SOS Strength of Schedule 2016

By Matt Falkow
Matt Falkow Every year that not so magic moment occurs. That moment when you’re on the clock, the player you were salivating for was just taken, and you’re scrambling to make a selection during a short 90 second clock. With more and more statistical analysis available each year, the most forgotten one is simply looking at the schedule. Championships are won in December, and that’s where you should be looking to settle tiebreakers during those brief seconds where you’re deciding between Ben Roethlisberger or Carson Palmer, Doug Martin or Thomas Rawls, Julius Thomas or Travis Kelce etc. You should always know the state of the league and decide which defenses to avoid for those crucial playoff weeks.


The Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans both have a bye in week 13, which of course is either the last week of your season, or the first week of your playoffs. Be sure to take that into consideration on draft day!



My thoughts on Chip Kelly are very well documented, and let’s be real here, he didn’t exactly change philosophies on the flight out of Philly. He’s as stubborn as the come, openly doesn’t care about time of possession, and will go on a 70 yard drive almost as fast as he’ll go three and out. He makes players go through such rigorous practices and routines that they wind up burnt out on Sundays. He made Philadelphia a fantasy paradise for almost every opposing team he faced. The players he has to work with in San Fran are possibly less talented than he had in Philly, so expect a historically horrendous result. You should feel comfortable about drafting anyone on the Seahawks, Rams or Cardinals, and downright giddy about drafting any player with the Niners on their schedule. As if there weren’t already a plethora of reasons to draft Todd Gurley, he gets the Championship week honors in week 16.



Seattles defensive dominance has steadily continued and won’t be slowing down this season. The Hawks are particularly fierce against the run, allowing just 82 rush yards per game incredibly in each of the last two seasons. We all know Seattle is usually lights out on their home field, and the schedule presents an intriguing dilemma. Beginning in Week 12, Seattle will face Doug Martin, Jonathan Stewart, Eddie Lacy, Todd Gurley and David Johnson consecutively. Stewart, Gurley and Johnson will all be traveling to Seattle in those crucial weeks. Both Gurley and Johnson are projecting as top 5 fantasy backs, and while one game shouldn’t necessarily deter you from selecting them, it should make you think thrice about it and perhaps strategize to take a backup a little earlier than expected to prepare for a probable dud.


As we go to print the Von Miller situation has yet to be resolved, and his status would of course drastically change the prognosis here. Assuming he is on the field, he leads what has become a dominant Denver D versus the run. The losses of Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan hurt, but this unit has been too good for too long, and has allowed less than 84 yards rushing per game over the last two seasons. They’re fresh of a Super Bowl run where they allowed just 3.3 yards per rush, good for #1 in the NFL. The Broncos face Kansas City in both weeks 12 and 16 which may alter your view on Jamal Charles. Charles found success against Denver early last season, but was pitiful against them in both meetings of 2014. Other late season opponents include Tennessee, Jacksonville and New England.


The Jets allowed a league low four rushing touchdowns last season, and while they lost Damon Harrison, their defensive line is still among the NFL’s best. The schedule is kind for running backs facing the J-E-T-S. After a week 11 bye, they’ll face New England in weeks 12 and 16, with meetings against Indianapolis, San Francisco and Miami sandwiched in between. Perhaps you’ll want to drop Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde a tick. Patriots expected lead back Dion Lewis did not face the Jets last season, but his game is pretty much matchup proof due to his receiving skills. The back to bump down here is LeGarrette Blount. He’s always been touchdown dependent, and the Jets don’t often surrender them. Blount had his worst game of the season against them, clocking in at minus 3 yards.


The Saints D has been bad for a long time, and while it may improve a smidge, it’s still a plus matchup. Fresh off allowing 170 total yards per game to opposing backs, you’ll want to instantly bump up division rivals Doug Martin, Devonta Freeman and Jonathan Stewart for that twice a year cupcake. Martin gets a scorcher alert here as he’ll face the Saints in both weeks 14 and 16. David Johnson gets the nod in Week 15, while Ameer Abdullah’s arrow goes up in week 13.


