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Which Players Have the Easiest Match-ups?: Strength of Schedule

Luke Hoover

Luke Hoover has covered fantasy football for since 2011 and is most proud of recommending Victor Cruz as a starter in his breakout game against the Eagles. He's a lifelong fan of Notre Dame, the Packers and, unfortunately, the Knicks.

Strength of Schedule

It's tough to base drafting decisions in August on schedule but for those close calls when you're on the clock choosing between a Zac Stacy or an Alfred Morris, it's important to have as much information as possible. (Of course it's equally important to trust your gut and let that make the final call.) Still, having an idea of what slate your top picks have in front of them can be a useful tiebreaker. While the quality of defenses can change drastically from year to year and sometimes even week to week, generally the best and worst defenses from one season to the next don't fluctuate too dramatically.

With that basic premise in mind I examined the defenses that finished among the top and bottom five in passing and rushing yards allowed. I've displayed my findings in the charts below and provided additional details such as TDs allowed, YPA/YPC, INTs, sacks and finally attempts (there is a reason after all you don't mind your QB facing Peyton Manning's Broncos; as good as the Denver D might be this year, chances are your passer can snag some valuable garbage points trying to throw his team back into the game).

Of course there are outliers that need to be acknowledged in this type of exercise. For instance, the Bills were among the top five pass defenses last year, and the 49ers weren't. With Buffalo losing their defensive coordinator in Mike Pettine, their best defensive back in Jairus Byrd and their most dynamic defender in Kiko Alonso, a steep drop off against the pass would be far from a surprise. And though the 49ers also lost some pieces and will be without Navorro Bowman much of the year, they're still likely to be among the better if not best defenses given their system and remaining talent.

I took the information the charts spit out to me, but also considered those personnel and staff changes as factors, ultimately arriving at a top and a bottom 10 for each position based solely on strength of schedule. In other words, these players are ranked by how much their schedule helps or harms their values. Without further ado, here's how I may consider making some close calls this August that is, if my gut allows me to rely on the numbers.

Top QBs:

1. Aaron Rodgers (GB) The Pack play a lot of talented offenses that will move the football and put up points (an underrated factor in schedule analysis). Getting the Lions, Bears and Vikings twice each represent six games versus three average-to-weak defenses that could turn into shootouts. Having to face Philadelphia, New Orleans, Atlanta and Seattle as well present games that figure to see Rodgers' arm getting a healthy workout.

2. Robert Griffin (WAS) Sure, RGIII has to face Seattle and is tasked with learning a new offense, but there really couldn't be much of a better scenario for a quarterback coming off a disappointing season. New coach Jay Gruden is an offensive-minded guy who will give Griffin significantly more opportunities to pitch it, including more deep shots. And then of course there's the competition. Dallas, Minnesota and Philadelphia were the bottom three versus the pass last year, respectively, and none did much to improve in this area. If anything losses like DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee and Jared Allen will downgrade them. Bombs away, RGIII.

3. Sam Bradford (STL) Bradford is the only signal caller in the league with the good fortune of facing all five of last year's worst pass defenses. The division games are always scary but luckily the trip to Seattle comes in Week 17 typically meaningless in fantasy while he also has potential shootouts with Denver and Washington to provide some fireworks.

4. Russell Wilson (SEA) The NFC East and AFC West provide Wilson with four contests against 2013 bottom feeders versus the pass. And though he has to deal with a brutal divisional slate and the Panthers, there are actually no teams on the Seattle docket that finished among the best against the throw last year.

5. Colin Kaepernick (SF) Outside of his NFC West foes there is little of concern facing Kaepernick. Having to go to Seattle in Week 15 may require a quality backup for the fantasy playoffs, but he's otherwise primed to make a big leap in his third season starting.

6. Eli Manning (NYG) He couldn't take advantage last year but that's what second chances are for, right? Manning will get another shot at the dismal pass D's of Philadelphia and Dallas.

