Chicago Sun-Times

Four Down Territory, April 17: Does strength of schedule matter?

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Here we go with our final Four Down Territory edition of the week. With the draft rapidly approaching, we'll hit a Q&A Monday through Friday next week doing our best to answer all of the draft questions you might have. Let's get right to it.

Q: It seems like the Bears have had so-called easy schedules the last few years based on the opponents' winning percentage the previous year and the easiest of all 32 this year. I'm wondering how well the previous year's win percentage actually correlates with the next year's win percentage. In other words does the preseason strength of schedule actually tell us much about how tough the actual season ends up being?

Julie R., Michigan

A: That's a good question and in order to do our best answering it we've crunched a few numbers. We've also got a link here to a good story by ESPN's John Clayton earlier this week that touches on this very subject. Clayton points out that the first-place schedule has been a tough collar for the NFC South winner to wear each year. In five of the last seven seasons, the NFC South champion from the previous year has finished last. Certainly a tough schedule was not much of an obstacle for some very good teams in 2008. Pittsburgh (1st), Indianapolis (2nd), Baltimore (4th) and Minnesota (5th) all faced supposedly difficult scheduled this past season and all four clubs reached the postseason. We took a look at the strength of schedule for every playoff team the past four seasons. Here is what we found:

2008--Average strength of schedule for playoff teams 14.5

2007--Average strength of schedule for playoff teams 15.9

2006--Average strength of schedule for playoff teams 17.1

2005--Average strength of schedule for playoff teams 17.0

It seems to show that the numbers pretty much even out.

Here is where the Bears' strength of schedule has ranked during the Lovie Smith era:

2009--32nd

2008--11th

2007--31st

2006--32nd (reached Super Bowl)

2005--24th (reached postseason)

2004--11th

Some of that is no doubt a function of the NFC North being a relatively week division for some time now. Consider that over the last five seasons, the NFC North has had only one team each season with 10 wins or more. Conversely, eight teams have finished with six or less wins in that span. When you are factoring in a giant goose egg--0-32--into the equation like you do this year playing the Detroit Lions twice, your strength of schedule is going to drop big time.


Q: I don't want to see the Bears caught sleeping on the offensive line again like they have been the last two years with no younger players at offensive tackle, none that could step on the field and play any way. They need to find an eventual replacement for Olin Kreutz sooner rather than later. If Josh Beekman is too small to play left guard guess what? They're going to say the same thing about him at center. What are the chances the Bears do something now so we don't have to watch them scramble later when Kreutz's game is no longer there (it's already on the way).

Ron V., Wisconsin

A: You make an interesting point and the Bears would serve themselves well to get a solid look at Beekman behind Kreutz when preseason rolls along. That is if, indeed, the plan to put Frank Omiyale at left guard materializes. There are a couple of pretty good centers in this draft, but there is a possibility all of them will be off the board by the time the Bears' pick comes around at No. 49. Louisville's Eric Wood, Oregon's Max Unger and Cal's Alex Mack are all regarded as guys that could go in the late first round or early second round. Grooming someone behind Kreutz would be nice right now but that has to be viewed as a luxury when you consider the more pressing needs on that side of the ball at wide receiver and the position you already referenced--tackle.


Q: How does the depth chart look at wide receiver right now and how could Jerry Angelo consider any position but wide receiver with the first pick?

Michael T., Chicago

A: The depth chart looks just like it did the day the Bears terminated the contract of Marty Booker--there are plenty of holes to fill.

If you go by the final depth chart the team released at the end of last season, Rashied Davis, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and Devin Aromashodu were stacked up on one side (in that order).

That leaves Brandon Rideau on the other side by himself as Booker and Brandon Lloyd have both departed. John Broussard, a practice squad player from last season, is also in the mix.

