2019 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Strength of schedule projections for all 32 teams

A small but significant piece to the Fantasy Football strategy puzzle involves knowing just how easy or difficult a player's schedule is.

For instance, there's a team this year that plays at the Bears, at the Jaguars, at the Patriots and a pair of games against the Chargers. Those are five really tough matchups. Of course, those tough matchups won't stop you from taking Patrick Mahomes and his friends on the Chiefs, but it might make you reconsider reaching for them. At the very least, it's something to keep in mind.

That's kind of the point of all this -- any strength of schedule information is more like tiebreaker material when you debate two or three players rather than bona fide evidence of who to draft or not draft. No system to project defenses is foolproof, they're all based on assumptions.

So how is this one different? For one thing, we ignore the strength-of-schedule information that's based on 2018 records. There are just too many players changing teams for that to matter. We also don't consult Las Vegas' over/under win totals. Those are rooted in public perception and aren't predictions for how defenses will do. Case in point: There are no more than 256 wins available every year and usually if you added up the over/under totals for NFL teams, the number is higher than 256.

The process starts by dividing each defense into three parts: pass coverage, pass rush and run defense. Each part earns a grade based on their players' expected performances in the given area. This process is aided by the data and grades by Pro Football Focus and Sports Info Solutions, and just for good measure, the grades are looked over by CBS Sports NFL analyst Pete Prisco*. 

Here's what you need to know about every team's schedule, with breakdowns for the full season as well as the first four weeks. Teams with a lower number have a better schedule than those with a higher number: 

*For a further explanation of the team-by-team results, go to the bottom of this story

Arizona Cardinals

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 8th, Pass: 2nd
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 22nd, Pass: 10th

You couldn't ask for much more for Kliff Kingsbury and his air-raid offense piloted by Kyler Murray. Three of their first four are at home, too. 

Atlanta Falcons

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 20th, Pass: 23rd
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 25th, Pass: 25th

I'm expecting the Falcons to get into a bunch of high-scoring games this year, even with a tough schedule throughout the year. One quirk: They don't play an outdoors game until mid-November!

Baltimore Ravens

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 15th, Pass: 10th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 2nd, Pass: 8th

Consider selling high on Mark Ingram and Lamar Jackson after Week 3 or 4 — their stats should be inflated after running against Miami and Arizona.

Buffalo Bills

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 18th, Pass: 6th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 5th, Pass: 6th

Just more fuel on the fire for a Josh Allen breakout year. Whoever his top receiver is in camp could also be an early-season steal. Five of their last seven are on the road.

Carolina Panthers

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 2nd, Pass: 4th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 4th, Pass: 11th

Pretty perfect set-up for a Panthers team that wants to run the ball a lot and throw open receivers inside of 15 yards downfield. It helps that they host the first Thursday game of the year against the Bucs' weak defense.

Chicago Bears

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 7th, Pass: 25th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 16th, Pass: 28th

While the pressure will be on Mitchell Trubisky all year, the run game has a chance to bust out early. Their road game at Minnesota is tucked into Week 17, saving many Fantasy managers some headaches.

Cincinnati Bengals

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 5th, Pass: 9th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 19th, Pass: 14th

Three road games in their first four are against improved and/or playoff-caliber teams. That's a disaster for a team learning a new playbook on both sides of the ball.

Cleveland Browns

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 4th, Pass: 19th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 15th, Pass: 17th

Baker Mayfield's O-line will be tested early against the likes of Jurrell Casey, Quinnen Williams and Aaron Donald. Five of their six AFC North games happen in Week 11 on.

Dallas Cowboys

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 21st, Pass: 8th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 1st, Pass: 1st

Not only is the early-season schedule a perk for Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper, but it should also help build momentum for the Cowboys offense under new playcaller Kellen Moore.

Denver Broncos

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 17th, Pass: 26th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 26th, Pass: 23rd

The schedule does no favors for a Broncos offense learning a new playbook from a first-time NFL playcaller. This defense is going to have to shoulder more than its fair share this season.

Detroit Lions

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 10th, Pass: 29th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 9th, Pass: 29th

The Lions say they want to run the ball well. They'll have their chance over the course of the season. Hopefully it means a ton of touches for Kerryon Johnson.

Green Bay Packers

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 32nd, Pass: 30th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 32nd, Pass: 32nd

Chicago. Minnesota. Denver. Philadelphia. Dallas. That's the Packers' start to 2019. That's a lot of pass rush coming for Aaron Rodgers' legs and a bunch of tough run-stuffers focused on containing Aaron Jones.

Houston Texans

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 11th, Pass: 27th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 29th, Pass: 31st

The Texans' offense might not have an easy matchup until Week 8 versus Oakland. Concern about the offensive line is especially warranted.

Indianapolis Colts

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 26th, Pass: 24th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 6th, Pass: 16th

The schedule doesn't offer much good news, but the Colts' strong O-line and amazing quarterback should overcome any tough matchups. Their road matchup at Jacksonville is in Week 17, which works out nicely for Fantasy leagues that end in Week 16.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 14th, Pass: 7th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 17th, Pass: 24th

The Jaguars play six road games between Weeks 4 and 12! That's gross! A lot of challenging run defenses and pass rushers kick off the Jags' year, but it lightens up once December comes.

Kansas City Chiefs

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 13th, Pass: 31st
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 8th, Pass: 9th

Remember those five really tough matchups? Four of them come in Week 11 or later. The Chiefs' stars should light up the scoreboard until at last mid-November.

Los Angeles Chargers

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 6th, Pass: 11th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 11th, Pass: 2nd

The Chargers have a great schedule even though they'll play just one home game between Weeks 7 and 14. Philip Rivers' track record and easy schedule suggests another fiery start to the season. 

