As we sit at the end of October, we’re two months into the 2019 season with two months remaining. For some teams, their season is already over. A colossal disappointment. They’ve begun firing coaches already. Other teams are doing extremely well and are looking toward finishing strong, with playoffs and the Super Bowl in sight.
Which teams have most outperformed expectations? To evaluate, we turn to the forecast win totals from Las Vegas, and can compare actual win rate with forecast win rate. It’s also important to take into consideration context of schedule. And courtesy of Sharp Football Stats, we can look at past vs future strength of schedule, to understand if a team has exceeded expectations against an easy or tough schedule, and what they will face in the future.
Top Teams Exceeding Expectations
- San Francisco 49ers (7-0)
The 49ers were expected to win only 8 games this season, and with juice on the over, that number technically stood at 8.1. They’re sitting at 7-0 having faced the 10th-easiest schedule of the season thus far, and a future schedule which will get slightly tougher (#20) but not so much that it will derail their playoff aspirations. The 49ers have the #10 ranked offense despite facing the eighth-toughest schedule of defenses. Their defense, currently ranked #2, has played the #29 ranked schedule of offenses. I expect their defensive numbers to return to earth slightly, particularly their #1 ranked passing offense, which has faced only one top-half passing offense (the Rams) all season long and is about to face the #25 Cardinals passing attack.
- Green Bay Packers (7-1)
Green Bay has a top-10 offense and a top-15 defense, and both rankings have been earned against above-average schedule of opponent. Their lone weakness is the 22nd-ranked run defense which has come against the 18th-ranked rushing offenses. They are the only team in the top-4 to have faced a schedule with above average degree of difficulty so far this year, and they are just getting used to calling plays with a new coach.
- New England Patriots (8-0)
The Patriots are the lone 8-0 team. And while they’ve earned that mark with the #1 defense bolstering the #15 offense, it’s come against, by far, the easiest schedule in the NFL. Their defense has faced the NFL’s easiest schedule of offenses and it’s not close. They haven’t faced a single offense that ranks above #22. They’ve played half their schedule (four games) against the bottom-3 offenses of the Redskins, Dolphins, and Jets. Things will get tougher on the Patriots defense, and while I believe they regress, I still think they will show they have the NFL’s top-rated defense. Offensively, they have played the NFL’s second easiest schedule of passing defenses. I’m interested to see how the #12 ranked passing offense looks against some tougher competition.
- Buffalo Bills (5-2)
The Bills are dramatically overachieving on the season, and while they have a solid team, I don’t believe they are as good as their record indicates. Their defense has played the NFL’s second easiest schedule of offenses (just two opponents ranked above #22, and both games Buffalo lost), and their passing offense ranks fourth-worst despite playing the fifth-easiest schedule. The good news for the Bills is that of the five teams that most exceeded expectations so far this year, the Bills are the only team to have an above-average ease of schedule moving forward. It’s not just above-average, though, they have the sixth-easiest schedule the rest of the year, so expect plenty more wins for Buffalo, a playoff appearance, the #5 seed, but perhaps an earlier than expected exit in the postseason.
- New Orleans Saints (7-1)
The most impressive aspect of this ranking is they’ve done it without Drew Brees against a tougher than average schedule of opponents. Of the top-10 teams that most-exceeded expectations, only two have tougher-than-average schedules: the Packers and the Saints. Impressively, the Saints defense ranks #6 against the 10th-toughest schedule of offenses. Their rushing offense has performed adequately (#17 against the #12 defenses). They were fortunate that their passing offense (#7) was able to face the NFL’s seventh-easiest schedule of pass defenses while Brees was absent. Now that they have him back, even a tougher schedule of pass offenses should be less daunting knowing one of the best QBs in the game is under center.
Three Teams Exceeding Expectations but will Face Tougher Schedules
Seattle Seahawks (6-2) – played the sixth-easiest schedule to date and will face the second-toughest
Minnesota Vikings (6-2) – played the fifth-easiest schedule to date and will face the sixth-toughest
Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1) – played the 13th-easiest schedule to date and will face the fourth-toughest
Three Teams Exceeding Expectations who will Face Easier Schedules
Oakland Raiders (3-4) – played the third-toughest schedule to date and will finish with the fifth-easiest
Carolina Panthers (4-3) – played the fifth-toughest schedule to date and will finish with the eighth-easiest
Detroit Lions (3-3-1) – played the seventh-toughest schedule to date and will finish with the 16th-easiest
Three Teams Failing to Meet Expectations who will Face Easier Schedules
New York Jets (1-6) – played the toughest schedule to date and will finish with the easiest
Cleveland Browns (2-5) – played the second-toughest schedule to date and will finish with the second-easiest
Miami Dolphins (0-7) – played the sixth-toughest schedule to date and will finish with the third-easiest
Three Teams Failing to Meet Expectations despite Easy Schedules that will Get Tougher
Los Angeles Chargers (3-5) – played the third-easiest schedule to date and will finish with the third-toughest
Tennessee Titans (4-4) – played the second-easiest schedule to date and will finish with the seventh-toughest
Atlanta Falcons (1-7) – played the 15th easiest schedule to date and will finish with the toughest