Fantasy football: Ninjas, beware strength of schedule hype

After seeing yet another headline touting ease of schedule in fantasy football, I decided it was time to put into words why I don’t put much value into this strategy.

Yes, typically great defenses remain great, and bad ones can be expected to be bad, but to alter your rankings based on previous team statistics is ridiculous.

Strength of schedule is as much of a crapshoot as drafting that No. 5 running back you have a hunch about. You have to figure in new coaches, schemes and players and injuries. Nobody can predict exactly how those things will turn out.

To test my theory, I looked back at the top 10 fantasy defenses and the bottom 10 defenses over the last 10 years. I was surprised by what I found.

To be fair, the number crunching showed that there are some teams you can count on being really, really good and some others that fit on the other end of the spectrum. It also proved there is no way to predict who’s going to be the best and who’s going to be the worst, especially not by looking at the previous season’s statistics, the numbers used in most SOS rankings.

For instance : Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots

Oakland is often lauded as fantasy gold for offensive players. If you make a decision to draft a player because he will face the Raiders during the 2009 fantasy playoffs or because your AFC West player will face them twice, keep these things in mind:

1. Nnamdi Asomugha will shut down your No. 1 receiver. There is not a defensive back in the game more dominant than the Raiders’ shutdown corner.

2. While the Raiders defense was in the bottom five for four of the last five years and five of the last six. They also had the third best defense in the league just a couple years ago in 2006.

The Patriots have had a top-10 defense for four of the last five years and, you guessed it, that one year they had a bottom-10 defense. That was in 2005.

So these two examples prove that while these teams have been very bad and very good, they also managed to completely turn things around on a random year right in the middle of that stretch.

What the? Chicago Bears

Those wily Bears. In 2005 and 2006, the Bears had the second- and fifth-best defenses respectively. Impressive, right? Many owners, scared by Chicago’s Brian Urlacher-led attack ran away screaming from players who were facing the Bears in the 2007 fantasy playoff weeks on draft day.

Then Chicago urinated all over them with a defense so porous it was the the fifth-worst defense in the league in 2007.

Then, after that ridiculous flip-flop, they finished in the middle of the pack in 2008.

What the?! Washington Redskins

Over the course of the last 10 years, the Steelers, Ravens, Buccaneers and Redskins have been the most consistently good defenses. In the last five, the Steelers, Ravens, Redskins, Buccaneers and Patriots stand out.

The Redskins ranked 4th, 8th, 9th and 3rd in total defense in the last half decade. But in 2006 – right in the middle of all that dominance – they had the second worst defense in football. That’s not a typo, second-worst.

New York Giants

Despite losing players to injury and retirement the New York Giants had the fifth-best defense last season. They also had the seventh-best in 2007.

But before Steve Spagnuolo turned that defense into the crazy blitzkrieg it’s become, they were the eighth- and ninth-worst defense in the league in 2005 and 2006.

Philadelphia Eagles

A defense that gets a ton of credit and has been great throughout Donovan McNabb’s career had three top-10 finishes, but also had a bottom-10 in 2005, over the last five years.

I could go on. Over the last five years…

  • The Titans have had top-10 defenses each of the last two years, but also have two bottom-10 defenses. They actually had the worst defense in the league in 2006, then they had the fifth-best in 2007.
  • The Dolphins had the fourth-best defense in 2006, the ninth-worst in 2007 then finished in the middle of the pack in 2008.
  • The Chargers, Broncos, Packers, Colts and Cardinals all have one top-10 defense and one bottom-10 defense. The Packers and Cardinals pulled off their top-bottom tandem in consecutive seasons.

Bottom line

You shouldn’t ignore strength of schedule, but a ninja shouldn’t let it affect their decision-making unless they have nowhere else to turn.

Even then, only hope it works out.

A ninja shouldn’t worry about fantasy defenses until around week three or four of the current season – but that’s another theory for another post at another time.

The sure things, if you want to call them that

If nothing else, I’ve explained the uncertainty in predicting team statistics from year to year, so I feel somewhat uneasy posting this next section, but it’s only fair to note the discovery. There were some absolutely good and bad teams over the last 10 years, and here they are:

Great defenses (Were in the top 10 and did not make an appearance in the bottom 10):

Last 10 years:

Steelers, Ravens, Cowboys, Buccaneers

Last 5 years:

Steelers, Ravens, Cowboys, Buccaneers, Jets, Panthers

Awful defenses (were in the bottom 10 and did not make an appearance in the top 10):

Last 10 years:

Lions, Chiefs, Seahawks, Browns, Falcons, 49ers, Texans

Last 5 years:

Lions, Chiefs, Seahawks, Rams, Browns, Falcons, Saints, Bengals, 49ers, Texans

So, you’re still going to use strength of schedule on draft day, right? Have you ever made a draft day decision based on strength/ease of schedule and actually had it work out for you? The Ninjas would like to hear about it. Let us know in the comments or start a conversation in our forums.

4 Responses to “Fantasy football: Ninjas, beware strength of schedule hype”


  1. Sockonfl

    Nice article EP. I totally agree the SOS thing is way overblown. I would say the only teams you can count on getting good fantasy points against in 2009 are the Lions, Bengals, Browns, and Rams. Other than that like you said it tends to be a crapshoot from year to year. Plus sometimes big players step up for big games against good defenses, so that makes the SOS strategy irrelevent too.

  2. ep

    Thanks for the comment, Sockonfl.
    Glad to see I’m not alone on this one.

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