When the 2016 NFL season ended, one of the first things discussed for non-playoff teams is 2017 strength of schedule. The full slate of opponents for each team is known once the regular season ends, and the most common tool used to discuss SOS uses 2016 combined win/loss percentage of 2017 opponents. The 49ers rank No. 20 in that category, with their 2017 opponents having a .475 win percentage last season.
While that measurement gives us a talking point, it is also inherently flawed. Teams are not going to look the same in 2017 as they did in 2016. We’ll see some good teams slip and some bad teams climb. Numerous things will change as the season approaches, and so how a team did in 2016 really doesn’t have a ton of relevance.
Another more interesting approach uses Las Vegas win totals. The numbers established and updated throughout the offseason assess public perception in some ways, given the fact that oddsmakers are setting a number that they want equal wagers on both over and under. But reflecting the juice put on the number (how much more or less you need to wager to win your money), helps give us a better idea of where things stand.
NFL analyst Warren Sharp put together his own strength of schedule using win totals. He used three shops including one offshore (Pinnacle), and two from Las Vegas (CG Technology, South Point) to create a model. Additionally, doing it in late June reflects win total changes as money has come in on various teams.
In this new model, the San Francisco 49ers rank No. 15.
Much like the Rams, the 49ers must play the NFC East and AFC South. Which means stingy defenses, strong offenses, or both. The 49ers don’t play a bevy of top-5 or top-10 opponents; they fall into the NFL averages in both categories. But they play just four bottom-10 opponents, meaning they’ll likely struggle each week to find wins. That means to keep games close, they need to be able to have rushing success early. Unfortunately, the 49ers are facing the NFL’s toughest schedule of opposing run defenses.
Sharp offers up some data visualization at his own website. You can adjust based on week to see what teams have more difficult early vs. late schedules. For example, using this metric, the 49ers have the eighth most difficult schedule the first eight weeks of the season, and the 20th most difficult schedule for the final nine weeks of the season. For that final five week stretch with the Bears, AFC South teams, and the Rams, their schedule ranks fourth easiest.
It is interesting to note that the win totals have changed a decent amount since April. In April, the 49ers ranked No. 19. The public would seem to think they have spotted some undervalued teams in the 49ers path.