The Chargers finally addressed defense early in the draft, but incoming rookie Joey Bosa is more of a pass rusher than a flattening run stopper. The Chargers gave up 17 touchdowns and over 150 total yards per game to running backs last season. Bank on that trend continuing. Playoff matchups include Tampa Bay so Doug Martin gets another plus, Carolina, Oakland and Cleveland. The Isaiah Crowell/Duke Johnson tandem will be productive in week 16, making drafting them a tad less scary.


Schedules apply to receivers less and less these days, as teams are throwing the ball more than ever before and are involving 2nd, 3rd, 4th receivers and multiple tight ends. With that said, there are still some nuances to look for while customizing your player rankings. Here’s a look at a few of the top “shutdown” corners in the league and who they’ll face during those crucial fantasy playoff weeks.


Same face, new place as Norman joins the Washington Redskins. That means we’ll get to see Norman vs OBJ and Norman vs Dez Bryant in four games this season. I’m already tickled pink to see how entertaining those matchups will be! Luckily none of those games are during the fantasy playoffs. Norman will face Arizona in week 13, which is OK because it’s unclear who will be their true #1 at that point. A date with Philly comes in week 14 so Jordan Matthews, but its week 15 and 16 that should be on your radar. Week 15 brings a date with Normans former team Carolina, on Monday Night Football, in Washington. You can bet your bottom dollar Norman will be extra motivated to shut Kelvin Benjamin and/or Greg Olsen down. Keep that in mind when building your squad! Championship week brings a date with Chicago, so Alshon Jeffery is a dud candidate in week 16.


Sherman has maintained a consistently high level of play and enters the season as an elite corner. His Seahawks allowed just 14 touchdowns to wide receivers last season. Carolina, Green Bay, Los Angeles and Arizona make up the fantasy playoff opponents. Sherman figures to shift coverage as those teams have spread offenses so there’s not the impending danger like Norman brings. Note another Carolina sighting, Kelvin Benjamin will be recovered from ACL surgery, but he sure has his work cut out for him with this slate.


The Cardinals defense as a whole has become fierce, and Peterson is among the elite. He has the ability to shut down the best of them, and much like Sherman above, the fantasy playoffs are kind as the Cards’ opponents lack a true #1 receiver. Starting in week 13 in order he will face Washington, Miami, New Orleans, and Seattle. Peterson will undoubtedly wreak havoc, and you should be cautious with the opposing QB’s in those games, especially if teammate Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu is back at full strength.



This one is not so obvious because of the untimely retirement of one Calvin Johnson, but fear not. Stafford and the Lions will survive offensively. Armed with versatile running backs that excel in the passing game, along with Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, the Lions will still be passing a ton this year. Stafford will play 12 games indoors and faces the most quarterback friendly schedule in the NFL. You should be waiting a long time for your QB anyway, and grabbing Stafford in the mid-late rounds will payoff big dividends.


Do not expect a regression from Doug Martin. He’s the real deal and will have the benefit of improving teammates to keep those running lanes open. While Charles Sims may steal some third down work, the Bucs didn’t give Martin a fat new contract for nothing. He was good against division opponents in 2015, including averaging an impressive 125.5 yards per game against the Panthers. Outside of the early season games against the Rams, Cardinals and Broncos, the rest of the reason provides tasty matchups. As mentioned above, Martin faces the Saints in both weeks 14 and 16. He’s a solid RB1 and a great selection in the back end of the first or early second round.


Julius Thomas is officially healthy and put in overtime with Blake Bortles during the off season. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but the Jags offense could be one of the more exciting ones in the NFL and Thomas will be a big part of it. Chris Ivory’s arrival and pairing with TJ Yeldon helps bring balance to the offense. Blake Bortles sure looks like he’s about to enter the upper echelon of fantasy QB’s, and receivers Allens Robinson and Hurns are a big reason why. Look for a healthy Thomas to cut into Hurns numbers, and expect him to flirt with double digit TDs. The AFC South isn’t exactly a haven for strong defense, and the Titans, Colts and Texans are among the leagues worst at covering the tight end spot. Find a way to get Thomas on your team. You won’t regret it!



