2013 NFL Schedule: The Year Of The Denver Broncos

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 19, 2013



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)

Last night the NFL released the schedule for the 2013 season, setting the path towards Super Bowl XLVIII. Only the NFL can likely get millions of viewers for something as simple as looking at a list of teams, dates and times.

But one thing is clear from this year’s schedule: this should be the year of the Denver Broncos.

  • The season will open in Denver with a Thursday night game against defending champion Baltimore, instantly giving us the rematch to last postseason’s most epic game.
  • In Week 2 the national CBS game will be “Manning Bowl III” as Peyton Manning leads Denver against his brother Eli’s Giants.
  • Manning will make his return to Indianapolis to take on the Andrew Luck-led Colts for possibly the only time ever in Week 7.
  • The Manning/Brady rivalry returns to its usual November slot when the Broncos head to New England with Wes Welker on their side in Week 12.

That is a high-profile schedule. But some will point to it also being the easiest schedule in the league, as that is what the 2013 strength of schedule (SOS) suggests (based on records of teams in 2012):

2013 Predicted SOS

Rk

Team

Wins

Losses

Ties

Pct.

1

Carolina

138

116

2

0.543

2

Detroit

138

118

0

0.539

2

New Orleans

137

117

2

0.539

2

St. Louis

137

117

2

0.539

5

Baltimore

137

119

0

0.535

6

Green Bay

136

119

1

0.533

7

Arizona

131

121

4

0.520

7

Miami

133

123

0

0.520

7

San Francisco

132

122

2

0.520

10

Minnesota

132

124

0

0.516

10

Seattle

130

122

4

0.516

12

Cincinnati

130

126

0

0.508

12

Jacksonville

129

125

2

0.508

12

New England

130

126

0

0.508

15

Atlanta

128

126

2

0.504

16

Chicago

128

127

1

0.502

17

Tampa Bay

127

127

2

0.500

18

Washington

127

128

1

0.498

19

NY Jets

127

129

0

0.496

19

Philadelphia

127

129

0

0.496

21

Cleveland

126

130

0

0.492

21

Pittsburgh

126

130

0

0.492

23

Tennessee

124

130

2

0.488

24

NY Giants

123

133

0

0.480

25

Dallas

121

134

1

0.475

26

Buffalo

121

135

0

0.473

26

Kansas City

121

135

0

0.473

26

Houston

120

134

2

0.473

29

Oakland

120

136

0

0.469

30

Indianapolis

117

137

2

0.461

31

San Diego

117

139

0

0.457

32

Denver

110

146

0

0.430

Denver’s 2013 opponents were just 110-146 (.430) last year. That is brought on by an AFC West that produced 13 wins from the other three teams combined. It also does not help the number that Denver went 13-3 against their opponents.

But we know, statistically, teams are rarely as good or bad as their record suggests, and that things can change dramatically from one year to the next. Teams bring in new head coaches and quarterbacks along with other impact players.

One big injury can ruin a team’s season, such as Manning with the 2011 Colts (2-14). Bringing in Luck last season along with turning over much of the roster made the 2012 Colts a surprise playoff team at 11-5.

So can we really use the records from last year to predict how tough a team’s schedule will be the following season?

Keep in mind Denver had the second-toughest schedule heading into 2012, but finished with the 28th-toughest when the season ended. That may be only one example, but we have the data to show how irrelevant predicted strength of schedule really has been.

It is time to sound off on SOS.

 

Strength of Schedule Data (2008-12)

A team’s schedule is always an interesting talking point during the season among fans. Sometimes a team can make the playoffs on the strength of beating up on a weak schedule. That is why the Cold, Hard Football Facts keep track of Quality Standings, which is a team’s record against Quality Opponents (teams with winning records).

But when adding the records of all opponents together to create the SOS, playing a bad division rival twice can skew the data. This is compounded before the season when that rival goes on to have a much better season, which could be the case with 2-14 Kansas City this year after the worst season in franchise history.

