Why the NFL's Schedule Release is Mostly Useless for Fantasy Drafts

January 20, 2024; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) during the
January 20, 2024; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) during the / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s 2024 schedule was released on Wednesday night, giving us a look at which teams play which other teams, and more importantly: when. For years, I wrote an article that focused on a fantasy strength of schedule that would give fantasy managers a look at which players had the best and worst slates based on the fantasy points allowed (FPA) from the previous season.

In recent years, however, I’ve noticed a trend: the gap between players with the best and the worst schedules was shrinking, and this season is no different. What’s more, the information that we’re using for this research is often flawed due to what are unpreditable circumstances and scenarios.

Based on data from the quarterback with the best schedule for this season, Jordan Love, has an accumulated FPA average of 18.9 (based on the 2023 defensive stats for his upcoming 2024 opponents). On the flip side, Josh Allen, the quarterback with the worst strength of schedule, comes in at 16.3.

That’s a difference of just 2.6 points.

The gap between the best and the worst schedule at running back is just 1.9. At tight end, it’s 1.7. The gap is much bigger at wide receiver (six points), but the difference between the best and the 10th-best schedule is a mere 2.1.

As you can see, the differences are mostly negligible, and clearly not enough (in most cases) to draft one player over another. Even at wideout, which has the “biggest” gap, how much does it really matter that Jayden Reed (37.9) has a better projected strength of schedule than Davante Adams (34.4)?  

It doesn’t.

To further prove that strength of schedule stats are deceptive, the data we use from the previous year often don’t mirror what will actually happen in the next season. That’s because the NFL is often unpredictable, as the offseason creates a series of improvements or downgrades on the defensive side.

Let me give you a few examples.

In 2022, the Philadelphia Eagles allowed an average of 13.7 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. That was the sixth fewest, making a matchup against them in 2023 unfavorable. The Eagles ended up being awful against enemy field generals last season, allowing the second-most points to the position.

The difference in points allowed was almost seven!

Of course, this had a lot to do with who the Eagles faced last season and how good those teams were at quarterback. Their slate included two games against Dak Prescott, two against Sam Howell (who was a fantasy asset in the first half), and other contests against Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Kirk Cousins, Tua Tagovailoa, Matthew Stafford, Kyler Murray and Brock Purdy. Hell, even Mac Jones beat them for 24.1 fantasy points in their regular-season opener!

So, despite being tough against quarterbacks in 2022, that data was worthless.

If we look at the FPA data from 2022 and compare it to last season, we find that 11 of 32 teams saw a change of three-plus points allowed per game against quarterbacks, for better or worse. The Kansas City Chiefs, who allowed almost 20 points per game to signal-callers in 2022, allowed just 14.5 a season ago. So, if you used strength of schedule data in these cases (and many others), that data was ultimately incorrect and led you down the wrong draft path.

This sort of thing isn’t limited to quarterbacks, either.

At running back, 14 teams saw a flip of three-plus points allowed per game from 2022 to 2023. The Houston Texans, who were considered a great matchup for opposing runners heading into last year, would go on to surrender 10.8 fewer points per game to the position. The Washington Commanders, who allowed the second fewest points in 2022, gave up the fourth most to backs last season.

The change at wide receiver was the most drastic, as half of the NFL’s 32 teams saw a flip of at least 3.1 points allowed per game. Eight defenses changed by six or more points, including the Eagles who went from allowing 30 points a game to the position in 2022 to almost 45 points per game in 2023.

At tight end, we saw 13 defenses flip at least 2.1 points allowed per game. The Arizona Cardinals went from allowing 16.8 points a game in 2022 to 11.2 last year. On the other side, the New Orleans Saints went from allowing 7.3 points per game to opposing tight ends in 2022 up to 12.4 points last season.

So, you might ask, how can the schedule help fantasy managers?

Obviously, we need to know the bye weeks. That’s important as to not draft too many players who are off in the same week. You also might want to avoid some players with late-season byes, as you could be unable to use a star player when you’ll need him most — during a push to the fantasy playoffs.

Managers should also look at game locations, because playing in a dome late in the season as opposed to a cold-weather venue is always an advantage (at least it can be on the surface, because predicting the weather months in advance is a lot tougher than predicting the results of a fantasy campaign!)

In terms of the stats that will affect the strength of schedule, that data isn’t really going to be available until we get a handle on which defenses are good against what positions. We’ll probably have a decent idea after the first month of the season, but really, it’ll take half a year of data to have a definitive idea.

So, when you’re doing your draft preparations, feel free to look at the strength of schedule data if you’re trying to pick between two players with similar value. But just be aware that the data you’re using to make that determination could be (and more likely will be) less than 100% accurate when we look back in 2025.


Published |Modified
Michael Fabiano

MICHAEL FABIANO

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Formerly of CBS Sports, NFL Network and SirusXM, Michael was the first fantasy analyst to appear on one of the four major TV networks. His work can now be found on SI, Westwood One Radio and the Bleav Podcast Network.