The fantasy football season is quickly approaching, and it is time to get your fantasy football cheat sheets together. Although there is still a lot of time before the NFL season kicks off (IF it kicks off), it is never too early to do your homework. These are just the first round of the Fantasy Football Strength of Schedules, and there will undoubtedly be some developments during the offseason that shake up the rankings.
How the SOS is calculated: every year when we get together to make our fantasy football positional rankings, projections and cheat sheet, we have to take a few variables into consideration, including offseason acquisitions and results based on injury the season prior. In years past, we have also looked at the average number of points allowed per position per team to determine whose schedule would put them in position for the most success. This year, however, we are going one step further, calculating points against averages based on home and away games.
How does this affect the SOS compared to years past? The Dallas Cowboys allowed nearly ten more points per game to opposing quarterbacks playing in Dallas. Their secondary must be getting caught checking out the big screen. On the other hand, a team like the Jets was stellar at home, but allowed almost three times as many points to opposing quarterbacks on the road.
As the season progresses, you will see changes in SOS as we continue to tweak the projections. Players will move in free agency and affect the strength of their respective defenses, and these moves, in turn, will be reflected in the SOS.
Fantasy Football Strength of Schedule: Quarterbacks
Last year, most fans were not surprised to see Rodgers rise to the top of the fantasy leaderboards, although they may have not expected it the same degree. Last year, Aaron Rodgers faced the easiest schedule among fantasy quarterbacks and it translated into fantasy football dominance.
The SOS can also work the other way. Last year, Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall earned inflated average draft positions because of their new partnership, but the Dolphins faced the third toughest schedule for quarterbacks. This knowledge could have made you rethink investing a second-round pick on a guy like Marshall who inevitably ended the season as the 44th-ranked receiver.
Now, the SOS shouldn’t be interpreted as a prospective leaderboard for 2011. Last year, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger faced the fourth and fifth toughest schedules among quarterbacks, respectively, but ended up in the top 10 nonetheless. This just shows that elite quarterbacks are elite quarterbacks. It could hurt their positioning the top 10, but it certainly won’t drop them out altogether. It should make you hesitate before choosing a quarterback late in the draft, however.
So remember: this list is a ranking of the toughest schedules among fantasy quarterbacks, but a quarterback's ranking alone will not necessarily make or break his season.
1. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
When it rains, it pours for Matt Stafford and the Lions. He has shown flashes of being a great quarterback but can’t seem to stay healthy. The Lions have finally made big strides in improving the parts around Stafford, such as by implementing a jolt of energy in the running game and improving on the defensive side of the ball. Still, it doesn’t appear that this will be enough, as Stafford has an uphill battle ahead of him.
2. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
The Texans didn’t have to rely on their passing attack last season due to the emergence of Arian Foster as a feature back. This year, they may rely on Foster a little more thanks to the second toughest schedule for fantasy quarterbacks. Of course, Schaub is a pretty good quarterback, and he has arguably the league’s best receiver at his disposal. Don’t expect too big of a drop.
3. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
It was shocking to see the Vikings draft Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick, what many felt was a reach for the Vikings. The Vikings staff have put themselves under a microscope and will forever be tied to Ponder’s career success. The Vikings have only one other QB on the roster, Joe Webb, and he was a wide receiver in college. Ponder has some young, talented receiving corps as well as one of the best running backs in the game, and he will need all of them to be at their best.
4. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens were a top pick for the Super Bowl after they went out and signed Anquan Boldin last season, but instead they struggled to find their identity on offense. This was reflected in their fantasy football values. This season's schedule doesn’t appear overly tough, but having to play at Seattle and at St. Louis changes the landscape. Both Seattle and St. Louis are far tougher at home than on the road, much like the Cardinals and the Chargers, who are also on the schedule.
5. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Cutler’s toughness will definitely be tested this year, and that doesn’t bode well for Cutler in fantasy. It is no secret that Cutler throws too many interceptions, and I don’t expect that trend to change in 2011. Cutler will have to play five games against teams ranked in the top ten in interceptions in 2010, four of which also ranked in the top five.
6. Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos
There is still a chance that Kyle Orton will start for the Broncos next year, but all indications are that Tim Tebow will be given a shot to start. John Fox isn’t going to have the Broncos throwing the ball 40 times per game (Orton averaged 38) like they did in the Josh McDaniels game plan. That may be a good thing for the still developing Tebow.
7. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The Packers’ newest gunslinger had a very easy schedule last year, the easiest in fact. So, seeing him end the year as the best quarterback in fantasy wasn’t too much of a shocker. It will be interesting to see how Rodgers is affected this year, however. The schedule is obviously against Rodgers, but he will also have a bigger bulls eye on his back since winning the Super Bowl. If the hits are a little harder this year, is there any worry in Wisconsin over Rodgers’ concussion history?
8. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The NFC South is pretty tough on opposing quarterbacks. Atlanta and Tampa Bay were ranked as the 15th and seventh toughest, respectively. Even the Panthers ended the season as the fourth toughest against quarterbacks. That may not be because the Panthers’ secondary was as stout as their run game was terrible, however. Still, it has the same effect on fantasy when the Saints elect to run the ball all game because it is that easy to pick up yards.
9. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts
Peyton Manning is the model for consistency, and no matter the SOS, we expect nothing less than his routine 4,000 yards (at least) and 30 touchdowns. However, even besides the tough schedule, the writing may be on the wall for a subpar season by Manning's standards. We may see Peyton have the the worst run game in his Colts career, end up on the wrong side of 30 touchdowns, and additionally, there are injury concerns in his receiving corps. We will believe that when we see it, though.
10. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
All signs point to Dalton being the starter for the Bengals. There is still a chance they will sign a veteran free agent to take the reins for a year, and it may be best for Dalton’s progression. The Bengals' schedule is automatically tougher simply because Pittsburgh and Baltimore are on the schedule twice. Dalton could get off to a faster start than you would expect, however, as all of his easier games come within the first five weeks of the season.