(Written for external publishing on Nov. 28.)
By Thomas Emerick
With the final byes fading in the rearview mirror every NFL team enters Week 13 with 11 games under their belt and five looming larger by the minute — perfect time to introduce my strength-of-schedule rankings for the remaining slate.
It’s very (un)scientific and basically adds up total opponent wins on the remaining 2013 regular season schedule, but with a bit of chili pepper added in. Teams that are playing far above or below the level of quality implied by their current win total has their “strength of difficulty” either reduced or increased. I docked the Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and even the already-lowly Washington Redskins and Houston Texans when determining the difficulty of playing against them.
Meanwhile, other teams received greater strength of difficulty given a combination of improved play, returning players and other strong indicators. The San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens seem poised to turn it up a notch due to pedigree and guys with names like Aldon, Gronk, Le’Veon, Pitta and Crabtree back in the fold. It would also be foolish to project the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or St. Louis Rams from here on out as their current records indicate, or assume Peyton Manning is the same destroyer of worlds in freezing 20 mph wind gusts that he is under a roof on two healthy ankles.
The final caveat is the home-away strength evaluation. I attributed a negative- or positive-1 to every opponent depending simply on whether they were home or away. However, if “away” meant somewhere like New Orleans, Seattle, Arizona, New England, Green Bay or Baltimore then the homefield strength received a bonus point. The latter three host teams with the best home records since 2008, while the first three have proved particularly brutal at home against quality opposition in recent history.
Read through to see where every NFL team’s strength of schedule ranks, and more on how it all adds up game-by-game.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @CLE-4, HOU-0, BUF-3, TEN-4, @IND-7 = 18 Total Schedule Strength
The Jaguars’ schedule does not help the cause of seizing the No. 1 pick. Neither does their insistence on further demoralizing division foe Houston. Easiest remaining schedule by far.
31. Indianapolis Colts: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: TEN-4, @CIN-8, HOU-0, @KC-8, JAX-1 = 21 Total Schedule Strength
This week’s matchup with Tennessee is crucial but Indy can still nurse its AFC South lead with the Texans and Jags to close out.
30. Washington Redskins: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: NYG-3, KC-6, @ATL-3, DAL-5, @NYG-3 = 22 Total Schedule Strength
The schedule provides five decent chances for their quarterback to avoid getting a new nickname: RG3-13.
29. New England Patriots: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @HOU-2, CLE-3, @MIA-6, @BAL-8, BUF-3 = 22 Total Schedule Strength
New England can now trot out Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola at the same time. This combined with the coming slate gives them a realistic shot at the top seed.
28. Detroit Lions: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: GB-5, @PHI-7, BAL-5, NYG-3, @MIN-3 = 23 Total Schedule Strength
Detroit has the easiest remaining SOS in the NFC North by a large margin and much of this is thanks to the Green Bay 5-value, which will rise three points for the Pack’s future opponents when Aaron Rodgers presumably returns.
27. Buffalo Bills: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: ATL-1, @TB-5, @JAX-3, MIA-4, @NE-11 = 24 Total Schedule Strength
Four very winnable games for Doug Marrone’s squad on the way out. If EJ Manuel makes huge strides this team could finish .500.
26. Cincinnati Bengals: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @SD-6, IND-5, 1-MIN, 5-BAL = 24 Total Schedule Strength
Not only do the Bengals own a two-game lead but also the AFC North’s easiest path ahead. Not even Andy Dalton can blow this….right?
25. Denver Broncos: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @KC-8, TEN-4, SD-4, @HOU-3, @OAK-5 = 24 Total Schedule Strength
The race to the top seed shapes up nicely and the division battle could wrap up with Denver’s three AFC West games ahead.
24. Tennessee Titans: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @IND-7, @DEN-9, ARI-6, @JAX-3, HOU-0 = 25 Total Schedule Strength
The Titans’ hold on the six-seed will be challenged over the next three weeks while closing the season with the Jags and Texans could see them slip back in the playoff picture.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: 8-DEN, @WAS-3, @OAK-5, IND-5, @SD-4 = 25 Total Schedule Strength
The league’s easiest slate in the early going suddenly turns into a decent run of opposition down the stretch for KC.
22. New York Giants: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @WAS-3, @SD-6, SEA-9, @DET-7, WAS-1 = 26 Total Schedule Strength
The Giants essentially need five straight wins to leap-frog the division-leading Cowboys, who hold a two-game lead on Big Blue and the tiebreaker. Two games against Washington helps this cause while the other three don’t at all.
21. New York Jets: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: MIA-4, OAK-3, @CAR-10, CLE-3, @MIA-6 = 26 Total Schedule Strength
A combo of matchups against Miami could very well determine who snags the sixth seed in the AFC. That is unless this pass offense continues crippling their chances at doing anything.
20. Philadelphia Eagles: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: ARI-6, DET-5, @MIN-3, CHI-5, @DAL-7 = 26 Total Schedule Strength
Arizona and Detroit present a couple stifling challenges for Philly’s run game so Nick Foles must carry on with his emergence.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: OAK-3, @CHI-7, GB-8, @WAS-3, PHI-5 = 26 Total Schedule Strength
Topping Philly on the road comes in handy now that the Eagles must visit Cowboys Stadium in what could very well prove the NFC East title bout.
18. San Diego Chargers: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: CIN-6, NYG-3, @DEN-9, OAK-3, KC-6 = 27 Total Schedule Strength
The Chargers dived back into the playoff picture with their win over KC and get three more clashes against squads jockeying for AFC postseason position.
