The beginning of preseason is a good time for pundits and fans alike to start predicting where each team will finish in the final 2014 NFL standings. For the San Diego Chargers, most “experts” like the direction the franchise is heading, but blame a difficult schedule as the biggest reason they don’t see the Bolts as a true contender this season.
Yes, on paper, the Chargers have a tall task ahead of them. Opening up in Arizona followed by a home debut against the defending champs (Seattle), coupled with a final five game stretch including Denver, New England, Baltimore, San Francisco and Kansas City, looks pretty brutal in August. However, games aren’t played in August, and I wanted to find out the validity of the schedule difficulty concerns.
The NFL measures strength of schedule based on the combined winning percentage of opponents from the previous season. In essence, the metric is flawed right off the bat for not taking into account the roster changes of the offseason. Based on these numbers, the Chargers have the fourth toughest schedule in the NFL with an opponent winning percentage of .563. Additionally, their home schedules ranks third toughest and away schedule comes in as the fifth most difficult in the NFL. On Paper, the road to Glendale, AZ in February is going to be a battle, but the game will never be played on paper.
It turns out, if you look at the preseason strength of schedule rankings compared to the rankings after the season, this metric is nearly useless. Take a look at the chart below (a comparison between pre and post-regular season SoS)…
image from the New Orleans Saints’ SB Nation page
At this time last year, the Carolina Panthers had the “hardest” schedule in the NFL. Their slate ended up ranking 17th most difficult based on winning percentage, and the team won a surprising 12 games. A team in a similar position as the Chargers last year (2013 Ravens) had the fifth toughest schedule before the season, but ended up with the the 21st ranked schedule. After doing a little statistics, it turns out these projected strength of schedule rankings were off by 10.9 slots on average!
Bottom line: talking about the difficulty of a schedule is fairly pointless when we know next to nothing about the 2014 version of these NFL teams.
It’s tough to argue — at least right now — the Bolts won’t have a tough beginning and end to their 2014 season, but to assume this fact alone will limit the team from reaching their potential is wasteful.
The Chargers are going to be better. A revamped secondary, a deeper pass rush, and another year under Mike McCoy is going to produce a team that will surprise the rest of the NFL. Instead of hearing about how formidable the Bolts’ opponents are, we should focus on how strong this team will be if it remains healthy.
So, for now (as a friendly reminder), let’s not worry about the strength of schedule until we see a few weeks of the regular season. I promise, the Bolts are going to be just fine.