You will spend countless hours this season agonizing over whom to start based on matchups. Frankly, it can be unnecessary minutiae. Most of the time you should just stick with the guys you drafted to carry you; just use matchups to break ties.
So, here is where you should actually agonize more over the schedule: before your draft. After all, if you pick the right players, you shouldn't want to bench them.
Everyone considering taking Jamaal Charles before the likes of contract-year star Adrian Peterson or 2010 breakthrough player of the year Arian Foster, you will want to read this. It might change your mind.
For those passing on the likes of the Ravens' Ray Rice or Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall because of their career-high carry totals last season -- not to mention the adding
Heck, the schedule might make Rice or even Mendenhall better picks in the top half of Round 1 than the explosive Charles.
We break down the top five unfavorable and top five most favorable schedules going into this season. This can help you avoid players you like but might wind up sitting more often because of their matchup. You could be considering sitting Charles a lot in fantasy crunch time.
You might also find some hidden gems you might not have liked, but their schedule is just so intriguing. Hello, Felix Jones, Matt Hasselbeck and Kenny Britt. See below.
They start promising with the Bills and Lions out of the gate, but fantasy crunch time is a going to make them a dud. From late November to late December, they face Pats, Steelers, Bears, Jets and Packers (weeks 12-15). That is a grind sure to frustrate you if you have Charles in the fantasy postseason. Those five teams are the best run-stuffing defenses in the NFL.
It is enough to drop Charles a few spots in your rankings.
Remember the late-season push Tim Tebow provided as a rookie? Forget about it this go around. Like the Chiefs, the Broncos face the third-toughest strength of schedule based on 2010 winning percentages (133-123, .520). And like the Chiefs, fantasy crunch time comes against the defensive stalwarts of the Jets, Chargers, Vikings, Bears and Pats in weeks 12-15. Ouch.
By the time the Broncos finally decide to bench (or trade) starter Kyle Orton, they are going to be facing the meat of their schedule with regard to opposing defenses. Tebow might be better off just sitting the whole year for fantasy owners.
You shouldn't count on this offense providing you much this season, but you need to forget about it in the second half. The 'Skins already play in the rugged NFC East and crossover with the top-heavy AFC East, but their closing stretch comes against Jets, Pats, Giants, Vikings and Eagles in the final five weeks. That is a hellacious stretch through the most important weeks of the fantasy postseason.
Their schedule is real soft in the beginning and end, but it is incredibly tough in the middle of the season with the Jets (twice) and NFC East crossover games with the Eagles and Giants. Why is that bad? Well, those are precisely the weeks when we face issues with byes. It makes roster flexibility tougher and forces you to start your marginal Pats in real tough matchups.
The best news is they don't have to face their own defense, but they do have the Pats (twice) and then the Giants and Eagles in weeks 15 and 16. Like the Chiefs and Broncos, only the lowly Panthers (. 555) and Bills (. 535) have tougher strengths of schedule, according to last season's winning percentages.
Usually Super Bowl losers deal with a hangover, but the Steelers face the sixth weakest strength of schedule (121-135, .473). It is even juicer in fantasy terms, because they face the awfully weak defenses in the Texans, Jags, Bengals (twice) and Browns (twice). They face only two decent defenses, too: the Ravens (twice) and Pats.
Sticking with the AFC North, especially since their crossover NFC opponents are the weaker ones out west: Yes, the division that gave us the only sub-. 500 playoff team ever. Sure, the Ravens face the Steelers (twice) and the Jets, but it is real smooth sailing otherwise. The Ravens' opponents were 117-139 (. 457) last season, second-weakest only to the Cardinals.
Other than having to face the Ravens and Steelers in the first five weeks of the season, the Titans should have some smooth sailing thereafter. Heck, it might be enough to get you to draft holdout Chris Johnson in the top few picks -- at least pick him before Charles. Those defenses of the Colts, Texans and Jags in the AFC South are famously forgiving. And outside the division, they play last season's cellar dwellers of the AFC and the second-softest division of the NFC (the South).
Big D stands for Big Disaster: If there is a silver lining from the disaster that was Dallas a year ago, it is the benefit of a softer schedule. They do open with the Jets, and have to face the Pats, Eagles (twice) and Giants (twice), but the 10 other weeks against patsies should more than make up the difference.
How are both Super Bowl teams on this favorable schedules portion of these lists? Well, like the Steelers, the Packers benefit from not having to face their own stout defense. They manage to avoid the other elite defenses, too. They are also the only team in Las Vegas that isn't listed as an underdog in any of their 16 games going into the season. They should actually win their division this time (the Packers were the last wild card before going on to win the Super Bowl).