17. Chicago Bears: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @MIN-3, DAL-5, @CLE-4, @PHI-7, GB-8 = 27 Total Schedule Strength
Closing the season at Philly and home for Green Bay essentially throws down the playoff gauntlet two weeks early.
16. Green Bay Packers: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @DET-7, ATL-1, @DAL-7, PIT-5, @CHI-7 = 27 Total Schedule Strength
Green Bay can certainly use Aaron Rodgers for their trips to Cowboys Stadium and Soldier Field. They may face a march of must-wins reminiscent to 2010.
15. Miami Dolphins: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @NYJ-5, @PIT-7, NE-8, @BUF-5, 3-NYJ = 28 Total Schedule Strength
Three road games make things tough for a 5-6 squad but at least they all come against other teams currently with losing records.
14. Carolina Panthers: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: TB-3, @NO-11, NYJ-3, NO-8, @ATL-3 = 28 Total Schedule Strength
The elephant in the room is New Orleans — and that is a Chris Christie-sized elephant — and the other contests Carolina should handle comfortably.
13. Cleveland Browns: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: JAX-1, @NE-11, CHI-5, @NYJ-5, @PIT-7 = 29 Total Schedule Strength
The Browns hopes and dreams continues to crash and burn with each new quarterback injury (or Jason Campbell drop-back). Brandon Weeden and the coming schedule probably won’t help matters.
12. Baltimore Ravens: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: PIT-5, MIN-1, @DET-7, NE-8, @CIN-8 = 29 Total Schedule Strength
The Ravens’ chances at the AFC North benefit from getting Pittsburgh and Cincy in the coming weeks. Of course, when you also pile on with Detroit and New England to make this somewhat of a brutal stretch.
11. San Francisco 49ers: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: STL-5, SEA-9, @TB-5, ATL-1, @ARI-9 = 29 Total Schedule Strength
San Fran must love staying home for St. Louis and Seattle — get Seattle away from the 12th man and Robert Quinn off his turf — while the visit to Arizona makes closing out a tall task.
10. Minnesota Vikings: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: CHI-5, @BAL-8, PHI-5, @CIN-8, DET-5 = 31 Total Schedule Strength
Minny’s season is already over and the No. 1 seed is certainly in the realm of possibility thanks to the remaining slate.
9. Houston Texans: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: NE-8, @JAX-3, @IND-7, DEN-8, @TEN-6 = 32 Total Schedule Strength
Houston provides a minor bump on the road for Tom Brady and Peyton Manning en route to the postseason.
8. Oakland Raiders: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @DAL-7, @NYJ-5, KC-6, @SD-6, DEN-8 = 32 Total Schedule Strength
Matt McGloin has revived a Raiders squad that still holds a puncher’s chance at the playoffs. That path must cross their three division foes.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @BAL-8, MIA-4, CIN-6, @GB-11, CLE-3 = 32 Total Schedule Strength
Green Bay and Baltimore own two of three best home records since 2008 so that alone will boost the Steelers’ schedule strength. At least Ben Roethlisberger is relatively healthy for the stretch run this time.
6. Seattle Seahawks: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: NO-8, @SF-9, @NYG-5, ARI-6, STL-5 = 33 Total Schedule Strength
The Seahawks marched out to 10-1; closing out 4-1 against this quintet will be a comparable challenge.
5. Atlanta Falcons: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @BUF-5, @GB-11, WAS-1, @SF-9, CAR-8 = 34 Total Schedule Strength
Matt Ryan might finally have Roddy White back, but thanks to the coming schedule things probably won’t get much easier in a lost year.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @CAR-9, BUF-3, SF-7, @STL-7, @NO-11 = 37 Total Schedule Strength
Greg Schiano may have saved his job by winning three straight and he can definitely solidify this with strong showings over the final five against quality competition.
3. Arizona Cardinals: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @PHI-7, STL-5, @TEN-6, @SEA-12, SF-7 = 37 Total Schedule Strength
The final wild-card spot might come right down to the wire with division foe San Francisco visiting Week 17.
2. New Orleans Saints: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @SEA-12, CAR-8, @STL-7, @CAR-10, TB-3 = Total Schedule Strength
New Orleans’ brutal climb to the NFC South title and a first-round bye begins in primetime at the NFL’s toughest place win.
1. St. Louis Rams: Remaining Schedule Strength Value: @SF-9, @ARI-9, NO-8, TB-3, @SEA-12 = 41 Total Schedule Strength
The thought of playing three NFC West road games in five weeks gives countless Americans reason to be thankful their favorite team doesn’t have to compete in this division.
1. St. Louis Rams – 41
2. New Orleans Saints – 40
3. Arizona Cardinals – 37
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 37
5. Atlanta Falcons – 34
6. Seattle Seahawks – 33
7. Pittsburgh Steelers – 32
8. Oakland Raiders – 32
9. Houston Texans – 32
10. Minnesota Vikings -31
11. San Francisco 49ers – 29
12. Baltimore Ravens – 29
13. Cleveland Browns – 29
14. Carolina Panthers – 28
15. Miami Dolphins – 28
16. Green Bay Packers – 27
17. Chicago Bears – 27
18. San Diego Chargers – 27
19. Dallas Cowboys – 26
20. Philadelphia Eagles – 26
21. New York Jets – 26
22. New York Giants – 26
23. Kansas City Chiefs – 25
24. Tennessee Titans – 25
25. Denver Broncos – 24
26. Cincinnati Bengals – 24
27. Buffalo Bills – 24
28. Detroit Lions – 23
29. New England Patriots – 22
30. Washington Redskins – 22
31. Indianapolis Colts – 21
32. Jacksonville Jaguars – 18
To find hundreds more articles from Thomas Emerick in 2013, swing by this archive page.