For the first time in nearly 20 years, the New England Patriots face a lot of uncertainty entering the 2020 season. From Tom Brady’s future to a plethora of other pending free agents, the team may look very different next season. On top of this dubious future is a challenging 2020 schedule that could make things all the more difficult.
What is strength of schedule?
An NFL team’s strength of schedule may seem like an arbitrary term that can be decided with one glance at a team’s calendar. But it goes much deeper than this. As SportingCharts.com explains, strength of schedule is a mathematical equation that measures how many wins (or projected wins) the combined opponents of an upcoming season will have.
With only 16 games in the NFL season and multiple games against division rivals, the NFL can’t be the NBA, where the teams all play each other throughout the season. As such, the strength of schedule can indicate of how well a team is playing.
A team could be projected to end at 14-2. But if they have an easy schedule, this record could look worse than a 12-4 record from a team who played tougher teams come playoffs.
Strength of schedule doesn’t just affect arguments and predictions. It can come into play if two teams are tied at the end of a season and there’s only one playoff spot. For the upcoming season, strength of schedule merely provides what a team can likely look forward to before they draft and make other moves.
Will the Patriots’ 2020 schedule hurt them?
CBS notes that the Patriots have the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL. Their opponents amass a combined 2019 winning percentage of 53.7% going into 2020. New England will face several of last season’s most dominant teams as they fight to regain glory next year.
On top of facing the Buffalo Bills two times, the Patriots will face the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, and Seattle Seahawks, not to mention the AFC rival Kansas City Chiefs. Most of these teams seem on pace to have similar seasons next year.
Even if New England can return locked and loaded, the year ahead could be among the most trying the team has faced since Brady went down with a knee injury in Week 1 of the 2008 season.
Coming off a historic year, the Ravens have the easiest NFL record, according to the strength of schedule. Fringe teams like the Cowboys, Saints, Rams, and Titans will enter the season with opponents who combined for losing records.
Coming up just behind the Patriots, however, are teams with similarly tough schedules. The 49ers go in with an opponent win total of 52.7%; the Bills and Lions come in with 52.5%. The Houston Texans tied for eighth in the league with 51.8%. Regardless, Bill Belichick’s Pats will have a hard time staying afloat if they don’t nail the offseason.
What can the Patriots do to combat this?
The first and most obvious thing the Patriots can do to ease the pain of their horrific schedule is to bring back Brady. Other QB options, like Teddy Bridgewater, Andy Dalton, and Philip Rivers, are possibilities. But Brady is the heart and soul of the team. Even in his mid-forties, it’s hard to see the team succeeding without him.
New England has many other key members of the roster entering the open market, including Phillip Dorsett, Matthew Slater, and Marshall Newhouse. This is a make-or-break year for the Patriots as they prepare for the next chapter. Win, and they can add to their already rich history. Lose, and they could officially begin the next, less victorious era of New England football.