In general SOS is a flawed stat as how your team performs has an impact on the number. This is why you often see some of the worst teams in the league have a tough predicted SOS, while some of the best teams in the league have one of the easiest.

We looked at the last five seasons of data for predicted SOS and actual SOS. The predicted SOS is based squarely on the records of opponents from the previous season. The actual SOS is the combined records for those teams at the end of the season.

Correlation of Predicted SOS and Actual SOS

Season(s)

Correlation coefficient

2008

0.414

2009

0.429

2010

0.310

2011

0.211

2012

0.061

2008-12

0.304

For some reason the correlation was peaking in the 2008-09 seasons with a decently strong number. But it has decreased the last three years with 2012 offering an extremely weak 0.06 correlation. With such a lack of parity in the playoffs the last two years, you would have expected maybe stronger correlation, but that was not the case.

Over the last five years the correlation is 0.304, which tells us predicted SOS is not completely insignificant in predicting the actual SOS, but it is not a great predictor.

Out of 160 teams since 2008, only five had a perfect match between predicted SOS and actual SOS, and two of those were aided by pesky ties.

We will now look at the individual season results for 2008-12. The “Win-Diff.” is the difference in wins between predicted and actual SOS. A positive number is the additional wins a team’s opponent actually had compared to the predicted total. The teams are ranked by descending SOS (higher rank means tougher schedule).

2008 Predicted SOS

 2008 Actual SOS

Rk

Team

Wins

Losses

Pct.

Rk

Wins

Losses

Ties

Pct.

Win-Diff.

1

Pittsburgh

153

103

0.598

7

133

120

3

0.525

-18.5

2

Indianapolis

152

104

0.594

16

127

128

1

0.498

-24.5

3

Jacksonville

143

113

0.559

4

137

118

1

0.537

-5.5

4

Baltimore

141

115

0.551

8

132

121

3

0.521

-7.5

4

Minnesota

141

115

0.551

13

129

127

0

0.504

-12

6

Cleveland

140

116

0.547

1

145

108

3

0.572

6.5

6

Cincinnati

140

116

0.547

3

141

114

1

0.553

1.5

6

Houston

140

116

0.547

10

132

123

1

0.518

-7.5

9

Detroit

139

117

0.543

2

143

113

0

0.559

4

9

Tennessee

139

117

0.543

28

117

138

1

0.459

-21.5

11

Green Bay

136

120

0.531

13

129

127

0

0.504

-7

11

Chicago

136

120

0.531

25

121

134

1

0.475

-14.5

13

Dallas

134

122

0.523

16

126

127

3

0.498

-6.5

13

Washington

134

122

0.523

24

121

132

3

0.479

-11.5

15

Philadelphia

133

123

0.520

12

131

124

1

0.514

-1.5

15

NY Giants

133

123

0.520

15

127

126

3

0.502

-4.5

17

St. Louis

125

131

0.488

6

136

119

1

0.533

11.5

18

San Francisco

124

132

0.484

32

114

141

1

0.447

-9.5

19

Seattle

122

134

0.477

16

127

128

1

0.498

5.5

20

Tampa Bay

120

136

0.469

22

123

133

0

0.480

3

21

Carolina

119

137

0.465

20

125

131

0

0.488

6

21

Arizona

119

137

0.465

21

124

131

1

0.486

5.5

21

Miami

119

137

0.465

27

118

138

0

0.461

-1

24

Atlanta

118

138

0.461

28

117

138

1

0.459

-0.5

25

NY Jets

117

139

0.457

26

120

135

1

0.471

3.5

26

Kansas City

116

140

0.453

4

137

118

1

0.537

21.5

27

New Orleans

115

141

0.449

19

127

129

0

0.496

12

27

Buffalo

115

141

0.449

31

116

140

0

0.453

1

29

Denver

114

142

0.445

30

117

139

0

0.457

3

30

Oakland

112

144

0.438

9

133

123

0

0.520

21

31

San Diego

108

148

0.422

11

132

124

0

0.516

24

32

New England

99

157

0.387

22

123

133

0

0.480

24

The 2008 Steelers had the toughest predicted SOS (.598) of any team since 2008. They are the only team in that time to have the toughest predicted SOS and make the playoffs.

