USA TODAY Sports
While the release of the 2013 NFL schedule is still months away, and with plenty of off season roster-shuffling to go on in determining where teams will be for next season, one simple index for which teams have a tougher road to Super Bowl XLVIII is strength of schedule.
Strength of schedule is an easy stat to calculate; combine the records of a team's opponents and voila! It's a good early judgement to see how your favorite team might fair in the upcoming season.
The Bears opponents for 2013 are already set:
The Bears share all but two opponents with their NFC North foes; those decided by the standing of the divisions. The Bears are facing the third-place finishers in the NFC South and West (Saints and Rams), while the Vikings draw the Buccaneers and Seahawks, the Lions face the Panthers and Cardinals and the Packers get the Falcons and the 49ers.
The Bears' strength of schedule for 2013 comes to exactly middle of the pack (16th out of 32) with their opponents carrying a .502 winning percentage.
Considering that the Bears finished third in their division and barely out of the playoffs with a 10-6 record, they should feel pretty good. Their divisional foes have much harder roads to follow:
Lions: .539 (2nd toughest)
Packers: .533 (6th toughest)
Vikings: .516 (10th toughest)
No doubt the rest of the division is bumped up by virtue of the Bears' 10-6 record, while the Bears, Vikings and Packers get the benefit of the Lions 4-12 record from last season. As the rest of the NFC North knows though, the Lions are the most talented four-win team in the league.
For the Lions, this will be their second consecutive season with one of the toughest schedules in the league. For 2012, the Lions had the toughest adjusted strength of schedule. The "adjusted" means that opponents' wins against a team are removed from their record. For example; the Bears' opponents were 6-10 against them and the Lions' opponents were 12-4. Remove those 12 wins from the Lions' opponents schedule and it still comes out as the toughest. Obviously, playing in a division with as many good teams as the NFC North has doesn't help.
Moving on, in the Lovie Smith era the Bears always seemed to go the way of their strength of schedule; when it was easier, the playoffs would come, when it was tougher, disappointment followed. For example, in 2006 the Bears had the easiest schedule, but in 2008 they had the 11th toughest schedule and finished a disappointing 9-7. However, in 2009, they had the easiest schedule in the NFL and still finished 7-9.
Either way, most people are aware of Lovie Smith's struggles against teams with winning records. It was a large part of why he was fired.
The Smith era is over and the Marc Trestman era will begin this year and one thing is certain: based on the way the teams finished in 2012, Trestman has the easiest road in the division to build on the team's 10 wins and get back into the playoffs.
What are your thoughts on the NFC North's strengths of schedule?