By Derek Lofland
The NFL released its 2009 schedule on April 14. Therefore, I decided to push my regular Tuesday article back to Wednesday so we could take a look at the schedule as that is the big news in the NFL this week.
Some interesting developments came out of the schedule release: a few teams came away looking like winners, and a few teams looking like they are going to have a tough road.
One thing to remember is that the strength of schedule factor is not always what it is hyped up to be. Any NFL team can beat any other NFL team any week. There are no easy games, except on paper.
For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers had the toughest schedule in 2008 based on 2007 records. Many thought even that it might be one of the toughest in NFL history. In spite of that, the Steelers managed to go 12-4 and win the Super Bowl.
The Indianapolis Colts had the second toughest schedule in 2008 and they also went 12-4 being the No. 5 seed in the playoffs.
Conversely, the New England Patriots had the easiest schedule and many thought they were primed to go 16-0 again. They only went 11-5 and missed the playoffs.
Even though those teams had easy schedules, they were hurt by key injuries to QB Tom Brady (Patriots) and DE Shawn Merriman (Chargers).
Strength of schedule can be overrated, because teams that were bad the year before can suddenly become tough teams and vice versa. In 2007 the Miami Dolphins improved from 1-15 to 11-5 in 2008. The Atlanta Falcons also went from 4-12 in 2007 to 11-5 in 2008.
Conversely, the Dallas Cowboys went from 13-3 to 9-7 and the Green Bay Packers went from 13-3 to 6-10. Just because the teams finished a certain way the year before doesn’t mean they will again. We don’t know what injuries and setbacks will affect teams across the NFL.
However, I have also seen a schedule destroy teams. The 2006 Ravens went 13-3 and were the No. 2 seed in the AFC. In 2007, they got off to a slow start and then had to play at San Diego, New England Patriots, and the Indianapolis Colts. That stretch took a 4-6 team and buried them at 4-9 and out of the playoff race.
When I pick the winners and losers, I try to do my best to take a cross section of teams from different divisions. The reason for that is that 12 out of the 16 opponents will be identical for teams in the same division.
The only games that differ are two conference games, which are determined by how the teams finished in their division, and the two division games the opponents play against one another.
If I went straight down the strength of schedule list, most of the teams would be from the same division.
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