Not only did Pittsburgh make the playoffs, but they won the Super Bowl that season. However, the Steelers’ actual SOS ended up ranking No. 7 in the league, so they really did not play the toughest schedule as was predicted.

New England’s predicted SOS of 0.387 is the lowest for any team since 2008. In that Tom Brady-less season, the actual SOS ended up being 0.480 (ranked 22nd).

2009 Predicted SOS

2009 Actual SOS

Rk

Team

Wins

Losses

Ties

Pct.

Rk

Wins

Losses

Pct.

Win-Diff.

1

Miami

152

104

0

0.594

1

143

113

0.559

-9

2

Carolina

151

104

1

0.592

3

138

118

0.539

-13.5

3

New England

151

105

0

0.590

11

132

124

0.516

-19

4

Atlanta

150

105

1

0.588

16

129

127

0.504

-21.5

5

Tampa Bay

148

107

1

0.580

2

142

114

0.555

-6.5

6

Buffalo

146

110

0

0.570

11

132

124

0.516

-14

7

NY Jets

145

110

1

0.568

11

132

124

0.516

-13.5

8

New Orleans

142

113

1

0.557

32

109

147

0.426

-33.5

9

Philadelphia

137

119

0

0.535

24

124

132

0.484

-13

10

NY Giants

134

120

2

0.527

5

137

119

0.535

2

11

Jacksonville

132

124

0

0.516

18

127

129

0.496

-5

11

Dallas

131

123

2

0.516

22

125

131

0.488

-7

13

Indianapolis

131

125

0

0.512

27

121

135

0.473

-10

14

Tennessee

130

126

0

0.508

3

138

118

0.539

8

15

Houston

129

126

1

0.506

16

129

127

0.504

-0.5

16

Washington

125

129

2

0.492

20

126

130

0.492

0

17

Kansas City

123

131

2

0.484

11

132

124

0.516

8

17

San Diego

123

131

2

0.484

28

116

140

0.453

-8

19

Denver

122

132

2

0.480

6

135

121

0.527

12

19

Oakland

122

132

2

0.480

6

135

121

0.527

12

21

Detroit

119

136

1

0.467

8

134

122

0.523

14.5

22

St. Louis

119

137

0

0.465

10

133

123

0.520

14

22

Cincinnati

119

137

0

0.465

20

126

130

0.492

7

24

Seattle

117

139

0

0.457

25

122

134

0.477

5

25

Cleveland

114

140

2

0.449

15

131

125

0.512

16

26

San Francisco

113

142

1

0.443

25

122

134

0.477

8.5

27

Arizona

113

143

0

0.441

29

114

142

0.445

1

28

Baltimore

111

143

2

0.438

8

134

122

0.523

22

29

Pittsburgh

110

144

2

0.434

22

125

131

0.488

14

30

Green Bay

109

146

1

0.428

30

113

143

0.441

3.5

31

Minnesota

107

148

1

0.420

30

113

143

0.441

5.5

32

Chicago

105

149

2

0.414

18

127

129

0.496

21

Much different from the Steelers, the 2009 Super Bowl-winning Saints ended up with the easiest schedule in the league (SOS was 0.426). Predicted to have a SOS of 0.557, that difference between predicted and actual SOS is the biggest for any team in the last five years.

New Orleans’ opponents lost 33.5 more games than expected.

Meanwhile the Miami Dolphins had the toughest predicted SOS (0.594) in 2009, and that actually proved to be true with an actual SOS of 0.559. They finished 7-9 a year after going 11-5 against the 27th-easiest schedule.

