My favorite win total bets based on Strength of Schedule:
Indianapolis Colts - over 8.5 wins: The Colts have the most manageable schedule in football based on projected win totals. They also had an incredible offseason, bringing in Philip Rivers at quarterback who should be an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett as the former Chargers’ QB is reunited with Frank Reich. The Colts also acquired DeForest Buckner, who should shore up their front seven alongside Justin Houston and Darius Leonard. I also love this team’s draft class with Michael Pittman, Jonathan Taylor, and Julian Blackmon, all profiling as instant-impact players. The Colts were blindsided by Andrew Luck’s retirement just before the start of last season and finished with 7 wins despite the off-field tumult. Frank Reich is an underrated NFL head coach, and this roster has very few holes.
I expect the Texans and Titans to regress this year, and the Jaguars are in the midst of a major rebuilding project, so the AFC South is there for the Colts’ taking. Indianapolis will also take on the NFC North, which is at best the third-best division in the NFC after the NFC South and NFC West. They will also play the AFC North, which had three teams at 8-8 or worse last year. I have the Colts down for 10 wins, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they get to 11 or 12 with their schedule.
Baltimore Ravens - over 11.5 wins: You might be hesitant to bet the over on the Ravens after their inglorious playoff exit at the hands of the Titans, but this is still one of the best rosters top-to-bottom in football. The loss of Marshal Yanda from the offensive line can’t be overstated. Still, the defense also figures to be massively improved with the additions of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe in free agency as well as Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison in the draft. Five weeks into the season last year, the Ravens were allowing a tad under 25 points a game, but they saw massive improvement with the midseason acquisition of Marcus Peters. Peters, Marlon Humphery, Jimmy Smith, Chuck Clark, and Earl Thomas already gave the Ravens an elite secondary. Queen, Campbell, and Wolfe will join Tyus Bowser and Matthew Judon in a very talented front seven. The run game may not be as dominant without Yanda, but Marquise Goodwin and Mark Andrews are in their second seasons, and rookie Devin Duvernay will help take the top off the defense to open up space underneath. Lamar Jackson is one of the most dynamic weapons in football, and there’s plenty of talent on both sides of the ball for this team to repeat as one of the best regular-season squads.
I find it hard to believe that the Ravens finish with more than one or two losses in their division - they went 5-1 against the Steelers, Browns, and Bengals last year. It’s also very possible that the Ravens sweep the NFC East, a division that didn’t produce a single double-digit-win team last season. Finally, the Ravens play the AFC South who’s leader is expected wins sits at 8.5 (tied between Colts and Titans). I have the Ravens down for a 13-3 record this year, but I’m relatively comfortable in putting action on 12+ wins for this team.
Detroit Lions - over 6.5 wins: After a 3-12-1 season, you’re likely not expecting much from the Lions this season. However, I believe there’s reason to think Detroit could challenge for the NFC North title. Through the first eight weeks of the season, the Lions were 3-4-1 despite playing four eventual playoff teams. Their four losses in that stretch came by an average of 5.5 points, as well. Then, Matthew Stafford fractured muscles in his back and was kept out of the remainder of the year. Before his injury, Stafford had set a 16-game pace of just under 5,000 yards, 38 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in an offense that offered plenty of talent among Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and T.J. Hockenson. D’Andre Swift now joins the crew to take some pressure off Kerryon Johnson, so there’s reason to believe their run game could be much better this year. Hockenson should also produce much better stats in his sophomore season. Finally, the Lions could have as many as nine new defensive starters among draft picks Jeff Okudah and Julian Okwara as well as free-agent signings Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon, Jayron Kearse, Miles Killebrew, Reggie Ragland, Desmond Trufant, and Danny Shelton. Stafford is one of my favorite picks for comeback player of the year this season.
I like the Lions’ chances at winning the NFC North as much as any other team in their division. The fact that they play the 7th-easiest schedule is just the cherry on top. The Lions finished last in the NFC North last year, which means they play the Cardinals, Redskins, and Panthers. In the AFC, they play the Colts, Texans, Titans, and Jaguars in the AFC South - that’s four winnable games. Outside of a couple of games against the Saints and Buccaneers, the Lions don’t play any team projected for double-digit wins this year. I’m projecting this team for around 8 or 9 wins, but that number could be even higher depending on how they fare in-division.
Atlanta Falcons - under 7.5 wins:
The Falcons quietly had a pretty terrible offseason. Of course, Tom Brady coming to your division, is never a great way to start the summer. However, the Falcons also lost several defensive starters - Adrian Clayborn, De’Vondre Campbell, Vic Beasley, Desmond Trufant, and Jonathan Cyprien - from a unit that wasn’t very good, to begin with (23rd in points against in 2019). I thought A.J. Terrell was an absolute panic reach in the first round to cope with that lost defensive talent. While Todd Gurley is a big name who will help sell merchandise and tickets, he’s not going to make a significant impact on the Falcons’ ability to win games. The offensive line has been terrible for the past several years, and nothing major was done to rectify that over the offseason. Matt Ryan is pretty underrated; Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley give him an elite receiving duo to work with. This team has all the makings of an elite squad for fantasy but a lousy team in real life. They won 7 games last year and may be even worse on paper this season.
