When we're not preaching a draft strategy or a sleeper, we're telling you that Fantasy Football is all about the matchups.
Thing is, we know what these matchups are before The Duke leaves the tee on the first game of the year.
In an effort to further give you a leg up on your competition, we're breaking down every team's week-by-week schedule for the 2008 season. Remember to stick with players from teams with easy schedules and think twice before drafting a player with a tough schedule.
OK, that might be obvious, but this isn't: The strength-of-schedule chart that people lean on and fawn over every year is chock full of old information. If you think teams are going to repeat exactly what they did a year earlier, you're clearly not up to speed on how the competitive balance of the NFL is close to an all-time high. Granted, the Dolphins, Falcons and Chiefs are expected to struggle, but teams like the Vikings, Bills and Eagles should be competitive despite not making the playoffs last season.
Tough start for Dallas until they get the Bengals at home in Week 5. From there it looks like a pretty safe stretch until they play at the Giants in Week 9. Weeks 13 through 17 do not look pretty, though they'll be well rested for that game at Pittsburgh after the 10-day layoff after the Thanksgiving home game vs. Seattle.
|New York Giants|
Great opening schedule for the defending champions, including the first game of the year vs. Washington. But after that, save for home games vs. the 49ers and Ravens, the Giants have it tough. Ending the year with games against three strong defenses -- the Cowboys, Panthers and Vikings -- will make getting a high playoff seed tough for New York.
No perks in the Eagles' schedule from where we sit. Home games against the Rams, Falcons and Cardinals on Thanksgiving night are nice, but their overall itinerary is still rough. Part of the reason for it is because they play four of their six divisional battles between Weeks 10 and 17. Their run defense better be ready for a big year -- unless you count the Bears, Falcons and Cardinals' run games as iffy, the Eagles won't catch a break vs. opposing running backs all year.
The good news for the Redskins is that five of their first eight games are against teams with questionable secondaries. The bad news is that the three games that aren't against teams with questionable secondaries are divisional games on the road! Washington's other curveball: Four of the last seven games are on the road, with two on the West Coast. The three home games in between? Division opponents.
Four of Chicago's first six games are on the road, then they've got four straight weeks of home cooking (three games, one bye). But after that stretch, Chicago plays three road games -- at the Packers, Rams and Vikings. The Bears' Thursday night game vs. the Saints isn't very promising considering they'll be three days removed from a tilt with the hard-hitting Jaguars.
The Lions say they want to become a run-oriented team, but they're going to have a real hard time accomplishing that after Week 1 (at the Falcons). From Week 2 through the end of the year, with the exception of Week 16, the Lions will match up against clubs with strong defensive lines and linebacker units, including a battle vs. the 49ers, Mike Martz's new home. Not good for Kevin Smith, but it might mean more passing, which helps Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson.
|Green Bay Packers|
Of the Packers' first seven games, five opponents were playoff teams last year and should contend for spots this year. That makes for a tough start. Matchups after the bye are tough, too -- the Titans and Vikings on the road back-to-back can't possibly sit well with Ryan Grant. Three of last five games are at home, two against dome teams.
The Vikings have a nice schedule. Other than a home game vs. the Colts and a road game at the Titans, no awesome run defenses jump out against the Vikings until Week 12 at the Jaguars. That should make for an awesome start for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, assuming Tarvaris Jackson can put together a semblance of a passing attack. The Vikings are also a Fantasy-playoff friendly team: Weeks 14 through 16 are at the Lions, at the Cardinals and vs. the Falcons.
The Falcons don't have a troublesome schedule early on (home games vs. the Lions and Chiefs), but then they play four road contests over six weeks, including two back-to-back jaunts including a trip to Oakland. They make up for it with a three-game homestand, though their hands will be full with the Saints, Broncos and Panthers. Then again, the Falcons are one of the few clubs in the league rebuilding this year, so their hands will be full most every week. If there's any good news, it's that the Falcons don't take on a series of tough run defenses during the year, giving some hope to Michael Turner's prospective Fantasy owners.
Brutal start to the season with road games at the Chargers and Vikings with the Bears at home sandwiched in between. Jonathan Stewart won't like the NFL early on. But that's followed by four home games over five weeks with the Falcons, Chiefs, Saints and Cardinals. Stewart (and Steve Smith) should be very productive then. They'll follow that up with three road games in four weeks after the bye, but the Raiders and Falcons are among the opponents then. This really is not a rough schedule for the Panthers after those first three games.
|New Orleans Saints|
The huge strike against the Saints is losing a home game to London when they play the Chargers in what should be an entertaining game in Week 8. Before the London contest, the Saints' secondary will be heavily tested against four West Coast offenses along with battles against talented play callers Mike Martz and Lane Kiffin. After the bye, the Saints have two games with the Falcons in a five-week span, but only three home games. If New Orleans does well this season, they'll have truly earned it.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
Nothing stands out in Tampa Bay's schedule. True, they play suspect defenses like the Saints and Falcons twice each and the Chiefs once, but they also play proven defenses like the Packers, Seahawks and Cowboys -- and all of those matchups come before the bye. Tampa Bay needs a big year from Earnest Graham, and the bottom line is that he should be OK for the first seven weeks of the season. After that, games against the Cowboys (in Dallas) and the Vikings (at home) will hurt him in Weeks 8 and 11 respectively, but the only real challenge after that is San Diego in Week 16, and that's at home. Week 17 vs. Oakland will be interesting, too.
