The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
When the schedule was released a couple of weeks ago, a lot of media outlets and fans took the opportunity to list the strength of schedule for each team based on 2023 opponents’ won-loss records from the 2022 season.
It turns out that, on that basis, Washington has the 8th toughest schedule in the NFL in 2023, though the SoS projections are always flawed since NFL teams change so much from one season to the next.
Still, some people have commented this offseason that Washington benefited from an easy schedule in 2022, and that the Commanders will not be so ‘lucky’ in 2023.
I don’t know what will happen in ‘23, but I know who Washington’s opponents were in 2022, and the idea that they played a ‘soft’ schedule is misguided.
Let’s consider the schedule that Washington faced compared to the schedules faced by our 3 NFC East rivals: Philly, Dallas and New York.
- Washington’s opponents (one opponent for each of 17 games) had 153 wins in 289 games, for a 53.9% weighted win percentage. The numbers for the opponents of our division rivals: Eagles = 134 wins (46.4%), Cowboys = 142 wins (49.5%), Giants = 150 wins (51.9%). Based on number of opponent wins, the Commanders had the toughest schedule in the NFC East. The Eagles had the easiest by far.
- It could be argued that the Commanders benefited from playing a lot of bad teams, but the three teams with the worst records (Bears, Texans, Colts) played every team in the NFC East, as did the 7-win Titans. Washington actually had the most difficult slate of unique games. For example, the Eagles played the 4-win Cardinals; Dallas played the 5-win Rams; the Giants had the toughest unique matchup among our division foes with the 7-win Panthers. Washington’s 3 unique games were against the 7-win Falcons, the 7-win Browns, and the 13-win 49ers.
- One might argue that Washington didn’t face many quality teams, but that would be wrong as well. Nine of the Commanders’ 17 games came against playoff teams, and Washington was a respectable 4-4-1 in those games. The Giants played 8 games against playoff teams, going just 2-6; Dallas played 7 games against playoff teams, going 5-2; Philly had just 6 games against playoff teams, but lost only one, going 5-1.
No one is trying to suggest that the Commanders were super bowl contenders last season, but they finished with a .500 record (8-8-1), a half-game out of playoff contention, playing without a legitimate NFL quarterback, in the best division in the league, and playing the toughest schedule in the division.
Suggestions that the 2023 season opponents are likely to present an tougher test seem difficult to credit. No NFL season schedule is easy, but some are, in fact, easier than others.
In 2022, per Sharp Football Analysis, the preseason SoS ranking for Washington was that the Commanders would have the 24th easiest schedule; the final rank was 19th easiest (14th hardest). The Eagles ended up with the #1 easiest schedule in the NFL in ‘22; the Cowboys had the 6th easiest, and the Giants the 16th.
As Sharp points out:
Of the 7 teams that actually had the easiest 2022 schedules, 6 went to the playoffs (Eagles, 49ers, Jaguars, Cowboys, Chargers, Chiefs)
Philly and Dallas benefited last season from being among the 6 teams with the easiest strength of schedule in the league last year. It’s easy to believe that both will have tougher schedules in ‘23.
Washington, meanwhile, is unlikely to face a much tougher schedule than it did last year, when more than half of its games were against playoff teams and its opponents had a win percentage of nearly 54%.
Washington’s success or failure in 2023 is much less likely to be determined by strength of schedule, and much more likely to be a result of coaching and quarterback play. The future isn’t likely in the hands of the NFL schedule-makers, but those of new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and 2nd-year quarterback Sam Howell.
How many wins will Washington have in the 2023 regular season?
4 or less
5 or 6
7 or 8
9 or 10
11 or more