The schedule for the 2009 NFL season won’t be released until Tuesday, as part of some idiotic gala presentation on NFL Network, but already we know which teams will have the hardest roads this season and which ones the easiest. According to NFL.com’s handy chart, the Miami Dolphins have the toughest schedule: their opponents had a .594 winning percentage in 2008, and 13 of their games will be against a club that finished 8-8 or better. And the easiest schedule? That distinction goes to the Chicago Bears, whose opponents put together a .414 percentage last season. Right ahead of the Bears in the #31 position is your hometown Minnesota Vikings with an opponents winning % of .420 and only 7 games against teams that finished at least 8-8.
And now, of course, we must point out the essential meaninglessness of this whole thing. First of all, to say these numbers truly reflect how hard a team’s schedule will be assumes that teams will be as good or bad as they were the year before, not a very safe assumption given the way teams’ fortunes fluctuate in the modern era. Second of all, the whole thing is severely skewed depending on your division opponents. The Dolphins, Patriots, Bills and Jets are all in the top 7 – because they all play each other a bunch, and all went at least 7-9 last year, with two teams getting to 11 wins. Conversely, the Packers, Vikings and Bears find themselves occupying the bottom 3 spots on the list, for one simple reason – the Lions went 0-16, which blows the curve to smithereens. Still, I’m sure there are yahoos who will pick the Vikings or Bears or Packers to make the playoffs based on their strength of schedule, even though that is an almost utterly irrelevant factor.