NFL Betting: Evaluating Strength of Schedule for the 2020 Season
Circa Sportsbook recently released their NFL season win totals for the 2020 campaign. That gives bettors an opportunity to objectively evaluate the strength of schedule for all 32 NFL teams. Strength of schedule is often miscalculated by the media, as most tend to utilize last season’s win-loss records. Those records don’t take into account the variance in outcomes (point differentials that were misleading) and how the teams look heading into the current season.
These are the adjusted win totals from Circa after the Tom Brady signing on March 17, 2020.
The first thing that sticks out is the sharp decline in the win total for the New England Patriots sans Tom Brady. The Pats won 12 games last season behind one of the strongest defenses in the sport. However, their 2020 win total currently sits at just 8.5 games. New England has taken several personnel hits besides losing an aging Hall of Fame quarterback. But one of the biggest reasons for the decline in their season win total is their schedule. Last season, the Patriots played the easiest schedule in the NFL. This season, they play the 6th-toughest schedule overall. They’ll play the four teams in the AFC West, where no team is pegged below 7.5 wins, and the four NFC West teams, which features three teams with a win total of nine or above. New England also draws the Ravens and Texans this season.
The toughest schedule in the NFL goes to the New York Giants. Their opponents have an average season win total of 8.48 wins at Circa. They play the AFC North, where three of the four teams have win totals of eight or higher, and the toughest division in football – the NFC West. The Cowboys and Eagles are also projected to improve in 2020.
The easiest schedules in the NFL go to the Colts, followed by the Chargers and the Bears. All three of those teams lucked out with their two additional intraconference games based on last year’s standings. The Colts drew the Jets and Raiders, the Chargers have the Jaguars and Bengals, and the Bears get the Giants and Rams.
From a betting standpoint, it’s important to know the strength of every teams’ schedule for futures. Shortly after they are posted, you typically will see money come in on teams that have easier schedules, in terms of season win total OVERS and division wagers, and money come against teams with tougher schedules (season win total UNDERS). While sportsbooks do take schedules into account, they aren’t always fully baked in on the extreme ends. And now that free agency is in full gear, there are dozens of moves a day that impact the teams. As a result, the season win totals could be exploited by an astute handicapper.
Here’s the full list of average opponent wins for every team, ranked from easiest schedule to the toughest schedule (note that Circa season wins are adjusted for vigorish):
The gap between the top and the bottom is 0.75 average opponent wins, and that’s considerable given the fact that teams only play 16 games. That could easily be the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home watching them on television.
Season wins can be particularly useful when assessing division odds. For instance, look at the competitive AFC South division, where three teams all check in with a season win total of 8.5 – the Titans, Texans and Colts. You might want to think twice about backing the Texans, as they have the 17th-ranked strength of schedule, while the Colts and Titans check in with the easiest schedule and 5th-easiest schedules, respectively. The roughly half win differential could be everything, yet you are likely to find similar division odds amongst the three competitors (sorry Jaguars).
Schedule strength can also be helpful in betting Super Bowl futures. The Ravens are much more likely to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs once again, given that they have the 4th-easiest schedule and haven nearly everyone back from a 14-2 squad. The Super Bowl Champion Chiefs also managed to avoid a tough schedule, as they have the 10th-easiest slate of games in the NFL. That makes it even harder for a surprise team to knock off one of the AFC’s top squads this season.
Banking on a bounce-back season from the Eagles or Rams this year? It won’t be easy for either, as they have the 11th and 12th-toughest schedules overall despite their mediocre records last season (a bit of scheduling misfortune). The Lions’ schedule is also noteworthy. They are tied for the 5th-easiest schedule in the NFL, but are only projected to win 6.6 games in 2020. Detroit could be a nice sleeper pick to exceed their low season win total and possibly make the playoffs, after a season in which they had several gut-wrenching losses. Yet again, it is the Lions.