The NFL schedule is perfect.
I truly mean that. Especially compared to sports like baseball, the NFL schedule has a certain sense of perfection to it. Every year is the same format. It's predictable, yet with the added unknown touch that can drastically change seasons.
If you don't know, here's how the schedule works out:
There are 16 regular season games
Each team plays their divisional rivals twice, taking up 6 games.
Each division plays another intraconference division (4 games). This rotates each year, in a predictable fashion. Every team is guaranteed to play every other team in the conference at least once every three years. This year, the NFC East plays the NFC West, next year the NFC South, next the NFC North, and the year after the NFC West again.
Each division plays another interconference division (4 games). Like the intraconference battles, who plays whom rotates. The NFC East plays the AFC East this year, then the AFC North, the AFC West, the AFC South, and then the AFC East again. Like clock work.
What are the remaining two games? This is where I believe the true brilliance is. Each team plays once against the other teams in its conference that finished in the same place in their own divisions as themselves in the previous season, not counting the division they were already scheduled to play.
The way the schedule works is a big reason for the "parity" of the NFL. In 2008, the Miami Dolphins improved by 10 wins over the previous year to an 11-5 record, and the AFC East division title. How did they do this?
Finishing 1-15, they had the last place schedule, meaning two extra games vs crumby teams. They also took advantage of a schedule that won't happen again until 2020: they faced the abysmal NFC AND AFC west. Neither division had a team go better than 9-7.
It's also the reason the Tom Brady-less Patriots went 11-5 that season too. Any half way competent team is guaranteed at least 6-7 wins between the two Worst divisions. Win at least half the division games, than the remaining "same place finish" teams and viola, the biggest improvement in a team in NFL history, a combination statistically unlikely ever to happen again.
Last year 3 teams in the NFC South finished 10-6 or better. How? They faced the NFC west, 4 instant wins.
To their full credit, the teams made the most of them. But it's also a big reason why I think the NFC South will fare much worst this year.
So who cares?
Quite honestly, when I started writing this fanpost, I did not intend to write that mini essay above. Instead I meant to do what's below, an analysis of the games so far and what's to come. Each team in the division has the same format, so it's easily chartable. We're only three games into the season, so the chart is pretty empty, but there's a few things we can observe
|Division RIvals (6)*
|NFC West (4)
|AFC East (4)
|NFC North** (1)
|NFC South** (1)
1) The NFL schedule makers really want the NFC West games to be over soon. By the end of week 4, 7 of the 16 games vs the NFC West will be over. None face an NFC West team in the last 4 weeks. As of now, the NFC East is a perfect 4-0. I expect the NFC East to stay close to 100% vs the NFC West, and the NFC East will finish with one one of the higher win averages.
2) The AFC games have been back loaded. The Jets in particular will face 3 NFC East teams in 4 weeks, starting in week 13.
3) We get screwed over with the "same finish last year" games, vs Green Bay and New Orleans. Philly losing to the Falcons evens things out, and hopefully Detroit can pull their weight vs Dallas.
4) I'm not counting the Eagles out yet just because they're 1-2. They've played a bad team (Any NFC west team is a bad team) and two good to very good teams. I don't expect them to go worst than 3-3 in the division. The schedule upcoming is pretty tough though. After San Fran, they face 4 straight teams that should test them hard. Could get pretty interesting if they continue losing games
Anyways, there's only so much analysis one can get from this. I just enjoy seeing everything so neat and tidy. If there's a demand, I'll update the table each week and some other statistical tidbits. I swear, it'll only look nicer with each passing week)
*How many games will be played vs this opponent category
**The "same finish last year" opponents from this division. The the Giants play Green Bay and New Orleans, Cowboys: Detroit and Tampa Bay, Eagles: Bears and Atlanta, and the Redskins: Vikings and Panthers.