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The 2015 NFL schedule officially was released last month, but the 2015 “strength of schedule” ratings started popping up all over the world-wide interwebs as soon as the 2014 regular season ended.
With each team’s 2015 opponents already set, all that was needed was each team’s 2014 win percentage. That’s the traditional way of calculating a team’s upcoming schedule “strength” – basing it upon how the opponents fared and finished the previous season.
It can also be a rather slippery slope – not to mention misleading.
The 2012 season for your Denver Broncos was a prime example, so let’s get in our way-back machine and flip the calendar back three years to Peyton Manning’s debut season in Denver. (Wow, that seems like a lot longer than 36 months ago, doesn’t it?)
Anyway, based on the preseason strength-of-schedule charts, the Orange and Blue were projected to face the second-toughest schedule in the league that season with their 16 opponents combining to finish 139-117 (.543) in 2011.
Well, it didn’t quite play out that way.
After all was said and done in 2012, the Broncos wound up facing the fourth easiest itinerary in the league, with their opponents combining to finish with an aggregate record of 117-139 (.457) that season. The result was a 13-3 finish for the Broncos – a five-win improvement over the previous year – a division title and the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
Ugh. Now we all know how that turned out.
But it’s completely beside the point we’re trying to make here, and that is take it with a grain – or maybe even half a shaker – of salt when you hear the Broncos are up against the 10th toughest schedule in the league in 2015.
Maybe the better way to gauge these upcoming schedules is looking at how the usually-fairly-wise fellas in Vegas approach things. Each offseason, they offer up an over/under win total for each team, based – yeah, OK – on the finish and perception of the teams from the previous season but more on that particular franchise’s free-agent signings and draft picks and the offseason personnel moves made by their slated opponents.
And when all is said and done, these projections wind up being on the money more often than not. After all, those casino electric bills aren’t exactly cheap.
Those projected over-under win totals are then added together to come up with a team’s relative strength of schedule. All-in-all, a more thorough and smarter way to approach the SOS rankings than by simply taking the raw winning percentages from one season and projecting a repeat of those unadjusted figures the ensuing year.
So, in summary, the traditional SOS method says the Broncos will face the 10th toughest schedule in 2015 with their 16 opponents having finished with a cumulative 138-117-1 (.541) record.
Meanwhile, the opening season win totals released by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook following the draft put Denver’s 2015 over/under mark at 10 victories – one of five teams in double digits. Adding these totals, as one poster compiled on reddit.com, projects the Broncos’ opponents to finish with a cumulative 131-125 record. That comes out a .512 winning percentage to project as the 16th toughest schedule in the league.
So which one of these two strength-of-schedule systems to rely on? Here’s betting on Vegas.