Categorical Scheduling 101 and Week 2 Preview

First things first, I'm a nerd. And I like to overanalyze things and look at things in a different light. Let's get that out of the way first.

Secondly, I love the NFL scheduling format, and you can count me in the party of those who side against expanding the schedule to 18 games (or reducing the games, or changing it from 16 at all, for that matter). I love the way the NFL organizes its schedule. The formula it uses, the way it schedules marquee games on certain holidays and days of the week, and the way Playoff seeding and matchups are determined are just wonderful to me.

That's why I enjoy keeping up with standings throughout the season by flipping the traditional NFL schedule on its head. Tearing it apart, removing chronology from it all, and seeing what goes into making for a successful season is what categorical schedule analysis is all about. And my hope here is to let you in on my nerdy, over-analytical and completely unnecessary world.

I'm also a big Titans fan, so of course, this (hopefully) weekly examination will take a look at the AFC South, and how we stack up compared to the Colts, Texans, and Jaguars in categorical scheduling. Since the NFL follows its certain formula, we, as educated fans, should know better than to get frustrated when our Titans fall behind by a few games after Week 4, because we know that there are games in certain categories that we can gain ground on. Sure, we may be behind chronologically, but when you take a look categorically, there's still plenty of areas where we could gain ground.

I'll begin by making sure we all know the formula for the NFL 16-game regular season. Did you know that 14 of our 16 matchups were already determined YEARS ago, way before the calendar page even showed 2012? When this scheduling formula was introduced in 2002, the template was already set for us to play our AFC South division foes twice each (6 games - 3 home, 3 away), the NFC North (4 games: 2 home, 2 away) and the AFC East (4 games: 2 home, 2 away) this season.

(You can read more about this here and here.)

The non-AFC South divisions that we fully play every season rotate on a yearly basis, so that every 4 years, we'll play every NFC team, and every 3, we'll play every AFC team. The other 2 games are made up of the teams from the OTHER two AFC Divisions (in this season's case, the West and the North) whose teams finished in the same place as we did in the division standings in the previous season. This year, we'll see the Chargers from the West and the Steelers from the North, both of whom are fellow 2nd-place finishers in their divisions.

So there we have our 16 opponents that make up our 16-game schedule:

AFC South: Texans x2, Colts x2, Jaguars x2

AFC East: Patriots, Jets, Bills, Dolphins

NFC North: Packers, Lions, Bears, Vikings

AFC West: Chargers

AFC North: Steelers

Now that that's settled, and the NFL plugs in when we play each team, our 16-game schedule is built, along with all other teams in the AFC South, and the NFL. So that's where the quest for our Division title (and a Playoff berth) begins, and we know what categories we need to win.

Now, we begin our weekly examination of where we stand in each category, and what needs to happen in other categories to give us advantages within the division. Let's take a look at where we stand after Week 1.

(Matchups in bold italics are Week 2 games)

Category 1: AFC South

Titans: 0-0 (remaining: HOU, @HOU, JAX, @JAX, IND, @IND)

Texans: 0-0 (remaining: TEN, @TEN, JAX, @JAX, IND, @IND)

Jaguars: 0-0 (remaining: TEN, @TEN, HOU, @HOU, IND, @IND)

Colts: 0-0 (remaining: TEN, @TEN, HOU, @HOU, IND, @IND)

Category 2: AFC East

1. Texans: 1-0 (W MIA) (remaining: @NWE, @NYJ, BUF)

2. Jaguars: 0-0 (remaining: NWE, NYJ, @BUF, @MIA)

2. Colts: 0-0 (remaining: @NWE, @NYJ, BUF, MIA)

4. Titans: 0-1 (L NWE) (remaining: NYJ, @BUF, @MIA)

Category 3: NFC North

1. Titans: 0-0 (remaining: @GB, @MIN, CHI, DET)

1. Texans: 0-0 (remaining: GB, MIN, @CHI, @DET)

3. Jaguars: 0-1 (L @MIN) (remaining: @GB, CHI, DET)

3. Colts: 0-1 (L @CHI) (remaining: GB, MIN, @DET)

Category 4: AFC West

Titans: 0-0 (remaining: @SD)

Texans: 0-0 (remaining: @DEN)

Jaguars: 0-0 (remaining: @OAK)

Colts: 0-0 (remaining: @KC)

Category 5: AFC North

Titans: 0-0 (remaining: PIT)

Texans: 0-0 (remaining: BAL)

Jaguars: 0-0 (remaining: CIN)

Colts: 0-0 (remaining: CLE)

So taking a look at the categorical scheduling and standings, we see how truly important it is this week to get a win vs. San Diego. It's our only chance to gain an advantage in one of the categories of the schedule, and since we play one of the toughest teams in the AFC West, it would be huge for us to take away a win. Houston will have a tough time going into Denver and beating Peyton Manning, while the Jaguars would also be traveling far west to take on the Raiders. The Colts-Chiefs matchup could be a toss-up, but Arrowhead is always a tough place to play as well.

We lost some ground last week in the AFC East section due to losing to New England, while Houston beat Miami. However, you can see here that we shouldn't panic after one loss, because Houston still has to travel TO New England, and the Patriots could definitely help us out with a win there. If we can combine that with a win over Miami on the road, we'll be right back even with Houston.

Let's get a win this week in San Diego to put the pressure on the rest of the division. I think if we can win this week, it'll put us in a good position to gain a game advantage over Houston, since I think it'll be tough for them to get a win in Denver this year.

So there's my new (and totally unnecessary) way to look at the NFL schedule. Take out chronology, break everything up into categories, and you can start to see how to build a successful season and gain ground where our division opponents falter. What do you think?

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