OpinionJune 10, 2008

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SOS – Not an Assurance of Help

By Roberto Baltazar

Now that league drafting will soon be upon us, it’s time for us to look at what lies ahead. As a fantasy owner, what do you do when you look at the NFL Strength of Schedule (SOS) and see that your key fantasy players will be facing some tough games? Do you stock your roster with players having favorable schedules against the run and pass defenses, and then trade players facing a difficult schedule?

Some say that the SOS is important and use it as a basis for drafting fantasy players. Some agree with that and some don’t. Some just ignore it. For the upcoming 2008 season, the SOS shows that the Patriots will have the easiest schedule and the Steelers the most difficult schedule. Should owners of Steelers players be worried about this? Should Patriots fans have a reason to rejoice? Maybe not as the SOS is just a tabulated report wherein the figures, specifically the winning percentages, are merely based on the past year’s combined win-loss record of their opponents. Therefore, we should not look at it like a crystal ball. There is nothing in there that would enable us to accurately predict what will happen in the upcoming season.

Let me cite a couple of prime examples to prove that the SOS would not really help in predicting the final outcome of the regular season final standings…

In 2007, the Arizona Cardinals had the easiest schedule based on the SOS, compared to the NE Patriots who had the 3rd most difficult schedule. Against these so-called easy or difficult schedules the Cardinals did not manage to earn a playoff berth while the Patriots won the AFC Title and almost had a perfect season if not for that loss against the Giants in the Super Bowl. And where did the Super Bowl Champion NY Giants rank in the SOS? Yes, that’s right – based on the SOS, they had the 7th most difficult schedule. Would these examples be enough to convince us that the SOS is not truly reflective of what the outcome of games will be?

I think most fantasy football analysts would agree that the only actual way to measure the strength of a team is to take into account all pertinent and relevant statistics, and other important factors/events that would affect the performance of the team and its key players. This includes, among others, the following factors: injuries, weather, hometown advantage, coaching decisions, off-field player issues, love affairs, etc. And don’t forget Lady Luck.

Going back to our examples, the Arizona losses could be attributed to the following changes that occurred: a new head coach, Matt Leinart’s injury, the inability of their 2nd and 3rd string quarterbacks to perform well (which resulted in multiple turnovers/interceptions/fumbles), injuries to other key players, and a struggling O-line. If these events had not happened, we cannot just assume they would have won their games as we also have to consider the changes that happened with all their opponents. On the other hand, the Patriots were able to strengthen their offense and defense with the acquisitions of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, Sammy Morris, and Adalius Thomas. And even if almost all predictions, up-to-date rankings and statistics would show that the Patriots would eventually be the Super Bowl Champions, they were not fortunate enough to win the Super Bowl. Who would have ever thought that Brady would be sacked 5 times? Who would have thought that with only 35 seconds left, Eli Manning would be able to complete that pass to Plaxico Burress? So maybe we ought to also include pressure and motivation as additional determinants.

The table below should provide a better glimpse of each team’s actual performance/ranking against the SOS.



Green Bay(13-3)233
Kansas City(4-12)626
NY Giants(10-6)72
NY Jets(4-12)2227
New England(16-0)32
New Orleans(7-9)2521
San Diego(11-5)174
San Francisco(5-11)3030
St. Louis(3-13)2832
Tampa Bay(9-7)2916

Lastly, based on my research, the need for the NFL SOS came about when the NFL realigned the teams into 8 four-team divisions to accommodate the arrival of the Houston Texans and to adopt new tie breaking rules. Under this new scheduling formula, every team will play 16 games as follows:

- Home and away games against its three division opponents (6 games).
- The four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle (4 games).
- The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (4 games).
- Two intra-conference games based on the prior year’s standings (2 games). These games will match a first-place team against the first-place teams in
the two same-conference divisions the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place, and fourth-place teams in a conference will be matched in the same way each year.

In conclusion, relying on the SOS is not a guarantee for winning games. Even Anthony Smith has learned a lesson in guaranteeing a win against the Patriots. The SOS is not worthless though as it is a tool that can help owners (real and fantasy) prepare for match ups. But in no way should it be the final determining factor for predicting the outcome of the upcoming season. Let’s just take the SOS for what it’s worth.

Roberto is a football enthusiast living in Asia who recently became a Cafeholic. He's also a creative photographer and considered a signature design expert. You can catch up with Roberto in the Cafe Forums where he posts under the name of madaslives911.
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