7. Carson Palmer (AZ) For five straight weeks in the midseason when he gets Denver, Washington, Oakland, Philadelphia and Dallas consecutively the only quarterback in league history with a 4,000-yard season for three different teams should rack up some big time numbers. Of course, catching the Rams, Seahawks and 49ers in Weeks 15 17 during playoff time figures to be dicey.

8. Ryan Tannehill (MIA) The only two games versus top-five pass defenses on Miami's slate are the Bills, who will still have a beastly D-line but likely will weaken versus the throw without Byrd and Alonso. And Tannehill faces three of last year's worst pass defenses, including a visit from the Vikes in Week 16.

9. EJ Manuel (BUF) A schedule that includes only Houston from last year's top five pass defenses should help Manuel transition from just an athlete into a legitimate franchise quarterback, much in the way Josh Freeman took a big step forward in his second season.

10. Ryan Fitzpatrick (HOU) The only true top pass defense facing Fitzpatrick in his first year in Houston is a Week 12 visit from Cincinnati. The journeyman starter could take advantage of the NFC East matchups as well as the AFC South's average defensive competition en route to solid QB2 numbers.

Team Yards per game Touchdowns INT Sack YPA Attempts Comp %
Seattle 172 16 28 44 5.8 524 59
New Orleans 194.1 20 12 49 6.8 507 60
Houston 195.2 29 7 32 6.8 484 59.3
Buffalo 204.4 28 23 57 6.5 561 55.3
Cincinnati 209 22 20 43 5.9 614 59
Carolina 214.3 17 20 60 6.8 563 66.6
San Francisco 221 19 18 38 6.5 585 59
Cleveland 221.1 29 14 40 6.2 605 60
Pittsburgh 222.1 21 10 34 6.6 569 57.8
NY Giants 223.3 21 17 34 6.3 601 60.1
Tennessee 225.8 15 13 36 7 545 63.1
Baltimore 230.1 25 16 40 7.1 552 56.9
Indianapolis 231.9 21 15 42 7.4 536 60.4
Arizona 233 29 20 47 6.5 625 58.7
Chicago 233.1 25 19 31 7.7 507 62.1
Miami 234.5 17 18 42 6.9 580 59.3
Tampa Bay 237.9 30 21 35 7.4 547 64.4
New England 239 25 17 48 7 589 57
St. Louis 242.1 21 14 53 8.1 521 68.1
Washington 243.5 29 16 36 8 514 65.6
Atlanta 243.6 31 10 32 8 516 66.1
NY Jets 246.7 26 13 41 7.1 586 58.9
Detroit 246.9 24 15 33 7.3 572 59.1
Green Bay 247.3 30 11 44 7.8 539 61.6
Kansas City 247.6 25 21 47 7.2 592 56.4
Jacksonville 247.6 29 11 31 7.6 551 64.2
Denver 254.4 29 17 41 7.1 613 58.2
Oakland 255.8 33 9 38 7.9 549 68.1
San Diego 258.7 23 11 35 8 548 66.4
Dallas 286.8 33 15 34 7.8 623 64.7
Minnesota 287.2 37 12 41 7.5 648 64.7
Philadelphia 289.8 25 19 37 7.3 670 60.9

don't pass


Bottom QBs:

1. Johnny Manziel Thinking of taking a flier on "Johnny Football" on the chance he's another RGIII? Think again. Cleveland faces more top-five pass defenses from 2013 than anyone, with five on the docket, and that doesn't include any of their four combined games with Baltimore and Pittsburgh or a trip to Carolina. Additionally, the Browns face only one bottom five pass D from last year, and that's a Raiders squad that made numerous changes to a unit that now has a mix of veteran savvy and youthful athleticism.

2. Cam Newton (CAR) Not only did Newton lose 149 catches and 14 touchdowns from his top three wideouts departing in free agency, but he'll also now have to deal with four contests against top-five pass defenses from 2013 as well as several others, with defenses like Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Cleveland that made personnel upgrades in the offseason. This is the year we'll see if he's truly "Super Cam."

3. Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) Big Ben is one of just a few passers with the misfortune of not getting a single one of last year's bottom five. Meanwhile he must overcome four matchups with top-five units from 2013 in addition to a tougher divisional slate and trips to the Panthers and Jets.

4. Joe Flacco (BAL) Like Big Ben Flacco gets 4-to-1 stingy pass defenses to weak ones and must deal with the rest of the AFC North and the hard-hitting Panthers.

5. Matt Schaub (OAK) If it weren't enough that rookie Derek Carr will be breathing down Schaub's neck and that fans will be crucifying him over every interception, the relocated vet must persevere through a brutal schedule that includes trips to the Jets and Pats in the first three weeks, the entire NFC West and what projects as a much stingier Denver D.

6. Matt Cassel/Teddy Bridgewater (MIN) The Vikings open their season with the Rams, Patriots and Saints, two of which are road games. St. Louis may have the league's best pass rush, New England is now the home to Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and New Orleans was one of last year's top pass defenses before adding Byrd in the offseason. It figures to start and end bumpy for whoever is under center in Minnesota, as they also go back-to-back with the Panthers and Jets in Weeks 13 and 14.

7. Josh McCown (TB) Five of McCown's first six games will come against the Panthers, Rams, Steelers, Saints and Ravens. He then gets the Browns, Bengals and a trip to Carolina in the fantasy playoffs for a rematch.

8. Matt Ryan (ATL) Ryan begins the season with the Saints and Bengals, two teams that finished among the five best versus the pass in 2013. He gets the Saints again in Week 16 for the fantasy playoffs and in between has to deal with the rest of the AFC North and the Panthers.

9. Andy Dalton (CIN) Dalton doesn't draw a single-bottom five pass defense all season. Meanwhile he has to face two of last year's best as well as the Panthers and what should be an across-the-board improved division.

10. Jake Locker (TEN) The NFC East gives Locker something of a reprieve from what could otherwise be an ugly schedule for the passing game. He gets a Houston D twice that finished third against the pass in 2013 and also must tussle with the AFC North as well as four defenses that made personnel upgrades in the offseason.

Top RBs:

1. Adrian Peterson (MIN) Peterson gets five contests against teams among the five worst stopping the run? Unfair.

2. Eddie Lacy (GB) See Peterson, Adrian.

3. Toby Gerhart (JAC) Jacksonville does not play a single defense from last year's bottom-five against the run. However, they only play the Bengals among 2013's top-10 in rushing yards allowed. Meanwhile they do get the Texans and Colts twice as well as Dallas and Miami, all of whom were a mere 6.5 yards per game at most better than the five worst run Ds. None made any dramatic changes to their front seven or their schemes that should result in significant improvements slowing the run.

4. Chris Johnson (NYJ) There is not a softer schedule against the run than that facing the Jets. No one has more than the five matchups they have with teams from the bottom five of last year's run defenses, and they're the only team not meeting a top-five unit.

5. Reggie Bush/Joique Bell (DET) The Lions do have to go on the road to the Panthers and Jets early, but in the final 12 games they will benefit from five contests with last year's weakest run Ds.

6. Lamar Miller (MIA) With four games against last year's bottom-dwelling defenses in the season's first half, Miller could produce early on.

7. Giovanni Bernard/Jeremy Hill (CIN) The only stud run D blocking Cinci's path is a Week 6 visit from Carolina. They otherwise have three of last year's cupcakes on the docket.

8. Trent Richardson/Ahmad Bradshaw (IND) Dallas was 27th versus the run in 2013 just outside the bottom five and lost Ware and Jason Hatcher. They are without Sean Lee. There is a strong possibility they are the league's worst defense. They play the Colts in Week 16, the fantasy Super Bowl week for many leagues.

