Every year after the upcoming NFL schedule is released, one of the big discussion points is "strength of schedule." For years now, strength of schedule has simply been taking the win/loss records of each team the previous year, combining them together, and figuring out the winning percentage. It's a very simple process, but as many now recognize, it is also an incredibly flawed process. So much changes from year to year with free agency and the draft that the previous year's record is often meaningless. The 49ers record in 2010 and 2011 shows exactly how much things can change from one year to the next.
When it comes to assessing teams throughout the year, one of the best group of people to follow has to be the folks involved in sports gambling. While the media can often throw stuff out with limited repercussions, the gambling world has money on the line. If a gambling advice website provides bad advice, there can be very significant repercussions from a financial perspective. It does not make them always correct, but it provides a bit more incentive to put some additional thought into things.
WIth that in mind, the folks at Beyond the Bets have put together a new strength of schedule tool for your consideration. It has its own share of flaws, but it at least provides a different take on strength of schedule. Looking at strength of schedule in a future season is always going to include measures of subjective bias. No games have been played, so it remains a measure of guess-work. Nonetheless, it is still interesting to consider heading into training camp.
To create their strength of schedule, BtB took a pair of measurements. First, they looked at the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook win totals (the over/under number). They added those up and ranked teams 1-32 based on the total number of "wins" of their opponents. The more "wins" on a team's schedule, the higher they were. The Browns were at the top with 136 total "wins" on their schedule, while the 49ers were 21st with 127.5 "wins."
That number is flawed to a certain extent, as BtB points out:
After all, a team's 2012 win total is calculated based on the schedule, so a team with a total of 9.5 isn't necessarily better than a team with a total of 9. They could just have an easier schedule.
In order to attempt to offset that, they added a second input. Phil Steele is a noted sportswriter and analyst, who gets a fair amount of respect for his prognosticating skills. Steele put together a 2012 NFL preview magazine and created power ratings for it. BtB took those power ratings and calculated the average power rating of the 16 opponents for every team in 2012.
BtB then took the two numbers and combined them by giving each team a 1 through 32 rating for each of the two metrics, and then averaged them together. This came up with their 2012 strength of schedule. There is plenty of subjectivity and flaws to their system, but it gives an alternative to the 2011 win/loss record basis.
In this new system, the 49ers schedule is rated No. 26. In what might be an amusing coincidence, or simple confirmation, if you'd prefer, the 49ers were tied for 24th in strength of schedule based on 2011 win/loss records.
The 49ers are coming off a first place season, which means more first place opponents on the schedule. However, I would imagine part of their relatively weak strength of schedule based on the BtB model comes from low Steele ratings for the rest of their divisional opponents. I'd like to read over his power ratings to confirm, but that's my initial impression. Add in teams like the Dolphins and Vikings, and it's not the most shocking revelation.
We've had plenty of discussion about the big games on the schedule, including those at the Packers, Patriots and Saints, as well as at home against the Giants, Bears and Lions. To me it seems like a tougher schedule than the numbers would indicate, but maybe I'm just being a nervous nelly.