Fantasy Football Strength of Schedule 2016

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NFL Strength of Schedule 2016

There are many different ways to determine NFL strength of schedule. Combined opponents win percentage as the determinant is the most common format, but I wanted to examine match-ups against the best and worst rush and pass defenses more closely.

Methodology

Fantasy Football SleepersWith so much turnover and many coaching changes on the defensive side of the ball, projecting defensive performance accurately is difficult, but generally top defenses stay towards the top, and bottom defenses stay towards the bottom. Instead of just looking at rushing or passing yards per game, I determined the best and worst defenses primarily based on yards per rush (YPR) and opposing quarterback rating (QBR). When needing as a tie breaker, I looked at rushing attempts per TD (RAtt/TD) and yards per attempt (YPA), attempts per interception (Att/Int) and attempts per TD (Att/TD).

By using this format my goal was to attempt to reduce the effect game flow had on cumulative stats and give the defenses that played more defensive snaps like the Philadelphia Eagles (1,148) a fair chance against teams that didn’t see as many plays like the Seattle Seahawks (947). Even with the tinkering, SEA, DEN, CAR and ARI were dominant while NO, despite Rob Ryan’s assertions otherwise, were terrible with CLE and SD not far behind.

After I gathered the defensive rankings against the rush and pass, I applied the breakdown to each team’s schedule to see who has the most/least favorable match-ups and where there may be fantasy football trade opportunities. Red represents top-5 defenses, orange (yellow) are defenses ranked in the top 6-10, light green are the bottom 6-10 defenses and dark green defenses are bottom-5. We’ll start with the teams with the least favorable schedules.

Least Favorable Schedule

New England Patriots

The Pat’s have a tough schedule? “It’s about time!” said everyone else in the league.

The AFC East plays teams from the NFC West out of conference which instantly makes it a tough go for the Patriots, Dolphins, Bills and Jets, but the Patriots got the worst of it.

The AFC East itself isn’t exactly full of defensive juggernauts with the Bills and Dolphins sporting unspectacular defenses last season. Either or both teams could take a leap forward this year but I wouldn’t hold my breathe. Leaving the Jets as the only other solid defensive unit that sported a top-5 rush and top-10 pass defense in 2015. The Jets defense allowed only four rushing TDs on 373 rushing attempts which led to one of the more mind-blowing stats of 93.3 RAtt/TD.

Outside of divisional opponents, the Patriots play against three top-5 defenses in ARI, SEA and DEN plus match-ups against PIT, CIN, LA and HOU who all have solid defensive units. The only freebie game comes against CLE in week 5.

Throw in Tom Brady’s unknown suspension status with a shaky receiving corps and the outlook looks rough. A 9-7 record would be an accomplishment for any AFC East team and may be all it takes to win the division.

patriots pass d faced

patriots rush d

 

Least Favorable Schedule Against the Pass

New Orleans Saints

This was a close call between Los Angles Rams, Buffalo Bills, and Indianapolis Colts, but the Saints have the nastiest stretch of games following their bye week to round out the least favorable schedule against the pass in 2016.

New Orleans plays six of the top-10 defenses in total yards allowed including CAR and TB twice. The Saints have five games against top-5 pass defenses and only three games against bottom-5 pass defenses. Drew Brees was a steal in the 9th round of MFL10s, but his ADP has steadily climbed up to just a few picks behind Ben Roethlisberger. Against top-10 pass defenses, Brees only averaged 288 yds/1.33 TDs/1 Int, but against bottom-10 defenses he averaged 341.5 yds/2.25 TDs/.5 Int. I really liked Brees this year before his ADP started rising, but before you reach for him, consider this stretch of games.

NO pass D faced

Saints Schedule

Honorable Mention for Least Favorable Schedule Against the Pass: Atlanta Falcons

Least Favorable Schedule Against the Rush

Buffalo Bills

This was a bit of a toss-up between SF, LA and the Bills, but Todd Gurley broke out while facing tough defenses last year and at least SF gets softer match-ups against NO, DAL and BUF.

The Bills face the Jets twice, Seahawks and Cardinals who all had top-5 rush defenses and go against Pat’s twice, Steelers and Jaguars  who were top-10 (You read that right, the Jags only allowed 3.7 YPR although they did allow a rushing TD on every 30.9 carries). Cleveland is the sole weak defense the Bills face.

The only team to rush the ball more than the Bills were the Panthers last year, but the Bills still had the most rushing yards of any team in the league under Greg Roman’s run heavy offense. This is an immovable object facing an unstoppable force where the Bills are going to end up running a ton against run stifling defenses. I was pretty high on LeSean McCoy and thought that Karlos Williams could be valuable even if McCoy stayed healthy, but the rushing yards will be tougher to gain this year for the playoff stricken Bills. The first test will be weeks 2-4 when they face the NYJs, ARI and NE back-to-back-to-back. The only bright spot is the second half of the season that becomes much easier. Keep that in mind around the Bills’ week 10 bye where you may be able to find a McCoy or Williams owner willing to trade for pennies on the dollar.

