Analysts love to predict schedule strength before the season starts, and Football Outsiders is no different. But we know that schedule strength looks a lot different once we've played some of the games. We also know schedule strength plays a big role in deciding who gets into the NFL playoffs. Playoff races for the stretch run look a lot different when you know which teams are playing tough schedules and which teams have it easy.
For this story, we've analyzed each team's schedule both in the games so far (Weeks 1-10) and in the games to come (Weeks 11-17) based on Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings (explained here). We have adjusted these numbers with projections based on quarterback changes, both in the future ratings and the past ratings mentioned below. For example, the Saints are considered an easier opponent without Drew Brees in the lineup; we estimated that Brees will be out three weeks, with his chance to return gradually increasing between Week 14 and Week 17. The Cowboys, on the other hand, were considered a harder opponent when Dak Prescott was healthy.
We've also made small adjustments based on home and road games. However, we made these adjustments at only about 25% of their usual size. Remarkably, there has been no home-field advantage at all in the NFL over the past year and a half. That doesn't mean that home-field advantage is gone for good, but we're going to assume that any home-field advantage that does exist is much smaller than what we've seen historically.
The write-ups below also look at schedules in terms of fantasy football scoring, analyzing which defenses have done the best at preventing points at each position, with small adjustments for home and away. We'll list some of the teams on the extremes below. When we rank fantasy schedules, we're adjusting for playoffs by removing Week 17 and doubling the value of Weeks 14-16.
Here are all 32 teams ranked in order from the hardest projected remaining schedule to the easiest:
1. Atlanta Falcons (3-6)
Adjusted DVOA of remaining opponents: 18.2%
Adjusted DVOA of past opponents: 0.3% (15)
The Falcons have the hardest remaining schedule in the NFL by far. The average DVOA of their remaining opponents is nearly double that of any other team. Atlanta plays the hardest remaining schedule of opposing offenses and the hardest remaining schedule of opposing defenses. Six of Atlanta's final seven opponents have winning records. The Falcons still have to play all four of their division games against New Orleans and Tampa Bay, who happen to be the two highest-rated teams according to our DVOA ratings. (At least they get the Drew Brees-free Saints, probably in both Week 11 and Week 13.) They also have to play the Kansas City Chiefs on the road. Their other two games are Las Vegas at home and the Chargers in Los Angeles.
Despite the Falcons having an average schedule through Week 10, their opponents are on pace to give Atlanta the hardest schedule through all 16 games. At least they can't say they weren't warned: In the preseason, we projected Atlanta with the second-hardest schedule of 2020, trailing only Carolina.