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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.
With 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.
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.
Honorable Mention for Least Favorable Schedule Against the Pass: Atlanta Falcons
Least Favorable Schedule Against the Rush
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.
Honorable Mentions for Least Favorable Schedule Against the Rush: San Francisco and Los Angeles
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