NFL strength of schedule, playoffs, and the Patriots


NFL strength of schedule, playoffs, and the Patriots

Adam Rank, writer for, compiled a "Pick 6" of preseason predictions for your Wednesday evening.

Coming in at No. 6

"The New England Patriots will make the playoffs."

A team that's made the playoffs nine of the last 11 seasons? Explain yourself.

Rank does.

"So this might not seem like a bold prediction on the surface, but consider that the New England Patriots missed the playoffs the last time they lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. The Patriots also have the easiest schedule in the league. The team with the easiest schedule has missed the playoffs in five consecutive seasons -- that streak ends here."

Hmm. Point taken.

But it should be noted Tom Brady missed that playoffs-less 2008 season because of an ACL tear. Also, the Patriots had an 11-5 record identical to the AFC East champion Miami Dolphins, but finished second in the division because of conference standing. Same with Baltimore getting the AFC's 6-seed.

And consider this: did a little look-see into NFL strength of schedule -- from the 2008 through 2011 seasons -- and unearthed some interesting results. Based on teams with the top 10 hardest schedules and top 10 easiest schedules (including all teams tied at the 10th spot)...

Fifteen out of 43 teams (35) with the most difficult schedules made the playoffs and 18 of 44 teams (41) with the easiest SOS went to the postseason.

A Super Bowl winner emerged from the group with most difficult SOS two out of the four years examined. One winner and one loser came from the group with easiest SOS.

So what's the bottom line? I can't say it any better than the study's author.

"...the preseason strength of schedule didnt mean much."

There's another "streak" working against the Patriots in 2012: No team has lost a Super Bowl and returned the next season to win the NFL championship since 1973's Miami Dolphins. That's a 39-year drought (math!).

Conversely, teams have lost the Super Bowl and returned the following year to lose the NFL championship a bunch of times (looking at you, 1990s Buffalo Bills).

So it appears Rank's preseason prediction is likely safe. Carry on with your day.