2017 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Which teams have the best and worst schedules?

It's one thing to Google "NFL Strength of Schedule" and get stuff like this. But it's a waste of your time -- it's outdated. It's based on last year's win-loss records, information that means absolutely nothing this season.

I've always believed that Fantasy Football is about the matchups and that the schedule matters. I don't want to invest in a player with a tough schedule if I can find a similar talent with an easier slate. I also care about how the early-season games look -- that information can act as a tiebreaker when I dig into mid- and late-round targets.

Thus, I created a process to determine which teams have it good, and which teams have it not so good.

The methodology

  • There are three major elements to a defensive unit -- pass rush, run defense and pass coverage.
  • Each of these elements were graded on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best possible grade, based on talent, depth and coaching staff. I did use Pro Football Focus and Dane Brugler's scouting reports to help judge players.
  • These grades were added together to give a cumulative grade for an entire defense. The higher the number, the tougher that defense is expected to be.
  • Next, I plugged these grades into the 2017 NFL schedule, independent of game location, day of game, start time, etc.
  • Slight adjustments were made for teams who played on the road against a home team coming off of a bye and for teams who played opponents coming off the bye in consecutive weeks. Research dictated that such instances created disadvantages, so a two-point "penalty" was given for each instance.
  • An even slighter adjustment was made for those teams playing on the road on short week Thursday night games. Those teams had one point added to their grades.
  • After adding the totals for every team, I had an overall grade that measured the expected strength of schedule for all 32 teams. The higher the number means the tougher the schedule.
  • The rankings below reflect those numbers, with the bolded rankings representing the best schedules and the italicized rankings representing the worst schedules. (In other words, bold is good, italics are bad).
2017 defensive schedule rankings
Tm Overall vs run vs pass
ARI 20th 30th 12th
ATL 4th 20th 3rd
BAL 10th 1st 18th
BUF 19th 10th 19th
CAR 2nd 8th 1st
CHI 16th 16th 14th
CIN 3rd 2nd 7th
CLE 18th 17th 15th
DAL 31st 25th 31st
DEN 15th 6th 22nd
DET 22nd 11th 20th
GB 9th 7th 11th
HOU 13th 22nd 13th
IND 29th 32nd 26th
JAC 7th 21st 8th
KC 28th 12th 30th
LAC 23rd 4th 29th
LAR 26th 27th 23rd
MIA 8th 24th 5th
MIN 1st 3rd 2nd
NE 11th 14th 9th
NO 6th 26th 4th
NYG 24th 15th 24th
NYJ 14th 13th 17th
OAK 27th 23rd 28th
PHI 25th 18th 27th
PIT 12th 5th 16th
SEA 17th 28th 10th
SF 30th 31st 25th
TB 5th 19th 6th
TEN 21st 9th 21st
WAS 32nd 29th 32nd

What matters, what doesn't

As mentioned above, there were a handful of adjustments made based on schedule quirks. Some other factors that you might think would matter wound up being insignificant and not counting against teams.

Matters: Teams playing on the road against home opponents coming off a bye. Last year, those road teams were an awful 6-15. It made sense -- they had to spend a day traveling while the other team took a week off to rest and reset.

Matters: Teams playing opponents coming off a bye in consecutive weeks. There aren't many instances of this from year to year, but it's a competitive disadvantage for a squad to take on back-to-back rivals coming off a bye. The Texans and Jaguars were each 0-2 versus rested opponents in consecutive weeks while the Eagles were 1-2 when they took on chilled-out competition over three straight weeks.

In both of the above scenarios, a defense is put in a tough spot since their opponent is well-rested. That's why those defenses are charged with a two-point penalty in our grading system.

Matters: Playing on the road on Thursday nights. Clubs were 4-12 on the road in short-week Thursday night games last season. That's worse than the 7-9 they were as road teams in 2015, but either way it's pretty bad. Note: This does not include Thursday games where teams have more than a few days to get ready (the first game of the year, for example).

Those defenses, which have to spend part of a day traveling when they already are coming off a game four days earlier, are penalized one point in our grading system.

Doesn't matter: Long-distance trips. Maybe back in the day it meant something serious when players traveled across the country from east-to-west or west-to-east for a football game. But sports science has caught up with the times and now the league's coaches and trainers have figured out how to minimize the effect of those long trips. That especially goes for the teams that travel to Europe for games. It just doesn't really have a consistent, profound effect.

Doesn't matter: Back-to-back road games. Last year, teams lost their second straight away game 57.4 percent of the time (39 of 68). The overall losses by road teams in 2016? That would be 147 of 256 games ... or 57.4 percent of the time. Different circumstances, same result.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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