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Strength of Schedule Swings
David Dorey
August 9, 2010
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Last year was the first for Schedule Swings which ended up as a good tool. By no means the only tool or by itself completely predictive but used in concert with other tools and a bit of wisdom it makes for a very interesting and revealing read. The bottom line is that Schedule Swings considers what defenses actually allowed last year and then applies it both to last year (to see how truly easy or tough a schedule was) and this year. And then it compares the two to show how much tougher a schedule is or isn't. Bottom line - if a schedule is roughly the same strength as last year and no other dynamics are at play, then a player should end up about the same. If a player had a big 2009 but his schedule was far easier than this year, then he's most likely due for a downgrade. And if a player excelled against a bad schedule in 2009 and now has a great one, man - grab that guy.

Without making this all excessively complicated, you can view here what each defense/venue allowed per game in 2009 and how each one was a relative advantage or disadvantage.

Applying those values against the 2009 schedule for each team yielded this view of last year.

Actual Schedule Advantage of 2009

QB's RB's RB + Rec. Pts WR & TE WR & TE + Rec Pts
GB 30.3 DAL 26.9 HOU 16.7 GB 35.2 SF 52.3
SF 27.5 NYJ 25.3 DAL 12.3 SF 29.5 GB 48.6
MIN 24.2 HOU 19.6 NYJ 10.5 MIN 22.7 STL 41.0
STL 14.1 NO 19.5 ARI 10.2 STL 20.3 ARI 39.5
ARI 13.1 NE 13.6 GB 8.2 IND 20.1 IND 36.2
IND 13.0 NYG 13.4 NO 7.1 ARI 17.1 MIN 32.1
PIT 9.1 GB 10.3 PHI 5.7 HOU 7.6 HOU 22.0
NO 7.3 SD 9.7 MIN 5.4 PIT 6.9 SEA 15.8
HOU 6.8 WAS 9.1 WAS 4.0 DAL 6.0 PIT 7.1
DAL 3.9 ARI 9.0 SD 0.8 NO 3.1 NO 4.4
SEA 3.3 MIN 7.5 NYG 0.0 SEA 2.4 DAL 2.8
WAS 1.0 PHI 7.1 IND -0.1 NYJ -3.0 NYJ -4.2
CIN -3.0 SF 3.2 NE -0.6 SD -4.9 WAS -4.5
CHI -4.1 JAC 2.5 JAC -1.7 WAS -8.9 SD -8.3
DEN -4.7 IND 2.5 MIA -1.8 CLE -9.5 NYG -10.9
BAL -4.7 DEN 2.4 SF -3.1 CIN -10.2 CIN -12.6
SD -6.9 OAK 1.8 ATL -4.9 NYG -10.9 CLE -14.6
CLE -8.7 MIA 1.6 OAK -5.3 DEN -12.2 DEN -14.7
NYJ -9.5 ATL 1.0 SEA -5.6 NE -17.5 CHI -14.9
CAR -9.8 KC 0.4 KC -5.8 CAR -17.9 CAR -17.7
NYG -10.9 SEA 0.0 CIN -6.8 CHI -18.1 NE -19.9
PHI -11.8 PIT -0.3 BAL -7.1 BAL -19.3 JAC -20.6
BUF -13.4 CAR -0.6 DEN -8.2 PHI -22.4 BAL -22.3
TB -14.1 BUF -1.1 STL -8.5 TB -24.0 PHI -23.2
KC -15.4 CIN -3.3 PIT -9.5 BUF -24.0 TB -25.0
OAK -19.4 BAL -4.3 BUF -10.5 KC -24.2 BUF -26.3
DET -20.6 TB -8.9 CAR -11.4 OAK -25.4 DET -27.7
NE -21.1 TEN -9.9 TB -19.0 DET -27.2 OAK -28.3
JAC -23.5 STL -11.0 TEN -20.4 JAC -28.8 TEN -28.8
TEN -28.0 CLE -19.6 CHI -30.8 TEN -32.2 KC -31.3
MIA -32.4 CHI -25.2 CLE -32.8 ATL -48.0 MIA -49.0
ATL -34.4 DET -29.4 DET -39.3 MIA -50.1 ATL -52.8

While a prolific offense will roll up points on a defense and be a part of making them be a good defense to face, they can only affect the opposing defense for two of 16 games (12.5%). So this really is an accurate measure of what each offense faced last year whether or not they took advantage of it. If a team persevered despite a tough schedule, that is impressive. If a team faltered and yet had an easier schedule, that's as disappointing as it gets.