The Cardinals drew a tough start with three road games in their first four, including two East Coast trips. That's followed up with home games vs. the Bills and Cowboys. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Cardinals make a significant lineup change after their Week 7 bye if they can't put points on the board early on. The Cards also play the Giants at home in Week 12 before a quick turnaround to Philadelphia for a Thanksgiving night contest with the Eagles. In total, Arizona has five trips east with four starting at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT), with the Patriots their final road task of the year in Week 16.
|San Francisco 49ers|
The Niners have a tough schedule early: The Patriots and Eagles at home, the Giants on the road and the Seahawks twice -- and that's all before a Week 9 bye! After the bye the schedule gets easier, but it also calls for five road games with two on the East Coast (Bills, Dolphins) and another at the Cowboys. That said, Frank Gore has done well within his division, but the Niners' passing game hasn't. New coordinator Mike Martz will have his hands full, as will the Niners' defense.
|St. Louis Rams|
Hope that Rams' offensive line is fixed -- the first three games are against strong pass-rush defenses: At the Eagles, vs. the Giants, at the Seahawks. In fact, the Rams' schedule is very rough (four games vs. the NFC East in the first seven weeks) until a Week 9 matchup vs. the Cardinals, and then it gets manageable. The positive is that Steven Jackson, Marc Bulger and Torry Holt should be studs for Fantasy owners heading into the postseason -- starting in Week 12, the Rams host the Bears and then the Dolphins, followed by a trip at the Cardinals, then home games vs. the Seahawks and 49ers before the finale at the Falcons.
Four East Coast trips in the first 10 weeks of the season could be a drag for Seahawks, but the reality is that their first-place schedule will make it tough on their retooled offense. Seattle has a home game vs. the Redskins in Week 12, followed by a three-day rest and a trip to Dallas to play the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. They get 10 days of rest after that, but then the Patriots come to Qwest Field. Not a great series of matchups to count on for the Fantasy postseason.
The Bills' schedule isn't tough even though they start vs. the Seahawks and at the Jaguars. After that, they play only one 2007 playoff team (Chargers at home) over their next six games. The Bills are also Fantasy-playoff friendly, particularly for leagues that don't play into Week 17 (when they host the Patriots).
Frankly, Miami is at the bottom of the league when it comes to overall talent as it rebuilds for the future. Nevertheless, the Dolphins are one of the rare teams with three consecutive home games, even if they include the Seahawks and Patriots. The Dolphins' biggest strength is their run game, and they should get out of the gate on a high note thanks to games vs. the Jets and at the Cardinals. Their final three games (vs. the 49ers, at the Chiefs, at the Jets) should also be nice for their run game if they're still a healthy unit offensively.
|New England Patriots|
Other than the fact that the Patriots make two back-to-back West Coast swings in 2008, their schedule is mostly a cakewalk. Their first four games are vs. the Chiefs, at the Jets, vs. the Dolphins and at San Francisco. A battle at the Colts looms large in Week 9, as does a battle at the Chargers in Week 5 and at the Seahawks in Week 14, but otherwise the Patriots will need to incur some injuries in order to not live up to expectations. Just another reason to like their players again in 2008.
|New York Jets|
Aside from playing the Patriots and the Chargers in San Diego in Weeks 2 and 3, the Jets have one of the best first-half schedules in the NFL. Expect a hot start from Thomas Jones. It gets a little scary after their Week 10 home game vs. the Rams -- on three days' rest, they play at the Patriots on Thursday night and follow that up with another road tilt at the Titans as the season winds down. If the Jets' defense can jell quickly, they'll be a sneaky wild-card contender in the AFC.
We'd be stunned if Willis McGahee doesn't have a strong start to the '08 season. A game at the Steelers in Week 4 and the Titans at home in Week 5 are the only run-defense bumps in the road (assuming the Browns don't overachieve) for Baltimore until their Week 10 bye. After that, it gets rough: They play the entire NFC East plus the Jaguars as part of a seven-week span to end the season. With uncertainty at the quarterback position, the Ravens pass attack should go from mediocre to poor as the season rolls on.
The Bengals want to get back to being run oriented, but they'll have a tough time doing it at the Ravens, vs. the Titans and at the Giants in their first three games. It doesn't let up much after that as in their following five games they get the Cowboys in Dallas and then the Steelers and Jaguars at home. What might result is a lot of passing for the Bengals, which benefits more Fantasy owners anyway since more people are banking on Carson Palmer, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson than just Rudi Johnson. Cincy also plays the Steelers in Pittsburgh on short rest in Week 12 and follow that up with a home game vs. the Ravens and a battle at the Colts.
