FO Mailbag: Easiest First-Half Schedules Ever

Nat Brooks: You include past schedule strength in each week's DVOA analysis. Here at the midpoint of the season, the Chiefs have the weakest past schedule I can remember. How does their Week 9 schedule stack up against other seasons? How do the weakest three schedules this year stack up against the past? Are we seeing something historic?

Believe it or not, no. I went back and looked at every team's schedule through Week 9, going all the way back to 1989. These schedule ratings are based on DVOA as it looked as of Week 9 of each year, meaning only based on games through that week. The Chiefs come out with the sixth worst schedule based on average DVOA of opponents. And 2013 as a whole can't even come close to 2005 when it comes to easy schedules. San Diego (31st) and Denver (30th) don't make our list of the dozen easiest first-half schedules, but three different teams from 2005 do. That's the year that the Colts' schedule was so easy through the first few weeks of the season that it basically broke the DVOA system, ranking them sixth because the teams they had dominated were so pathetic. That's when we had to change things to do more complicated second-level opponent adjustments. If we look through nine weeks, though, the Colts don't even come out with the easiest schedule of that season. Tampa Bay does.

But the 2005 Bucs also don't end up with the easiest first-half schedule ever. That claim to fame belongs to the 1997 San Francisco 49ers. Here are the dozen easiest schedules through Week 9, along with each team's final finish:

Easiest Schedule as of Week 9, 1989-2013
1997 SF 7-1 37.6% 1 -20.9% 13-3 27.5% 4
2005 TB 5-3 -7.3% 20 -20.5% 11-5 3.1% 14
1999 STL 6-2 36.1% 2 -19.3% 13-3 34.0% 1
2005 IND 8-0 35.8% 1 -18.8% 14-2 32.1% 1
1992 MIN 6-2 14.6% 8 -18.6% 11-5 12.7% 9
2013 KC 9-0 14.7% 9 -18.4% -- -- --
1999 JAC 7-1 39.6% 1 -18.0% 14-2 27.1% 2
1993 GB 4-3 14.5% 11 -18.0% 9-7 11.3% 9
2006 CHI 7-1 33.6% 2 -17.7% 13-3 23.9% 5
2000 NO 5-3 -3.6% 18 -17.5% 10-6 -0.9% 19
2012 SD 4-4 -13.0% 23 -17.1% 7-9 -9.0% 22
2005 CAR 6-2 19.9% 9 -16.8% 11-5 17.7% 10

You can thank the pre-2002 six-division setup for San Francisco's ridiculous 1997 schedule. Somehow, the 49ers ended up playing seven of their eight NFC West division games before Week 10, and that included two games each against New Orleans (30th through Week 9), St. Louis (29th through Week 9), and Atlanta (27th through Week 9). Their other opponents in the first eight games were Carolina (21st) and Tampa Bay (16th). The 49ers' schedule wasn't particularly difficult over the second half of the season either, except for games against the two best teams in the AFC, Denver and Kansas City.

The 2005 Bucs played seven of their first eight games against teams that had DVOA below 0% through Week 9 of that year, including two teams (San Francisco and Minnesota) that were below -40%. Carolina (ninth through Week 9) was the only team they had played that ranked higher than 19th.


9 comments, Last at 10 Nov 2013, 9:15am

#1 by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) // Nov 08, 2013 - 3:46pm

Interesting to me that most of the teams on this list did NOT see their fortunes change much in the second half of the season. The final W-L records line up pretty well with mid-season. Most of the DVOAs stayed pretty similar too -- 3 went noticably down, 1 went up, and the rest stayed about the same.

Depending on your point of view, this could be good or bad news for KC. It suggests that their DVOA will probably not improve much, but there's nothing in the table to suggest they'll be "exposed" by going on a late-season losing streak.

Points: 0

#3 by Perfundle // Nov 08, 2013 - 4:22pm

"but there's nothing in the table to suggest they'll be "exposed" by going on a late-season losing streak."

