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Broncos vs. Raiders: Why records don’t matter and strength of schedule does

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The Raiders are the only team without a win this year, but that's not for lack of trying. The Raiders have had the 4th hardest schedule this season based on point differential, but the Broncos have had the hardest. Will Oakland give Peyton and Co. a run for their money on Sunday?

The Seahawks have given some of the top teams a run for their money this season
The Seahawks have given some of the top teams a run for their money this season
Otto Greule Jr

Should NFL teams be ranked purely by wins and losses?

In general, when you look at the suite of analytics and statistics out there, the consensus is no. Records don't take into consideration factors like strength of schedule, improvement, injuries, and home field advantage. That is the beauty of power rankings. As you probably know, the Broncos fell to 3rd place behind the Cardinals and Patriots in almost every power ranking system this week, even though each team has a similar record. Granted it is not easy to take every factor into consideration, but one in particular stood out to me as a Broncos fan: Strength of Schedule.

Which team has had the toughest road to the top so far? I was curious how hard each team's schedule has been this season. I decided to take a statistical approach and sum up the point differential of each team's opponents. For example, the eight teams the Broncos have played so far have put up a total of 1692 points this season, and had 1493 points scored against them, for a total point differential of 199 points.

To make this a fair comparison, since each team has played a different amount of games or had repeat opponents, I took the difference in points scored and allowed as a percentage of the total points scored. You'll see that the Broncos' opponents have scored 11.76% more points than they have allowed this season.

Strength of Schedule by Opponents' Point Differential
Rank Team OPF OPA Diff %
1 Denver 1692 1493 199 11.76%
2 NY Giants 1703 1512 191 11.22%
3 NY Jets 1802 1622 180 9.99%
4 Oakland 1660 1486 174 10.48%
5 Jacksonville 1928 1758 170 8.82%
6 San Francisco 1430 1293 137 9.58%
7 Carolina 1828 1760 68 3.72%
8 Tennessee 1670 1604 66 3.95%
9 St. Louis 1352 1306 46 3.40%
10 Buffalo 1567 1531 36 2.30%
11 Arizona 1586 1570 16 1.01%
12 Houston 1821 1818 3 0.16%
13 Cincinnati 1667 1665 2 0.12%
14 Indianapolis 1826 1825 1 0.05%
15 Chicago 1583 1592 -9 -0.57%
16 Kansas City 1550 1572 -22 -1.42%
17 Miami 1536 1562 -26 -1.69%
18 Tampa Bay 1610 1639 -29 -1.80%
19 San Diego 1652 1683 -31 -1.88%
20 Minnesota 1758 1793 -35 -1.99%
21 Baltimore 1463 1515 -52 -3.55%
22 New England 1662 1734 -72 -4.33%
23 Washington 1688 1760 -72 -4.27%
24 Pittsburgh 1413 1486 -73 -5.17%
25 New Orleans 1510 1585 -75 -4.97%
26 Green Bay 1481 1558 -77 -5.20%
27 Atlanta 1502 1584 -82 -5.46%
28 Seattle 1554 1653 -99 -6.37%
29 Dallas 1656 1763 -107 -6.46%
30 Philadelphia 1521 1651 -130 -8.55%
31 Detroit 1496 1671 -175 -11.70%
32 Cleveland 1469 1711 -242 -16.47%

Based on the method, who has had the hardest schedule? Well, obviously, the Broncos. Every team the Broncos have played, with the exception of the Jets, has a winning record. Despite this, I was still surprised to find out just how much harder the Denver schedule has been than other highly ranked teams. The Patriots have the 22ndhardest (or 10th easiest) schedule based on this method, and the Seahawks the 28th (or 4th easiest!) The Cardinals have had the 11th hardest schedule, but their opponents score a measly 1.01% more points than they allow.

Who has had the easiest schedule so far? The Cleveland Browns, my friends. The team that people are constantly calling "surprisingly good." While this may be true, they have played teams who, on average, allow 16.47% more points than they score. In my opinion, if the Browns were that good, they would be steamrolling all of their opponents.

One notable team with an 0-8 record... you guessed it: the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders have had the 4th hardest schedule this season. Should they be ranked last in every power ranking, as they were this week? Their strength of schedule says no. They have played a harder schedule than 28 teams in the league, and they have come close to beating the Chargers, Seahawks, and Patriots.

To put it bluntly, the Broncos should not take the game tomorrow lightly. Just because the Raiders are 0-8, does not mean they won't play their hearts out against the #1 (in my incredibly biased opinion) team to get their first win.

Luckily, it sounds like the Broncos are taking a smart approach, according to John Fox. "You know we don't look at records; we look at the tape. Obviously when you play a divisional opponent on the road, historically, you just don't look at records. So I think our guys will approach it that way this week, and it'll be a huge challenge."

I have always been a huge advocator of "You never know what can happen in a divisional game." I'm glad to see that Fox shares this opinion. And of course level-headed Peyton would never take a game lightly, stating, "I really don't look at their record. You study the defense and I see a defensive line that's really active and creates a lot of plays."

On a side note, if you are ever playing in a weekly "you pick ‘em" type of game, never consider a divisional game a safe bet. Exhibit A: The Rams beating the Seahawks. I have full faith that the Broncos can beat the Raiders tomorrow; so long as they don't take the approach that the Seahawks did in week 7 (I don't think I've ever felt so good about losing an Eliminator Challenge game).

Let's hope the Broncos and Raiders play to everybody's expectations and the Raiders continue to suffer from a debilitating strength of schedule on Sunday.

(Ed: This is a guest/tryout post by Kelly. Let her know your thoughts in the comments!)