2009 - The Actual Advantages and Disadvantages

Remember - the numbers above show how many points away from average the schedule was for each position.

Quarterbacks - Interesting. Aaron Rodgers was a the top QB last year and yet had the easiest schedule. The Alex Smith revival also came against one of the easier slates of games and Brett Favre had a career best season in some categories while playing against what ended up as the third easiest set of opponents. The bottom three quarterbacks had Matt Ryan who had a bad season, Chad Henne who maybe looks even better now considering how tough his schedule was. And it doesn't really matter but Vince Young's low passing numbers would have happened anyway. Some players are bigger than their schedule but the top and bottom schedule for quarterbacks seemed surprisingly predictive in retrospect.

Running Backs - The teams with the best rushing schedules didn't really seem to take advantage other than the Jets. The Cowboys had a big passing effort and the Texans and Saints both also had top passing attacks. Usually running backs are the more predictive players in relation to the schedule but it did not happen at the top end so much. The tougher schedules held true though with the Lions, Bears and Browns all struggling to run for at least most of the year. It was interesting too since Matt Forte had an easier schedule in 2008 and then a harder one in 2009 that seemed to really effect his performance.

Receivers - Not surprisingly, the receiver numbers were a near mirror of the quarterbacks. Packers, 49ers and Vikings all had the easier defenses and even the Colts and Cardinals were not far behind. No wonder 2009 was a year of major passing stats.

Forecasted Schedule Advantage for 2010

QB's RB's RB + Rec. Pts WR's WR + Rec Pts
DAL 22.6 STL 38.4 STL 34.6 DAL 24.3 WAS 42.7
WAS 20.7 SEA 37.6 DEN 32.1 WAS 20.2 DAL 40.0
NYG 12.1 DEN 31.8 SEA 25.8 CAR 17.9 CAR 29.7
PHI 11.7 SF 22.3 TB 14.9 PHI 14.7 PHI 27.7
CHI 11.1 KC 18.8 JAC 14.8 SD 11.9 NYG 25.1
CAR 8.0 ARI 17.2 SF 14.7 NYJ 6.6 SD 22.6
SD 6.8 JAC 17.2 OAK 14.0 NYG 5.8 CHI 10.1
SF 4.8 TB 15.8 ARI 13.6 CHI 5.1 ATL 6.8
NYJ 3.5 SD 13.7 KC 12.7 TEN -0.9 NYJ 6.3
GB 2.2 OAK 13.2 SD 2.3 ATL -1.5 JAC 5.2
JAC 0.8 PIT 11.0 IND -0.2 DET -3.7 TEN 4.6
DET 0.8 IND 6.6 NO -0.6 JAC -5.2 OAK 1.5
TEN -1.0 NO 6.4 PIT -2.2 STL -5.3 SF -0.8
ARI -1.3 MIA 1.4 CHI -4.7 SF -5.6 KC -2.2
BUF -1.6 HOU -0.1 MIA -5.1 GB -6.7 HOU -2.3
OAK -3.9 CAR -0.5 HOU -5.5 OAK -8.6 STL -2.9
ATL -4.7 CHI -1.3 DAL -6.0 CLE -10.1 GB -5.2
NO -6.3 DAL -2.1 CAR -12.0 HOU -10.2 DET -5.3
HOU -6.8 TEN -4.9 TEN -13.0 SEA -10.3 ARI -8.5
TB -8.2 CIN -7.0 GB -15.8 KC -10.7 SEA -10.1
MIN -8.7 MIN -7.6 MIN -16.4 BUF -11.1 CLE -12.7
STL -8.8 ATL -7.7 WAS -16.5 PIT -12.0 NO -13.9
KC -11.5 BAL -8.3 CIN -17.7 ARI -14.1 IND -15.8
NE -13.5 BUF -9.1 NYG -18.0 IND -15.1 TB -17.8
IND -14.7 CLE -9.6 BAL -18.7 NE -16.4 PIT -18.2
CLE -14.8 DET -11.2 ATL -20.0 MIN -17.1 BUF -18.7
PIT -15.1 GB -12.7 PHI -20.3 NO -17.7 NE -20.6
SEA -15.9 NYG -13.6 BUF -20.6 TB -21.0 MIN -24.0
DEN -17.5 WAS -14.0 NE -21.3 DEN -25.0 DEN -24.4
MIA -18.8 NE -14.1 DET -22.6 MIA -32.6 CIN -38.0
CIN -22.5 PHI -18.4 CLE -23.2 CIN -35.5 MIA -39.4
BAL -29.1 NYJ -20.4 NYJ -32.4 BAL -45.4 BAL -53.0

