It was widely reported that the Patriots would play the easiest schedule in the NFL in 2012. This of course was based on the scheduled opponents records during the 2011 season. These opponents had a 116- 140 record, .453 win pct., record in 2011.
Now that every team has played 13 games, we have enough data to ask this question- Did the Patriots really play the easiest schedule in the NFL in 2012?
The records of the Patriots opponents in 2011 have no relevance when measured against our opponents records in 2012.
The NFL Standings on ESPN list the Strength of Schedule for each team. This number is based on the overall record of each opponent played in 2012.
By this measure the Patriots are 5th in the AFC and 11th overall.
Jacksonville .553 Arizona .562
Tennessee .550 Detroit .553
NY Jets .544 Carolina . .547
Miami .529 Washington .529
New England .524 St. Louis .527
New Orleans .526
Strength of Schedule is used by the NFL as a tiebreaker. In that scenario, two teams with equal records are being compared. When comparing teams with different records Strength of Schedule is skewed. Teams with losing records make their strength of schedule greater and conversely teams with winning records decrease their strength of schedule. *(NY Jets being the odd exception-opponents record vs Jets 7-6, Opponents record otherwise slightly better than .538)
The records of the Jaguars opponents,, for example, are somewhat elevated by having the benefit of playing 13 games vs them(11-2) . The records of the Patriots opponents, are somewhat depressed by having played 13 games vs them(3-10).
If we eliminate the from the record of the Patriots opponents in 2012 the games actually played againgst NE we will have their record vs the rest of the NFL. This removes New England skewing of the stats. If we do the same for the rest of the AFC we come up with a different and more accurate measure of Strength of Schedule.
New England .548
NY Jets .545
By this more accurate measure of Strength of Schedule, the Patriots have played the toughest schedule in the AFC. Only Houston has depressed their Strength of Schedule more than the Patriots. Their SOS of .462, compared to Pats .524, is not nearly offset by the extra win.
If we go beyond the AFC with this more accurate measure, only one team has played a tougher schedule than NE. That team is the Arizona Cardinals with an opponents win pct. of .551 when not playing them as compared to the Patriots mark of .548. The Patriots play the 9-3-1 49ers this weekend and the Cardinals play the 4-9 Lions.
After 13 games, New England has played the second toughest schedule in the NFL. 2011 is completely irrelevant. After 14 games NE appears poised to have played the toughest schedule in the league.