Get the Edge
Some say that predicting strength of schedule before the season starts is a fool's errand. Too much can change between seasons. No person can accurately predict how each and every defense will perform after an entire off-season of adjustments. Prematurely assessing how favorable or unfavorable a team's schedule will only mislead a fantasy football owner into false confidence and poor decisions.
I disagree. While it is true that we cannot get it exactly right for every team, using the knowledge and information available to us, we can make a useful approximation. For example, the vaunted Seahawks pass defense is due for a little bit of regression this year (due to the loss of CB Byron Maxwell and minor injury concerns for safety Earl Thomas) but we can safely assume that they will generally remain an unfavorable matchup for opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers. It's not quite so easy or clear cut for each team but fantasy football is all about getting the edge over your opponents through preparation and educated projections. Further into the season, more accurate predictions can be made. However, at that point, there will be a dozens of articles talking about strength of schedule which means that it will be less useful because everybody will have access to the same resources. When everybody has the edge, no one does.
Preseason strength of schedule should not be your main reasoning for drafting a player. Factors such as past performance, situation, and injury history are far more important. However, strength of schedule can be used as a good tie breaker and should be could considered, especially in the extreme cases (extremely favorable or extremely unfavorable schedules).
Before we get into 2015's strength of schedule, let's first take a look back at 2014's.
2014 Passing Strength of Schedule
2014 Rushing Strength of Schedule
Each team's 17-week schedule is displayed. Each opponent is color coded according to whether the defense represents a very favorable, favorable, neutral, unfavorable, or very unfavorable matchup. Week 17 is grayed out because most fantasy leagues do not play week 17. To the right of each team's schedule is a tally of the number of favorable and unfavorable matchups. Finally, the fantasy relevant players on each team are displayed in their team's row for convenience.
The tables below rate each team's defense according to how favorable or unfavorable a matchup they were against the pass or rush. Within each column, the most favorable matchup is at the top and the most unfavorable is at the bottom. However, it is more practical and useful to treat all the teams within a color group as the same tier.
I am rather confident in the accuracy of these ratings as we have the benefit of definitive, objective statistics. Defense rankings were based on 4 different metrics.
Against the pass, teams were ranked according to 4 metrics: fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs, passing yards allowed, QBR allowed, and passing defense DVOA (which accounts for the strength of the opponent's offense). The metrics were weighted in that order with fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs being the least weighted and passing defense DVOA being the most weighted. DVOA is a metric provided by Football Outsiders. The methodology for its calculation can be found here.
Against the run, teams were ranked according to 4 metrics: fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs, rushing yards allowed, rushing yards per attempt allowed, and rushing defense DVOA. The metrics were weighted in that order with fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs being the least weighted and rushing defense DVOA being the most weighted.
The reason fantasy points allowed to QB/RB is the least weighted metric is because touchdowns heavily influence the amount of fantasy points allowed. While touchdowns are important, they are less reliable and less predictable than yards. Meanwhile, QBR allowed or rushing yards per attempt allowed are better indicators of performance. Still, even these metrics are flawed because they assume that the quality of opponents is equal. But a defense that faces Aaron Rodgers is most likely going to surrender a higher QBR than a lesser defense that faces, say, Geno Smith. The passing/rushing defense DVOA accounts for the opponent.
2014 Defense Ranking Metrics
Metrics the figure into pass defense are on the top row while metrics the figure into rush defense are on the bottom row.
Most Favorable Passing Schedules in 2014:
- Dallas Cowboys (9 favorable matchups, 4 unfavorable matchups)
- Carolina Panthers (8,4)
- Detroit Lions (7,3)
- Atlanta Falcons (7,3)
- Houston Texans (8,5)
- Cleveland Browns (8,5)
- Washington Redskins (7,4)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6,3)
- Green Bay Packers (7,5)
- Tennessee Titans (7,6)
Least Favorable Passing Schedules in 2014:
- Oakland Raiders (1,10)
- Denver Broncos (2,9)
- San Diego Chargers (4,8)
- New York Jets (4,8)
- New England Patriots (4,8)
- Buffalo Bills (4,8)
- Miami Dolphins (4,7)
- Kansas City Chiefs (5,7)
- Chicago Bears (4,6)
- Arizona Cardinals (5,6)
Most Favorable Rushing Schedules in 2014:
- Detroit Lions (9,3)
- New Orleans Saints (9,3)
- Atlanta Falcons (8,3)
- Baltimore Ravens (6,1)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9,4)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (8,4)
- Cincinnati Bengals (7,4)
- Carolina Panthers (7,4)
- Houston Texans (6,4)
- Cleveland Browns (5,3)
Least Favorable Rushing Schedules in 2014:
- Kansas City Chiefs (1,8)
- San Diego Chargers (2,9)
- Arizona Cardinals (4,9)
- Oakland Raiders (3,8)
- St. Louis Cardinals (4,8)
- New York Giants (5,9)
- Denver Broncos (2,6)
- San Francisco 49ers (5,8)
- Seattle Seahawks (5,8)
- Dallas Cowboys (6,8)
You may have noticed that each category tends to be made up of teams within the same division. This makes a lot of sense because teams within the same division have similar schedules. The NFC South and NFC East had the easiest passing schedules in 2014. No surprise there considering the poor secondaries within their own divisions. Meanwhile, the AFC West and AFC East had by far the least favorable passing schedules. The NFC South and AFC North had the easiest rushing schedules while the AFC West and NFC West had the toughest. It makes sense that the AFC West would have the toughest schedules for both the pass and run since, in addition to being a rather solid division defensively, they were matched up with the defensive juggernauts of the NFC West in 2014.
The results suggest that Tony Romo's league-leading QBR was helped by his exceptionally favorable schedule. That Derek Carr performed adequately as a rookie in 2014 is encouraging considering that he faced the most brutal schedule in the NFL. Meanwhile, the performances of Peyton Manning and his receivers, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, is all the more impressive considering the tough schedule. Mark Ingram took full advantage of the multitude of easy matchups that came his way while Joique Bell and Reggie Bush were rather disappointing considering their relative ease of schedule. Finally, we already knew that Jamaal Charles is unquestionably one of the best running backs in the league. But to put up the numbers that he did despite having the least friendly schedule for running backs in 2014 is incredible.
Now that we've reviewed last year's most and least favorable schedules, we can look into 2015 and see how each team's schedule compares to last year's. But, in order to do that, we need to look into how each team's defense has changed through the off-season. Once we assess all the changes, we can make an educated projection of how effective each defense will be versus the pass or run.
Strength of Schedule Analysis