The 2021 NFL schedule was released recently and, as always, it provoked a ton of instant reaction. I broke it down from a power rating standpoint, seeing how each team’s slate projects in terms of wins and losses in a new 17-game season. As bettors, we’re looking for every edge we can get, and by analyzing every game, we can potentially find things that oddsmakers setting the season win total props might have missed or overvalued.
I simulated the 2021 schedules for each team using my latest power ratings, including team-specific home and road field ratings. I gave each game an expected point spread, from which I extracted the chances for a team to win each game. I then totaled them into a projected season standings. Here are some of my takeaways.
- The league’s easiest schedule belongs to theoretically its best team, the Chiefs. A primary reason is that Kansas City’s NFC division matchup for 2021 is the East. At this point, my power ratings have the Chiefs favored by six points or more in 14 of their 17 games, including each of the last 10. That could change as the season wears on, but if K.C. picks up where it left off in playing in consecutive Super Bowls, another prolific season could be in order. The next-easiest schedules on paper belong to Buffalo and Dallas.
- For the second straight season, Kansas City (12.2) is projected to win the most games in the NFL, followed by Tampa Bay (11.4), Buffalo (11.3) and Baltimore (10.7). The other projected division winners are Indianapolis (9.6), Dallas (9.0), Green Bay (10.4) and San Francisco (10.2).
- Last year, three teams were projected to win fewer than six games — the Giants (5.8), Washington (5.3) and Jacksonville (5.0). This season, despite the extra game, Houston (5.2), Detroit (5.5) and Cincinnati (5.9) are projected for fewer than six wins. Two of those teams, the Texans and Lions, will be starting the season with new coaches and new quarterbacks.
- Assuming the projections play out accurately, the AFC’s top-seeded playoff team would be Kansas City. No. 2 Buffalo would be slotted to take on No. 7 New England in the expanded playoff format. Also in the wild-card round, the No. 4 Colts would host No. 5 Cleveland, and No. 3 Baltimore would again face No. 6 Tennessee. For the NFC, the top seed would be Tampa Bay, while the wild-card matchups would be Green Bay-Seattle, San Francisco-L.A. Rams and Dallas-New Orleans.
- The largest point spread at the outset of the season is expected to be a game featuring Houston at Buffalo in October, with the Bills shown as 14.5-point favorites. No other games show 14-point lines. In all, 22 games are projected to have double-digit point spreads, including one road favorite, Kansas City at Cincinnati, in a Week 17 matchup.
- Of the 270 matchups played at host stadiums, 85 are showing point spreads designating road favorites. The Bucs and Chiefs share the distinction of being projected as road favorites the most, appearing as such in all of their road games. The Bucs play nine road games, with the toughest expected to be at the Rams and Saints, where they are shown as -0.3 point favorites. The most frequent home underdogs are the Texans and Bengals, each expected to be in that role eight times.