Ranking All 32 NFL Schedules for 2019
With the 2019 NFL schedule released, the takes can really start to fly.
I mean, the takes have already been flying for some NFL fans, but we actually now have something more concrete to dig into.
Analyzing the schedule before the draft changes rosters and before we even know which quarterbacks will start for some teams is always a bit futile, but hey, that's never stopped anybody before.
So let's dig into the schedule and see which teams are probably going to wind up with an easy draw -- and which squads will have it a bit tougher. To do that, we'll rely on our nERD metric. nERD is numberFire's way of indicating how good a team is. A nERD score indicates expected point differential against an average opponent on a neutral field, so a team with a 3.02 nERD score is about a field goal better than an average team. A team at -5.93 is about a touchdown worse. Simple enough, I think.
Schedule Difficulty Using 2018 nERD
One of the most common ways we'll see analysts examine the schedule is via win/loss record from 2018. That's just not really a good practice.
nERD, at least, relies not on wins but rather on offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency to gauge team strength. Here is how the cumulative schedules look for each team, sorted by the easiest schedule (or lowest nERD).
|New England Patriots||-2.29||Pittsburgh Steelers||-0.14|
|New York Giants||-2.02||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||0.01|
|New York Jets||-1.60||Miami Dolphins||0.23|
|Philadelphia Eagles||-1.55||Detroit Lions||0.24|
|Buffalo Bills||-1.52||San Francisco 49ers||0.37|
|Cincinnati Bengals||-0.67||Green Bay Packers||0.45|
|Dallas Cowboys||-0.62||Minnesota Vikings||0.54|
|Baltimore Ravens||-0.54||Atlanta Falcons||0.59|
|Cleveland Browns||-0.47||Tennessee Titans||0.65|
|Los Angeles Rams||-0.43||Chicago Bears||0.76|
|Carolina Panthers||-0.31||Denver Broncos||0.97|
|New Orleans Saints||-0.28||Kansas City Chiefs||1.14|
|Indianapolis Colts||-0.26||Arizona Cardinals||1.21|
|Los Angeles Chargers||-0.21||Houston Texans||1.32|
|Seattle Seahawks||-0.14||Oakland Raiders||1.46|
The New England Patriots draw the easiest schedule by this measure, in large part because all three of their division rivals had a nERD of at least -3.60 last year: Buffalo Bills (-3.60), New York Jets (-10.19), Miami Dolphins (-11.16). The Jets and Dolphins were actually bottom-three teams in 2018 nERD. The overall weakness in the division has the Jets and Bills inside the top five in schedule ease, per this method.
The New York Giants, though, are second on the list. Their own nERD from 2018 (-3.03, 22nd-best in the NFL) led to a 5-11 record last season. They'll have to replace Odell Beckham's production and lean more on Saquon Barkley, but FanDuel Sportsbook has their over/under on wins set at 6.0.
Similar to the AFC East, the entire NFC East finds itself with a top-eight schedule in terms of ease.
The AFC West has a tougher draw, with Oakland, Kansas City, and Denver near the bottom of the heap. Kansas City and Oakland are the only two teams in the league who draw 10 matchups against teams with positive nERD in 2018.
Digging back into the past season doesn't account for offseason changes, so let's take it a step further. By leveraging win totals from FanDuel Sportsbook, we can make adjustments to nERD and try to estimate schedule difficulty.
Keep in mind that this will make things tighter, as the win totals aren't as optimistic or pessimistic as nERD can be. For example, the Arizona Cardinals won three games last season and posted a nERD of -12.34, worst in the league. With a win total of five games, they'd play more like a team with a nERD of around -5.50, historically. It's still bad, but it's not quite as dreadful.
|New England Patriots||-0.97||Cincinnati Bengals||0.12|
|Philadelphia Eagles||-0.71||Los Angeles Chargers||0.12|
|New York Jets||-0.66||Seattle Seahawks||0.17|
|Cleveland Browns||-0.61||Miami Dolphins||0.28|
|New York Giants||-0.55||Minnesota Vikings||0.28|
|Buffalo Bills||-0.45||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||0.28|
|Los Angeles Rams||-0.24||Arizona Cardinals||0.33|
|Washington Redskins||-0.19||Carolina Panthers||0.33|
|Dallas Cowboys||-0.09||Jacksonville Jaguars||0.33|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||-0.09||Atlanta Falcons||0.43|
|Green Bay Packers||-0.03||Chicago Bears||0.49|
|Baltimore Ravens||0.02||Kansas City Chiefs||0.49|
|New Orleans Saints||0.02||Oakland Raiders||0.59|
|San Francisco 49ers||0.07||Tennessee Titans||0.59|
|Indianapolis Colts||0.07||Houston Texans||0.85|
|Detroit Lions||0.12||Denver Broncos||0.85|
We still see the Pats with the easiest go when viewing the schedule this way, and the AFC East and NFC East are clustered near the top. Plus, the AFC West has it rough either way.
Some softer-than-average schedules could lead to stellar seasons from some stalwarts, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints as well as keep the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, and Indianapolis Colts in the mix.