Ranking All 32 NFL Schedules for 2020
At this point in the sports world, the NFL schedule launch is an even bigger deal than it usually is. That's why it was accompanied by a live reveal show.
That's where we are with things.
And I get it. We want sports. We want them now. That's why I'm not wasting any more time breaking down the schedule in terms of difficulty.
Schedule strength is notoriously hard to predict. Injuries can derail teams, and we can't simply look back at last year's data to project a new-look team the following year. Plus, last year's winning percentage is not at all a good way to project upcoming schedule difficulty.
What are we to do? There are a few options, but why not go an obvious route and leverage win totals and betting trends? They naturally reflect the upcoming season and corral the impact of offseason changes in a tangible way.
So I'm going to rely on FanDuel Sportsbook's win totals and the betting odds attached to them to identify team strength for 2020. With those, I can regress expected wins toward a number resembling numberFire's nERD metric, which indicates point differential for a team against an average opponent on a neutral field.
What does the math say about every game this year?
2020 NFL Schedule Ranks
This is how the schedule shakes out. It's sorted by the toughest schedule in terms of average opponent nERD. Is that the best way to identify schedule strength? Maybe. Maybe not, so I added a few other things.
The table includes each team's listed over/under on Super Bowl odds and their average opponent nERD. From there, it lists number of games matching certain criteria: games where they have the better estimated nERD over their opponent, games where they face a top-10 team, and games where they face a bottom-10 team.
The Atlanta Falcons sure have it tough, but them's the breaks when you share a division with the New Orleans Saints (win total of 10.5) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9.0 with -135 odds on the over). Interestingly, the Falcons outrank their opponent in seven games straight up but that's despite facing only two bottom-10 opponents and seven top-10 opponents.
Atlanta (+100 to go over 7.5 wins) has it rough but can easily hit the over if they take advantage of their easier matchups. Only two teams (the New York Jets and Houston Texans) face fewer than four bottom-10 teams (each play three).
Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders' first season in a new location could be tricky. They face the Kansas City Chiefs (11.5 win total) twice, obviously, but they are the better team (based on the betting data) in only 4 of their 16 games. The odds on the under (-115) at 7.5 wins suggest that they won't improve on their 7-9 season from last year. The schedule will make that tough to do.
Out-of-division home matchups against the Buffalo Bills (-160 to go over 8.5 wins), the New Orleans Saints (+100 to go over 10.5 wins), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-135 to go over 9.5 wins), and the Indianapolis Colts (-160 to go over 8.5 wins) loom.
The Denver Broncos are in a similar boat as the Raiders out in the AFC West. They've got even odds to go over and under their posted total (7.5 wins), so they're projected as a borderline 7-9 or 8-8 team. Like the Raiders, they host the Bills, Saints, and Buccaneers, but also the Tennessee Titans (-110 to go over 8.5 wins). Denver also plays away to the Pittsburgh Steelers (-110 to go over 9.0 wins) and Patriots. Things are trending up for the Broncos overall after a nice draft. The schedule won't make a big turnaround easy.
New York Jets
The New York Jets have it bad. Super Bowl odds has posted odds in each of their games for 2020, and their average point spread this year is +4.0. It's +7.1 in eight road games. Whew. They host the San Francisco 49ers (-120 to go over 10.5 wins) and play on the road against the Chiefs, Colts, Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, and Seattle Seahawks, all of whom have win totals of at least 8.0 games.
New York Giants
The New York Giants also got it bad. They host the 49ers, Steelers, and Buccaneers and play the Baltimore Ravens (+105 to go over 11.5 wins), Rams, Seahawks, and Chicago Bears (-105 to go over 8.0 wins) on the road. Wins in New York will be tough to come by with these schedules.
The Indianapolis Colts always seem to be a staple in articles about the easiest draws in the NFL. The Jacksonville Jaguars (-125 to go under 5.0 wins) are expected to be the league's worst team based on betting odds, the Texans rank 23rd in expected nERD, and the Titans are 14th. The Colts are -160 to go over 8.5 wins for a reason.
The Dallas Cowboys are a team in prime position for 2020. They went just 8-8 in 2019 despite a point differential of +113 and an expected win total of 10.7. They didn't win the division, so their 2020 outlook is a bit lighter than what the Philadelphia Eagles get. The betting data on Dallas makes them look like a top-five team for the upcoming season. Only the Cleveland Browns and Seahawks also play seven bottom-10 opponents this season.
Cleveland, then, is a pretty interesting betting team this season. The action is on the under (-130) on their win total (8.5 games). However, they draw seven bottom-10 opponents and hold an outright nERD lead in seven games. Perhaps the over +110 for the Browns to get to nine wins is in play, based on their draw, which includes Cincinnati Bengals (29th in expected nERD), Washington (31st) and Jacksonville (32nd) as well as both New York teams (Jets are 26th and Giants are 28th).
We should probably expect regression for Ryan Tannehill and the Titans' offense, but we can't hate their draw. The two teams that aren't the Texans and Jaguars benefit from playing in the AFC South against those two squads. Overall, the Titans have even odds to hit the over and under on 8.5 wins. The easy schedule comes with five top-10 opponents but also five bottom-10 opponents.