Two weeks ago today, the 2023 NFL regular season schedule was released, and fans across the world immediately started analyzing it, circling key matchups, and complaining about the disservice the league’s schedule makers did to their favorite team.
Seahawks fans included.
Now that most of the dust has settled, I thought it might be fun to compare this year’s schedule to last year’s schedule - in an overall sense.
First things first though, let’s look at how NFL schedules are constructed . . .
- Six games against division rivals - two per team, home and away.
- Four games against teams from a division within the team’s conference (determined on a rotation basis) with two home games and two road games.
- Four games against teams from a non-conference division (rotation basis); two home games, two away games.
- Two games against teams from the other two divisions within a team’s conference (one home, one away), with matchups determined by the previous year’s division finishes (1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, 3 vs. 3, and 4 vs. 4).
- One game against a team from a non-conference division; matchups are based on division rankings from the previous season (again, 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, etc.).
Note: The last two bullets are what differentiates Seattle’s 2022 schedule (which was based on a 4th-place finish in 2021) from their 2023 schedule (which is based on last year’s 2nd-place finish) when comparing the Seahawks’ schedule(s) to the schedules of their division rivals.
The other 14 games are essentially the same for each team in the division.
Now that we have the formula, let’s look at how the schedule broke down for the Seahawks last year, on a division basis:
- 6 games against the NFC West
- 4 games against the NFC South
- 4 games against the AFC West
- 1 game vs. an NFC East opponent (New York Giants)
- 1 game vs. an NFC North opponent (Detroit Lions)
- 1 game vs. an AFC East team (New York Jets)
And here’s the division breakdown for the Seahawks in 2023:
- 6 games against the NFC West
- 4 games against the NFC East
- 4 games against the AFC North
- 1 game against an NFC North opponent (Detroit Lions)
- 1 game against an NFC South opponent (Carolina Panthers)
- 1 game against an AFC South team (Tennessee Titans)
Now that we have the division breakdown, let’s do a comparison of the two schedules; again, from an overall perspective. We’ll start with the division games, then look at the “common” games, and finish with the “non-common” games.
This is obviously the heart of Seattle’s schedule. Division games are always tough, even when rivals have down years.
As but one example, the Seahawks beat a certain division rival by a combined 7 points last year. And let’s not forget that . . .
- Three of the rival’s biggest stars were in street clothes for both games;
- It took a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that started with 2:56 remaining in the game and a 4th-down interception by Cody Barton to seal the first win; and
- The second win required overtime.
The toughness of division games notwithstanding, it could be argued that this year’s division games should be easier for the Seahawks than last year’s were.
For three reasons:
One. Heading into last season, all three of Seattle’s division opponents were coming off of playoff appearances, two of them had met in the NFC Championship game, and one of them was the defending Super Bowl champion.
This year, the only NFC West opponent that’s coming off of a playoff berth is the 49ers.
Meanwhile, the Rams had the worst Super Bowl hangover ever (minus 7 games in the standings), and the Cardinals finished the 2022 season with the 3rd-worst record in the league (behind only the Bears and Texans).
Two. Record-wise, Seattle’s 2023 division opponents enter the season 11 games below where their mark was entering the 2022 season with the Rams, Cardinals, and Niners combining to go 33-18 in 2021 before falling to a combined 22-29 last year.
Three. On paper, the Seahawks appear to have improved more than their division rivals - perhaps even more than their division rivals combined. (only slightly hyperbolic)
These are the four games against another NFC division and the four games against an AFC division - i.e., all four NFC West teams play each of these teams.
Last year, it was the NFC South and the AFC West
This year it’s the NFC East and AFC North.
The NFC West’s common opponents combined for a 72-64 record in 2021 and then flipped that result by going 64-72 in 2022.
- Teams: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Combined record previous year: 34-34
- Combined record in 2022: 29-39
- Seattle’s record versus: 0-4
Being swept by the NFC South teams last year HURT. Especially when those four teams finished a combined 10 games below .500, with their “best” team ending the year with an 8-9 record and then getting pummeled in the wild card round.
