2010 NFL Strength of Schedule

Ken KellyContributor IIIMay 24, 2010

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 27:  Running back Beanie Wells #26 of the Arizona Cardinals carries on a three yard touchdown run iun the fourth quarter against the St. Louis Rams on December 27, 2009 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.   The Cardinals won 31-10.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

After the NFL releases the schedule for the upcoming season, there is usually great debate among dynasty owners regarding how Strength of Schedule (SOS) can affect a team’s run. This is especially true in the fantasy football playoff weeks that close out the regular season; just ask the owners of Jamal Charles, Andre Johnson, or Jerome Harrison how the final stretch can bring home a championship.

Strength of Schedule (SOS) is a tool that you should utilize during your start-up or rookie draft and trade discussions. While it should not be the sole driver of a drafting strategy, it can be combined with a player’s supporting cast or offensive philosophy in your decision-making process. This “middle-of-the-road” approach works as an excellent tie-breaker when you are trying to decide on a player within a tier and, as mentioned earlier, can help you spot a poor SOS during the final few games of the season. More than anything, SOS can help you establish your own projections and tiers before your draft begins. If you are not already doing so, I highly recommend this strategy.

The biggest issue owners run into when projecting an upcoming season is relying on last year’s numbers. The coaching carousel, free agent signings, and the NFL draft all have significant impact on a team’s defensive dynamic from one year to the next. We instead do our best to incorporate the changes from the previous year and tier teams versus the pass and the run and insert them into the NFL schedule.

The good news for you is that we spent the man-hours crunching numbers and evaluating off-season movement and mapping out the tiers for rushing and passing. Below are the tiers for Rushing and Passing SOS grades for each team’s defense. Tier 1 is the best.


Rushing Defense

Tier 1:  Baltimore, Green Bay, Minnesota, NY Jets, Pittsburgh, San Francisco

Tier 2: Dallas, Jacksonville, New England, NY Giants, Philadelphia, Washington

Tier 3: Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Houston, San Diego, Tennessee

Tier 4: Miami, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Oakland, Seattle

Tier 5: Buffalo, Carolina, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis, Tampa Bay


Passing Defense

Tier 1: Denver, NY Jets, New Orleans

Tier 2: Baltimore, Buffalo, Carolina, Cincinnati, Dallas, Green Bay , Indianapolis, Minnesota, New York Giants, New England, Pittsburgh, San Francisco

Tier 3: Atlanta, Cleveland, Oakland, Miami, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Tennessee, Washington

Tier 4: Chicago, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa Bay

Tier 5: Arizona, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City

Based on the tiering above, here are the rankings that teams have vs. the run and pass, respectively. The higher the ranking, the better schedule that team has over the course of the 17 game season. For example, the 49ers face the easiest rushing defenses for the 2010 season.


Grade vs. Run

  1. San Francisco
  2. St. Louis
  3. Seattle
  4. Kansas City
  5. Arizona
  6. San Diego
  7. Atlanta
  8. Jacksonville
  9. Tampa Bay
  10. Carolina
  11. Denver
  12. Pittsburgh
  13. Oakland
  14. New Orleans
  15. Indianapolis
  16. Baltimore
  17. Minnesota
  18. Tennessee
  19. Washington
  20. NY Giants
  21. NY Jets
  22. Houston
  23. Dallas
  24. Cincinnati
  25. Cleveland
  26. Chicago
  27. Philadelphia
  28. New England
  29. Green Bay
  30. Miami
  31. Detroit
  32. Buffalo

Grade vs. Pass

  1. Denver
  2. Tennessee
  3. Oakland
  4. NY Giants
  5. Washington
  6. Dallas
  7. St. Louis
  8. Indianapolis
  9. Kansas City
  10. Philadelphia
  11. San Francisco
  12. Jacksonville
  13. Seattle
  14. Green Bay
  15. San Diego
  16. Minnesota
  17. Houston
  18. New Orleans
  19. Arizona
  20. Carolina
  21. Tampa Bay
  22. Chicago
  23. NY Jets
  24. New England
  25. Buffalo
  26. Detroit
  27. Atlanta
  28. Cincinnati
  29. Miami
  30. Cleveland
  31. Pittsburgh
  32. Baltimore

A few notes to help you out on the data-heavy analysis above based on the RBs and QB (and their respective WRs):


Rushing – Looking Good

  • Frank Gore is looking like a solid guy for 2010. They have the best schedule for the run and coach Mike Singletary has begun implementing a more run-heavy offense. Look for a monster year.
  • In rookie and start-up leagues, Ryan Matthews will get some serious love. He has a tough match-up against the Niners, but the Chargers have a whopping six low-tier opponents and the rest are mediocre.
  • Beanie Wells has a potentially huge season ahead of him. Not only are the Cardinals going to have to pound the rock with the loss of Warner and Boldin, but we see him getting the lion’s share of touches out of the backfield. Wells does go up against a stout 49ers defense week 17, but outside of that, fairly easy schedule.
  • Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones are essentially running out of committee now in KC, but they have a very favorable schedule and an improved line.
  • Steven Jackson is looking like a solid pick and potential buy-low with the Rams beefing up the offensive line and looking to open things up with adds at skill positions. The schedule will help Jackson a ton.


  • Michael Turner, ATL
  • Maurice Jones-Drew, JAC
  • Knowshon Moreno, DEN
  • Rashard Mendenhall, PIT
  • Ray Rice, BAL
  • Pierre Thomas/Reggie Bush, NO
  • LenDale White/Leon Washington/Justin Forsett, SEA
  • Cadillac Williams/Derrick Ward, TB
  • DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart, CAR

Rushing – Rough Road Ahead

  • Not only is the backfield a little cramped, but the Bills and their bad offense are going to have the toughest schedule to face trying to run the ball (Jets twice, BAL, MIN, and GB). Spiller, Jackson, Lynch , and crew are going to be in a world of hurt.
  • Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have some of the toughest match-ups in the league and their split-carries won’t help either of them.
  • No rest for the weary in Detroit who only have three favorable rushing match-ups all season. Bad news for Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith.


  • Laurence Maroney/Fred Taylor/Sammy Morris, NE
  • Matt Forte, CHI
  • Ryan Grant, GB
  • Cedric Benson, CIN


Passing – Looking Good

  • Luckily for Kyle Orton , Denver appears to have the easiest schedule against pass defenses this year. This might give him the edge he needs to stay ahead of Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow.
  • Don’t look now, but Vince Young might get some nice scheduling help and make his way into a starting lineup near you. Assuming he is progressing as well as reports are saying, this could be a nice year for VY and the Titans receivers.
  • Peyton Manning could take back his throne as QB1 this season as the Colts have one of the easier schedule against the pass.



Passing — Rough Road Ahead

  • Ben Roethlisberger had a nice fantasy season in 2009 that was aided by a cake non-conference schedule. This year, Ben has to deal with his legal issues as well as a brutal set of games to close out the season.
  • Joe Flacco’s Ravens only have two favorable match-ups this season, so I fully expect his numbers to dip.


  • Carson Palmer, CIN
  • Any Cleveland QB
  • Matt Ryan, ATL