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Strength of Schedule Impacts

Fantasy football is always about looking forward. You can read countless reports from training camps, look at expert projections and rankings, read tea leaves, whatever. But, the successful fantasy owner is the one who balances out risk and reward, upside with consistency. One of the biggest challenges facing an owner is year-to-year trending. Just because someone performed well in 2009 doesn’t necessarily translate to a big 2010 season.

One useful piece of information that may factor into your draft strategy is strength of schedule. Again, this is somewhat arbitrary and is based on last year’s numbers. But, a defense that was very good last year, figures to at least be solid this year, right? Looking at strength of schedule can help an owner decide between Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew, who are going with the third and fourth picks in some order in most drafts (discussed below). However, it is not a hard and fast system. I do not recommend taking Carnell Williams over Adrian Peterson, despite his advantage with opponents.

When I looked at the schedules this year, here’s what I discovered:

Jay Cutler: If not now, when?
Cutler has Mike Martz and his pass-heavy system. He also has Matt Forte who is dying to prove that he’s really his 2008 self. He also has several talented (and underrated) receivers. He also has an incredibly easy schedule, especially early in the year and then again leading up to the fantasy playoffs. Based on last year’s numbers, he should be able to post about 15 points a week, making him a viable fantasy quarterback, and that’s before introducing the Martz system that emphasizes the pass. And, since I can get him in the seventh or eighth round, I’d rather have Cutler and Michael Turner than Aaron Rodgers and LaDainian Tomlinson.

Big D will have a Big O.
You know what I just said about

Chicago
? Well,

Dallas
probably has it even better. Tony Romo could put up 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns. The receiving corp should put up good numbers, but don’t be surprised if Romo spreads the ball around. And you know his buddy Jason Witten is going to get the ball 100 times. People are forgetting about

Witten
, which is just fine by me. This offense will be racking up stats all year.

Let someone else take their talents to

South
Beach
.

I don’t think anyone faces a tougher fantasy defense schedule than

Miami
. Chad Henne is a popular sleeper this year, but will face the stingiest fantasy defenses of any quarterback in the league. With him go the receivers. Brandon Marshall will still be productive, but don’t think he’s a lock for 100 catches and 1,200 yards. Is it possible? Yes. Guaranteed? Absolutely not. The running game won’t have it any easier, either. Try not to count on the Dolphins too much.

Ravens get a raw deal.
Joe Flacco is almost there. He’s on the verge of getting into that top seven quarterback crew and making it eight. But, I don’t think he gets there this season. He’s a great talent, and he’s got some very dangerous weapons around him, but his schedule is brutal. Not only does he get
Pittsburgh and
Cincinnati twice, but he gets
Denver,
Carolina,
New England and the New York Jets, too. The only thing he has going for him is he doesn’t have to face his own defense. Ray Rice should be fine, but Flacco and his receivers may disappoint fantasy owners.

Jones-Drew could be the No. 1 fantasy running back.
Maurice Jones-Drew faces one of the easiest run schedules out there. As if he needed any help, he will have little to stand in his way as he rumbles down field. There is currently concern about a still mysterious injury of his, but the team is saying it’s not a big deal. Draft him in the first round, and handcuff him with Rashad Jennings late in the draft.

Ryan Mathews will charge his way through defenses.


San Diego
will have the easiest run schedule in the league. Mathews, a rookie, will get to run through the AFC West, NFC West and AFC South. Combine that with the Chargers’ desire to help their fans forget that Tomlinson guy, and Norv Turner’s predictions regarding his workload. Mathews should be grabbed in the second round if you want him. Don’t count on him being there in the third.

Eagles will soar through the air.
As an Eagles fan, this makes me nervous. But the ‘Birds’ should be able to move the ball effectively through the air. As a team that has traditionally made its living via the pass, losing Donovan McNabb was troubling. But, Kevin Kolb looks like a capable quarterback, with much better accuracy, which should serve him well against lackluster pass defenses. The receivers figure to benefit as well. DeSean Jackson might not post all the big plays he had in 2009, but he and Jeremy Maclin will be very productive.

Gore will run wild in

San Francisco
.

Frank Gore is another top back that will face very weak run defenses. He’ll get the NFC West, AFC West and NFC South. With a more confident Alex Smith under center and improved weapons at receiver, Gore may finally have the space to do some things for the 49ers.

Panthers backs running attack.
The Carolina Panthers don’t have a stud running back. They have two. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will both run for more than 1,000 yards and approach 10 touchdowns each. They nearly accomplished it last year, with Williams getting hurt and coming up short of the 10 touchdown mark. Both healthy, they’re salivating as they look at the run defenses they’ll face this season.

The

Arizona
… running game?

That’s right. Kurt Warner is gone. Matt Leinart probably won’t start (which is a good thing). Derek Anderson has enough talent to scare defenses into being honest. That combined with the rush defenses they’ll play makes Chris ‘Beanie’ Wells, and Tim Hightower, more and more attractive.

Arizona
will be an interesting subplot all season, and Wells adds to the intrigue.

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