2009 - The Projected Advantages and Disadvantages

Quarterbacks - The NFC East gets the best passing schedule with all four teams atop the list thanks to facing the AFC South and NFC North divisions. Could spell nice things for Tony Romo to be sure and Donovan McNabb starts anew in Washington with what calculates out as the second most advantageous schedule. The tough seasons? Joe Flacco once again is saddled with a really challenging slate of games and Carson Palmer goes against a very tough set of games despite having Terrell Owens and Antonio Bryant added to the offense.

Running Backs -Steven Jackson could have a big season if he can remain healthy. And gets blocking., And there is any semblance of a passing attack. Actually, a nice schedule may be his lone advantage going into the year. The Seahawks once again have a nice schedule but a change in coaches still doesn't appear likely to change the committee approach there. Knowshon Moreno and Frank Gore both have easier games than most. In a bigger change, The Jets now have one of the worst schedules and losing Brian Westbrook may not be compensated for in Philly with a tough year facing LeSean McCoy.

Receivers - No surprise that the NFC East still sits at the top in receivers like they did in quarterbacks. That could help out Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Santana Moss, DeSean Jackson and Steve Smith to name a few. Tough times ahead for some of those receivers who changed teams including Anquan Boldin, Brandon Marshall and Terrell Owens.

Schedule Swings

What we want to do is take what we already know about a player and apply how his schedule strength is changing from the previous season. The bottom line to evaluating a player is less about the strength of his schedule and more about how much harder or easier his schedule will be this year. That is more reflective of how his performance may change

  Swing 2010 2009   Swing 2010 2009
ATL 29.7 -4.7 -34.4 TB 5.9 -8.2 -14.1
TEN 27.0 -1.0 -28.0 KC 4.0 -11.5 -15.4
JAC 24.3 0.8 -23.5 CLE -6.1 -14.8 -8.7
PHI 23.5 11.7 -11.8 DEN -12.8 -17.5 -4.7
NYG 23.0 12.1 -10.9 NO -13.6 -6.3 7.3
DET 21.4 0.8 -20.6 HOU -13.6 -6.8 6.8
WAS 19.7 20.7 1.0 ARI -14.4 -1.3 13.1
DAL 18.8 22.6 3.9 SEA -19.1 -15.9 3.3
CAR 17.8 8.0 -9.8 CIN -19.5 -22.5 -3.0
OAK 15.5 -3.9 -19.4 SF -22.7 4.8 27.5
CHI 15.1 11.1 -4.1 STL -22.9 -8.8 14.1
MIA 13.7 -18.8 -32.4 PIT -24.2 -15.1 9.1
SD 13.6 6.8 -6.9 BAL -24.4 -29.1 -4.7
NYJ 12.9 3.5 -9.5 IND -27.7 -14.7 13.0
BUF 11.8 -1.6 -13.4 GB -28.1 2.2 30.3
NE 7.6 -13.5 -21.1 MIN -32.9 -8.7 24.2

Quarterbacks

Biggest Positive Swings

Matt Ryan
Vince Young
David Garrard
Kevin Kolb
Eli Manning

Interesting that those with the biggest swings are not necessarily facing an easy schedule, they are just no longer saddled with a bad one. The Falcons and Titans both come from bad years to just an average stretch of games.

