2015 Fantasy Football Strength of Schedule Rankings: By Team
Most fantasy football players draft and build their team around rankings, bye weeks, committees, and injuries. However, some forget a very important part of drafting, which is building around a player’s schedule. Let’s use the Pittsburgh Steelers as an example, as most people will be looking to take Steelers’ Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
Right now, Bell and Brown are ranked RB1 and WR1 in PPR formats (1st and 4th overall respectively) and RB4 and WR1 in standard scoring (4th and 7th respectively). These two players will go high, and they should, based on their numbers last season. But remember, this is not last season. Last season the Steelers were beneficiaries of a very weak schedule, playing the AFC South and NFC South in their rotating divisional games.
The NFC South was bad. They were historically bad. At a combined division record of 22-41-1, they narrowly beat out the 2008 NFC West (22-42-0) by percentage points as the worst combined record in NFL history. But even the 2008 NFC West had a team finish over .500, as the Arizona Cardinals finished 9-7 and actually went to the Super Bowl. The 2014 NFC South champion Carolina Panthers “won” their division at 7-8-1 and actually hosted (and won) a playoff game against, ironically, the 11-win Wild Card-winning Cardinals. The only other time this happened was in 2010 when the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West and also won a playoff home game against the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. It took a four-game winning streak by the 3-8-1 Panthers to outlast the rest of the competition. The Buccaneers, who finished 2-14, were only eliminated from playoff contention following Week 14 after dropping to 2-11. NFC South teams were 10-29-1 against non-divisional opponents.
The AFC South also finished with one of the top 10 worst combined winning percentages in NFL History (25-39-0, .390). Eleven of their wins came from the AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts, who feasted off of their division, going 6-0. Yes, the Houston Texans finished over .500 at 9-7, but also won nearly half their games (four) against the two teams below them, the 3-13 Jacksonville Jaguars and 2-14 Tennessee Titans, who split their own season series against each other. This means that 12 of their 25 total wins came against each other, going 13-27 against the rest of the NFL. For their efforts, the Titans and Jaguars ended up with the 2nd and 3rd overall picks in the 2015 NFL Draft.
This year, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ schedule is evil. Coming off an 11-5 season with record-breaking performances by Bell and Brown, their strength of schedule of .578 (147-107-2) is the highest in the NFL. They also will be playing the 31st toughest fantasy schedule (only fellow AFC North foe Cincinnati’s schedule is stronger). Twelve of their 16 games are against teams who finished .500 or better last season. They have all five AFC playoff teams on their schedule along with two NFC playoff teams. They get to play both Super Bowl teams on the road in Seattle and Foxboro. The rest of their road schedule includes Kansas City, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and San Diego. Out of the four non-.500 finishing clubs they play, one of them takes place in Week 17, against Cleveland, when most fantasy seasons end in Week 16. This won’t exactly be a walk in the park, regardless of how matchup-proof Brown, Bell, and even Ben Roethlisberger looked last season. Looking at the player is only part of the strategy. Looking at who they play, when they play them, and where they play is strategy within strategy.
With that being said, here is a look at each team in order from the weakest fantasy strength of schedule to the strongest. This will include Week 17 games, as some leagues do go to the end of the season. These rankings are for fantasy defensive points allowed broken down position by position. This will be an eight-part article starting with teams 1-4. As scheduling would have it, teams one through four include the entire NFC South.
#1 Rank = Easiest Schedule
All default fantasy points shown on FantasyPros.com are based on our standard scoring system. These settings are also used for calculating accuracy ratings.
