SOS. We're not calling for help but rather referencing the calculations that every football fan does at this spot on the calendar: strength of schedule computations, whether they be for a team's entire schedule, for a stretch of schedule, for home games, for away games.
But does SOS compute to anything meaningful?
Common sense says yes. If your team plays a bunch of opponents who the year before combined for a .550 winning percentage, multiple 10-win seasons and multiple playoff berths, that would seem to present a tougher slate than if the opponents came in with no double-digit-wins seasons, a .450 percentage and few playoff berths.
But then there are the anomalies. For the Jets, a difficult .568 SOS before the 2009 season started led to a 9-7 record and a playoff invite. Then there are the challenging .559 SOS before the 2000 season, which ended badly but still produced a 9-7 record and the Monday Night Miracle, and the .520 SOS leading to 10-6 and the playoffs in 2001. On the other end of the spectrum, a "weak" .469 schedule strength didn't help the 1-15 Jets of 1996, and a .477 SOS didn't hint at the 4-12 of 2018.
However, stuff happens to affect win-loss records, such as injuries, team controversies, unexpected momentum swings up and down. With all of the moving parts, there really is no logical way we should put any predictive power into a composite record of opponents from the season before.
Yet we still do. And here's a little number crunching from the Jets' SOS and records of the last quarter century to suggest why.
Let's break the Jets' seasons from 1996-2020 into three sections. They won't divide evenly but let's place 128 games in both the bottom and top "thirds" and 144 games in the middle "third." The composite team performance for each of those segments offers some rationale for considering schedule strength:
|.495 to .530
In the last 25 years of Jets football, then, the easier the schedule, the better the ensuing record; the harder the schedule, the worse the record. There's plenty of room for short-term exceptions, but that's the long-term rule.
So don't bet the ranch on it, but now Jets fans have another metric — a "favorable" 2020 schedule strength of .489 for their 2021 opponents — to go along with a new head coach in Robert Saleh who has a number of infectious messages, one of them being:
"You can't hide from the past, but you can encourage people to judge you on the future. ... What we challenge everybody to do is really judge us moving forward."