According to the projections done by Football Outsiders in their recently released 2012 Football Outsider's Almanac, pretty darn tough. Their projected average opponent for the Chargers comes to 3.9% DVOA (for those not familiar with DVOA it is explained here). That ranks as the 3rd hardest in the NFL by that measure. For another way to think of it, this would be somewhere on the equivalent of playing every game next year against the 2011 version of the Dallas Cowboys. Also, by comparison, the Chargers had 2011 DVOA of 0.6%. In 2010, 17.1%. 2009, 13.6%.
However, over at the site BeyondTheBets, a different way was devised to determine how tough the schedule is. The idea being that there should be a better way to determine schedule strength than just using the previous year's win totals. The method devised is to take the projected wins from a Vegas sportsbook for each opponent and add them up. Then use rankings from an NFL Preview Magazine and average the opponents based on their rank. Then average the two together. The Chargers come out with the 18th toughest schedule in the sportsbook part, 27th toughest in the rankings portion and 25th in the combined part.
So you've got one system saying the schedule is one of the toughest in the NFL and another one trying to saying that it is one of the easiest? How do you know what to believe?
Both systems are flawed. Projecting DVOA is a tricky business and the developers themselves claim that the projections using the stat are never as good as the stat is at measuring past performance. However, the second method is extremely flawed. The sportsbook when devising its win totals already has to account for schedule strength. And the rankings are completely subjective and unscientific. On top of that, why was an average taken? What was the evidence suggested that made it seem like they both pieces should be equally weighted? The only logic given was that, hey, these are both flawed system so let's average them out. As if averaging makes flaws and biases magically disappear. Child, please.
So, anyway, I'm more inclined to side with Football Outsiders' analysis. That the Chargers schedule is hard. One of the hardest. Mainly because I know that even with its flaws their method has been tested and improved over time. Whereas other fly-by-night stuff is just guesses with no testing done over time. So buckle your seat belts Charger fans, the schedule is a bit of a bumpy ride.