The easiest way to determine an NFL team’s strength of schedule is by its opponents’ combined winning percentage from the previous season. By that mark, the three-toughest schedules this season belong to the New England Patriots (opponents’ 2019 winning percentage of .537), New York Jets (.533) and Miami Dolphins (.529).
Toughest NFL schedules in 2020 Odds & PicksHowever, that way of doing things is severely flawed. First, a reminder of how schedules are set in the NFL:
- Teams play every other club in their division twice each for a total of six games.
- Teams play an entire division elsewhere in the conference (rotates every year) for a total of four games.
- Teams play an entire division from the opposite conference (rotates every year) for a total of four games.
- Teams play the clubs that finished in the same position in their division from the same conference not including the entire other division that is played for a total of two games.
So, the 2020 Patriots play the AFC East rival Bills, Jets and Dolphins twice each. New England plays the entire AFC West (Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers) and the entire NFC West (Seahawks, 49ers, Cardinals and Rams). Finally, the Pats finished first in the AFC East last year so they play the other two first-place AFC teams from 2019 other than from the division they already face (Ravens and Texans).
Is New England’s 2020 slate really the toughest in the NFL? Heck now. Yes, the Seahawks and 49ers were both playoff teams, while the Chiefs are defending Super Bowl champions and the Ravens led the NFL with 14 wins last year. However, the fact the Patriots get to play the sad-sack Jets and Dolphins twice each brings that schedule strength down.
Plus, using an opponents’ winning record from the year before is very misleading. Every team that plays New England in 2020 gets to use the Patriots’ 12-4 record from last year in that scenario. This year’s Patriots aren’t close to the 2019 version after losing Tom Brady to the Bucs as well as five defensive starters to free agency/coronavirus opt-out. Thus, the schedule strength of the Jets, Bills and Dolphins are all inflated this year because the Pats were so better last year.Falcons, Giants Face More Daunting Slates
Perhaps a better way to measure strength of schedule is by looking at a team’s complete slate and coming up with an average over-under betting win total average from Mybookie.ag. So, you’d add up every opponent’s total and divide by 16.
Doing so that way, one could argue the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants have the two toughest schedules.
The deepest division in the NFL is the NFC South, and the Falcons are stuck playing the Bucs (Tom Brady), Saints (Drew Brees) and Panthers twice each. The Falcons have a tough start out the gates in facing the Seahawks, Cowboys and Packers in the first four weeks. Atlanta will likely be an underdog in three of its first four games, all outside the division: Week 1 vs. Seattle, Week 2 in Dallas and Week 4 in Green Bay. Both Seattle and Green Bay made the playoffs last season, while Dallas nearly did, and defending Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and Aaron Rodgers in the first month will be quite the challenge.
Perhaps no team has a tougher closing stretch to the schedule than Atlanta: Week 15 vs. Bucs (Tom Brady), Week 16 at Chiefs (Patrick Mahomes) and Week 1 7 at Bucs (Brady again). Brady is 6-0 against the Falcons in his career, including Super Bowl LI.
The Giants, meanwhile, get two easy games inside the NFC East vs. Washington but also have to play NFC contenders Dallas and Philadelphia twice. The Giants are just 4-14 in the division over the past three years. They have lost seven straight to the Eagles. New York also hosts the return of Ben Roethlisberger with the Steelers in Week 1, the defending NFC champion 49ers in Week 3 and Brady’s Bucs in Week 8. There are very tough trips to Seattle and Baltimore.
Atlanta has a win total of 7.5 this season at Mybookie and New York 6.5. We recommend the under on both looking at those schedules.