Not all team schedules in the NFL are created equally. That's not just a statement about how the regular rotation of inter-divisional matchups affects the wild-card races. It also matters when it comes to judging how good teams are at midseason. Some teams will look better because of a schedule front-loaded with home games or easier opponents. Others will get lucky when playing an opponent hampered by a significant quarterback injury.
Today we're taking a look at which teams have the easiest and hardest schedules over the final nine weeks of the season. We've based this analysis not on simple win-loss records but on our more detailed DVOA ratings, which filter out luck and each team's schedule so far. (DVOA, which stands for defense-adjusted value over average, is explained further here.)
We wanted to measure each schedule in such a way that we accounted for both a team's remaining opponents and the remaining split of games home and away. So we estimated how many games a perfectly average team (0.0 percent DVOA) would be expected to win against each remaining schedule. The odds on each game range from 17 percent (playing the Patriots on the road) to 79 percent (playing the 49ers at home).
Opponents are judged based on DVOA ratings so far, with some adjustments based on quarterback injuries. For example, playing the Cowboys becomes much more difficult with Tony Romo back at quarterback. We estimated a 33 percent chance he would play in Week 11, 67 percent in Week 12, and 100 percent in Week 13 and beyond.
Five hardest remaining schedules
1. Cleveland Browns (average team would win 43.2 percent of games)
The Browns really got the short end of the stick with their schedule. It may not seem too bad when looking at win-loss records, but DVOA tells a more accurate story. The Browns share the AFC North with the Bengals (No. 3 in DVOA), the Steelers (No. 9 despite a 4-4 record) and the Ravens (No. 16 despite a 2-6 record). Their schedule also includes both West divisions, where six of the eight teams rank 13th or higher in DVOA.
An average team would have won 44.6 percent of the time against Cleveland's schedule in Weeks 1-8, giving the Browns one of the five hardest schedules so far. And now it gets even tougher. Cleveland has five of its six division games left to go. The Browns still have to play the undefeated Bengals twice, and they never got a chance to take advantage of Pittsburgh's backup quarterbacks. An average team would be favored in only two of Cleveland's final eight games: Week 12 against the Ravens and Week 14 against the 49ers, both at home.