With the NFL schedules being released in the next month (or so) I decided to go ahead and get this out of the way; to set up further discussion on the Bucs schedule. First, if you are reading this I hope you understand that SOS means Strength of Schedule. I will abbreviate throughout this entire piece.
Second, the goal of this piece is to look at how it effects teams chances of getting to the Super Bowl, which is the only way it can effect a team in the NFL. This isn't college and there is no rankings based on SOS. With that said, it is my assumption that it is completely irrelevant. Teams that have difficult SOS and teams that play the easiest records are given equal chances. Look inside to see if this is accurate.
SOS is traditionally based solely on W/L. However, this doesn't tell the whole story. Pro-Football-Reference has come up with "Simple Ratings" which gives us a better idea of a teams true SOS. For more information on this, read this lengthy but informative article on how they arrive at these numbers. It's worth your time to learn more explanations of stats instead of simply repeating them. Regardless, for the sake of brevity I will not do that. If you wish to accept these numbers, I assure you they are sound. (Note: The Higher the number the stronger SOS)
Out of the 9 hardest SOS 2 Teams made the playoffs (Patriots, Jets). Out of the 9 Weakest SOS 4 Teams made the playoffs (Chargers, Packers, Vikings, Cardinals).
Our Buccaneers donned the HARDEST SOS by an astonishing 0.5 (4.1). (Side Note: This is the hardest schedule any team had faced potentially ever. I went back as far as 1985 and the closest I found was a 3.8)
Because this is a small sample size, let's jump back one more year.
8 Divisional Winners - 2008
2007 - Average of Divisional Winners.. - .88
That's Far Enough. Hopefully you get the point by now.
Conclusion: It is beneficial (though not necessary) to have a weaker than average SOS to win your division. It was intentional that I only included divisional winner because winning your division gives you the hands-down best chance to win the Super Bowl. If I included Wild Cards it would only have skewed the numbers LOWER than leaving them out.
I was way off base with my assumption. I assumed that the better teams win the division regardless of SOS. I expected these numbers to be slightly above average. I believed that regardless of SOS, the cream would still rise to the top. While this could still potentially hold true, a weak SOS does not hurt.
What does the Bucs schedule look like for next season?
Significantly easier. We will face off against the AFC North (Steelers, Browns, Ravens, Bengals) which will not be a cake walk, but get a HUGE break against our NFC opponents playing the NFC West ('Hawks, Cards, Rams, Niners). According to this Examiner piece, we will also play the last place teams in the NFC North and NFC East (Lions, Redskins). Typically the SOS differs within the division by playing these two "unique" games. We will have the easiest SOS in our division (based on the previous years numbers).
The question now is will it benefit the Bucs? That question, obviously, remains to be answered.