Teams: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs,
OaklandLas Vegas Raiders, San DiegoLos Angeles Chargers
- Combined record previous year: 38-30
- Combined record in 2022: 35-33
- Seattle’s record versus: 2-2
The Seahawks started the season by winning the game that a lot of 12s had circled, topping the Broncos in Russell Wilson’s return to Seattle - and in front of a national audience on ‘Monday Night Football,’ no less.
In between a 14-point road win vs. the Chargers (Week 7) and a corresponding 14-point road loss to the Chiefs (Week 16), the Seahawks lost to the Raiders by 6.
FunDepressing Fact: Josh Jacobs’ back-breaking overtime touchdown run in Week 12 covered more than 3x as many yards (86) as Seattle’s leading rusher (K9) had for the game (26). Nope, I’m not still bitter about that one.
The NFC West’s common opponents this year finished last season a combined 29 games over .500 (!!!).
Let that sink in for a moment.
- Teams: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Commanders
- Combined record in 2022: 43-23-2
The NFC East was the best division in football last year, by a comfortable margin.
Each NFC East team finished the 2022 season at .500 or higher.
Three of the four NFC East teams made the playoffs, and one of them (the Eagles) represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Oh, and none of them appear to have gotten worse during the offseason.
- Teams: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Combined record in 2022: 38-29-0*
Note: The odd number of games is due to the Bengals having only played 16 regular season games last year.
The AFC North was the NFL’s second-best division last year - one game ahead of the AFC East, but five full games behind the NFC East.
Two of the four teams (Cincinnati and Baltimore) made the playoffs last year.
These are the three games versus teams that our division rivals did / do not play.
Seattle’s 4th-place finish in 2021 matched them up against 4th-place teams from the NFC East, NFC North, and AFC East.
- Teams: Detroit + the two New Jersey teams
- Combined record previous year: 11-39-1
- Combined record in 2022: 25-25-1
- Seattle’s record versus: 3-0
It’s pretty impressive that Seattle’s non-common opponents last year won 14 more games than they had the previous season.
And yet, the Week 4 shootout versus the Lions (48-45) was the only close game of the three . . . Seattle beat the Giants by 14 and the Jets by 17.
What may have stood out the most about these three teams in 2022 was the unevenness of their seasons:
- The Jets started the season 5-2, split their next four games, then dropped their final six to end the year with a record of 7-10.
- The Lions dropped six of their first seven games then went 8-2 after that, and just barely missed the playoffs.
- The Giants jumped out to a 6-1 start, lost at Seattle in Week 8, and staggered into the playoffs with a 9-7-1 record. They beat the Vikings in the wildcard round, 31-24, then got absolutely destroyed by the Eagles, 38-7.
Seattle’s 2nd-place finish in 2022 matches them up against the 2nd place teams from the NFC East, NFC South, and AFC South this year.
- Teams: Carolina, Dallas, and Tennessee
- Combined record in 2022: 26-25
Of these three teams, only the Cowboys made the playoffs last year. The Panthers finished in 11th-place in the NFC, and, coincidentally, the Titans came in 11th in the AFC.
Fun Fact: The combined 2022 record of this year’s non-common opponents (26-25) is almost identical to that of last year’s non-common opponents (25-25-1).
At some level, this is a Strength of Schedule (SOS) discussion, but with a certain amount of context rather than just straight numbers.
Seattle’s 2022 opponents finished the 2021 season five games below .500, with a combined record of 116-121-1.
They finished the 2022 season with a combined record of 111-126-1.
That’s a five game swing in the wrong direction.
Speaking of swings . . .
Seattle’s 2023 opponents finished the 2022 season 23 games over .500, with a combined record of 129-106-2.
For those that are mathematically challenged, that’s a 14-game swing.
(13 more wins, 15 more losses)
That, more than maybe anything else, is why some folks look at Seattle’s schedule this year and think that matching last year’s record might be a tall order.
Six of Seattle’s 2022 opponents had made the playoffs the previous year: the 49ers, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Chiefs, Raiders, and Rams.
Only five of them made the playoffs in 2022: the 49ers, Buccaneers, Chargers, Chiefs, and Giants.