For all the preseason hype the Browns are getting, they're going to have to earn their wins in 2008. True, they open with back-to-back home games, but they're against the Cowboys and Steelers. Three weeks after that, they have a rough four-game stretch with two home games vs. the Giants and Ravens and two road games at the Redskins and Jaguars, and that's followed up with a Thursday game vs. the Broncos in Week 10. Late-season games vs. the Colts, at the Titans, at the Eagles and at the Steelers will only challenge the Browns more. That tremendous offense is going to be tested all season long, but the positive news is that the Browns' no-name secondary gets it pretty easy in 2008.
The Steelers have the toughest schedule of anyone in the AFC North. In addition to games against the NFC East and the AFC South, the Steelers play home games vs. the Colts and Chargers and at the Patriots. Some prize for finishing in first place last season, huh? Throw in a Thursday game vs. the Bengals and playing the Pats and the Cowboys in subsequent weeks late in the year, and the Steelers' star players look far less appealing. Their easiest game might just be in Week 1 vs. the Texans.
With four '07 playoff teams in their first five games in 2008 (with three of their first four on the road), the Texans face one of the roughest starts in all the NFL. Playing at the Steelers, vs. the Ravens, at the Titans and at the Jaguars will completely stuff Houston's running game. A two-week break begins in Week 6 in back-to-back homers vs. the Dolphins and Lions before a bye and a trip to play the Vikings in Minnesota thereafter. The Texans' schedule isn't so bad after that game (one game remains against each AFC South rival), but the first chunk is so brutal that any key Texans won't find their stats easy to come by.
Even if we told you that Indianapolis' schedule was difficult, which it is, you'd still crave the Colts' star players for your Fantasy team. Manning & Co. have it tough out of the gate with the Bears at home, the Vikings on the road and the Jaguars at home, and then a bye. After the bye, three of their next four are on the road followed by a date with the Patriots in Week 9. That's followed by another set of three-of-four road games with trips to play the Steelers and Chargers. Three of Indy's last four games are at home, but the lone road trip is to Jacksonville on a short week for a Thursday night game in Week 16. Although it's very Fantasy-playoff friendly starting in Week 13, this is a very difficult schedule for Indy.
Because Jacksonville didn't finish in first place last year, they avoided matchups with the Patriots and Chargers and have instead drawn the Bills and Broncos. Combine that with games against the mostly suspect NFC North and the Jags come out of this with a real chance to win the AFC South. The only powerful offense they face in their first four games is the Colts (at Indy). Jacksonville also has an interesting two-on-the-road, two-at-home series of games beginning in Week 9 that culminates with home games vs. the Packers and a Thursday game vs. the Colts in Weeks 15 and 16.
Tennessee starts the year with three of four games at home and only plays back-to-back weeks on the road once in 2008. That will help them out, as does their lack of strong run-defense opponents. The Jaguars, Vikings and Ravens are all Titans opponents in the first five weeks, but with the exception of two games against the Colts, their schedule is favorable for LenDale White and his rushing teammates after the Week 6 bye. Moreover, the secondaries Tennessee will face after the bye aren't expected to be among the best in the league, either.
The Broncos have four home contests over the first six weeks of the season, with one against division-rival San Diego and another vs. the Jaguars. The road games are at the Raiders and at the Chiefs, so this grades out to be a nice opening for Denver. After a road game at the Patriots, it stays simple for the rest of the season (Week 17 at San Diego is rough, but that won't impact many Fantasy owners). If Selvin Young holds up his end of the offensive bargain and Brandon Marshall isn't suspended, Denver should piece together some wins.
|Kansas City Chiefs|
The Chiefs are expected to have a hard time this season, and playing the Patriots in New England is not a good way to begin. Luckily, the rest of their schedule isn't the nightmare it was last year. After the Pats, the Chiefs don't face a fierce run defense until they host the Titans in Week 7 and two dates with the Chargers in Weeks 10 (in San Diego) and 15 (at home). Larry Johnson should rebound so long as he's healthy and defeating eight-in-the-box schemes.
If Darren McFadden wanted to run a lot, he's gone to the right team. Aside from hairy matchups vs. the Chargers (Week 4) and at the Ravens (Week 8), he should have an amazing start through the first 13 weeks. Then in Week 14, the Raiders play at San Diego on three days rest and then host the Patriots in Week 15. Otherwise, the Raiders have a real shot to surprise some people and put together some wins, particularly if their run defense can rise to the occasion week after week against strong rushing opponents for the better part of the year. However, that is a big 'if.'
|San Diego Chargers|
Don't be surprised if the Chargers start 2008 going 5-0 and making their Week 6 game vs. the Patriots a very interesting contest, especially considering a three-game stretch where they play the Jets, Raiders and Dolphins consecutively. The schedule gets worse starting with their game in London vs. the Saints in Week 8, followed by a bye and a patsy (vs. the Chiefs) before back-to-back games against the Steelers (in Pittsburgh) and the Colts at home. However, their schedule is extremely Fantasy-playoff friendly after that thanks to three home games (the Falcons, Raiders on a short week and Broncos).
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