2021 NFL Strength of Schedule Rankings For All 32 Teams
Getty Images. Pictured: George Kittle, Patrick Mahomes, T.J. Watt
While we won’t know the exact week-by-week NFL schedule until its released at 8 p.m. ET this Wednesday, we’ve known every team’s list of 2021 opponents for months. So in anticipation of the official release, Sean Koerner has ranked all 32 teams by their strength of schedule by averaging his initial team power ratings for each of their opponents.
You’ll find the rankings from easiest to most difficult below, followed by notes on key takeaways.
Note: The following assumes that Aaron Rodgers will start the 2021 season with the Packers.
2021 NFL Strength of Schedule Rankings
2021 NFL Strength of Schedule Takeaways
The 17th Game Impacted SOS Rankings
Because the 17th game will pit divisions from opposing conferences against one another on a rotating basis each season, and because the exact matchups between teams in those divisions are determined by a team’s standing from the previous season — with reigning division champions vs. reigning division champions, and so on — the 17th game has a substantial impact on the strength of schedule (SoS) for some teams.
We’ve outlined a direct comparison of strength of schedule rankings before vs. after the addition of the 17th game here.
NFC North Teams Have Hardest Schedules On Average
The Vikings have the easiest schedule in this division — and it’s still the nine-toughest in the league.
A couple points help explain this:
- Koerner is projecting NFC North teams for an average of 7.77 wins, which is the second-lowest among the eight divisions. (The Packers are the obvious outliers, assuming Aaron Rodgers plays in Green Bay this season.)
- Every season, each division is pinned against two other divisions: One from the same conference and one from the opposing conference. Those matchups account for eight of a team’s 17 games, and well, the NFC North draws the two most difficult divisions for those eight games: The AFC North and NFC West, both of which finished with the top average win percentages in 2020 and again are projected (by Koerner) to finish with the highest average wins.
AFC East Teams Have Easiest Schedules On Average
The most difficult schedule among AFC East teams belongs to the Patriots, who still have only the 20th-hardest in the league.
The most likely explanation for the AFC East’s favorable scheduling is the combination of the divisions they draw for eight games: The NFC South and AFC South, both of which finished in the bottom-half of the league in terms of average win percentage in 2020. Koerner is also projecting AFC South teams for an average of 7.32 wins — the lowest of the eight divisions.