I checked the NFL standings today and was a little stunned to find that eight of the Bills' first 11 opponents are currently leading or tied for the division lead. The Patriots and Jets are tied at 9-2 atop the AFC East; the Bears and Packers share the NFC North lead at 7-3; the Ravens and Steelers are deadlocked at 7-3 atop the AFC North; the Jaguars' 6-4 mark is good for a tie with the Colts in the AFC South; and the surprising Chiefs are leading the AFC West with a 6-4 record.
So looking ahead to possible ties and draft implications, you might assume the Bills' schedule was far tougher than the Panthers, who are 1-9 and currently positioned to get the top pick in the draft. The tiebreaker at draft time is strength of schedule. The team that played the weaker schedule gets the higher pick, since that suggest the team had the lesser talent.
Well, think again. Carolina's strength of schedule is almost identical to the Bills. Entering Sunday's games, the Bills' 10 opponents have an overall record of 60-44. The Panthers' opponents have an aggregate record of 59-44. The difference in games reflects the fact that games were played on Thanksgiving. Carolina has played two games against Tampa Bay, which is 7-3 and two against the Saints, who are 8-3. They've played two other 7-3 teams: Chicago and Baltimore.
The remaining schedules are also close. The Bills' last six opponents have a record of 36-26. The Panthers' final six are against teams with a 34-26 mark. Both teams play Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The Bills play the Jets and Pats again. But the Panthers play two against Atlanta, now 8-2.
As of this moment, the opponents on the Bills' and Panthers' schedule have the same numer of losses: 70. So it could go down to the wire to determine which team plays the easiest schedule -- and who drafts first in the event of a tie. The Bills seem good enough right now to win a couple more games and make the issue moot. But if you were thinking the Panthers were losing to much weaker opposition, the records say you're wrong.