Raiders & Jets Have Toughest 1st Halves of 2020 NFL Season, Jaguars & Cardinals Have it Easy Out of the Gate

Raiders & Jets Have Toughest 1st Halves of 2020 NFL Season, Jaguars & Cardinals Have it Easy Out of the Gate

Jon Gruden looking angry on the Raiders sideline

Jon Gruden's Raiders face the toughest first eight games in the NFL in their first season residing in Las Vegas. Photo from @opeyemi041 (Twitter)

  • The NFL released the full 2020 schedule on Thursday night
  • According to our advanced method for calculating strength of schedule, the Raiders have the toughest schedule out of the gate
  • See which teams have the easiest/toughest first eight games of the season

Last night, the NFL released the full (tentative) schedule for the 2020 season. Immediately after, we ran our strength of schedule formula, which is much more accurate than the lazy method of using last year’s records.

But I decided to go one step further with our NFL SOS calculations this year, adding in first/second half splits, telling us which teams will be tested early/late, and which will have it easy out of the gate / down the stretch.

The number you’ll see in the table for strength of schedule is the combined average win totals of their first eight opponents this season. (You can read more about our method as well as see the full results by clicking the link above.)

Teams with Toughest First-Half Schedule

Rank Team 1st Half Strength of Schedule
1 Las Vegas Raiders 70.6
2 New York Jets 70.1
3 New York Giants 69.5
4 Green Bay Packers 69.4
5 Pittsburgh Steelers 68.4

Keep in mind, this is not the teams who have the easiest schedule through the first eight weeks, but through their first eight games, respectively, in order to accommodate for teams who have their bye weeks before Week 9.

No team has a more difficult first eight games than the Las Vegas Raiders.

Raiders’ First 8 Games in 2020

Week Opponent Opponent’s Avg 2020 Win Total Spread in Game
1 @Carolina Panthers 5.5 CAR -1
2 vs New Orleans Saints 10.3 NO -4.5
3 @New England Patriots 9.0 NE -5.5*
4 vs Buffalo Bills 8.8 BUF -2*
5 @Kansas City Chiefs 11.5 KC -9.5*
7 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9.7 TB -4.5*
8 @Cleveland Browns 8.3 CLE -3.5*
9 @Los Angeles Chargers 7.5 LAC -3*

*SBD’s predicted spread for game

It is going to be a struggle for the Raiders over the first half of the season. They only play two teams who are expected to finish the season with losing records: Carolina and Los Angeles (Chargers). And the “easiest” of their first eight games comes in Week 1 against the Panthers, where they’re still 1-point dogs.

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I’m not here to say the Raiders will start the season 0-8, as the spreads would suggest, but they are going to have to scratch and claw for every any win they pick up in the first half, especially with five of them coming on the road. (But I think coming out of this 3-5 would be optimistic.)

Jets’ First 8 Games in 2020

Week Opponent Opponent’s Avg 2020 Win Total Spread in Game
1 @Buffalo Bills 8.8 BUF -5.5
2 vs San Francisco 49ers 10.5 SF -5
3 @Indianapolis Colts 8.5 IND -3.5*
4 vs Denver Broncos 7.5 DEN -1*
5 vs Arizona Cardinals 7.0 ARI -1*
6 @Los Angeles Chargers 7.5 LAC -3*
7 vs Buffalo Bills 8.8 BUF -2*
8 @Kansas City Chiefs 11.5 KC -10*

*SBD’s predicted spread for game

The Jets don’t have it much easier than the Raiders, with their first eight opponents’ combined average win total for the 2020 season only being a half win fewer. Just like Las Vegas, barring a statement win in the first three weeks, we don’t foresee New York being favored in any of their first eight games.

Don’t be surprised if you see Adam Gase’s name near the top of the odds to be the first coach fired in 2020.

Betting Advice for Teams with Tough First Halves

The New Orleans Saints had the 13th-toughest schedule last season, but their first four games of the season looked pretty tough – vs HOU, @LAR, @SEA, vs DAL. If you wanted to bet the Saints to make the playoffs before the 2019 season started, you were swallowing -280 odds.

However, knowing how tough their first few games were, if you waited until they lost a game, you could have had them at -170 to make the playoffs.

