their projected 4-12 record.

There are other ways to measure schedule strength, including by how many opponents with winning or non-losing records remain on each team's schedule. I haven't broken down the schedules along those lines. Percentages gives us a good general feel.


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