The Bears are talking about Bennett (6-foot) and Hester (5-11) being the two starters right now. I'm with you. They can talk about going for the BAP--best available player--at No. 49, but they cannot afford to not address wide receiver first and foremost. Say a linebacker with a top grade somehow freefalls to the slot. How is he going to develop the team's first-round pick this year and its first-round pick next year? That's right. He'd be of little help to Jay Cutler.

Angelo touched on this issue somewhat when he answered a question posed to him by a team employee in his bi-weekly PR campaign on club's Web site.

``You determine your needs and the positions you want to create more competition and depth,'' Angelo announced. ``Once that's been established, then you try and determine in what rounds you're going to address those positional `needs' and `wants.' Usually the best player on our board should facilitate one of our needs, because you usually have three to four needs going into any given draft.''


Q: Could the Eagles' trade for Buffalo left tackle Jason Peters today and the Giants' pursuit of Cleveland's Braylon Edwards push some wide receivers down the draft board to the Bears?

Kelly S., California

A: That's a good question and the answer is it certainly could. Provided issues surrounding Hakeem Nicks and Percy Harvin do not push them into the second round, it's still possible six wideouts could go in round one. While Brian Robiskie has long been a name that has been associated with the Bears at No. 49, multiple people have said they believe he will go to Indianapolis at the end of the first round at No. 27 overall. In fact, that is just how Nolan Nawrocki has it falling in his mock draft released today for Pro Football Weekly. If Nicks falls into the second round, and you cannot rule that out, it's hard to imagine him sliding 17 slots and into the Bears' lap. There is a chance Georgia's Mohamed Massaquoi could be gone before the Bears select as well. There are plenty of teams in need of help at the position. Even if the Giants and Eagles get out of the running, I don't know if that is going to be enough to ensure the Bears benefit.

Thanks for all of the participation and thanks as always for reading. We're going to check in later this afternoon with a look at some defensive back options that the Bears are considering.

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5 Comments

Your answer to the strength of schedule question is vague. What does "average strength" for playoff teams calculate, their assigned opponents going into the season or the actual win/loss record of their opponents during the season in which they attained the playoffs?

Only losers worry about strength of schedule. Good teams win games, regardless of whom they're playing. Of course it's easier to win when you play a weak team, but if you want to get to the big game, you have to be able to beat anyone.

Brad recently Angelo had this to say about Earl Bennett:

``First I want to say that when a player comes in as a rookie, he’s usually coming in as a backup,'' Angelo said. ``In Earl’s case as a receiver, there’s an inordinate amount of learning that goes on because as a backup he has to learn all the receiver positions, not just one like at other positions. His is different. He had to learn everything, from the “X” to the “Z” to the slot, and that takes time for anybody.

Now maybe I missed something, but when Angelo drafted Bennett he said he saw him as a starter. Then he takes this poor kid and tries to make him an X or Split End. He played Flanker in college and was also used in the slot. He never played on the line and yet they thought he would be a starter at the X. Why would they think that? He never played at the X, so they never saw if he could beat the Jam on film. If he couldn't beat the Jam in college why would you think he could beat it in the NFL? Then even after Lloyd goes down with his not 100% illness for half a season, not only do we almost never see Booker, but we don't Bennett either. Jerry Rice struggled to move from Flanker to Split End yet they think Bennett should have no problem doing it. You want to help Cutler, you move Hester into the slot, move Bennett to flanker were he belongs and get yourself a real Split End.

By the Way if you want to run a great WCO you need an amazing Flanker. The Bears are using Hester for that role.

Yeah, to WFB's point, it looks like strength of schedule means little, especially since the stats are skewed by division. Average strength of schedule is in the 50th percentile. It is a pretty meaningless stat.

Good teams win when it counts - in the playoffs.

Brad, with respect to the Bears remaining pick in the third round, knowing that this compensatory pick cannot be traded, is there anything ruling against the Bears making a pick for another team and then shipping that player off to that team in the event of trading back from the third round into the fourth round or potentially to pick up a second rounder from the 2010 draft?

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on April 17, 2009 2:04 PM.

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