Yesterday, the NFL announced its 2018 schedule and the New England Patriots should feel happy about the draw they were given: The team faces no obviously brutal stretches, has its bye week placed well (week 11) and even though it will play in a primetime slot five times over the first nine weeks of the year has no post-8:00 p.m. kickoffs scheduled for the second half of the season.
As well as the schedule is constructed, the Patriots will face some tough opponents. New England will play the runner-ups in both the AFC (Jacksonville Jaguars) and the NFC (Minnesota Vikings), teams led by top-tier quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers' Green Bay Packers, Ben Roethlisberger's Pittsburgh Steelers, Matthew Stafford's Detroit Lions), and squads with highly talented offenses (Kansas City Chiefs) and defenses (Houston Texans).
In short, the Patriots' slate looks to be a tough one – certainly tougher than their strength of schedule suggests: According to a list compiled by CBS Sports, the combined 2017 record of New England's upcoming opponents is just 124-132. The winning percentage of .484 is tied with the Indianapolis Colts for the 10th-worst in the NFL.
However, a closer look at how the opponents' combined record was constructed shows that the strength of schedule is a deceiving one. After all, it includes the rest of the AFC East which in 2017 again unsuccessfully tried to catch the Patriots. Furthermore, the 4-12 Texans, 4-12 Colts and 7-9 Packers all project to be much improved this season if their starting quarterbacks are back to full strength.
While strength of schedule is a neat and easy way to compare draws across the league, it has to be taken with a grain of salt and thoroughly analyzed to tell a complete story. For New England, this story is a different one than the numbers make believe at first glance.