Los Angeles Rams

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 9th, Pass: 16th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 13th, Pass: 12th

Here's another offensive line that will get tested early in the year. L.A. plays one home game between Weeks 5 and 10. Also, four of the Rams' six divisional games come between Weeks 13 and 17.

Miami Dolphins

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 27th, Pass: 18th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 24th, Pass: 30th

If the Dolphins end up playing from behind more often than not, it should spell a ton of receptions for Kenyan Drake as their passing-downs back.

Minnesota Vikings

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 23rd, Pass: 17th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 21st, Pass: 13th

Take out the Week 4 matchup at Chicago and the Vikings' early-season schedule really isn't that bad. The back half of the season is riddled with tough defenses, however. Dalvin Cook could be a sell-high candidate.

New England Patriots

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 22nd, Pass: 1st
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 23rd, Pass: 3rd

If there's anything to provide some hope of a Tom Brady resurgence in Fantasy, it's their schedule. Quirk: The Patriots play a league-high three games against teams coming off a bye, and they're consecutive (Weeks 8, 9 and 11, with a bye in Week 10).

New Orleans Saints

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 30th, Pass: 15th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 28th, Pass: 21st

The Saints' first four games all come against playoff contenders before easing up. Each of their four games after their Week 9 bye are within the division.

New York Giants

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 28th, Pass: 12th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 18th, Pass: 5th

The pass defense matchups from Week 5 on are pretty nasty, making things tough on Eli Manning's receivers. The safeties Evan Engram will see through most of his first six games will be difficult on him. Quirk: The Giants play nine home games (one "road" game at the Jets).

New York Jets

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 16th, Pass: 3rd
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 31st, Pass: 27th

From Week 3 through Week 8 the Jets play a horrendous slate including two games against the Pats, road games at the Eagles and Jaguars and a home game against Dallas. Remember to buy into Jets players starting in Week 9 when the schedule lightens up.

Oakland Raiders

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 29th, Pass: 32nd
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 7th, Pass: 26th

Given perhaps the worst schedule in the league, the Raiders play five straight on the road between late September and early November.

Philadelphia Eagles

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 21st, Pass: 5th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 20th, Pass: 7th

Consider this is another log on the Carson Wentz breakout fire. It's almost as if the Eagles knew to bulk up their passing game because of their 2019 schedule. Their last four games are within the division.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 1st, Pass: 22nd
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 14th, Pass: 18th

After getting spooked out of drafting James Conner following his statement about splitting carries, his full season schedule projection should make him appealing again. Five of the Steelers last seven are on the road.

San Francisco 49ers

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 3rd, Pass: 14th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 12th, Pass: 4th

You hate the back-to-back east-coast games to start the year, but otherwise it's an easy road slate. Tevin Coleman & Co. should chart the Niners on a course for a playoff berth.

Seattle Seahawks

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 12th, Pass: 28th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 3rd, Pass: 19th

Four east coast games with a 1 p.m. ET kickoff stings a little. Russell Wilson seeing a bunch of challenging pass defense stings a lot.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 19th, Pass: 20th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 10th, Pass: 15th

The Bucs got hosed — they play five straight games on the road (Weeks 4 through 9 with a bye included) and don't play consecutive home games until Week 10. Pair that with what might be the worst defense in the league and we should see a ton of Jameis Winston passes.

Tennessee Titans

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 25th, Pass: 21st
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 27th, Pass: 20th

For a unit that wishes to be run-reliant, the schedule is bad news. Three of their first four are on the road and five of their last six games are within the AFC South. Is this good news for Derrick Henry?

Washington Redskins

Projected strength of schedule - Run: 31st, Pass: 13th
First four projected strength of schedule - Run: 30th, Pass: 22nd

If you weren't worried before about Derrius Guice's year coming back from a torn ACL and splitting with Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson, then the projected schedule should make you sweat. 

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Here are the full grades for each defensive unit:

Team

'19 PASS COV

'19 RUN D

'19 PASS RUSH

ARI

B-

C-

B

ATL

B-

B+

C+

BAL

B+

B-

C+

BUF

B-

B

B-

CAR

B-

A-

B

CHI

B+

A

A

CIN

B-

B-

B-

CLE

C+

B

B+

DAL

B

B+

B

DEN

B

B-

A

DET

C+

B

C

GB

B-

B-

B

HOU

C

A-

A-

IND

C

C+

C+

JAX

A-

A-

A-

KC

C-

B-

B+

LAC

A

B

A-

LAR

B

B

B+

MIA

C+

C+

D+

MIN

B+

B+

A-

NE

A-

B+

B

NO

B

B-

B+

NYG

C-

C-

D+

NYJ

C-

B+

B-

OAK

C-

C

D

PHI

C+

A

A

PIT

C

B+

B

SEA

C+

B-

C+

SF

C+

B

B+

TB

C-

C+

D

TEN

B

B-

B-

WAS

C

B

B-

After the teams are graded, that is converted to a number (10 for an A, 9 for an A-, 8 for a B+, etc.). The pass coverage and pass rush grades are averaged to create a pass defense total, the rush defense grade stays as-is.

Then schedule irregularities are considered. Teams incur one-point penalties for road games in consecutive weeks (international "home" games count as road games) and another point for each matchup against a team coming off a bye.

The numbers are plugged into all 32 teams' schedules to create a cumulative number that measures how good or bad their schedule is against the run or the pass. Teams with a lower number have a better schedule than those with a higher number. This creates a ranking where the lower the rank, the better the schedule is.

Not only do we consider the entire season, but also each team's first four games. While we can't predict how healthy a defense will be come December, we can assume the defense will be in good shape for the first few weeks. Smart Fantasy owners may choose to make tiebreaker decisions based on September games alone.

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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