Yardbarker Horiz

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Digging Into Schedules: Tampa, Jacksonville On Opposite Ends

NFL General Managers spend a lot of time on risk mitigation.  Usually, the best way to limit risk is to control the factors you have influence over to create the best outcome for your team.  Unfortunately, one thing that cannot be influenced in the NFL is your schedule.

NFL teams play a rigidly defined schedule determined by where teams finish in their division the previous year.  For 2009, the Tampa Bay Buccanners opponent list was determined as follows:
- Two games each (home and away) against the other three teams in your own division (6 Games).  For the Buccaneers its two games each against Atlanta, Carolina, and New Orleans each year.
-  Play all teams in another division in your conference (4 Games) on a 3 year repeating cycle.  For Tampa Bay in 2009, that would be the NFC East teams:  Dallas, New York (Giants), Philadelphia, and Washington.
- Play the teams in the remaining two divisions in your conference who finished in the same position as you did in your division (2 Games).  This added Green Bay and Seattle to the Buccaneers schedule for 2009.
- Play all teams in a division in the other conference (4 Games) on a 4 year repeating cycle.  This added the AFC East to the Bucs schedule for 2009:  Buffalo, Miami, New England, and New York (Jets).

     There you have it -- your full 16 game schedule.  Game times and exactly which week is which game is (also) determined by the NFL based on TV contracts, the new Flex Scheduling for Sunday Night Football, etc.  So a GM cannot schedule weaker teams when rebuilding/reloading nor schedule better teams to exert dominance with a strong team.

    The eight new NFL General Managers in the Rookie Class of 2009 have now played 11 of the 16 games on their respective schedules.  Since the formula is rigid some teams may have the benefit of a weaker schedule or the struggles of a stronger schedule.  Since Bye weeks are over and teams have played an odd number of games, this is a great time to evaluate the current season schedules and see who caught a break.

    Here are the cumulative games won and lost by the team's opponents for the full season based on standings after Week 12, 2009:
    • (1-10) Tampa Bay: 98-78 (.5568 Win Pct) with 9 games against winning teams
    • (1-10) Saint Louis: 95-81 (.5398) with 7 games against winning teams
    • (2-9) Detroit:  94-82 (.5341) with 9 games against winning teams
    • (1-10) Cleveland:  94-82 (.5341) with 11 games against winning teams
    • (7-4) Denver:  91-85 (.5170) with 10 games against winning teams
    • (3-8) Kansas City:  91-85 (.5170) with 11 games against winning teams
    • (7-4) New England:  90-86 (.5114) with 6 games against winning teams
    • (6-5) Jacksonville:  84-92 (.4773) with 4 games against winning teams
     As you can see, the NFL GM Rookie class is having a rough time getting things going (which, of course, is why these teams have new General Managers in the first place).  2009 Rookie GMs own five of the 7 worst records in the NFL so far this year.  The other three teams are still in the playoff hunt.

    GM Gene Smith of the Jacksonville Jaguars landed a bit of a break with their schedule this year (even in the same division as the 11-0 Indianapolis Colts).  As such, the Jaguars have assured themselves of improving on their 2008 record of 5-11.  This is the only schedule of the eight with a losing record and also has the lowest number of games against winning teams (4 at this point in the season).

    On the other end of the spectrum, GM Mark Dominik was awarded the strongest schedule of the bunch in Tampa Bay (including division rival and 11-0 New Orleans Saints).  With most of the 9 teams with winning records behind them there is a chance Tampa Bay could finish the season strong if the team continues to improve.

    A couple other interesting notes:
    • Saint Louis and New England have the privilage of having both undefeated teams on their schedule (New Orleans and Indianapolis as of Week 12).
    • Tampa Bay had their only game against another of the 2009 Rookie GMs when they played New England in London in Week 7.
    • 2009 Rookie GMs went head-to-head four times on the schedules of Jacksonville (against Saint Louis, Kansas City, New England, and Cleveland) and Cleveland (against Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, and Jacksonville).
    The rigid scheduling formula used in the NFL allows for rebuilding teams to match up with other down-on-their-luck teams.  This can give rise to the occasional worst-to-first team one year after a team finishes last in their divison.

    For the Buccaneers of 2009 the schedule is both a blessing and curse.  The curse is being a youthful team playing against a strong schedule.  The blessing is a chance to see the youth on the team compete against some of the stronger teams in the NFL.  While the blessing does not seem so to fans, it does provide the coaches and personnel decision-makers with a very clear picture of where the team stands.  Hopefully that picture will become a map of the shortest route possible to get the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back to the playoffs.

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