AFC West: What Does The Strength of Schedule Mean?

John BartramCorrespondent IIDecember 18, 2010

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 22:  Cheerleaders of the Kansas City Chiefs perform during NFL action against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium on November 22, 2009 in Kansas City, Missouri.  The Chiefs defeated the Steelers 27-24.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Fans love to dissect this argument like it's a ninth grade biology class frog. Does it really define how good a team is?  Or is it misleading like so many other statistic?  Chances are, like most debates, the truth falls in the middle.

It's a slippery slope argument, without question.

The intent is obvious: parity.  The better the team, the more difficult the schedule for the following year.  Conversely, the bottom dwellers get the cake schedules so they can climb back to respectability.

There is one clear flaw in this plan: it's impossible to tell from year to year how good a team will be. 

Look no further than the Cincinnati Bengals, my poster child for this example.  Last year, though limping somewhat at year's end, they were 10- 6, and most impressively, won every divisional game.  That is no easy task in that division.

This year they couldn't beat a three-legged dog. 

That brings me to my next pointdivisional play.  There is nothing that "strength of schedule" can do about the division a team plays in.  Looking at the aforementioned Bengals, on top of being awful, they have to play the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens two times each.  Additionally, the Cleveland Browns are not the puff team of recent years.

Based on all of this I broke down some information for the AFC West.  Obviously, the San Diego Chargers should have the toughest schedule.  The Kansas City Chiefs, on the other hand, should have the easiest followed closely by the Oakland Raiders.  We're not going to bother with the Denver Broncos because I think they already left for the islands.

Looking at the games already played, and the remaining games, this is the combined win-loss record for all the opponents:




It's pretty easy to see the Chiefs and Chargers play an almost identical schedule, in terms of "strength".  The Raiders get the short end of the stick.

This is where the dissection begins.  Part of that, of course, is the division itself.  16 of those 101 losses come from the AFC West, the Chiefs and Chargers.  The irony is, so far the Raiders are 3-0 against those teams.

I'm not always sure how they figure out these schedules based on records.  I, as well as all New England Patriots fans, remember the 2008 season.  The previous seasons record for the Patriots was 16-0.  The Kansas City Chiefs' was 4-12.

So what is the Chiefs opening day game following the 2007 season?  In New England, who was coming off their 16-0 season.  Of course, eight minutes into the game, Tom Brady was out for the season.  Matt Cassel came in and led them to an 11-5 record, and, well you know the rest.

The other factor that eliminates the strength of schedule aspect of a team's schedule is the opposite conference division they play.  That is done on a rotating basis so it's as set as a division schedule.

This year, the AFC West plays the NFC West.  It certainly had an impact on the numbers I listed above.  It would look very different if they were playing the NFC East or South.

Furthermore, every team plays the same teams from a different division within their own conference.  So how many games are we down to for the NFL to play with "strength of schedule"?


In looking even  closer at the AFC West, they play identical schedules, with the exception of two games.

Last year the Chargers were 13-3 and the Chiefs were 4-12.

Now, the dissection will begin.  Who played which team at home versus on the road?  Who was injured when one team played the other?  When did they play a team?  For example, if you played the Houston Texans or Tennessee Titans in late September as opposed to now, you would run into different teams.

The team that the Chargers play that the Chiefs do not is the Patriots.  Hell, they should.  Keep in mind, however, this schedule is based on last year.  Last year the Patriots were a very pedestrian 10-6 and a quick out in the playoffs.

Looking at it this year, it appears much different.

But, then again, they also play the Bengals.

The Raiders had to play Pittsburgh, but again, last year the Steelers were actually borderline bad.

The Chiefs played the Browns and Buffalo Bills this year.  That seems like a walk in the park.  I disagree.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for both team.  The Bills play as hard as any team in the league and there are a lot of so called "star-filled" teams that should look to them for character and integrity.

It's an endless, pointless argument, but that is part of the beauty of sports.  A team can only play the team it lines up in front of.  They don't fill out their own schedules.  They don't dictate who plays and who doesn't.  They just play.

We have seen so much inconsistency this year that you can throw the "schedule" out the window, for the most part.

The Browns blow out the New Orleans Saints and Patriots in back to back weeks.  The self-proclaimed mighty New York Jets go into Foxboro for a "showdown," only to come out on the ass end of a 45-3 beatdown.  The Chiefs go into Denver and get beat like a dirty rug.  The Raiders go into San Diego to play the team that can't lose in December and promptly hammer them.

The list could go on and on.  I don't know if it's parity or bad football.  It seems like teams forgot how to play in some weeks.  The Chiefs got destroyed by the Chargers last week not just because Matt Cassel didn't play, but because they forgot how to tackle.

Some fans take this stuff way too seriously.  I'm as big a Chiefs fan as there is, but Monday morning, real life starts all over again.  Children, personal health, responsibilities, work and more.

Keep the debates coming.  Let's see the "strength" of your argument.