When a new National Football League schedule is released, the media quickly goes to work to find who has the toughest schedule.
How do they do that?
Well, they take each opponent a team faces in the new season against their records from last season and figure that is a true indicator of strength of schedule.
That is like checking the weather report from the prior year for a date and dressing appropriate to what the weather was a year earlier. Things change in the NFL from one season to another as much as the weather. In a typical season, just over half the teams that participated in the playoffs last year will advance again in the current campaign.
This season, seven teams that missed the playoffs in 2020 advanced to the postseason. They are the Las Vegas Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals. Teams that participated in the playoffs last season but are absent this year are the Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Football Team, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns.
Perhaps a better way to evaluate the strength of schedule for each team is to see how they did this year against teams that made the playoffs this year. Every team in the NFL has played a team that is among the elite eight participating in this weekend’s Divisional Playoff round. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the fewest, having only two regular season games against teams in action tomorrow and Sunday.
The San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams played the most games against teams still alive in the hunt for Super Bowl LVI, each five. The Buccaneers split their two games against teams currently still in action, beating the Buffalo Bills in overtime six weeks ago and losing to their opponent this week, the Rams, 34-24, in a September matchup at SoFi Stadium.
That win over the Bucs in Week Three marks the only victory for the Rams scored against a postseason team still alive in this season’s playoffs. The Rams were beaten twice by San Francisco and also lost at Green Bay and against the Titans in Los Angeles.
The only team to win every game against squads still active this weekend is the American Football Conference top seed Titans. They were 4-0 while downing the Rams in Los Angeles and taking home game decisions against the Bills, Chiefs and 49ers.
The National Football Conference top seed Packers lost one of four games against the anointed eight best teams in the NFL, they beat the 49ers and Bengals on the road and the Rams at Lambeau Field. Their only loss from this group was a November defeat to Kansas City at Arrowhead in a game Aaron Rodgers missed due to Covid protocol.
Does this mean anything in helping us find winners this weekend?
For me, it illuminates this; Tennessee is good enough to beat any team anywhere, but a look at their season results also show they are inconsistent enough to lose to anyone anywhere. In October, they were the first team to absorb a loss at the hands of the New York Jets, outscored at MetLife Stadium by a 27-24 margin.
Following that upset road loss, the Titans went on a six game winning roll and downed five of the best teams in the league in successive weeks, including the Bills, Chiefs and Rams. They bookended that success with another loss to a league weakling, downed in front of their home fans by a struggling Houston Texans squad.
So, can the Bengals beat the Titans this week?
Sure, if Tennessee was in an overconfident hole like they were in losses to the Jets and Texans.
But the Bengals won’t find the Titans in a hole or overconfident, but rather a number one seed that is not getting the respect that distinction should merit.
Which means this, the Bengals ended a 31 year postseason losing streak last week, and start a new one tomorrow.
Qoxhi Picks: Tennessee Titans (-3½) over Cincinnati Bengals