2017 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: AFC North schedule breakdown
All four bruisers in this division have good schedules, but there's a reason why the Bengals -- not the Steelers, Ravens or Browns -- have it the best.
You can do plenty of research when it comes to every NFL skill-position player, but none of it would matter if you knew they'd have a tough schedule, or even an easy one.
This June, we graded every defense based on talent, depth and coaching, then used those grades to determine which teams had the easiest and hardest schedules. The results are published by division. The goal is to draw some conclusions about Fantasy players who you might not start every week regardless of matchup.
AFC North common opponents: AFC South, NFC North
Ravens team defensive grades -- Run: 6 | Pass Rush: 4 | Pass Coverage: 7
Sked specs: Week 10 bye, Week 8 Thursday game vs. Dolphins, one game indoors, two games on turf, one game with opponent coming off a bye week (at Titans, Week 9).
Sked notes: Baltimore has the best-rated schedule in terms of opposing run defenses, but can they take advantage with their rag-tag backfield and an O-line that's not as good on paper as it was in 2016? So even though there are some chances for the Ravens to romp, concerns about their own personnel limit expectations. Weeks 15 and 16 at the Browns and versus the Colts will tempt people to buy low on Ravens players near Fantasy trade deadlines.
Ravens projected opponents defensive ranks -- Run: 1st | Pass: 18th
Predicted record: 4-12
Bengals team defensive grades -- Run: 8 | Pass Rush: 8 | Pass Coverage: 8
Sked specs: Week 6 bye, Week 2 Thursday game vs. Texans, one game indoors, nine games on turf, one game with opponent coming off a bye week (at Jaguars, Week 9).
Sked notes: It's a good schedule, even with a dreaded three-game road trip in Weeks 9 through 11 against some fringe playoff contenders (Jaguars, Titans, Broncos). Their work is a little easier after that triple trek than before it thanks to four home games out of six, mostly against inferior defenses. Honestly, their scariest four matchups are all on the road against Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Denver and Minnesota -- outside of those, they should get back to being a stat-friendly team, particularly given their talent infusions at running back and receiver.
Bengals projected opponents defensive ranks -- Run: 2nd | Pass: 7th
Predicted record: 9-7
Browns team defensive grades -- Run: 3 | Pass Rush: 4 | Pass Coverage: 4
Sked specs: Week 9 bye, no Thursday game, three games indoors, four games on turf, zero games with opponents coming off a bye week.
Sked notes: As schedules go, the Browns are in heaven -- no short weeks, no rested opponents, no three-game road trips and a nice bye week nestled at the halfway point. As quarterbacks go, the Browns are in hell, and therefore it's hard to get excited about anyone on their roster. Even Isaiah Crowell, who has the benefit of the most re-tooled O-line in football in front of him, doesn't have a cakewalk start to 2017. At least they finish the year at Pittsburgh again, relegating its toughest divisional matchup to a week most Fantasy owners don't set lineups for.
Browns projected opponents defensive ranks -- Run: 17th | Pass: 15th
Predicted record: 2-14
Steelers team defensive grades -- Run: 7 | Pass Rush: 7 | Pass Coverage: 5
Sked specs: Week 9 bye, Week 11 Thursday game vs. Titans, three games indoors, four games on turf, back-to-back games with opponents coming off a bye week (vs. Bengals, Week 7; at Lions, Week 8).
Sked notes: The schedule is why I'll take Le'Veon Bell ahead of any other running back -- there just aren't many tough matchups for him. It's a little harder on the passing game, but it really doesn't matter given their receivers and quarterback. Provided Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, this team could wrap up their best record since 2004.
Steelers projected opponents defensive ranks -- Run: 5th | Pass: 16th
Predicted record: 13-3
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