It didn't seem possible when the various draws were announced, but...I guess Rangers really is better this year?
They are having the 3rd best year of any nation so far. (Of course, the top nations are just getting started with the group stages.) Serbia (at 19) and Norway are the only ones doing better. Scotland, Norway and Cyprus are the only countries to start with 4 teams and still have 2 alive.
Celtic settled for a draw away, and then closed things out with an emphatic win at home. Rangers started with a 1-0 win at home, which put them in good position, then somehow clung to a 1-1 draw despite being down to 9 men late in the match. A few things going differently could have exceeded the 0.75 points gained in the round, but it seems petty to quibble.
Group stage! The road gets even tougher here. I'm going to use Clubelo ratings one last time to give you a sense of how hard. Celtic (Elo 1550) is grouped with previous opponents Rosenborg (1542), Red Bull Salzburg (1714) and Red Bull Leipzig (1689). Rangers (1444) is grouped with Villareal (1752), Rapid Vienna (1565) and Spartak Moscow (1685).
Clubelo doesn't look at individual matches all the way into December, like we want to do, so I'm going to switch to Fivethirtyeight's predictions. They give Celtic only a 30% chance of making it out of the group, and Rangers a mere 12%.
Looking at the individual matches, things don't look great either. The only match where a Scottish side is favored is their opening tilt versus Rosenborg. But that's not likely the only points we'll see during the group stages.
If you add up the probabilities across all the games, even Rangers can be expected to steal a win and a draw. Celtic should do even better, with one or two wins and one or two draws.
Add it up, and the Fivethirtyeight estimates expect at least two more points for the coefficient. So I'm going to set my expectations there. A good run will be one where they exceed that and put a team through to the knockout rounds, and a bad one will be earning below 1.5 points.
Where We Stand
Four whole points for the year is as many as they got all last year, even after Celtic made it to the knockout rounds of the Europa League (via the Champions League group stages).
Above them, Belarus should pick up about a point in BATE Borisov's group, which would allow them to be caught by Scotland for 20th place. Sweden might pick up a point and a half from Malmö, which wouldn't be enough to catch Scotland. Norway's two entrants aren't supposed to do as well as Scotland's two...but these are all probabilities, so a series of small upsets could set back Scotland's match to 20th.
The hope, however, is that this excellent season will take Scotland away from worrying about having all Europa League entrants come in during the first round (like next year), and move closer to where the question is whether they can compete for 17th. There, the cup winner enters at the third round, and the second-place team enters in the second round. The real prize, however, is 15th, which will require a consistent 5.5 points per year. This is the year Scotland can show that's realistic.