Depends on what you mean by exposed. With everyone's DVOA unchanged, the playoff odds still predicts them to go 4-3 over the last 7 games, which will surely be spun as exposed by the media.

Points: 0

#2 by nat // Nov 08, 2013 - 4:02pm

So where did DEN and SD rank? Or did they coincidentally rank the same in this all time list as they do this season?

Points: 0

#5 by Bobman // Nov 08, 2013 - 4:46pm

Jeez, Aaron, nice consistency from interim to final rankings! It's hard to believe DVOA was that consistent--I mean humans really can't figure out how good a team is when it's competition sucks, so either we say "best ever! They're 9-0!" or our magic 8-balls say "come back later."

In the table above, the DVOA is incredibly consistent (even when teams themselves aren't--ever hear of key injuries?!?!) from Week 9 to Week 17.

1997 SF went from #1 to #4
1999 STL went from #2 to #1 (won SB)
2005 IND went from #1 to #1 (and then Freeney broke his foot and the D unraveled)
1992 MIN went from #8 to #9
1999 JAC went from #1 to #2 (and won a playoff game by a bazillion points, and only lost to ONE team the whole year--three times, however)

Pat your computer on the back. Nice work. That suggests to me that KC will likely end up ranked somewhere between 7 and 11. Math is cool.

Points: 0

#8 by bernie (not verified) // Nov 08, 2013 - 6:36pm

Freeney didn't have his foot injury until 2007. In 2005, we had Nick Harper stabbed in the thigh the week of the playoff game against Pittsburgh (still not entirely sure how much that affected his decision to cut back on the fumble return, instead of just trying to outsprint Rothlisburger to the outside).

Points: 0

#6 by intel_chris (not verified) // Nov 08, 2013 - 5:04pm

Not that it will probably make much difference, but I think for past years, you need to use week 10 rankings, so that the teams have played 9 games, just as KC has so far this year. Otherwise, it looks a little funny. You are comparing a 9-0 team with 8-0, 7-1, etc. teams and even one 4-3 team (i.e. 2 whole games less).

Of course, this list (even ignoring the anomaly of only 1 9-game team) still exposes one statistical curiosity, where good teams tend to look like they have easy schedules, because they tend to beat the other team and thus making the teams they beat look worse. (And you can look at "beat" either way, by box-score or by DVOA. In both cases the better team tends to make the worse team look worse.) As I remember, the metrics were adjusted to try to account for that fact, including trying both 2nd and n-th order corrections. Still, it is pretty telling that no team on the n easiest list has a worse than .500 record.

It would be curious to see the list for teams with 8-1 and 9-0 records. Extrapolating from the list you've shown, KC looks to rank a little more extreme on that list, but the company of other teams includes mostly teams that finished the season with 3 or fewer losses. Just as the playoff odds report that Mike Harris predicts, that still gives KC an overwhelming chance of making the playoffs. If it weren't that Denver is only 1 game behind, it would even seem to give KC a strong chance of being the division winner.

I think there is a secondary effect there, given that some of the teams KC has beaten have also been beaten by the Broncos, that effectively doubles the negative effect of playing a good team and thus some of those teams might be stronger than their current ratings suggest.

Unfortunately, just as one can only beat the teams one plays, one can only measure the games that were played. DVOA does a credible job of extrapolating from that information, but the limited information will always be a factor that will impact the ratings.

Points: 0

#7 by dvesel (not verified) // Nov 08, 2013 - 6:07pm

I know it's not necessarily predictive, but it's part of the reason why a team like the Bills could make some noise in the second half. As of now, the average DVOA for their remaining 7 opponents is -12.1%, which has to be one of if not the most favorable. They may not be world beaters, but they wouldn't have to be to find success given their soft schedule.

Points: 0

#9 by jets pete (not verified) // Nov 10, 2013 - 9:15am

while not emcompassed in dvoa, the 2005 bucs also played an off the couch vinny testaverde in week 5 in NY

Points: 0

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