The road to Super Bowl LI in Houston, Texas has been laid out for all 32 teams in the National Football League. Back in April, the NFL released the full schedule of games for the 2016 regular season, and as always, some teams were winners and others were losers. Today, we take a look at the teams that “won” by landing the most favorable schedules for the upcoming season.
Strength of schedule (based on the combined overall records of their upcoming opponents from the previous season) is the element that garners the most attention when determining which teams have favorable schedules for the upcoming season, but the truth of the matter is that there are several other factors that also play a major role in assessing the difficulty of each team’s schedule.
Before continuing, we feel compelled to point out that simply using the combined overall records of their opponents from the previous season as the only basis for determining strength of schedule is a completely flawed system.
For example, the Dallas Cowboys played most of last season without their starting quarterback, Tony Romo (pictured above), and as a result, their 2015 record wasn’t truly indicative of the type of team they can be this year. The Cowboys will have Romo back in their lineup in 2016, which means that their winning percentage of 0.250 in 2015 will likely prove to be an inaccurate gauge of how difficult of an opponent they will be this season.
Knowing this, we decided to consider a handful of other dynamics — short weeks (playing on Thursday night after playing a game the previous Sunday), home/road stretches, and when/where certain teams fall on each team’s schedule — in addition to the combined overall records of their upcoming opponents from the previous season to take a more in-depth look at which teams have the most favorable schedules in 2016. Here’s what we came up with.
1. Dallas Cowboys
As we previously mentioned, the Cowboys will have Romo back under center, and that alone should make 2016 a much better season for “America’s Team.” As far as their schedule goes, the Cowboys have the fourth-lowest strength of schedule in the league (their opponents had a combined winning percentage of just 0.465 in 2015), they have only one short week, and outside of matchups with the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers in Week 5 and Week 6, respectively, they don’t have difficult games in back-to-back weeks at any other point in the season. All said, with this schedule, the Cowboys should have no problem reaching double-digit wins in 2016.
2. Denver Broncos
The Broncos’ Super Bowl title defense in 2016 won’t be easy, but the league did do them a couple of favors when they put their schedule together. While their opponents do have the 14th highest strength of schedule (0.504) in the league, the Broncos have only one short week, they get to play their toughest non-divisional opponents (the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots) at home, and they just don’t have a brutal stretch of schedule this year. They may have a lot of roster questions that still need to be answered, but the Broncos have to be pleased with the way the NFL set up their 2016 regular season schedule.
3. Chicago Bears
The Bears’ 2016 opponents have the second-lowest combined 2015 winning percentage in the league (0.461), which is something that bodes extremely well for a team that is in rebuilding mode. On top of that, the Bears drew what appears to be the easiest non-divisional slate of games in the league in addition to having only one short week. Looking at this schedule, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bears finish above 0.500 this season.
4. Green Bay Packers
The Packers have the kind of schedule that should allow them to contend for the No. 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs in 2016. They have the lowest strength of schedule in the league (0.457), one short week, and zero strikingly difficult road games.
In fact, the Packers could easily enter their Week 14 game against the Seattle Seahawks on December 11 with a 12-0 record. The bottom line here is that assuming Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, the Packers could realistically win 13 or more games during the regular season.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have the 23rd lowest strength of schedule in the league, but it’s the second half of their 2016 schedule that inspired us to include them on this list. In their last eight games, Pittsburgh will play only one team — the Cincinnati Bengals — that had a winning record in 2015 and will have the added benefit of playing the Cleveland Browns twice during that span.
Additionally, the Steelers get to host the New England Patriots, New York Jets, and Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field. When it comes down to it, the Steelers’ schedule sets up nicely for them to make a serious run at contending for an AFC title in 2016.
Strength of schedule data courtesy of NFL.com.