9. Khiry Robinson/Mark Ingram (NO) Although the Saints are stuck with four games versus last year's elite run defenses, they're the only team in the league to face two bottom dwellers in Weeks 15 and 16 Chicago and Atlanta, to be exact. The Falcons finished 31st last year while the Bears were an embarrassment as they allowed a whopping 161.4 yards per game rushing.

10. Bishop Sankey/Shonn Greene (TEN) The Titans only have two contests against a bottom-five run defense from 2013, but five others versus teams in the bottom 10. They have only one especially tough matchup the Jets in Week 15 on the schedule.

Team Yards per game Touchdowns YPC Carries
Arizona 84.4 5 3.7 370
Carolina 86.9 4 4 352
NY Jets 88.3 9 3.4 421
San Francisco 95.9 11 3.9 397
Cincinnati 96.5 6 4 385
Detroit 99.8 10 4.2 377
Denver 101.6 15 3.9 420
Seattle 101.6 4 3.9 422
St. Louis 102.9 18 3.7 440
Philadelphia 104.3 12 3.8 443
Baltimore 105.4 7 3.8 440
San Diego 107.8 14 4.6 376
Oakland 107.9 15 3.9 442
NY Giants 108.9 12 3.8 454
Tampa Bay 110.1 10 4 438
Minnesota 110.4 14 4 443
Washington 110.6 23 4 443
Cleveland 111.3 13 3.9 462
New Orleans 111.6 11 4.6 387
Tennessee 112.2 21 4 446
Pittsburgh 115.6 18 4.3 433
Kansas City 120.2 9 4.5 428
Houston 122.4 11 4.3 454
Miami 124.9 14 4.1 484
Green Bay 125 16 4.6 432
Indianapolis 125.1 14 4.5 448
Dallas 128.5 17 4.7 437
Buffalo 128.9 10 4.4 471
Jacksonville 131.8 20 4.2 507
New England 134.1 11 4.5 481
Atlanta 135.8 14 4.8 455
Chicago 161.4 22 5.3 483

don't run


Bottom RBs:

1. Zac Stacy (STL) Stacy plays in the NFC West. Sure, he's something of a mini tank with excellent leverage and leg drive, but you can only shed so many 49er and Seahawk gang tackles.

2. Marshawn Lynch (SEA) Seattle's tough slate includes the improved units of the AFC West and the already stingy, mean and angry defenses in their division.

3. Ben Tate/Terrance West (CLE) The Browns deal with the Bengals and Panthers in the fantasy playoffs two of last year's best and five more games against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Oakland, teams that each took linebackers in the first round who should become running back enemies in a big hurry.

4. Le'Veon Bell (PIT) Bell has to go to the Panthers and Jets this year while also dealing with the increasingly physical AFC North.

5. Steven Jackson/Devonta Freeman (ATL) The AFC North and NFC South the Falcons notwithstanding could all have improved run defenses this year.

6. Montee Ball (DEN) From Weeks 3-7 the Broncos have to travel to the Seahawks and Jets, host the Cardinals and 49ers and then visit Cincinnati in the fantasy playoffs. Those five defenses combined to allow an average of 93.3 rushing yards per game and yielded just 35 total rushing scores in all of 2013.

7. Jamaal Charles (KC) Charles is a truly elite talent. There's simply no denying that. But it doesn't require a close inspection of his dominant 2013 to see that he played an extremely soft schedule. That will not be the case again as he'll draw the loaded NFC West defenses as well as the Jets monster front seven and improved groups like Denver, Pittsburgh and Oakland.

8. Ray Rice (BAL) Rice will be out for tough divisional matchups with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to start the season, but will still have to deal with a difficult slate the rest of the way. He'll fight an uphill battle against an AFC North division that should see improved defenses with his rivals either adding or getting back names like Geno Atkins, Karlos Dansby and Ryan Shazier. Tack on Carolina, Tampa Bay and San Diego all of which were top 15 against the run in 2013 and the road to redemption looks awfully bumpy for the former star.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew/Darren McFadden (OAK) Even if a hot hand separates himself into a more featured role, the outlook isn't pretty for the Oakland schedule. The NFC West looms like a Mike Tyson uppercut, while trips to the Jets and Pats and improved divisional foes figure to create problems as well.