The Falcons’ schedule is also doing them no favors heading into this season. It’s easy to see why they have the toughest schedule in football - for starters, and they have to play the Saints and Buccaneers each twice, which may just be four losses right off the bat. They also may only split with the Panthers, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Falcons come away from their division with a 1-5 record. The Falcons also have to play the AFC West - the Chiefs are projected at 11.5 wins while the Broncos, Raiders, and Chargers are all projected at 7.5 wins. The NFC North has four teams who could make a reasonable run at the playoffs, and the Falcons’ schedule wraps up with the Seahawks and Cowboys who fancy themselves Super Bowl contenders. Atlanta has an uphill battle to get to .500, let alone even reach their 7-9 record from last season.
1. How does the NFL build out its schedules?
Each NFL team plays 16 games over the course of a 17-week season - each team gets a bye week at some point during the season designed for rest. Each NFL team will get a couple of primetime matchups (Thursday, Sunday, or Monday nights). This year we will also have three Thanksgiving games and one Christmas game.
2. How does the NFL determine who each team’s opponents are?
Each team plays the other teams in their division two times (one home, one away) - this makes up six games. Each team will also play the other three teams who finished with the same ranking in their respective divisions. Finally, divisions play each other on a rotating schedule - one intraconference and one interconference.
3. Which divisions will play each other in 2020?
AFC East - AFC West, NFC West
AFC North - AFC South, NFC East
AFC South - AFC North, NFC North
AFC West - AFC East, NFC South
NFC East - NFC West, AFC North
NFC North - NFC South, AFC South
NFC South - NFC North, AFC West
NFC West - NFC East, AFC East
4. What is Strength of Schedule (SOS)?
This is a metric that measures how strong each NFL team’s opponents should be. SOS is placed into convenient rankings based on 2020 projected wins. The relative difficulty of a team’s schedule can be a good indicator of how many wins they should be expected to have this season.
5. How is Strength of Schedule calculated?
The strength of schedule tool can be based on both Vegas’s projected win totals for a team’s opponents or their win totals from last year. Strength of schedule can also be utilized in fantasy football by identifying how many fantasy points each defense allowed to particular positions.
6. How to Use Strength of Schedule for Fantasy?
It’s important to not overvalue strength of schedule for fantasy football decision-making given how much year-to-year turnover there is in defensive talent. Massive fluctuations in rankings occur every year, but strength of schedule can be a decent predictor of fantasy productivity for a given player.
7. Should Strength of Schedule impact fantasy draft decisions?
Strength of schedule can fluctuate massively year over year, so it shouldn’t be overvalued in draft decisions. It can be utilized as a tiebreaker in otherwise close draft picks, but before the season starts we don’t have enough (or any) data on defensive production as currently constructed.
Once we’re a few weeks into the season it will become more valuable to look at matchup statistics. In around Week 3 or 4 we will know more about who the best defenses are. A player’s playoff schedule can look daunting before the season but not as imposing a few weeks in.
9. Do bad teams the previous year have easier schedules?
Every NFL team will play the teams who finished with the same standing in their respective divisions This means bottom-feeders in their division will play other bottom-feeders. However, it’s fairly common for teams to have big improvements in a given season so it’s important to temper expectations about this bad-vs-bad phenomenon.
10. Who has the most difficult schedule in 2020 based on 2019 win totals?
Based on their opponents’ 2019 records, the Patriots will face the toughest slate this season. New England will play the NFC West and AFC West, perhaps the two best divisions in the league this year. They will play both of the teams who made it to the Super Bowl last season in the Chiefs and 49ers.
11. Who has the most difficult schedule in 2020 based on projected win totals for this season?
Based on projected opponent win totals for 2020, the Falcons will face the toughest slate. Their division features arguably the two best passers in the league in Tom Brady and Drew Brees, each of whom they will have to play twice.
12. Who has the easiest schedule in 2020 based on 2019 win totals?
Based on 2019 records, the Ravens have the easiest schedule, although their division-mates in the Steelers, Browns, and Bengals all find themselves in the six easiest schedules thanks to games against the NFC East and AFC South, two mediocre divisions last season.
13. Who has the easiest schedule in 2020 based on projected win totals for this season?
Based on projected win totals, the Colts have the easiest schedule, which is important as they look to return to the playoffs in Philip Rivers’ first year with the team. They have the highest projected win total in their division at 8.5.
14. How has COVID-19 impacted the schedule this year?
The NFL league offices have stated their readiness to make audibles to this year’s schedule if the constantly-changing situation with the pandemic mandates it. However, it appears as though the NFL is on track to kick off in September as it normally would.
15. What team in each NFL division has the easiest schedule this year?
Dolphins - projected win total = 6
Ravens - projected win total = 11.5
Colts - projected win total = 8.5
Chargers - projected win total = 7.5
Cowboys - projected win total = 9.5
Lions - projected win total = 6.5
Buccaneers - projected win total = 9.5
Seahawks - projected win total = 9.5