Shortly after the 2015 season ended, we discussed the idea that the San Francisco 49ers had the toughest strength of schedule for the 2016 season. They face some really strong teams, but more importantly, they face several teams that could be rebounding in a strong way. The most notable is the Dallas Cowboys, if Tony Romo stays healthy, but even Atlanta and Chicago could be tough after last place finishes.
The problem with those early strength of schedule assessments is they are usually based on the previous year’s performance of teams. Sure, we know teams like the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks and others are probably going to be among the better teams in the NFL. But so much changes year-to-year with roster turnover that basing things on the previous year’s performance is no better than a place-holder discussion.
The folks at Rotoworld took another angle on the strength of schedule discussion. It is far from perfect, but it at least offers a slightly different angle. They took a look at the win totals installed in Las Vegas, and used those to come up with SOS. That is based in part on public perception, as Vegas is looking to get even money bet on both sides of the number. If that happens, the house wins thanks to the vig. But it at least gives us more of a look than we get based on year old performance.
Through this analysis, the 49ers still have the toughest schedule in the NFL. This is not a shocking revelation, but gives us another look at who is seeing that difficulty. Here is what they had to say about the 49ers schedule:
While the 49ers get the Jets, Bills and Rams (twice) -- and each team is projected worse now than at open -- the fact that they face the rising Bears, Buccaneers and Cowboys offsets all of that ease, keeping the 49ers at #1 overall in schedule difficulty.
San Francisco faces the 2nd hardest five-week stretch this season (Weeks 2-6: @ CAR, @ SEA, vs DAL, vs ARI, @ BUF). They also are one of ten teams to play back-to-back road games on three separate occasions. As we’ve seen, Chip Kelly’s defenses in his 3 years in the NFL average the most time on the field per game, so starting against a difficult slate of opponents may snowball. The biggest problem for the 49ers is simply the NFC West, meaning the Seahawks twice and the Cardinals twice. Factor in games vs the Panthers and Patriots, and this slate is the most difficult that any team will face. Even their "easy" stretch between Weeks 12-16 is made more difficult by the fact that four of five are on the road (@ MIA, @ CHI, vs NYJ, @ ATL, @ STL).