The 2009 Dolphins are the only team since 2008 to rank first in both predicted and actual SOS.

2010 Predicted SOS

2010 Actual SOS

Rk

Team

Wins

Losses

Pct.

Rk

Wins

Losses

Pct.

Win-Diff.

1

Houston

140

116

0.547

8

134

122

0.523

-6

1

Tennessee

140

116

0.547

13

130

126

0.508

-10

3

Dallas

139

117

0.543

12

131

125

0.512

-8

4

Cincinnati

138

118

0.539

1

149

107

0.582

11

5

Jacksonville

137

119

0.535

29

116

140

0.453

-21

6

New England

136

120

0.531

14

129

127

0.504

-7

7

NY Giants

135

121

0.527

29

116

140

0.453

-19

8

Washington

134

122

0.523

10

132

124

0.516

-2

9

Philadelphia

133

123

0.520

16

126

130

0.492

-7

10

Cleveland

132

124

0.516

4

146

110

0.570

14

10

Indianapolis

132

124

0.516

23

121

135

0.473

-11

12

Detroit

130

126

0.508

5

139

117

0.543

9

12

Baltimore

130

126

0.508

19

124

132

0.484

-6

14

Minnesota

129

127

0.504

6

138

118

0.539

9

14

Chicago

129

127

0.504

23

121

135

0.473

-8

16

Buffalo

128

128

0.500

2

148

108

0.578

20

16

Miami

128

128

0.500

6

138

118

0.539

10

16

NY Jets

128

128

0.500

16

126

130

0.492

-2

16

Oakland

128

128

0.500

25

120

136

0.469

-8

20

Atlanta

127

129

0.496

19

124

132

0.484

-3

21

Pittsburgh

126

130

0.492

15

128

128

0.500

2

22

Green Bay

125

131

0.488

9

133

123

0.520

8

22

Kansas City

125

131

0.488

32

106

150

0.414

-19

24

Denver

124

132

0.484

10

132

124

0.516

8

25

Tampa Bay

123

133

0.480

22

122

134

0.477

-1

26

Carolina

122

134

0.477

3

147

109

0.574

25

27

New Orleans

120

136

0.469

25

120

136

0.469

0

28

San Francisco

117

139

0.457

18

125

131

0.488

8

29

Seattle

116

140

0.453

19

124

132

0.484

8

29

San Diego

116

140

0.453

28

117

139

0.457

1

31

St. Louis

115

141

0.449

31

115

141

0.449

0

32

Arizona

114

142

0.445

27

119

137

0.465

5

This time the prediction for the Saints was dead-on accurate, as both the predicted and actual SOS was 120-136 (.469). Even better was the Rams (115-141) ranking 31st in both categories.

But the 2010 season had the second-lowest range of predicted SOS’s, producing a differential of 0.102. The 2012 season has the lowest range at 0.094 or 1.5 additional wins per team.

In other words, the 2010 team with the easiest schedule in the league would jump to the top with the toughest schedule if each of their opponents had 1.625 wins added to its total.

Given how so many teams are literally two plays away from being +/- 2 in record every season, it’s just not a big deal.

The range for actual SOS in 2010 was 0.168, or 2.69 wins per team. That is a total of 43 more wins. Once again, we are not breaking any new ground here, but actual SOS is way more important than predicted SOS.

2011 Predicted SOS

2011 Actual SOS

Rk

Team

Wins

Losses

Pct.

Rk

Wins

Losses

Pct.

Win-Diff.