1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Division: NFC South
Bye Week: 6
SOS by position: QB 1st, RB 1st, WR 1st, TE 20th
Fantasy Playoff Schedule (14-16): vs. NO, at STL, vs. CHI
Week 17: at CAR
Favorable Matchups (rank): TEN (31), WAS (30), CHI (29), NO twice (28), ATL twice (26), NYG (24), JAX (23), IND (22), DAL (21)
Unfavorable Matchups (rank): STL (3), HOU (4), CAR twice (8)
Notable Fantasy Players: QB Jameis Winston-R, WR Mike Evans, WR Vincent Jackson, RB Doug Martin/Charles Sims
Recap: Eleven of 16 games against bottom 12 ranked fantasy defenses. They draw this schedule by virtue of playing the last place schedule, playing in the NFC South (three of four teams in bottom eight) and drawing the NFC East and AFC South in their schedule rotation (six of eight teams in bottom 12). They luck out on one of their tougher games against 8th-ranked Carolina coming in Week 17. Potential for a lot of shootouts, and potential for a lot of playing from behind, so there is some value here.
2) Atlanta Falcons
Division: NFC South
Bye Week: 10
SOS by position: QB 3rd, RB 4th, WR 5th, TE 13th
Fantasy Playoff Schedule (14-16): at CAR, at JAX, vs CAR
Week 17: vs. NO
Favorable Matchups (rank): TEN (31), WAS (30), NO twice (28), TB twice (25), NYG (24), JAX (23), IND (22), DAL (21)
Unfavorable Matchups (rank): HOU (4), CAR twice (8)
Notable Fantasy Players: QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones, WR Roddy White, RB Tevin Coleman-R, RB Devonta Freeman
Recap: Eleven of 16 games coming against teams ranked 20th or worst in fantasy points allowed. Like TB, playing NFC East/AFC south in divisional schedule rotation. Playing 3rd-place interconference schedule. Only playing four games against teams that finished over .500. One of their two games against 28th ranked New Orleans comes in Week 17. Brutal fantasy playoff schedule, playing 8th ranked Carolina twice (23rd ranked Jacksonville comes sandwiched in between). Playing in a dome and in the warm weathered NFC South bodes well for Falcons’ players.
3) New Orleans Saints
Division: NFC South
Bye Week: 11
SOS by position: QB 7th, RB 9th, WR 5th, TE 7th
Fantasy Playoff Schedule (14-16): at TB vs DET, vs JAX
Week 17: at ATL
Favorable Matchups (rank): TEN (31), WAS (30), ATL twice (26), TB twice (25), NYG (24), JAX (23), IND (22), DAL (21)
Unfavorable Matchups (rank): HOU (4), ARI (5), CAR twice (8)
Notable Fantasy Players: QB Drew Brees,WR Marques Colston, WR Brandin Cooks, RB Mark Ingram, RB C.J. Spiller
Recap: While they are playing the 3rd-easiest fantasy schedule, with 10 games against teams ranked in the bottom 12, they also have four games against teams in the top 10, including two in the top five (HOU, ARI). Playing second place schedule with games against Wild Card winners Detroit and Arizona. Fantasy trouble if they go to ground-and-pound style offense, but the weather, the division, and the schedule plays to their favor.
4) Carolina Panthers
Division: NFC South
Bye Week: 5
SOS by position: QB 4th, RB 2nd, WR 4th, TE 23rd
Fantasy Playoff Schedule (14-16): vs ATL, at NYG, at ATL
Week 17: vs. TB
Favorable Matchups (rank): TEN (31), WAS (30), NO twice (28), ATL twice (26), TB twice (25), NYG (24), JAX (23), IND (22), DAL (21)
Unfavorable Matchups (rank):SEA (1), HOU (4), GB (10)
Notable Fantasy Players: QB Cam Newton, WR Kelvin Benjamin, WR Devin Funchess-R, RB Jonathan Stewart, TE Greg Olsen
Recap: Twelve of 16 games against bottom 12 teams. Should be lower on this list but have to play other division champions Seattle and Green bay who along with Houston are in top 10. Fantasy playoff schedule favors them, but late December weather in Week 15 game against Giants could be a trap situation for Panthers.
Stay tuned for the next part of the SOS series.