Back in February, I wrote that the New York Giants were going to have a tough time repeating the Super Bowl run, not because they couldn’t once they got in to the playoffs, but because it will be difficult to make the playoffs in the first place.
The defending champions have the toughest schedule in 2012, based on the 2011 records of their opponents. Thanks to that article by ESPN, a repeat looks even tougher than I anticipated.
The Giants sit on top with a combined opponents record of 140-116. Just for good measure, the team they faced in the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots, have the easiest schedule at 116-140.
The way the NFL makes the schedule is each division will play another division from each conference. The Giants got the perfect storm of the AFC North, who sent three teams to the playoffs last year, and the NFC South, who sent two teams to the playoffs last year and have emerging young teams as the other two.
The remaining games (six divisional, eight taken care of above) are played against NFC opponents that finished in the same spot as you in the division, in the two divisions you are not playing.
The NFL not only does this for ratings—this is why we seemingly had a Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts match every year the past decade no matter who their divisions were playing—but also to make for more parody.
Each year there are between 5-7 new playoff teams of the 12, and scheduling has a lot to do with it.
Something as simple as that proves a huge difference. The Giants and Washington Redskins are 1st and 24th in SOS for this year, despite only having two different opponents. Where the Giants play the Packers and 49ers, the Redskins play the Minnesota Vikings and the St. Louis Rams.
Obviously the 2011 records do not completely translate to wins and losses in 2012. Teams are always improving each year and you never know how well a team will do in free agency and the draft.
Still, the Giants have their work cut out for them in their title defense. It will be a long road, and I hope they are up to it.
Questions or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Jeff on Twitter @Jeff_Shull