4 min min read

Study: Margin of Victory Weighted By Strength of Schedule

Margin of victory is a very simple statistic. The Steelers have a margin of victory of 10.3 this season, meaning they score an average of 10.3 more points per game than their opponent. If two teams had the same margin of victory average, though, it might not be equal. What if one of those teams had a much tougher schedule? Their margin of victory would be that much more impressive. Let’s examine margin of victory measured against strength of schedule.

Strength of opponent will be put into two groups: winning teams and losing teams. Winning teams are defined as teams with a current record of .500 or better and losing teams are defined as teams with a current record of .499 or worse. Obviously some teams improve and some teams get worse over the course of the season, but in such a small sample size, it would be restricting to use the records of the teams week by week; the current record better encapsulates the quality of the opponent.

The results of this provide some pretty interesting information. Take a look at the visualized results and then we’ll dig into some insight and trends underneath. For context, teams to the right of the graph have performed better against “losing” teams and teams towards the top of the graph have performed better against “winning” teams. The top right are the teams who play well against everyone.

Some observations:

  • Looking at the top right, there are three teams that stand out against the rest. As previously mentioned, these are the teams that play well against everyone and so it should be no surprise that the Steelers, Saints and Chiefs are in a category by themselves, all beating winning opponents by more than 6 points and beating losing opponents by 7 points. It is no coincidence that these three teams are the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
  • On the flip side, the Jets are by far the worst team against both winning and losing opponents, with the Cowboys and the Jaguars behind them. The Jets are really in a category by themselves, losing to winning teams by 16 points per game and losing teams by 11 points per game.
  • The Dolphins have the fourth-highest point differential in the entire NFL this season, which may come as a surprise to many people. This is driven by their prowess in beating bad teams very handily -- as you can see in the graph, they are all the way on the right. They are beating teams with losing records by 14 points per game but have a negative margin of victory against teams with winning records.
  • The Packers are similar to the Dolphins but even more dramatic. The Packers have the second-highest margin of victory against losing teams at 14.43 points per game, but conversely have a minus-4.4 points per game margin of victory against winning teams. The Packers like to demolish teams that struggle but their three losses are all against .500 or better teams.
  • The Packers will have an important test against the Titans in Week 16. The Packers are 9-3 and currently are tied for the third-best odds to win the Super Bowl but have been largely unimpressive against quality opponents. The Packers’ best win was Week 3 against the Saints, which was actually their most recent win vs. a team currently above .500. Since then, the Packers have played three winning opponents (Bucs, Vikings, Colts) and lost all three. The Titans have been much better against winning opponents with quality wins against the Colts, Ravens and Bills.
  • The 9-3 Browns are toward the bottom of the chart, meaning they have struggled against winning teams this year. With such a good record, it is surprising the Browns have actually allowed more points than they have scored this year. The Browns have two 30-point losses to the Ravens and Steelers but their last five wins have all been one-score games (Week 13 against the Titans ended up being a one-score game even though they led by 31 at one point).
  • The Patriots are in third place in the AFC East, but they have been the team that is most competitive against winning teams in that division. The Patriots’ margin of victory against both winning and losing teams is 1.6 points per game. This can be seen as a sign of consistency or inconsistency. The Patriots put up great performances against the Ravens and Raiders, but struggled against the Broncos and 49ers. The Patriots have shown the ability to beat anyone but also lose to anyone.
  • The Texans have had a very difficult schedule through 13 weeks, having played nine games against opponents that are currently .500 or better. They have lost these games by over a touchdown on average but have taken advantage of the few games against weaker opponents. They have won all three games against losing opponents and two of the wins, against the Jaguars and Lions, were by over two touchdowns.