I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I’m not a huge fan of strength of schedule.
However, SoS was one of my starting points last year and I had a pretty fantastic year in 2015. So here we are with strength of schedule.
I do think our strength of schedule goes a bit beyond the norm. We use Football Outsiders’ advanced metric Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, or DVOA.
The metric looks at a defensive unit’s effectiveness on a given play as opposed to the final outcome — yards and/or fantasy points. This should be able, in theory, to provide us with a more accurate view of strength of schedule.
While I found success with this chart last season, I also wanted to tweak it a bit to see if we can make it better.
I used DVOA from 2015 and 2014 and, since it was on their chart, the unadjusted (non-DVOA) ranking from 2015. I feel adding a few more data points will help smooth out any outliers.
This year only the top four and bottom four defenses received bright green and bright red marks. The next six teams in each category received lighter shades. Then, using a formula that weighted the bright colors slightly higher, I rated each team’s schedule.
Here’s the full chart. Analysis below:
- Detroit Lions
- Dallas Cowboys
- Cleveland Browns
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Baltimore Ravens
- Houston Texans
- Chicago Bears
Detroit has the easiest schedule this season, based on our estimations. That bodes well for sleeper running backs Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, newly signed Anquan Boldin and Marvin Jones and returning standouts WR Golden Tate and TE Eric Ebron.
And if all those parts stand to benefit, so should Matthew Stafford.
Of course the real big concern there is how the loss of Calvin Johnson affects that team.
The Cowboys also have a cake schedule, not facing a single top-four defense while getting three bottom four defenses.
As if Ezekiel Elliott didn’t have enough hype already running behind that line.
Like the Lions, Cleveland is an aha revelation that should affect your draft day plans. Not only do the Browns get an easy schedule on paper, three of their first six matchups are favorable.
I was already excited about an uptick for the Browns with the arrival of new coach Hue Jackson.
Regardless of the quarterback situation, I look for the Phildalephia Eagles’ Jordan Matthews and Ryan Mathews to have stellar seasons in 2016. Not the least of which is because of their schedule.
Like the Cowboys, the Eagles get to face the Giants twice, Washington twice and they get a non-division game against the Bears, another bottom-barrel defense.
Baltimore and Houston are also very intriguing from a strength of schedule standpoint. I think there’s some value to steal from both teams, especially on draft day because both squads have favorable matchups early.
- New England Patriots
- San Francisco 49ers
- New Orleans Saints
- Los Angeles Rams
- Atlanta Falcons
- Seattle Seahawks
- New York Jets
- Buffalo Bills
Ouch. The Patriots lose Tom Brady for four games and also have to deal with the toughest schedule in the league on paper. They also may have a mess on their hands during Brady’s time off.
They face Arizona and Houston in weeks one and three, respectively making for a potential tough start to the season. Midseason they face the Seahawks then over weeks 12 through 16 — the heart of the fantasy playoffs, they have four unfavorable matchups in five games, including a meeting with the Broncos in week 15, the semifinal round in most leagues.
Like the Patriots, the 49ers have a killer start to the season with four out of their first five matchups being unfavorable.
Chip Kelly’s arrival had me a bit excited about how many more opportunities his quarterback — hopefully a rejuvenated Colin Kaepernick — will have to throw to Torrey Smith.
New Orleans is going to be a sell-early team if the strength of schedule holds form. Three of their first four matchups are favorable, including a likely shootout with the Giants in Week 2. however, after their week five bye, they go through a murderer’s row of eight bad matchups out of 10 games including meetings with the Seahawks, Broncos and Cardinals.
Other than Todd Gurley, I can’t say I expected to draft many Rams this season, but after seeing this ranking I’m not sure I’ll pay a premium for him in redraft leagues either.
The list rounds out with Atlanta, which will have to crushing stretches — weeks four through six and weeks 12 through 16.
Julio Jones is an extreme talent who will likely be able to overcome most obstacles, but it gives me pause on drafting Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and pretty much any other player on the squad.
We’ve gone over some of the early season schedules.
Dallas and Oakland stand out in big flashing lights with back-to-back-to-back favorable matchups, including two each against bottom four defenses.
Baltimore, Cleveland, Jacksonville, the Giants, Oakland and Washington go quite a long stretch to start the season without facing an unfavorable foe.
The late season edge goes to the Super Bowl runners-up Panthers. Carolina faces San Diego, Washington and Atlanta in weeks 14-16, the prime playoff weeks. They are the only team with such a favorable stretch at the end of the season.
There are a few others with good stretches though. The Eagles — who also start with a pair of cushy matchups and have one of the best schedules overall, face Washington in Week 14 and the Giants in Week 16.
The aforementioned Lions cap off their season against bottom four defenses in weeks 13, 14 and 15 and have a neutral matchup against the Cowboys in Week 16.
Chicago doesn’t face an unfavorable matchup after week 5, get two great matchups in Weeks 11 and 12 then cap it off with a meeting against Washington on championship weekend.
Cleveland has a similar schedule, not facing an unfavorable matchup after Week 9, getting the Giants in Week 12 and the Chargers on championship Sunday.
Teams with tough early-season schedules provide opportunities to trade for players who have underperformed but are likely to bounce back once the schedule evens out.
The Buccaneers, Titans, Rams and Jets all fit onto this list.
So if Marcus Mariota and Todd Gurley look human early in the season, float a couple offers out there to see if you can land two players who may define the next generation in the NFL.
There are some teams who, on paper, look like they could keep you from reaching your championship potential.
The Falcons and Patriots, as mentioned above, are the two scariest. Saints players may give fantasy owners the sweats, too. They don’t have a favorable matchup after week four and have five unfavorable matchups from weeks 10 through 15 — as you make your playoff push. They have a neutral matchup with the Buccaneers in Week 16.
Seattle is another tough option. They face the Panthers, Rams, and Cardinals in weeks 13, 15 and 16, respectively.
What do you think about strength of schedule? Is it an important part of your drafting strategy? Let us know in the comments.