Biggest Negative Swings

Brett Favre/ Tarvaris Jackson / Sage Rosenfels
Aaron Rodgers
Peyton Manning
Joe Flacco
Ben Roethlisberger

Could be a bad time for Favre to give it one more go with a much tougher schedule this year. Bothersome too is that Rodgers will experience a notable swing as well Manning - they will have to play bigger than their schedules. Even worse is that Roethlisberger not only misses the first month, but that was the only time with any decent match ups.

No Reception Points With Reception Points
  Swing 2010 2009   Swing 2010 2009
STL 49.4 38.4 -11.0 STL 43.1 34.6 -8.5
SEA 37.6 37.6 0.0 DEN 40.3 32.1 -8.2
DEN 29.4 31.8 2.4 TB 34.0 14.9 -19.0
TB 24.7 15.8 -8.9 SEA 31.5 25.8 -5.6
CHI 23.9 -1.3 -25.2 CHI 26.1 -4.7 -30.8
SF 19.2 22.3 3.2 OAK 19.3 14.0 -5.3
KC 18.4 18.8 0.4 KC 18.5 12.7 -5.8
DET 18.2 -11.2 -29.4 SF 17.8 14.7 -3.1
JAC 14.7 17.2 2.5 DET 16.7 -22.6 -39.3
OAK 11.4 13.2 1.8 JAC 16.5 14.8 -1.7
PIT 11.4 11.0 -0.3 CLE 9.6 -23.2 -32.8
CLE 10.0 -9.6 -19.6 TEN 7.4 -13.0 -20.4
ARI 8.2 17.2 9.0 PIT 7.3 -2.2 -9.5
TEN 5.0 -4.9 -9.9 ARI 3.4 13.6 10.2
IND 4.1 6.6 2.5 SD 1.5 2.3 0.8
SD 4.0 13.7 9.7 IND -0.1 -0.2 -0.1
CAR 0.1 -0.5 -0.6 CAR -0.7 -12.0 -11.4
MIA -0.2 1.4 1.6 MIA -3.4 -5.1 -1.8
CIN -3.7 -7.0 -3.3 NO -7.7 -0.6 7.1
BAL -4.0 -8.3 -4.3 BUF -10.1 -20.6 -10.5
BUF -8.0 -9.1 -1.1 CIN -10.8 -17.7 -6.8
ATL -8.7 -7.7 1.0 BAL -11.6 -18.7 -7.1
NO -13.1 6.4 19.5 ATL -15.2 -20.0 -4.9
MIN -15.1 -7.6 7.5 NYG -18.0 -18.0 0.0
HOU -19.6 -0.1 19.6 DAL -18.2 -6.0 12.3
GB -23.0 -12.7 10.3 WAS -20.5 -16.5 4.0
WAS -23.1 -14.0 9.1 NE -20.8 -21.3 -0.6
PHI -25.5 -18.4 7.1 MIN -21.8 -16.4 5.4
NYG -27.0 -13.6 13.4 HOU -22.1 -5.5 16.7
NE -27.6 -14.1 13.6 GB -24.0 -15.8 8.2
DAL -29.0 -2.1 26.9 PHI -26.0 -20.3 5.7
NYJ -45.6 -20.4 25.3 NYJ -42.9 -32.4 10.5

Running Backs

Biggest Positive Swings

Steven Jackson
Justin Forsett / Leon Washington
Knowshon Moreno
Carnell Williams
Matt Forte / Chester Taylor
Frank Gore
Jamaal Charles / Thomas Jones
Jahvid Best

In the case of the top three teams, each one comes from a relatively average schedule in 2009 to a far easier slate for this year. Matt Forte seems more attractive but only rises to an average schedule and has Chester Taylor to share with now. Carnell Williams is exceptionally hard to rely on and there are reasons to expect him to never be more than average, but at least he has a distinct positive swing from last year.

Biggest Negative Swings

Shonn Greene/ L. Tomlinson
Felix Jones / Marion Barber
Laurence Maroney + flip a coin
Brandon Jacobs / Ahmad Bradshaw
LeSean McCoy
Clinton Portis / Larry Johnson
Ryan Grant

All of the players at the bottom of the lists came from good schedules in 2009 to having bad ones in 2010. The Cowboys end up with just an average set of games this year after having one of the easiest schedules last season. As it works out, the NFC East is facing the best schedules for passing and yet have the worst for running backs. Shonn Greene is maybe the most notable player here since he comes from a great schedule in 2009 to having a pretty bad one in 2010.