10. Khiry Robinson/Mark Ingram (NO) While you may benefit greatly from owning one or both of the Saints two-down backs come the fantasy playoffs, the odds are also in favor of the pair being a fantasy nightmare before then. Four matchups with top five units from 2013 Carolina twice, the 49ers and Bengals combined with visits to Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh could leave this timeshare battered and bruised during the bulk of the season.

Top WRs:

1. Pierre Garcon/DeSean Jackson (WAS) Considering the Skins play five contests against the worst pass units from last year, both of the Skins' receivers should have some big performances this year.

2. Michael Floyd/Larry Fitzgerald (AZ) The only downfall for these two is the division. With four cupcake 2013 pass defenses on the docket, both are in good spots.

3. Percy Harvin/Jermaine Kearse/Doug Baldwin (SEA) The Seahawks do not have to face the best corner in the NFC West (sorry, Patrick Peterson) and have the league's only schedule that does not feature one of the top-five pass defenses from 2013.

4. Victor Cruz/Rueben Randle (NYG) The Giants get to feast on four games versus Dallas and Philadelphia and could find themselves in shootouts with the Lions, Redskins, Falcons and Colts.

5. Kenny Britt/Brian Quick/Tavon Austin - The Rams have the only schedule in the league with 2013's five worst pass defenses. It may be the strongest chance for there to be a 1,000-yard receiver in St. Louis for the first time since 2007.

6. Dwayne Bowe (KC) The Chiefs still don't have a single receiving threat anywhere near comparable to Bowe. The schedule is more favorable for the pass this year than the run and it's a certainty teams will do everything to dare Kansas City to keep it out of Jamaal Charles' hands.

7. Eric Decker (NYJ) The highest ranked pass defense the Jets face is Buffalo, which we've already unmasked as a phony this year. The next best squads are an old Pittsburgh secondary and a Titans D that let its best corner walk in free agency. Decker should see a huge number of targets against mostly suspect defenses, including three of last year's bottom dwellers.

Bottom WRs:

1. Josh Gordon/Miles Austin (CLE) The Browns are saddled with the league's worst schedule versus the pass with the receiving corps set to face five of the top-five pass defenses of 2013.

2. Kelvin Benjamin (CAR) Carolina's four matchups with top five units from 2013 are accompanied by the NFC North defensive backs accustomed to shadowing the likes of Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall. Good luck, Big Fella.

3. Torrey Smith (BAL) The Bengals were stingy against the pass last season without the help of savvy veteran Leon Hall or first round pick Darqueze Dennard. Joe Haden also still lives in the division and got a new buddy in top-10 draft pick Justin Gilbert. Factor in two additional matchups against top-five pass defenses from 2013, just one bottom five matchup with the Bolts.

4. Antonio Brown (PIT) The Steelers are just one of three teams that don't have the luxury of facing a single bottom-five pass defense from last season. And with four such games against the opposite end of the spectrum, Brown may struggle to replicate his monstrous 2013.

5. Vincent Jackson/Mike Evans (TB) The Bucs have three contests on the docket against top-five pass defenses that actually improved their secondaries in the offseason New Orleans with the addition of Byrd and Cincinnati with the return of Hall and selection of Dennard. On top of that, they face Joe Haden in Cleveland, will be impacted by an elite Rams pass rush and draw a deep and talented Packers secondary in the fantasy playoffs.

6. Andre Holmes/Rod Streater/James Jones (OAK) The Raiders receivers have to travel to the Jets, Patriots, Browns, Seahawks and Rams to deal with a blend of aggressive pass rushers and loaded secondaries. Add on a visit from Patrick Peterson and a Denver unit that figures to be much improved and it should be tough going.

