Every year, as we head into the new season, we hear plenty about the strength of schedule for each team. Strength of schedule based on the previous season does not provide a ton of insight, but it does at least provide a baseline to work from moving forward. In reality, one or more of the bad teams on the schedule will improve a good deal, while one or two of the good teams on the schedule will take a big step backward.
NFL.com broke down the strength of schedule for each team, and based on 2012 performance, the 49ers have the ninth toughest schedule. Their 2013 opponents had a combined .520 win percentage (132-122-2) in 2012. The 49ers list of opponents is as follows:
The only way to get a remotely legitimate number on strength of schedule is looking at the opponent win percentage after the season. There are tools to assess things midseason, but looking at previous season strength of schedule does not tell us much. For comparison's sake, entering the 2012 season, the 49ers strength of schedule was .488. At season's end, their opponents had a win percentage of .504.
The two toughest schedules this past season belonged to the Arizona Cardinals (.559) and Detroit Lions (.566). Prior to the season, Arizona opponents had a strength of .512, while the Lions were at (.492). Things can change so quickly. For Arizona, an improved Seahawks squad helped boost their win percentage.
Looking at the 49ers opponents, who do you see as the team that turns things around in 2013? If the Cardinals can find a decent quarterback, they could easily add two or three wins to that total, if not more. Carolina, New Orleans and Tampa all finished 7-9 and I'd imagine we'll see some break-up amidst that NFC South crew. Do the Jaguars figure something out and actually improve on that 2-14 schedule?
Of course, on the flip side of the coin, which teams take a sizable step back (assuming it's not our 49ers, of course!)? The 49ers face the other three NFC division champs, and one of them is likely to take a step back. Any predictions?