1

Carolina

142

114

0.555

14

129

127

0.504

-13

2

Buffalo

137

119

0.535

8

133

123

0.520

-4

3

Indianapolis

133

123

0.520

4

138

118

0.539

5

3

Detroit

133

123

0.520

5

137

119

0.535

4

3

Denver

133

123

0.520

8

133

123

0.520

0

3

San Diego

133

123

0.520

11

132

124

0.516

-1

3

Kansas City

133

123

0.520

12

131

125

0.512

-2

3

Jacksonville

133

123

0.520

17

128

128

0.500

-5

3

NY Jets

133

123

0.520

17

128

128

0.500

-5

10

Minnesota

132

124

0.516

2

143

113

0.559

11

10

Miami

132

124

0.516

14

129

127

0.504

-3

10

Houston

132

124

0.516

29

116

140

0.453

-16

13

Green Bay

130

126

0.508

28

117

139

0.457

-13

13

New Orleans

130

126

0.508

32

113

143

0.441

-17

15

Philadelphia

129

127

0.504

21

125

131

0.488

-4

15

Dallas

129

127

0.504

25

121

135

0.473

-8

15

New England

129

127

0.504

30

115

141

0.449

-14

18

Tampa Bay

127

129

0.496

3

141

115

0.551

14

19

Cleveland

126

130

0.492

6

136

120

0.531

10

19

NY Giants

126

130

0.492

8

133

123

0.520

7

19

Oakland

126

130

0.492

14

129

127

0.504

3

19

Atlanta

126

130

0.492

22

123

133

0.480

-3

23

Chicago

125

131

0.488

7

135

121

0.527

10

23

Seattle

125

131

0.488

12

131

125

0.512

6

23

Tennessee

125

131

0.488

27

118

138

0.461

-7

26

St. Louis

122

134

0.477

1

151

105

0.590

29

27

Cincinnati

121

135

0.473

19

126

130

0.492

5

27

Pittsburgh

121

135

0.473

19

126

130

0.492

5

27

Washington

121

135

0.473

23

122

134

0.477

1

30

San Francisco

119

137

0.465

30

115

141

0.449

-4

31

Baltimore

117

139

0.457

23

122

134

0.477

5

32

Arizona

113

143

0.441

26

120

136

0.469

7

You may have noticed Carolina has the toughest predicted schedule in 2013. It was just two years ago where the Panthers were in the same position after coming off a season that earned them the No. 1 pick in the draft. That year their actual SOS ended up ranking 14th.

Instead it was the Colts going from the third-toughest predicted SOS to the fourth-toughest actual SOS. Of course not having Manning at quarterback hurt the numbers, but it also led to the No. 1 pick in the draft and Luck.

The 2011 team with the actual toughest schedule was St. Louis. Expected to be playing a soft schedule (26th-ranked predicted SOS), the Rams instead faced teams who won 59.0 percent of their games, which is the toughest SOS of any team since 2008. The difference between actual and predicted SOS for the 2011 Rams is the highest positive number of any team since 2008.

The Rams’ opponents won 29 more games than expected. The 49ers going 13-3 under Jim Harbaugh had a lot to do with that.

2012 Predicted SOS

 2012 Actual SOS

Rk

Team

Wins

Losses

Pct.

Rk

Wins

Losses

Ties

Pct.

Win-Diff.

