With the NFL season creeping nearer and nearer everyday, anticipation is building for the start of training camp, the preseason and opening day, and as we look at the Seahawks schedule for the upcoming season, it appears as though they are set to face a rough slate, with one of the hardest schedules in the NFL. This according to this article from CBS, and while that article takes into account the home and road splits, it fails to take into account one major factor regarding the strength of schedule for teams, and that is the eight opponents from the rotating divisional matchups.
In looking at the two divisions that the Seahawks are set to play against this season, the AFC East and the NFC South, each of those two divisions put up a record of 36-28 during the 2015 season. Those records for each of these divisions put them in a tie for the division with the best record in the league, with the NFC West just one game behind with a combined record of 35-29.
However, these records include each team’s divisional games, and in divisional games there will always be one winner and one loser, and so the winning percentage for the division will always be pulled toward .500 by this simple fact. Thus, to gain a better understanding of divisional strength, it is possible to remove the divisional games and look only at records in non-divisional games. The non-divisional winning percentages for each division as a whole are laid out in the following table.
This chart also shows something most observers already knew following last season, and that is that the AFC South and the NFC East were the worst divisions in football, and by a large margin. These two divisions combined to lose nearly two thirds of their out of division games, dropping 53 of 80 games against non-divisional opponents. If these divisions were an NBA team they would have finished behind the Knicks, that’s how bad they were.
Turning back to the Seahawks 2016 schedule, it appears the Seahawks might be in for a rough ride based on the fact that they play against the two best divisions in football. However, there is one little key fact to look at, and that is the interdivisional opponents for the NFC South and the AFC East.
Looking first at the AFC East, they played the NFC East and the AFC South. The two worst divisions in football. They played half of their games against two divisions that lost more than 66% of their non-divisional games, and yet the division only managed to win 60% of its non-division games, meaning these teams fared poorly in the eight combined intraconference games assigned based on where they finished the 2014 season. So, in short, the record of the Seahawks 2016 opponents from the AFC East was artificially inflated by the weak competition played outside the division. This means that the Seahawks 2016 Strength of Schedule is likely not nearly as difficult as the CBS article makes it out to be, at least in relation to the quarter of the schedule that is comprised of the AFC East.
Turning to the NFC South next, we see that during the 2015 season the NFC South played . . . holy shit . . . they played the AFC South and the NFC East, the two weakest divisions in football. I could copy and paste the paragraph directly above this one, but I think most of the readers are smart enough to understand that this simply means that a full half of the Seahawks opponents had inflated records in 2015 due to playing half their games against the two weakest divisions in football.
This is not to say the Hawks will have a walk in the park when they go to New England or when they host Carolina. Those are both quality teams, and they will play the Seahawks tough, but it does mean that the nearly respectable records of the remainders of these two divisions are likely overstating the quality of these teams.
I could be mistaken, I mean it is entirely possible that adding J.R. Sweezy is going to push Tampa Bay over the top. Or they could hit a wall and realize that last season they went 3-7 in non-divisional games, including 1-3 against the AFC South (losses to Colts, Texans and Titans) and 2-2 against the NFC East (defeated Eagles and Cowboys) and also lost to the Bears and the Rams. Even the lowly 49ers went 4-6 against non-division opponents last season. The NFC South could be in for a rude awakening this season playing against the AFC West and NFC West, while the AFC faces the NFC West and the AFC North. 2016 may prove much harder for these teams than 2015.
Thus, as the season draws nearer and pundits start talking more and more about how difficult a road the Seahawks face going forward, don’t forget that half of the Seahawks opponents played a full half of their games last season against the two weakest divisions in football. 2016 is going to be a great season for Seahawks football. The roster is loaded with talent. The core of the team is healthy and hungry. Playmakers are coming back. There is fresh blood and energy added to returning veterans.
And the schedule isn’t nearly as difficult as it looks at first glance.