This year, the Seahawks again face six teams that made the playoffs the previous year: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.
Using parity as a point of demarcation
Regardless of where you stand on the question of the NFL being a parity-driven league, it’s often interesting to view the league through that lens.
Assuming that parity means .500 . . .
. . . and counting each of the games the Seahawks played / will play (i.e., counting Seattle’s division rivals twice):
- Eleven of Seattle’s 17 games in 2022 were against teams that finished the previous season above .500.
- In 2023, only nine of the 17 games are against teams that finished above .500 the previous year.
Raise your hand if you saw that difference of minus-two coming.
Now, here’s the interesting part . . .
If we don’t double-count Seattle’s division rivals, and only focus on the number of teams Seattle faces that were above .500 the previous season:
- 2022 = Eight teams
- 2023 = Eight teams
Don’t be; here’s the breakdown:
- 2022 = Three NFC West teams, all of whom finished the 2021 season over .500 (and were thus double-counted), plus five other teams (8 teams for a total of 11 games)
- 2023 = One NFC West team (SF) that was over .500 in 2022, plus seven other teams (8 teams for a total of 9 games)
Count me among those that think the Seahawks’ schedule is A LOT harder this year than it was in 2022 . . .
. . . on paper.
Last year, DraftKings Sportsbook put the Over/Under on Seattle’s wins at 5-1/2.
Seattle topped that by 3-1/2 games.
This year, the Over/Under for the Seahawks is 8-1/2 games.
I’m taking the Over and am predicting that Seattle tops it by at least the same margin as last year (min. 12 wins).
For those that like rankings and betting odds:
Seven of the Seahawks’ fourteen opponents this year are ranked in the top half of ESPN’s current NFL Football Power Index, with four of them in the top-10: Philadelphia (No. 2), Cincinnati (No. 4), San Francisco (No. 5), and Dallas (No. 8).
Meanwhile, over at DraftKings Sportsbook, six of Seattle’s opponents rank in the top-10 in regard to their odds of winning the Super Bowl:
- Philadelphia is No. 2 (+650)
- San Francisco is No. 4 (+1,000)
- Cincinnati is No. 5 (+1,200)
- Dallas is No. 6 (+1,400)
- Baltimore is No. 8 (+2,000)
- Detroit is tied for No. 9 with Miami (+2,200).
Note: For what it’s worth, the Seahawks currently have the 13th-best odds of winning the Super Bowl at +3,000.
And, for those that are curious how our NFC West rivals stack up to us:
Results of NFC West Division Games the past two seasons:
- Arizona: 4-2 in 2021; 1-5 in 2022
- Los Angeles: 3-3 in 2021; 1-5 in 2022
- San Francisco: 2-4 in 2021; 6-0 in 2022
- Seattle: 3-3 in 2021; 4-2 in 2022
Results of NFC West Common Games in 2022:
- Arizona: 2-2 vs. the NFC South; 1-3 vs. the AFC West; 3-5 overall.
- Los Angeles: 2-2 vs. the NFC South; 2-2 vs. the AFC West; 4-4 overall.
- San Francisco: 3-1 vs. the NFC South; 2-2 vs. the AFC West; 5-3 overall.
- Seattle: 0-4 vs. the NFC South; 2-2 vs. the AFC West; 2-6 overall.
NFC West Non-Common Games
As was previously noted, the Seahawks’ non-common opponents in 2022 were the Giants, the Jets, and the Lions. Seattle went 3-0 against them.
This year, Seattle’s non-common opponents are the Cowboys, the Panthers, and the Titans.
Here are the non-common opponents for Seattle’s division rivals:
- Arizona: Minnesota (L) New England (L), and Philadelphia (L); overall 0-3.
- Los Angeles: Buffalo (L), Dallas (L), and Green Bay Packers (L); overall 0-3.
- San Francisco: Chicago (L), Miami (W), and Washington (W); overall 2-1.
- Arizona: Atlanta, Chicago, and Houston.
- Los Angeles: Green Bay, Indianapolis Colts, and New Orleans.
- San Francisco: Jacksonville, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay.