The NFL schedule is officially out, and that means we can start analyzing matchups to unearth an edge in fantasy football. To kick off the 2022 schedule release, I’ll take a sneak peek at some winners and losers based on the favorability of the matchups and the current projected betting win totals – especially early in the season.
Just keep in mind that strength of schedule is not the most important factor for fantasy football success. After all, many of the teams look different than their 2021 versions.
But it still can be a great tiebreaker to leverage when considering two extremely close players. It also helps to identify players that could come out the gates blazing for redraft purposes.
Understanding where bye weeks fall and what the fantasy playoff matchups look like is key. Hitting on the right playoff matchups is crucial in some fantasy formats, like Underdog’s flagship best ball tournament Best Ball Mania III.
Per Sharp Football Stats football analyst Warren Sharp, no team has an easier schedule over the first four weeks of the season than the Cleveland Browns.
well well well, NFL, what do we have here
the NFL gave the Browns…
with the suspension of Deshaun Watson incoming…
the NFL's EASIEST first month – BY FAR – over any other team
impossible to believe this wasn't completely intentional pic.twitter.com/3eQ2dKLceP
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) May 13, 2022
Seems a bit suspect that the NFL would do such a thing based on an upcoming suspension looming in Deshaun Watson’s future. Either way, the soft opening against the Panthers, Jets, Steelers and Falcons should give you the confidence to still have faith drafting Browns skill players even if it is Jacoby Brissett under center.
Keep moving Jalen Hurts up your 2022 quarterback rankings. Not only do the Eagles own the second-easiest schedule overall, but they also have the third easiest schedule to open the season through the first four weeks.
Layup matchups against the Lions, Vikings, Commanders, Jaguars and Cardinals round out Hurts’ first five opponents before Dallas in Week 6 and their bye in Week 7.
With Hurts’ ADP resting at QB7 at 65th overall, I am drafting him in every single best ball draft I can. In the 20 games the Eagles quarterback has played as a starter where he played a full four quarters, Hurts has been a top-12 quarterback at an 85% hit rate.
Hard to imagine that Russell Wilson and company don’t come out of the preseason guns blazing. The Broncos will head to Seattle in Week 1 where Wilson will take on his old team on Monday Night Football, where emotions figure to be running high. However, I am giving the massive edge to Wilson in this matchup as Seattle’s patchwork defense should scare no one.
Anticipate Denver’s hot start to roll over into the next few games against suspect secondaries like San Francisco, Atlanta and Detroit. It’s the exact start for my Courtland Sutton to be this year’s Cooper Kupp prediction to be realized.
Denver’s playoff schedule also features potential shootouts against Kansas City, the Rams, and Arizona, further bolstering the case of heavy exposure of their players in summer best ball drafts.
No DeAndre Hopkins? No problem. Arizona has solid matchups to start the first six weeks of the season, featuring three potential shootouts and three roll-over defenses that Kyler Murray can take advantage of. Considering Murray has averaged 27.8 fantasy points per game as the QB1 and QB3 respectively over the first half of the last two seasons – before he’s gotten hurt – I’d be all over him in redraft if others are reading too much into Hopkin’s absence.
It’s also a great sign that the newly acquired Marquise Brown has the chance to be a top-12 fantasy WR to start the season and a potential sell-high candidate as the season progresses. Christian Kirk was a top-12 WR during the last four weeks without Hopkins in the lineup.
If there was any doubt that Jonathan Taylor shouldn’t be the 1.01, the cakewalk opening schedule puts that to rest. Indy owns the seventh-easiest schedule to open the month, with matchups versus Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, and Tennessee.
In his six games against his AFC South rivals, JT averaged 18.7 fantasy points per game. Against just the Texans and Jaguars, Taylor averaged 120 rushing yards per game.
The soft-start is also a boon for the fantasy value of Michael Pittman Jr., who I am extremely high on entering the 2022 season.
I'm drafting Michael Pittman over any WR on the Dolphins https://t.co/YY8EC0dwCw
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) May 13, 2022
Overall, the Colts have the third-easiest schedule based on Vegas win totals.
In true Sam Darnold 2021 fashion, Carson Wentz should ball out to start the season and have the NFL media convinced he was vastly undervalued in the offseason trade market. The Commanders face 10 defenses that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in fantasy points allowed to WRs in 2021 through their first 12 games.
The first two weeks are against Jacksonville and Detroit. All in all, they own the NFL’s sixth-easiest schedule.
At least the NFL schedule-makers are trying to make life easier on second-year quarterback Justin Fields. Five of the Bears’ first six matchups are against secondaries that are the weak part of their respective defense, lost talent in free agency and/or are unproven.
Despite the lack of surrounding talent, Fields should be able to do much more than his QB18 ADP would suggest. Don’t forget that Fields finished as a top-12 fantasy quarterback in his last four full games, averaging 21.7 fantasy points per game. He also averaged 56 rushing yards per game over his last six.
Chances are the rushing production will continue behind Chicago’s porous offensive line.
Los Angeles Rams and Chargers
When in doubt, draft a player from L.A.
Scoping out the L.A. Rams and L.A. Chargers early-season matchups pic.twitter.com/JFEaBPoFxN
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) May 13, 2022
Both offenses look slated to smash early and often, especially in the case of the Rams with the fourth-easiest schedule Weeks 1-4: Bills, Falcons, Cardinals and 49ers look like fantasy goldmines. Although I’ll admit the Rams face their fair share of tough run defenses after their bye week which could make Cam Akers a sell-high if he starts out hot and isn’t quite the three-down workhorse some project him to be.
I feel equally great about the Chargers even if their opponents’ projected win totals don’t agree. Give me that offense against the Raiders, Chiefs, Jaguars and Texans all day.
I’ve got my fair share of concerns about how Tua Tagovailoa is going to play in a brand new offense with a lot of moving pieces. He was my most overrated player on the Miami Dolphins for a reason.
Tagovailoa is viewed as a popular late-round quarterback among fantasy circles, but I have to admit I won’t be pulling the trigger on him in 1QB redraft formats with his early schedule. New England, Baltimore and Buffalo are hardly the stream-worthy spots you will be confident in starting Tua in. In the Dolphins quarterback’s four combined starts versus those teams in 2021, his fantasy finishes were QB23, QB24, QB18 and QB16.
If Miami starts out the season slow, it will represent the perfect buy-low opportunity for many of their skill players. Their schedule opens up fairly nice after Week 4, with matchups against Houston, Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago before their Week 11 bye week.
Nobody says you have to draft anybody on the Pittsburgh Steelers this fantasy football season. I for one will be heavily underweight on the Steel Curtain with major concerns regarding their offense led by the unit of Mitchell Trubisky and/or Kenny Pickett.
The early-season schedule furthers my stance on being slightly lower than consensus on the highest-drafted Steelers with the team opening on the road versus the reigning AFC Champions, followed by the Patriots and then a Thursday night matchup on the road versus Cleveland. Week 4 presents a sigh of relief against the New York Jets, but the schedule gets tough over the next two weeks against Tampa Bay and Buffalo.
It’s not too late to bet the under on Pittsburgh’s 7.5 projected win total.
The universe is doing everything in its power to prevent me from going all-in on rookie running back Tyler Allgeier. The Falcons have a brutal stretch of strong run defenses to open the year against the Saints, Rams, and Seattle – PFF’s top-three ranked run defenses from 2021.
It’s a tall-tale sign that fantasy managers shouldn’t expect much immediate rushing production from Allgeier or Cordarelle Patterson to start the season. The same could be said for rookie WR Drake London, who might draw coverage from Marshon Lattimore and Jalen Ramsey in his first two NFL starts. As bigger-bodied defensive backs, they have a perfect skill set to slow down London.
New England Patriots
The Patriots got no favors from the schedule-makers this season. Four of their first six games are on the road against Miami, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Cleveland. At least I will witness the DeVante Parker revenge game.
With the 25th-most difficult schedule overall, New England might not produce any week-to-week reliability for fantasy football purposes. Damien Harris is the most expensive Patriots as the RB29 based on early best ball ADP.
New Orleans Saints
Michael Thomas’ return to 2019 elite form won’t come easy. He’s probably got the toughest projected WR/CB matchups against A.J. Terrell, Carlton Davis and Jaycee Horn to start the season. If for some reason Thomas misses the start of the year, it could also put Chris Olave in a tough spot to produce even if he is the clear No. 1 in the offense.
New York Jets
I’ve been torn between Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore, but can’t seem to help to gravitate towards Moore at a cheaper cost. All things considered, the schedule also provides some semblance to going with the Jets slot receiver based on the cornerbacks Wilson might draw in Weeks 1 and 2: Marlon Humphrey and Denzel Ward.
The Jets’ overall schedule is brutal overall – 27th-most difficult – which is a major concern for those hoping for a second-year breakout from Zach Wilson.
The bye weeks kick off starting in Week 6 with four teams on bye – Raiders, Titans, Lions, and Texans – and go all the way through Week 14, where fantasy managers will be hit hard for the second straight year right before the fantasy playoffs.
Whether you call it Bye-Armageddon or the Bye-Apocalypse, the reality of six teams on bye one week before the fantasy playoffs is not ideal. Especially considering those teams include the Packers, Saints, Colts and Commanders.
PLAYOFF MATCHUPS TO TARGET
Take this with a grain of salt because so much can change between now and when the fantasy playoffs kick off. But for tournaments like BBM III where Weeks 15-17 are weighed heavily in the prize pool outcome, it’s important to acknowledge the games with high-scoring potential those weeks.
- Tampa Bay vs Cincinnati
- Arizona vs Denver
- Cleveland vs Baltimore
- Green Bay vs Los Angeles Rams
- Kansas City vs Houston
- Tampa Bay vs Arizona
- Philadelphia vs Dallas
- Los Angeles Rams vs Denver
- Kansas City vs Seattle
- Cincinnati vs Buffalo
- Kansas City vs Denver
- Minnesota vs Green Bay
- Los Angeles Chargers vs Los Angeles Rams
The top team stacks that deserve priority when considering best ball playoffs include Denver and the Los Angeles Rams followed by Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Arizona and Green Bay.
The Jets face Detroit, Jacksonville and Seattle during the fantasy playoffs, so we could see rookie running back Breece Hall emerge as a league-winner. Be open to back-filling your best ball roster with Gang Green stacks.
Same for Houston, who plays KC, TEN, and JAX from Weeks 15-17. Dameon Pierce might not fire initially but could be unleashed down the stretch.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.