Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, February 15, 27 days before NFL free agency starts.
PSA: Pay no attention to Redskins’ 2018 schedule strength posts
It’s the time of year when articles about the strength of schedule for the following NFL season start to pop up. It’s easy content. We know each team’s 2017 winning percentage and 2018 opponents so all you have to do is aggregate the combined winning percentages of each team’s opponents, hit sort on that column in Excel and, boom, you have strength of schedule for each team ranked from 1-32. Per this method, the Redskins have the 14th toughest schedule in 2018.
That’s great — except it’s meaningless. If you want the long explanation of why they mean nothing, read this excellent post on the Sharp Football Analysis blog. One of the points made is that the “analysis” of ranking next year’s strength of schedule using last year’s records is that it is done without context. Did the teams on your schedule pile up a lot of wins against bad teams? Did they have key injuries to players who can be expected to return at full strength this year?
Here’s an example of context.
The Redskins play the Texans and the Colts in 2018. Both teams went 4-12 last year. That combined winning percentage of .250 weighs in as 1/8 (12.5 percent) of Washington’s schedule strength.
But how reasonable is it to expect those teams to be the same this year, which is exactly what using last year’s data to project next year’s record is? Colts QB Andrew Luck did not play a single snap last year. The Texans had J.J. Watt for just five games and quarterback Deshaun Watson’s sensational rookie year was cut short when he suffered a torn ACL after six starts. By moving away from static analysis even a little bit, I think that we can figure that these teams will combine for more than eight wins this year.
Then there are the Titans, another team on Washington’s 2018 schedule. They went 3-1 against the Colts and Texans. That certainly helped them build that 9-7 record that got them into the playoffs. They were outscored on the season, usually the mark of a losing team. The Titans bigwigs were sufficiently unhappy with their level of play to replace their head coach, so they were not as good as their record might indicate.
There are plenty of questions within the Redskins’ own division. Will the Eagles suffer from a Super Bowl hangover? Are the Giants going to improve dramatically with a new coach and GM and Odell Beckham back from injury? Which way will the Cowboys, perhaps the most inconsistent team in the league, swing this year? The six games against those teams are over a third of the schedule.
Perhaps you can figure that such ups and downs will even out, and they may to an extent. But with only 13 opponents in a season, things tend not to even out, as the Sharp Football blog shows. You could almost draw numbers out of a hat and do as good a job of determining schedule strength as you could with using that one out of context set of numbers that get so much attention leading up to the season.
—NFL Combine (3/1) 14
—NFL Draft (4/26) 70
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 206
Tandler on Twitter
A top NFL executive on the 2018 free agent class via @JasonLaCanfora "On paper, it's the worst group of free agents I've seen since I've been doing this."— Rich Tandler (@TandlerNBCS) February 14, 2018
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