The NFL released its 2014 strength of schedule figures and, not surprisingly, the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers sit near the top of the list.
Why not surprising? Because the AFC West and NFC West were the two toughest divisions in the NFL in 2013, with the AFC West earning three of the conference’s six playoff berths and the NFC West being home to three teams that won at least 10 games.
Considering strength of schedule is based on the previous season’s records, it’s a fairly safe assumption that those divisions are where the toughest schedules reside. In fact, the eight toughest schedules in the NFL all belong to the members of the two West divisions. It gets tougher because the interconference rotation for 2014 has AFC West vs. NFC West, so every member of each division gets a double whammy of perceived schedule toughness.
Oakland’s opponents had a combined win percentage of .578. In addition to the Raiders’ six divisional games against Denver, Kansas City and San Diego and the four games against the NFC West, the Raiders draw the AFC East in intraconference play, along with the other fourth place teams in the AFC, Houston and Cleveland.
Their eight home games include Denver (13-3), Kansas City (11-5), San Diego (9-7), Buffalo (6-10), Miami (8-8), Houston (2-14), Arizona (10-6) and San Francisco (12-4) for a combined winning percentage of .555.
The road is tougher with Denver (13-3), Kansas City (11-5), San Diego (9-7), New England (12-4), the Jets (8-8), Cleveland (4-12), St. Louis (7-9) and Seattle (13-3) for a combined winning percentage of .602.
San Francisco’s opponents posted a combined winning percentage of .563, tied with the Chargers for the fourth-toughest in the NFL. The 49ers play two against their divisional rivals—Arizona, St. Louis and Seattle—as well as the four members of the NFC East and the two other second-place teams in the NFC, Chicago and New Orleans.
For the 49ers, the home slate includes Seattle (13-3), Arizona (10-6), St. Louis (7-9), Philadelphia (10-6), Washington (3-13), Kansas City (11-5), San Diego (9-7) and Chicago (8-8) for a combined percentage of .555.
The road schedule includes Seattle (13-3), Arizona (10-6), St. Louis (7-9), Dallas (8-8), the Giants (7-9), Denver (13-3), Oakland (4-12) and New Orleans (11-5), a combined percentage of .570.
But it’s important to take these numbers with at least a significant portion of the proverbial grain of salt. The one thing that remains constant in the NFL from year to year is violent upheaval in the standings. The Redskins and Texans went from the playoffs to the top two picks in the draft in one season from 2012 to 2013 and there will be teams that travel similar paths of ruin, just as there will be teams that emerge from the depths to earn playoff spots, such as the Chiefs did and the Cardinals nearly did.