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Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Does strength of schedule predict Super Bowl champion?

By Jeremy Lundblad
ESPN.com

The strength of schedule entering a season is based on opponents' records from the year before; the better the records of the opponents, the higher the strength of schedule. The "actual" strength of schedule is based on the cumulative record of opponents for that season. We went back to 2002, when the NFL implemented its current scheduling formula.

Note: All strength of schedule information came from the Elias Sports Bureau.

In 2007, the Giants' schedule was far more difficult than it appeared to be entering the season. They had the 21st most difficult schedule based on the 2006 records of their opponents. However, the combined 2007 winning percentage of the Giants' opponents ended up tied for the eighth-highest in the NFL. In 2003 and 2004, the opposite happened to the Patriots. New England entered those seasons with schedules that ranked in the top 10 in terms of difficulty, but upon season's end, the Patriots' strength of schedule was in the bottom half of the NFL.

Strength of Schedule of Super Bowl Champions


Opponent's winning percentage entering the season vs. actual winning percentage at seasons end
Team Opponent win pct. Rank Opponent win pct. Rank
2007 Giants .496 T-21 .516 T-h
2006 Colts .484 22 .500 T-14
2005 Steelers .508 12 .492 T-20
2004 Patriots .512 T-5 .492 17
2003 Patriots .527 8 .484 22
2002 Buccaneers .480 25 .482 T-26

Is the toughest schedule really the toughest schedule?


Though your team may have the toughest schedule entering a season, it does not mean your team will actually have the toughest schedule. In fact, since 2002, the team with the toughest schedule based on previous season results has never had the toughest schedule at the end of the season (though the 2004 Dolphins had the second-toughest). On the flip side, the 2002 Bills entered the season tied with the Chargers for the toughest schedule, but wound up with the third-easiest schedule in the NFL.

Most Difficult Schedule


Based on opponents' previous season results

Opponent's winning percentage entering the season vs. actual winning percentage at seasons end
Team Opponent win pct. Rank Opponent win pct. Rank
2007 Raiders .539 T-1 .516 T-8
2007 Bills .539 T-1 .516 T-8
2006 Giants .543 T-1 .520 11
2006 Bengals .543 T-1 .535 T-5
2005 Dolphins .547 1 .457 T-27
2004 Dolphins .531 1 .555 2
2003 Cowboys .541 T-1 .461 27
2003 Jets .541 T-1 .527 10
2003 Eagles .547 T-1 .477 22
2002 Bills .546 T-1 .473 30
2002 Chargers .546 T-1 .492 22

Can you make the playoffs with the toughest schedule?


Since 2002, of the 11 teams that entered the season with -- or tied for -- the toughest schedule, only three actually made the playoffs.

Season Results of Teams With Most Difficult (Based on opponents' previous season results)
Team W-L Playoffs
2007 Raiders 4-12 No
2007 Bills 7-9 No
2006 Giants 8-8 Yes
2006 Bengals 8-8 No
2005 Dolphins 9-7 No
2004 Dolphins 4-12 No
2003 Cowboys 10-6 Yes
2003 Jets 6-10 No
2003 Eagles 12-4 Yes
2002 Bills 8-8 No
2002 Chargers 8-8 No

Do teams make the playoffs with the easiest schedule?


Since 2002, of the seven teams that entered the season with -- or tied for -- the easiest schedule, only one actually made the playoffs. The 2003 Seahawks were tied with the Cardinals for the easiest schedule. That season, Seattle went 10-6 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Season Results of Teams With Easiest Schedule


Based on opponents' previous season results

Season Results of Teams With Easiest Schedule
Team W-L Playoffs
2007 Cardinals 8-8 No
2006 Packers 8-8 No
2005 Rams 6-10 No
2004 Cowboys 4-12 No
2003 Cardinals 4-12 No
2003 Seahawks 10-6 Yes
2002 Texans 4-12 No