The move to committee backfields only serves to make the effects of schedules harder to gauge.

No Reception Points With Reception Points
  Swing 2010 2009   Swing 2010 2009
ATL 46.6 -1.5 -48.0 ATL 59.6 6.8 -52.8
PHI 37.0 14.7 -22.4 PHI 50.9 27.7 -23.2
CAR 35.8 17.9 -17.9 CAR 47.4 29.7 -17.7
TEN 31.3 -0.9 -32.2 WAS 47.2 42.7 -4.5
WAS 29.1 20.2 -8.9 DAL 37.2 40.0 2.8
JAC 23.6 -5.2 -28.8 NYG 36.0 25.1 -10.9
DET 23.5 -3.7 -27.2 TEN 33.4 4.6 -28.8
CHI 23.3 5.1 -18.1 SD 30.9 22.6 -8.3
DAL 18.3 24.3 6.0 OAK 29.8 1.5 -28.3
MIA 17.5 -32.6 -50.1 KC 29.2 -2.2 -31.3
OAK 16.9 -8.6 -25.4 JAC 25.9 5.2 -20.6
SD 16.7 11.9 -4.9 CHI 25.0 10.1 -14.9
NYG 16.6 5.8 -10.9 DET 22.4 -5.3 -27.7
KC 13.5 -10.7 -24.2 NYJ 10.5 6.3 -4.2
BUF 13.0 -11.1 -24.0 MIA 9.5 -39.4 -49.0
NYJ 9.6 6.6 -3.0 BUF 7.6 -18.7 -26.3
TB 3.0 -21.0 -24.0 TB 7.3 -17.8 -25.0
NE 1.2 -16.4 -17.5 CLE 1.9 -12.7 -14.6
CLE -0.6 -10.1 -9.5 NE -0.7 -20.6 -19.9
SEA -12.7 -10.3 2.4 DEN -9.7 -24.4 -14.7
DEN -12.8 -25.0 -12.2 NO -18.2 -13.9 4.4
HOU -17.8 -10.2 7.6 HOU -24.3 -2.3 22.0
PIT -18.9 -12.0 6.9 PIT -25.4 -18.2 7.1
NO -20.8 -17.7 3.1 CIN -25.4 -38.0 -12.6
CIN -25.3 -35.5 -10.2 SEA -25.8 -10.1 15.8
STL -25.6 -5.3 20.3 BAL -30.7 -53.0 -22.3
BAL -26.1 -45.4 -19.3 STL -43.8 -2.9 41.0
ARI -31.2 -14.1 17.1 ARI -47.9 -8.5 39.5
SF -35.1 -5.6 29.5 IND -52.0 -15.8 36.2
IND -35.1 -15.1 20.1 SF -53.0 -0.8 52.3
MIN -39.8 -17.1 22.7 GB -53.8 -5.2 48.6
GB -41.9 -6.7 35.2 MIN -56.1 -24.0 32.1

Wide Receivers

Biggest Positive Swings

Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez
DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek
Steve Smith (CAR)
Nate Washington
Santana Moss, Devin Thomas, Chris Cooley
Mike Sims-Walker, Mike Thomas
Calvin Johnson

What is most encouraging here is that the players who will be experiencing the biggest schedule swings were all players who were average or under performed last year. White ended up good but could be in line for a nice next step-up. Kolb takes over at an opportune time and should be able to at least sustain the stats for the Eagle's wideouts and tight end. Those Redskins not only get the best quarterback they've seen for many years, they get an easier schedule as an added bonus. It will be the most favorable situation for the Washington passing game since the Steve Spurrier years.


Biggest Negative Swings

Donald Driver, Greg Jennings
Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian
Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark
Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis
Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston
Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason

Is there trouble brewing? The worse swings are going to GB, MIN, IND and ARI receivers who incidentally were among the most productive last year. Throw in quarterback changes in Arizona and possibly Minnesota and there are reasons to worry. Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne usually have bad schedules in most years and should be fine. The bottom here is represented by swings that came from very positive advantages in 2009 to now notable disadvantages in 2010. Most of the best receivers appear to have a challenging season ahead.

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