Looking at strength of schedule could help give fantasy football owners a leg up, but there's a few caveats. Just because a team has the best schedule for fantasy running backs (meaning they face the worst rush defenses from a year ago) doesn’t necessarily mean their running backs will see immediate success. But if you are looking at two players, this might be a good way to break the tie.
So many things change between Week 1 and Week 17 that it’s impossible to plan your fantasy football draft with strength of schedule for the entire season in mind. This is also why you shouldn’t worry about bye weeks too much. Your roster is most likely going to change before the bye week arrives where you have two players sitting.
Here, we share the units with the best and worst strength of schedules with you, but we’ll also share some interesting notes about different portions of the schedule you might find helpful. Luckily, the team at FFToolbox.com has already split up the strength of schedule into several different sections, from Week 1 to 5, Weeks 6-10 and Weeks 11-15.
Considering most leagues have their championship game in week 16 rather than week 17, when many stars are rested for the upcoming NFL playoffs, we’ll only review the strength of schedules between weeks 1-16.
St. Louis Rams: It’s an unbelievable shame Sam Bradford (knee) is out for the season yet again, considering his team is going up against some weak pass defenses. The first five weeks of the season include games against the Vikings (31st vs. the pass), Cowboys (30th) and Eagles (32nd). Shaun Hill, however, is not quite as threatening.
Miami Dolphins: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill enters his third season in the NFL with a new offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor, the same guy who coached Nick Foles last season in Philadelphia.
Baltimore Ravens: After winning the Super Bowl and signing a huge contract in the offseason, Joe Flacco had the worst season of his career in 2013. He’ll have a healthy Dennis Pitta and new starting wide receiver Steve Smith this season, but it should be a tough road for the quarterback -- and his fantasy owners.
Cleveland Browns: It makes sense that two AFC North teams rank this low, since they go up against tough defenses in their division (all four were among the top 12 in the NFL against the pass last year). Cleveland has the second-worst fantasy strength of schedule, which means the cards are very much stacked against Brian Hoyer keeping the starting job until midseason.
New York Jets: For those who gambled on Chris Johnson in the Big Apple, like the Jets did, it could pay off. Their three divisional opponents’ rush defenses ( Bills, Dolphins and Patriots) all allowed over 124.0 rushing yards per game -- ranked in the bottom 10 last year.
Indianapolis Colts: Another running back with some questions surrounding him, Trent Richardson also faces a favorable divisional schedule for running backs. The Texans, one of the Colts’ rivals, has the best strength of schedule for running backs in the first five weeks of the season.
Atlanta Falcons: Steven Jackson has a bad hamstring, a birth certificate from 1983, an exciting rookie behind him in Devonta Freeman -- and now the hardest schedule for a running back in the league.
Denver Broncos: Speaking of rookies, all of those people who wanted Montee Ball (appendectomy) as their RB1 despite not much of a track record will have to deal with a very tough schedule for running backs. The Broncos play the 49ers, Cardinals, Jets and Bengals, which all ranked among the stingiest against the run last year.
Miami Dolphins: We already mentioned Tannehill and his favorable schedule, so it only makes sense his wide receivers, including Mike Wallace in his second year with the team, have good things ahead, too. Strangely, the Dolphins’ tight ends have the 22nd-ranked schedule for tight ends.
New England Patriots: Another AFC East team, the Pats and Dolphins both face four of the six worst pass defenses from a year ago. The Dolphins, however, have 10 games against nine of the bottom 11 pass defenses, facing the Jets twice.
Baltimore Ravens: What’s bad for Flacco is also bad for his wide receivers, including Torrey Smith, who many expect to have a pretty big season. This schedule won’t help, as their three divisional opponents all ranked in the top nine against the pass last year.
Philadelphia Eagles: Interestingly, Jeremy Maclin and Co. will face the Cowboys’ deplorable pass defense in Weeks 13 and 15, with a really tough game against the Seahawks in Week 14. Hopefully, you’ll have earned a first-round bye to avoid the Super Bowl champs.
Detroit Lions: Rookie tight ends rarely produce good year-round stats, but Eric Ebron should have the easiest path among all rookies and veterans alike. (Just know that Tim Wright ranked 13th among all fantasy tight ends last year in his rookie season with Tampa Bay. Even so, he was the best rookie tight end in fantasy since Rob Gronkowski in 2010. It’s tough to argue for using a rookie tight end outside of as a part-time fantasy starter.)
St. Louis Rams: Jared Cook was really looking like a nice fantasy sleeper before Bradford’s injury, but you have to think he’s going to see fewer scoring opportunities in his second year back with Jeff Fisher.
Arizona Cardinals: In case you were considering drafting John Carlson.
Denver Broncos: Not a good sign for Julius Thomas’ owners, but let’s be real -- the Broncos offense will be too much for most teams to handle anyway. Thomas should even get more red-zone targets with Eric Decker now wearing a Jets jersey.
Indianapolis Colts: Things are lining up for Andrew Luck to have a huge year, but he’ll need the Colts defense to get the ball back and make some stops, so he can have more scoring opportunities. The Colts also won the lottery by facing the Cowboys, the worst defense in the NFL, in Week 16 -- the fantasy Super Bowl week. But the Colts defense will be facing a very tough offense.
Tennessee Titans: Even with a strong schedule, this unit is just subpar.
Denver Broncos: This one hurts, as the Broncos defense has to be one of the most improved units since the Super Bowl loss. However, if Peyton Manning and his offense are killing it, then the Broncos opponent will be forced to go to the air early, which opens up opportunities for interceptions and pick-sixes.
Oakland Raiders: Finally, you have a reason to avoid the Raiders defense -- which is probably ranked in the bottom five across the fantasy universe already. This team faces the Broncos, Chargers and Chiefs twice each season.