The NFL tries to create as much parity as possible, in particular when it comes to divisional schedules. Every team faces its division mates twice and each quartet plays all four teams in two other divisions. But that still leaves two games to be filled in, and who you draw in those two games – which I’ll call “disparity games” – can be crucial to your chances of winning your division. (In 2015, six of the eight divisions were decided by two games or fewer; the same applies to 2014, as well.) Look at the 2016 schedules of the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. Both play the same four foes from the NFC East and the same four teams from the AFC South. However, the Vikes draw the Panthers (road) and Cardinals (home) in their disparity games (two division winners from 2015), while the Packers get the Seahawks (home) and Falcons (road). The Packers get the easier matchups because they finished runner-up to Minnesota in the NFC North last year, and that boosts their chances of vaulting back to the top of the division this year. As Zack Garrison notes, the Packers actually have the shortest odds to finish with the best record in the entire league thanks, in large part, to their relatively weak schedule. Strength of schedule is a bigger factor when looking at conference- or league-wide futures because there is greater disparity between teams’ slates. But it can’t be ignored when looking at divisional futures, in particular for the following divisions in 2016.
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