We've known every NFL team's 2022 opponents for weeks, but Thursday's official schedule release provided final details on when each game will occur, giving us the full picture for the season -- and perhaps some new insight into how easy or difficult each team's slate will be.
This isn't just idle speculation. Examining a team's strength of schedule can help temper optimism about contenders -- or remove reasons for doubt. Just look at Washington last season. Fans and pundits seemed overly optimistic about the 2021 campaign throughout the offseason, but the difficult schedule indicated there was an above average chance the team would finish 7-10 -- the exact record Washington had at the end of the season. This extra information provided by the schedule can also help guide us in our wagering, especially for regular season win totals and Super Bowl futures.
To determine the strength of each schedule, we will use subjective methods -- including how many playoff teams from last season are on the docket -- and objective methods, such as the 2022 regular season win totals provided by oddsmakers, to get a general idea of the strength of a team's opponents. These win totals can also be converted to an average point spread rating to give us a numerical gauge of how strong or weak a schedule is.
For example, a team with a regular season win total of 10 games was generally considered to be two points per game better than an average team. A team with a win total of six games was considered to be 3 1/2 points per game worse than an average team. Then, we can use those spreads as the inputs for the simple rating system to determine how difficult each team's 2022 schedule is projected to be.
So what can we learn? The biggest takeaway is how difficult the upcoming season should be for the reigning Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. The Rams' schedule includes 10 games against playoff teams from last season, which is the most in the NFL. And their average opponent in 2022 is expected to be 1.5 points per game better than an average team.
Their road schedule is especially difficult, with five of their eight games against 2021 playoff teams: the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. And four of their first five games are against 2021 playoff teams.
Only the Kansas City Chiefs are projected to have as strong a schedule in 2022, playing opponents that are also estimated to be 1.5 points per game better than an average team. The Chiefs have the added quirk of beginning their schedule with eight consecutive games against teams coming off winning seasons, the first team ever to face such a challenge. Both the Chiefs and Rams have regular season win totals set at 101/2 -- two of the highest totals in the league -- making the under for those propositions enticing.
At the other end of the spectrum we have the Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Cleveland Browns. They each are facing schedules in which the average opponent is projected to be a point per game worse than the league average.
The Colts will have four total games against two divisional foes that aren't expected to be very competitive -- the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans -- plus four more games against the NFC East, where two and perhaps three teams are expected to finish with eight or fewer wins.
The Eagles and Giants, of course, will also play each NFC East opponent twice. New York in particular could surprise. The Giants have a relatively easy schedule, and oddsmakers have given them a modest regular season win total at seven games. The Giants won't contend for any conference championships, but an 8-10 season certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Finally, the Browns could be helped by a lot of home cooking during the first half of the season, with five of their first eight games at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, but proceed with caution despite the schedule's apparent benefits.
Newly acquired quarterback Deshaun Watson, meantime, could yet face a suspension of undetermined length, making it risky to wager heavily on the Browns season.