7. Dez Bryant/Terrance Williams (DAL) The Cowboys' first eight games include the entire NFC West as well as the Saints and Texans top-five 2013 pass defenses, both of which may have improved with key offseason additions and better health.

8. A.J. Green (CIN) The Bengals don't face a single bottom-five pass defense this year, and fantasy playoff matchups against Joe Haden and Aqib Talib are anything but enticing.

9. Mike Wallace (MIA) Darrelle Revis is back in the NFC East and now two years removed from an ACL tear. That is all.

Top TEs:

1. Jordan Reed (WAS) Reed should benefit from facing a slew of weak pass defenses this year.

2. Jared Cook (STL) Cook will get to see all five of 2013's worst pass defenses.

3. Vernon Davis (SF) The divisional slate will never give the 49ers one of the easier schedules, but they do get to face four of the five worst pass defenses from last year including San Diego at home in Week 16.

4. Julius Thomas (DEN) It's almost unfair that the highly athletic Thomas gets to catch balls from Manning AND play four games against last year's garbage pass defenses.

5. Charles Clay (MIA) With the Vikings woeful pass defense on the docket for many Week 16 fantasy Super Bowls this is one guy to snag as a backup if not a matchup starter that could be way undervalued.

6. Jeff Cumberland/Jace Amaro (NYJ) The only top-five pass defense from last season finding itself in the Jets' way is a Bills group that may take a nosedive given their numerous key changes.

7. Scott Chandler (BUF) The big Bills tight end now has the good fortune of a schedule light on strong pass defenses. Only one top five from last year looms, and Buffalo will play three of the weakest as well.

8. Zach Miller (SEA) The Seahawks rarely use their tight end as much more than a red zone weapon, but it would be remiss for the purposes of this exercise to not again point out that Seattle is the league's only team not facing a top-five pass defense from 2013. Meanwhile they do have four contests against bottom-five units.

10. Garrett Graham (HOU) The Texans get relief by facing the NFC East, in particular Dallas and Philadelphia, and have the good fortune of a divisional schedule that doesn't feature any particularly strong defenses.

Bottom TEs:

1. Greg Olsen (CAR) Sure, Olsen won't run into all the same problems that Benjamin will, as he has an established rapport with Newton and won't have to adjust to the pro game. Of course, that doesn't negate the tough schedule or prevent defenses from rolling help his way as Newton looks for him as a reliable, familiar target.

2. Jordan Cameron (CLE) Like Josh Gordon and Miles Austin, Cameron has to deal with arguably the league's worst passing schedule.

3. Heath Miller (PIT) Miller gets zero bottom five pass defenses and will have to contend with tougher units in the AFC North as well as visits to the Panthers and Jets and two other contests versus top-five pass defenses.

4. Kyle Rudolph (MIN) The Vikings get zero of last year's bottom-five pass defenses while they're tasked with playing two from the stingy end of the spectrum.

5. Tyler Eifert/Jermaine Gresham (CIN) The Cincy tight end duo is in the same boat as Rudolph with a 0-to-2 ratio of good to bad matchups.

6. Dennis Pitta (BAL) Pitta finds himself in the same boat as every tight end in the AFC North. The division is improved everywhere defensively, and top pass defenses from last year like New Orleans, Carolina and Houston don't make the schedule any prettier.

7. Levine Toilolo (ATL) Toilolo faces stingy Ds in the NFC South with Cincinnati and Arizona also on the schedule.

8. Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TB) Sefarian-Jenkins has to deal with a slate that includes the AFC North and divisional foes New Orleans and Carolina, the latter of which he gets on the road in the fantasy playoffs.

9. Dwayne Allen/Coby Fleener (IND) The Colts do benefit from getting a potentially terrible Dallas defense in Week 16, but besides them and the Eagles, they face no bottom dwelling pass defenses from 2013. Meanwhile they're stuck with Houston twice and the AFC North.

Overall Strength of Schedule Grid: