Upon the release of the schedule, NFL odds makers went to press with their season win total projections. We serve up our early NFL betting thoughts in context to the schedule.
Almost all of these projected season win totals fall in line with last season's performance or thereabouts, with a few exceptions. For instance, New Orleans and New York Giants deposited subpar accounts last season, only managed seven and six wins respectively. For 2015, the projected season win totals are set two games higher than those accounts.
Others such as Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions, amongst several others, are trading on dramatically lower season totals than their eventual season-ending mark last year. Cardinals finished 11-5-0 and very nearly won the division but they are chalked at 8.5 wins for 2015. The Cowboys went 12-4-0 and won the NFC East but their totals for the coming season are trading at 9.5. Finally, the Detroit Lions are chalked at 8.5 wins despite finishing last season with a stellar 11-5-0 mark.
Table 1: Las Vegas Sportsbook Projected Season Win Totals
Strength Of Schedule Is Useful But Not Fail-Safe Method
The NFL schedule can serve as a benchmark for rudimentary projections. Looking at the performance of each and every team last season, their overall win percentage gives an idea of their perceived strength. It's definitely not an absolute formula for predicting how teams will perform in the wake of odds makers projections. Teams can undergo wholesale changes that alter their dynamic, thereby sending an utterly unrecognisable instalment into the coming season that could do much better or a whole lot worse than its predecessor.
There's also divisional rivalries to consider: because six games are comprised of divisional opponents, the winning percentage is skewed significantly by the strength of the field contained within each division. No two divisions are alike, nor are they commensurate in terms of quality, skill and depth. In tougher divisions, it's not unusual for teams to do great one season and then struggle to replicate that performance in the next season.
Nevertheless, we're taking last season's win totals in order to loosely determine where each team stacks up in terms of the strength of their NFL schedule (Table 2).
Table 2: Strength Of 2015 NFL Schedule
Understanding Impact of Strength of Schedule
By the NFL schedule and the rudimentary calculations used to determine its strength in the case of each team, we see that the AFC North has been dealt the toughest draw combined while both the AFC South and NFC South have received the weakest schedules of the entire league, amongst other things.
The NFC South and AFC North couldn't have enjoyed more contrasting fortunes in 2014; the AFC North was the most competitive division in the league with all teams finishing above .500 while the NFC South was the most underwhelming with all teams finishing below .500. While it's interesting to note that each team in the AFC North had rather favorable schedules – looking at the winning percentage of their opponents in 2014, all four boasted schedules with a combined winning percentage below .500 and, as a result, were ranked amongst the lowest (23rd and lower) on the strength chart. To be fair, so did Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, all of which ranked low on the strength chart, 19th, 22nd and 23rd (tied with Bengals and Steelers), respectively. Yet, in their respective cases each failed to capitalise. Meanwhile, the Falcons had the eleventh toughest schedule (0.512 combined winning percentage of opponents) in the group.
Obviously, it's not just about the NFL schedule. It's but one piece of the puzzle. Other factors include coaching, tactics, confidence in the systems and how well they execute those on the field over the course of the season, let alone the depth, skill and talent of their bench.
Case-and point, the Denver Broncos had the second toughest schedule in the league last season (0.570 winning percentage combined) but they still managed to deposit a 12-4-0 account. As did the Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals that rose to the occasion despite receiving the sixth and eighth toughest schedules. In fact, the entire NFC West drew the short straw, with the Rams having the dubious honour of receiving the third toughest schedule and the 49ers receiving the fourth toughest schedule. Aside from the Rams that finished with a .375 winning percentage last season, the remaining triplet went .500 or better.
Finally, we can't have a piece on the NFL without talking about the Super Bowl Champions. The New England Patriots received the tenth toughest schedule last year that boasted a 0.516 winning percentage but still managed to soar to a 12-4-0 record in the regular season, en route to the Lombardy Trophy. A fact that underscores their undeniable quality in the face of the NFL schedule.
NFL Betting Verdict
We can conclude that looking at the strength of schedule is but one tangible towards determining how to place NFL picks on the projected season win totals for each and every team. Other considerations must involve the team itself and these run the gamut from experience to talent, quality and depth.