Every offseason, there is extensive discussion about strength of schedule for the next regular season. The NFL formula for setting each team’s opponents means we know as soon as the regular season ends who the San Francisco 49ers will face each year. That means that as soon as the season ends, the traditional “strength of schedule” metric is available.
The media commonly focuses on previous season win/loss records to assess a team’s strength of schedule the next season. It’s simple to figure out, and it’s something you can figure out regardless of roster changes. For the 49ers, this strength of schedule metric has them right in the middle, tied for 15th.
While that version of SOS is fun for creating some early offseason discussion, it is also flawed. Figuring out a team’s 2018 strength of schedule based on 2017 performance means we are not considering all the roster and coaching staff changes that will impact a team the next season. For example, the Houston Texans finished last season 4-12. They started the year 3-4 before losing quarterback DeShaun Watson to a torn ACL. We don’t know how they would have finished with a healthy Watson, but we know they are clearly better with Watson in the lineup.
So, how do we better assess strength of schedule? By using the win totals set by oddsmakers!
The win total for each team is set shortly after the release of the regular season schedule. Oddsmakers are not saying a given team will win however many games, but rather are trying to get people to bet on both sides of the number. The number is meant to reflect the gambling public’s perception of a team. Plenty can and will change between now and the start of the season, but the win total gives us a good starting point.
The first win totals posted, from BetOnline.ag, had the 49ers at 8.5 wins. Some have pushed that number up to 9, but that’s our starting point. Our friends at the Bet The Board podcast took the 32 win totals from BetOnline.ag, and used them to create a strength of schedule metric across the league.
This has the 49ers tied for 17th in strength of schedule, so, fairly close to where they rank the standard media SOS. The Green Bay Packers have the biggest difference between the two. Based on 2017 win percentage, they have the toughest strength of schedule. Based on win totals, they have the eighth easiest schedule. Another team with some difference between the two is Arizona (toughest by win total, No. 8 by 2017 win percentage).
Overall there appears to be an overinflation in the market for betting the OVER on win totals. The overall “average wins faced” is 8.04. That multiplies out to 257.3 total wins. There are only 256 total games, so oddsmakers see an overly optimistic betting public. The 49ers average win total faced is 8.06.