Bills rush D faced

 

 

Honorable Mentions for Least Favorable Schedule Against the Rush: San Francisco and Los Angeles

 

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Most Favorable Schedule

New York Giants

There is just no two ways about it, the Giants with a solid offense and improved defense should be able to roll in 2016 with the most favorable schedule. DAL, WAS and PHI were all bottom-10 rush defenses, which accounts for six seasonal games. The Giants also landed NO and CLE outside of their division who were easily the two worst defensive teams in 2015. Six of the Giants’ regular season games are against bottom-5 rush defenses with three more in the bottom-10.

Every NFC East team benefits from playing NFC East defenses, but my early-season money is on the Giants to take the NFC East. There’s not much confidence in an aging Rashad Jennings, but this schedule is ripe for a Giants running back to make a huge fantasy splash and Jennings appears to have the inside edge with rookie Paul Perkins pushing for the starting job and Shane Vereen soaking up targets out of the backfield. Load up on as many Giants players as you can and don’t be shocked if Eli Manning puts up a top-10 QB performance this year. I’m wondering if I can make up a fantasy team composed entirely of NFC East players-Defenses vehemently excluded.

Giants Pass D faced

Giants rush D faced

 

Most Favorable Schedule Against the Pass

Dallas Cowboys

Queue up Tony Romo and company.

The Dallas Cowboys face five teams that were in the bottom-10 of pass defenses and only two that were top-10. Those two top-10 pass defense teams were the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers who were stingy, but not elite.

There’s also some good news for those on the “Ezekiel Elliott for Rookie of the Year” watch.  The Cowboys also have fortuitous match-ups in the run game which should bold well for Zeke’s outlook.

Cowboys Pass Def faced

 

Most Favorable Schedule Against the Rush

Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions will benefit from facing eight bottom-10 rush defenses and four bottom-10 pass defenses without facing a single top-5 pass or rush defense in 2016. The Lions do play the Los Angles Rams (that still sounds weird to stay)  and Minnesota Vikings who both have well-rounded defenses that allowed only 7 rushing TDs apiece, but that’s as tough as it gets for the Lions.

Personal Fantasy Note: I tend to get burned year after year dipping into the Lions’ backfield, but I was already coming around on Ameer Abdullah as a sleeper and I may start targeting him with a clearer conscious now. Check out Gridiron Experts running back rankings to compare

det rush def faced

 

Mid-Season Trade-In Opportunity

Tampa Bay

TB starts out with a tough schedule against ATL, ARI, LA, DEN and CAR before going on bye. People will expect them to struggle with ARI, DEN and CAR, but ATL and LA had tricky-good defenses last year and may be improved. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jameis Winston and Austin Seferian-Jenkins show up on the waiver wire before mid-season with Mike Evans and Doug Martin owners receptive to trades. Scoop up as many TB players as you can because TB is playoff gold with this stretch to close out the fantasy season:

TB close of season

 

Mid-Season Trade-In Opportunity

San Francisco

The 49ers’ receiving corps, offensive line talent and options at quarterback are questionable. Add a new offense under Chip Kelly and the beginning of the SF season may be a dumpster fire, but the schedule does lighten up for the second half of the season just when the offense should start clicking. You may be able to get a great deal on Carlos Hyde or Torrey Smith from an impatient owner after a difficult start to the season:

sf schedule start

 

Mid-Season Trade-In Opportunity

Los Angeles

There’s a solid chance Todd Gurley struggles while teams stack the box against a rookie quarterback making his first few starts. If Gurley does struggle, have heart. You know Jeff Fischer will get his 8-8 or 7-9 season and he’ll do it by running his offense through Gurley. Aside from thrashing ARI, Gurley’s other 100 yd games came against GB, CLE, SF and DET who were all poor against the run. Gurley should do well, but the good times might not begin until after this start to the season:

la start to season

 

Mid-Season Trade-Out Opportunity

New Orleans

I mentioned it before, but the Saints have a nasty stretch in their schedule mid-season and end the fantasy season against three consecutive top-5 rush defenses. I have been getting Mark Ingram shares where possible, but between the mid-season tough mudder and Ingram’s injury history, I’m selling him for a king’s ransom around weeks 4-6 after he tears through this start to the season:

no cake start

 

 

Fantasy Football Strength of Schedule Breakdown

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About the author

Eric Ludwig

Eric joined the Navy just before 9/11 and shipped off to boot camp as a Nuclear Engineer in January 2002. He was accepted into an officer program and became a Surface Warfare Officer driving big ships with lots of guns after graduating from The University of Memphis with a degree in Engineering. Eric played fantasy football for years before the Navy, but limited internet access and hectic schedules during multiple deployments made following football closely nearly impossible. Upon returning stateside, Eric started consuming fantasy strategies and analysis to catch back up on the NFL. Not only did Eric catch up, he got hooked and caught the fantasy sickness. Eric separated from the Navy and returned to his hometown of Buffalo, NY to resume his sadistic love of the Bills locally.
In addition to football, Eric loves poker and writing. The lessons Eric learned while reading well over 20 poker books and playing poker avidly often drives his approach to fantasy. As a family man, Eric doesn’t get away to the poker tables nearly enough, but he finds time to pursue his love of writing and fantasy football. Eric specializes in redraft league strategies and loves the complexity of auction drafts

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