So with this in mind, here’s how I’ll be betting the five teams listed above:

  1. Raiders to miss the playoffs (-220): I believe this will be the best price you can get all season
  2. NO BET on Jets: the -450 price you have to pay for them to miss the playoffs is too steep for me when you consider the uncertainty around what the Patriots will be this season.
  3. Giants to miss the playoffs (-360): not only are their first eight games very tough, but the Cowboys and Eagles are both all-in this season. This will be the best price you find all season.
  4. Packers to miss the playoffs (+180): in their first eight games, Green Bay will see the Vikings (twice), Saints, Bucs, Texans, and 49ers. With the NFC being loaded this year, you may not even want to hedge this should the Packers drop a few of those games.
  5. Steelers to make the playoffs (-121): I’m going against the grain with this one, as I think Pittsburgh is built perfectly to handle a tough stretch. Their defense is one of the best in the league and Ben Roethlisberger’s return brings balance back to the offense. After they manage to navigate through the tough games to start the year, you won’t see a better price the rest of the season.

Just keep in mind that this doesn’t always work out and be sure you’re betting responsibly. A team could be good enough to breeze through all their tough games and then you’re left with no value.

Teams with Easiest First-Half Schedules

Rank Team 1st Half Strength of Schedule
1 Jacksonville Jaguars 57.9
2 Arizona Cardinals 59.2
3 Tennessee Titans 60
4 Indianapolis Colts 60.2
5 Los Angeles Chargers 60.2

The Jacksonville Jaguars have, by far, the easiest first eight games in the NFL. The Cardinals’, who have the second-easiest first half, opponents combine for 1.3 more wins than the Jaguars’ opponents.

The problem is Jacksonville projects to be one of the worst teams in the league this season – their average NFL win total is just 5.0, which is the lowest in the league.

Jaguars’ First 8 Games in 2020

Week Opponent Opponent’s Avg 2020 Win Total Spread in Game
1 vs Indianapolis Colts 8.5 IND -7
2 @Tennessee Titans 8.5 TEN -11
3 vs Miami Dolphins 6.0 JAX -1*
4 @Cincinnati Bengals 5.7 CIN -2.5*
5 @Houston Texans 7.5 HOU -7.5*
6 vs Detroit Lions 6.7 DET -1*
8 @Los Angeles Chargers 7.5 LAC -6.5*
9 vs Houston Texans 7.5 HOU -5.5*

*SBD’s predicted spread for game

Gardner Minshew has a golden opportunity ahead to cement himself as the Jags’ starting QB for the rest of the season, and potentially even next year, if he can reel off a few wins early. But I just can’t bring myself to bet on it with all the other noise around Duval.

Betting Advice for Teams with Easy First Halves

Last year, the Bills had the fifth-easiest schedule in the NFL, and it was especially light through the first eight games – Jets, Giants, Bengals, Dolphins, Redskins etc. Those who used this intelligently used this info to their advantage would have bet the Bills to make the playoffs at +438 in the offseason.

After they started 3-0 by beating the Jets, Giants, and Bengals, you could have hedged that bet with +170 odds on the missing the playoffs to lock in a profit.

  1. NO BET on Jaguars: as I said above, there’s too much negative press coming out of Jacksonville this offseason to expect anything better than a bottom-ten finish
  2. Cardinals to make the playoffs (+275): there is a good chance the Cardinals walk into Dallas in Week 6 as a 4-1 team after games against Washington, Detroit, Carolina, and New York (Jets) – the lone expected loss is Week 1 in San Francisco, though they played the Niners very tough last year. Ahead of their meeting with the Cowboys, I’ll be looking to hedge this with them missing the playoffs, hopefully getting around -150 odds.
  3. NO BET on Titans: Tennessee is as long as -138 to make the playoffs right now and I’m not sold on this team being consistent enough to take advantage of “easy” games.
  4. Colts to make the playoffs (-125) and win the AFC South (+138): I’m making these bets without the intention of hedging them mid-season. Indianapolis’ schedule doesn’t get much tougher in the second half.
  5. Chargers to make the playoffs (+175): Los Angeles opens the season in Cincinnati and also have games against Carolina, New York (Jets), Miami, and Jacksonville before the midway point of the season. Depending how Tyrod Taylor looks against the Bengals in Week 1, you may want to look at hedging this one early, though.

Of course, this also can backfire if the team you’re betting on is simply bad and unable to win the “easy” ones – or if those apparent weak teams don’t turn out to be so weak.

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Matt McEwan

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