With the NFL schedule being released this week, now seems like a good time to take a look at the strength of schedule for each team heading into 2022, so that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
Based on the final standings from 2021, the Los Angeles Rams will be going into the upcoming season with toughest strength of schedule.
It’s been nearly 20 years since the NFL has seen a team win back-to-back Super Bowls and based on this year’s strength of schedule, that’s a drought that likely isn’t going to end this season. The Rams have an SOS of .567, which not only gives them the most difficult schedule in 2022, but it makes them one of only two teams in the NFL — along with the Cardinals — that will have a strength of schedule above . 540.
The Rams’ rough schedule includes 10 games against playoff teams from last season, which is the most in the NFL. The Rams road schedule is especially brutal with five of their eight games against teams that made the playoffs last year (49ers, Cardinals, Buccaneers, Packers, Chiefs) and seven of the eight against teams that finished 2021 with a winning record.
The Rams might not be the only team from Super Bowl LVI that has a tough time getting back to the game and that’s because the Bengals have also been dealt a difficult hand. Going into 2022, the Bengals have the most difficult schedule in the AFC and the third-most difficult schedule overall. Out of their nine road games, the Bengals will play five of them against teams that went to the playoffs last season (Steelers, Patriots, Titans, Buccaneers and Cowboys).
The Bengals are one of just three AFC teams — along with the Chiefs and Raiders — who have a strength of schedule above .520.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the easiest strength of schedule belongs to the Cowboys and Commanders, who are tied at .462. if you’re looking for a division that could produce a few surprise teams next season, then you might want to look at the NFC East. Collectively, the four teams in that division have the four easiest schedules heading into 2022.
The Eagles only play six teams that made the playoffs last season, which is tied for the fewest in the NFL. The Eagles had the easiest strength of schedule in 2021 and they rode that all the way to a surprise playoff berth. Speaking of 2021, the two teams with the easiest strength of schedule last season (Philly and Dallas) both made the playoffs, marking the sixth straight year that at least one team playing one of the two easiest schedules made the postseason.
The addition of the 17th game has added some spice to the strength of schedule measurement and that’s because it means that good teams are now playing more difficult schedules. From 2002 to 2020, the schedule was inherently the same for everyone, whether they were playing a « first-place » schedule or a « last-place » schedule. Each team played four games against a team that finished in first place, four games against teams that finished in second, four games against teams that finished in third and four games against teams that finished in last place.
With the addition of the 17th game, a first-place team will now play FIVE first place teams, which means you’re rarely going to see a division winner with an easy schedule. As a matter of fact, four of the five most difficult schedules in 2022 will be played by teams with a « first place » schedule after winning their division last season (Rams, Bengals, Buccaneers, Chiefs).
Of the teams playing a « first-place » schedule this year, the Cowboys have it the easiest. The Bills had the « easiest » first-place schedule in 2021 and they were able to turn that into an 11-6 record.
As for teams who are playing a « last-place » schedule this year, the Giants scored the biggest win as they have the easiest schedule among last place teams. On the other hand, the Seahawks, who are also playing a last-place schedule, have the 11th most difficult schedule in the NFL, which means this could be a rough year for them.
One other team worth noting is the Indianapolis Colts, who have the easiest strength of schedule in the AFC. That one factor combined with a few other things makes it feel like the Colts have the recipe to be a dark horse Super Bowl contender this year: They had a winning record last year, they upgraded at QB and they play the easiest schedule in the conference .
One team that could take a step back this year based on SOS is the Cardinals, who have the second-toughest schedule in the NFL.
The one thing about strength of schedule is that there’s no perfect way to measure schedule difficulty before the season kicks off. Between injuries, free agency and the draft, rosters are changing all the time and they will continue to change between now and the start of the season in September. That being said, strength of schedule does give you a good idea of what your favorite team will be facing in the upcoming season.
Here are the 2022 strength of schedule rankings for each team (combined 2021 record of all 17 opponents, combined winning percentage).
If you’re curious about the scheduling formula, here’s how the NFL does it. Under the formula implemented in 2002 (and updated this year), every team plays 17 games as follows:
- Home and away against its three divisions opponents (six games).
- The four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle (four games).
- The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (four games).
- Two intra-conference games based on the prior year’s standings (two games). These games match a first-place team against the first-place teams in the two same-conference divisions that the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place, and fourth-place teams in a conference are matched in the same way each year.
- One interconference game based on the prior year’s standings on a rotating four-year cycle (one game). These games match a first-place team from one division against a first-place team in an opposite conference division that the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place and fourth-place teams in each division are matched in the same way each year. The home conference for this game will rotate each season.
Finally, here’s. The time and dates of each game will be released on Thursday.