Strength of schedule and Watergate have much in common, I’ve often said this. When Deep Throat tells you to “follow the money”, you follow the gosh darn money, and by that I mean you track the shifts in Vegas. That method is forecasting heavy rain for the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles and the NFC East as a whole.
Bucking the traditional thinking that last years’ win-loss records are representative of this years’ difficulty or ease, Warren Sharp of Sharp Football has been pounding the table to look at strength of schedule (SOS) in a new light.
“My method starts by taking three of the largest, most reputable Vegas sportsbooks.. to build a model creating a consensus line which factors in juice. Ignoring juice is a massive mistake. For example, ignoring juice on a team with a win total set at 7.0 but juice on the over of -150 would be misleading. My juice-adjusted win totals are a superior means of calculating opponent strength.
The other edge in calculating SOS in this manner is that I can update the data over the course of spring and summer. As bigger-money bets are made, linemakers adjusted the juice and sometimes the win totals themselves. Sportsbooks and sharp bettors tell us how their opinion of each team is evolving.”
You can see the full formula and graphs here, which you can manipulate and customize. I did so for each division. What the Vegas shift from May 7th to July 23rd showed was a tough road for the NFC East. They have the strongest strength of schedule of any division in the NFL.
Breaking them down individually, the Washington Redskins face the 2nd toughest schedule, followed by the New York Giants (5th), Philadelphia Eagles (7th) and the Dallas Cowboys (12th).
To start the season, the Eagles begin with what Vegas considers an easy four game stretch despite opening at home against the Atlanta Falcons. A road game against the Jameis Winston-less Tampa Bay Buccaneers followed by a home game against the rebuilding Indianapolis Colts should result in two easy wins. Vegas isn’t as high on the Tennessee Titans as I am, projecting them to win 8 games, and they round out the first quarter.
The second quarter of the season is where things get dicey. Vegas projects this stretch as the 3rd hardest in the league. Three out of four games come against 2017 playoff contenders. Week 5 is a NFC Championship Game rematch (*cough*38-7*cough*) against the Minnesota Vikings at The Linc. Week 7 is another home game against the Carolina Panthers, and Week 8 features a road trip to London to meet with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sandwiched in the middle of those quality opponents is a Thursday Night Football road game with the New York Giants.
The third quarter is all about the NFC East, as the Eagles play all three division rivals with a road game against another 2017 playoff team and projected NFC South Champion New Orleans Saints, thrown in the mix. Vegas ranks this as the 11th toughest stretch from Weeks 10-13.
In the last stretch, the Eagles will have to travel for three road games against the Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams, and Redskins. Their lone home game comes against the Houston Texans, who Vegas predicts very closely to the Jaguars in a race for the AFC South. As the Eagles look to slam the door shut on their division and lock-up their playoff seed, they’ll have to contend with the 5th hardest projected schedule in those four weeks.
Despite the murderers row facing the Super Bowl Champions, Vegas still views the Eagles favorably; only lowering their projected win total from 10.5 to 10.3 despite the violent shift in difficulty. If things play out the way the top bookies and sharps say, the Eagles will walk into the 2018 NFL Playoffs as the repeat NFC East Champion and the top seed in the conference.