1

NY Giants

140

116

0.547

6

133

122

1

0.521

-6.5

2

Denver

139

117

0.543

28

117

139

0

0.457

-22

3

Cleveland

135

121

0.527

14

130

126

0

0.508

-5

4

St. Louis

134

122

0.523

4

137

117

2

0.539

4

4

Baltimore

134

122

0.523

21

127

129

0

0.496

-7

6

San Diego

133

123

0.520

28

117

139

0

0.457

-16

7

Philadelphia

132

124

0.516

14

130

126

0

0.508

-2

8

Arizona

131

125

0.512

2

141

111

4

0.559

12

8

Minnesota

131

125

0.512

8

132

122

2

0.520

2

10

Carolina

130

126

0.508

9

132

124

0

0.516

2

11

Dallas

129

127

0.504

5

134

122

0

0.523

5

11

New Orleans

129

127

0.504

6

133

122

1

0.521

4.5

11

Seattle

129

127

0.504

17

127

125

4

0.504

0

14

Jacksonville

128

128

0.500

3

138

118

0

0.539

10

14

Pittsburgh

128

128

0.500

27

119

137

0

0.465

-9

14

Indianapolis

128

128

0.500

30

113

143

0

0.441

-15

14

Cincinnati

128

128

0.500

31

112

144

0

0.438

-16

18

Miami

127

129

0.496

20

127

127

2

0.500

1

18

Oakland

127

129

0.496

26

120

136

0

0.469

-7

20

Detroit

126

130

0.492

1

144

110

2

0.566

19

20

Kansas City

126

130

0.492

9

132

124

0

0.516

6

20

Chicago

126

130

0.492

11

130

124

2

0.512

5

20

NY Jets

126

130

0.492

11

130

124

2

0.512

5

24

San Francisco

125

131

0.488

17

128

126

2

0.504

4

24

Washington

125

131

0.488

24

126

129

1

0.494

1.5

24

Atlanta

125

131

0.488

32

108

148

0

0.422

-17

27

Tampa Bay

124

132

0.484

19

128

127

1

0.502

4.5

28

Tennessee

123

133

0.480

11

131

125

0

0.512

8

29

Houston

121

135

0.473

21

127

129

0

0.496

6

29

Buffalo

121

135

0.473

25

122

132

2

0.480

2

31

Green Bay

120

136

0.469

14

129

125

2

0.508

10

32

New England

116

140

0.453

21

126

128

2

0.496

11

Again, predicted SOS missed on the Broncos more than any team in the league last year. Denver’s opponents won 22 fewer games. A lot of that has to do with the terrible year from the Chiefs and a decline from the Saints (from 13-3 to 7-9).

Atlanta (13-3) also claimed the league’s best record with the easiest schedule in the league (actual SOS of 0.422).

 

Conclusion: Focus on Better Schedule Factors

There is a time and place to care about SOS, but the offseason is not that time. Numerous teams will improve and decline this year while only a few will remain relatively consistent.

The SOS to worry about will not be known until the season is in progress. Until then, you are better off scanning the schedule for other factors such as Thursday road games and early start times for Pacific/Mountain teams.

The Seattle Seahawks open with three road games starting at 10:00 A.M. PST in the season’s first five weeks (playing in Carolina, Houston and Indianapolis). They are also set to play contenders Atlanta and the Giants in that early time slot late in the season.

Seattle lost in such early games last season in St. Louis, Detroit and Miami. The playoff loss to Atlanta was also an early game, which Seattle started sluggishly, falling behind 20-0.

Road teams actually finished with a respectable 8-8 record in Thursday games in 2012, thanks to a 3-0 sweep on Thanksgiving.

In fact, some of the golden nuggets and coincidences in the game may matter more than predicted SOS.

Detroit is set to play Green Bay on Thanksgiving this year. Since 2007, every team playing Detroit on Thanksgiving has won at least 11 games. Three of those teams (2008 Titans, 2010 Patriots and 2011 Packers) finished with the best record in the NFL. Houston was 9-1 entering the Lions game last season before slumping to a 12-4 finish.

The New England Patriots have played all 12 teams to reach the Super Bowl since 2006 (excluding themselves obviously). This season they play the NFC South, which just missed on Atlanta making it last year. Maybe this is the time in Tony Gonzalez’s swansong?

Then there’s the fact that the last four teams to play in the Eagles’ home opener have won the Super Bowl. San Diego gets that opportunity this season, though that’s the wrong team from the division to watch out for.

Stunning fact: all seven Super Bowl winners since 2006 have played the NFC East and the New England Patriots in the regular season.

Guess which team is the only one playing all five in 2013?

The Denver Broncos.

We will believe in a seven-year pattern of a battle-tested route to a championship long before buying into the hype of “easy schedules” and predicted SOS.

 

Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.


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