Strength of schedule is not my favorite fantasy football statistic.
There’s not much value in using last year’s statistics to determine how teams will perform this season. It’s even worse, in my opinion, when players are drafted based on strong SoS opponents during playoff weeks, usually weeks 13-16. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m starting players who face the Jaguars. And I know teams with a bad run defense usually stay bad.
However, injuries and matchups alter outcomes and can make defenses look worse than they actually are.
But can we make a better strength of schedule using Football Outsiders’ advanced metric, Defense-adjusted Value Over Average? I hope so.
DVOA is a results-based metric that looks at a defense’s effectiveness per play as opposed to final statistics. That should make it a better indicator of future success. Here is a strength of schedule ranking using DVOA’s overall defensive rankings.
The top-8 and bottom-8 defenses are marked with red (bad matchups) and green (good):
- Tampa Bay gets our best strength of schedule result. The Buccaneers only face one of the top-8 defense from last season and get seven matchups against bottom-8 defenses. That’s enough for me to bump Mike Evans, Jameis Winston and, yes, even Doug Martin.
- The Carolina Panthers have a similar road to the postseason, getting a +5, with the only tough defensive matchup being the Seahawks. I’m going to bump up Cam Newton and friends as well.
- Denver is next. It makes me cringe a bit to think that offense has an easy schedule in 2014. C.J. Anderson was already going to go big and even if the Peyton Manning-led passing game tones down a bit, they still have some of the most dangerous weapons in the game.
- The defensive juggernauts from the NFC West are holding that division at the bottom of the list. Their non-conference foes don’t make it any easier. All four teams have to face Baltimore and Detroit, another two teams with elite defenses according to DVOA.
- St. Louis, as the only team in the division without an elite defense, gets stuck at the bottom. They have to face the 49ers, Cardinals and Seahawks twice each. Brutal.
- The Seahawks have the second-most difficult schedule. Their two favorable matchups is the lowest number in the league.
Data like this will be more useful early. There are some bottom-half teams with very favorable matchups to open the season.
- Cleveland jumps right out at me. Three of their first four contests are favorable with the other being a neutral meeting with the Jets.
- Arizona and Cincinnati kick off with two favorable matchups in the first two weeks.
- Tampa Bay also has two favorable matchups to start before getting Houston in Week 3.
You need to make the playoffs in order to have a player’s Weeks 13-16 performances matter. It’s more important to focus on the road to the playoffs.
The following teams all have long stretches to start the season before they face a top-8 most effective defense from 2015:
- Washington, 14 weeks
- Houston, 12 weeks
- Buffalo, 12 weeks
- Philadelphia, 11 weeks (three favorable matchups in the first five weeks)
- New York Jets, 9 weeks
- Dallas, 7 weeks
Players who struggle through a tough early season schedule could provide possible trade targets. They should provide value as they return to form once they start facing less dominant defenses.
- Denver faces two top defenses in the top three weeks then has nothing but positive or neutral matchups the rest of the season
- Kansas City opens with Houston and Denver back-to-back before things let up.
- Three of Minnesota’s first four games are against San Francisco, Detroit and Denver.
There are several other notable matchups here, like San Francisco facing back-to-back tough defenses on two different occasions mid-season and the Bengals facing tough defenses in a three-out-of-four stretch, a back-to-back stretch and then back-to-back-to-back to finish the season.
But no final stretch is worse than the Rams, who face a top-ranked defense in five of the last seven weeks.
Do you use strength of schedule? How much do you rely on it on draft day? Let us know in the comments.