Aside from the four game suspension, Brady and company face an absolutely brutal stretch after their week 9 bye. They face the Jets twice, the Seahawks, Rams, Ravens, and Broncos to close out the fantasy season. The only reprieve is a week 11 date with the 49ers. Usually Brady is able to overcome all odds, but that’s one heck of a run. Because of Brady's suspended, he’ll be a little farther down your draft board anyway, but given that data, its best to pass on him.


They were most likely not on your radar to begin with but hey someone has to draft Jay Ajayi right! Don’t let it be you. The Dolphins play the NFL’s toughest schedule for running backs. It’s a consistently tough road as the AFC East plays the NFC West, along with six games against already stout division opponents. While it may tempt you, take a hard pass on the Fins and don’t think twice about it.


I personally feel that Murray will show flashes of greatness this season with a city sized chip (no pun intended) on his shoulder. The Titans offense as a whole will be better, the drafting of Derrick Henry will help keep him fresh, and the mobility of Marcus Mariota will keep teams honest. There’s a great mid-season stretch where the Titans get the Colts twice, the Bears, Chargers, Browns and Dolphins. That’s where the good news ends. After that goofy week 13 bye, the Titans come back to face the Broncos and Chiefs. That three week stretch twists the dagger into both Murray and Henry. Unless your league allows trades or you’re able to snag them as your third or fourth backs, leave them be on draft day.


Using current ADPs lets focus on a couple legit draft day decisions where we’ll use the schedule to break the tie instead of a coin.



It’s finally Miller time as Lamar is expected to be a bell cow in the Texan offense as he replaces the once mighty Arian Foster. There should be no durability concerns, as he’s yet to tote a full workload, hovering around 200 carries the past two seasons. Miller is an underrated receiver, which the Texans should be taking full advantage of. The Texans opponents won’t be able to stack the box, as new QB Brock Osweiler has the freak DeAndre Hopkins to stretch the defense. Mark Ingram became the focal point of the Saints run game after CJ Spiller busted in grand fashion. He tallied 1,174 total yards in just 12 games last season, with a shocking 50 receptions. With Drew Brees at the helm you know the Saints will be a vertical team, but the only thing holding Ingram back has been durability. Ingram had five of his six touchdowns against division opponents last season, but struggled to pick up yardage. Expect the receptions to go down, but if healthy his yardage and touchdown numbers will surely rise.


Both of these players have a buzz around them and both would be a fine addition to your fantasy team. New Orleans opens the season soft, playing the likes of Oakland, New York (N) and San Diego, but business picks up mid-season with a Kansas City, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, Caolina (twice) stretch that won’t be much fun. The playoffs bring an improving Tampa team twice, with stout Arizona in the middle. Houston plays one of the easiest schedules in the league, has a division of soft defenses, and matches up with the NFC North. During the fantasy playoffs he gets Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Cincinnati. Looking wire to wire, the Texans don’t get a rough D in consecutive weeks the entire season. Draft Lamar Miller with extreme confidence! DRAFT LAMAR MILLER



Both Cooper and Evans are ultra talented. Evans had the dreaded sophomore slump last season partly due to having a rookie QB. His large frame makes him a constant red zone threat, and the improvement of Tampa in general has his arrow pointing upward. Amari Cooper dazzled us at times during his rookie campaign and he’s expected to take another step toward stardom in year two. The supporting cast of Evans is stronger, but Coopers isn’t far behind as Michael Crabtree appears revived. Ironically, both players were #1 and #2 respectively in dropped passes last season, an area that they should improve upon significantly. Now let’s look at the schedule. Evans has a very rough opening to the season, facing the top tier defenses of Arizona, Denver, Carolina and the Rams all before their week 6 bye. The tail end of the season sees dates with Kansas City and Seattle, plus a dreaded week 16 matchup with Carolina. It’s not all gloomy, as starting in week 12 there’s a nice four game spurt against receiver friendly San Diego, New Orleans (twice) and Dallas. Cooper sees Denver and Kansas City twice of course, along with San Diego in two plus matchups. There’s a tough three game stretch for Oakland beginning in week 12 with Carolina, Buffalo and Kansas City consecutively, followed by a nice reprieve for Championship weeks against San Diego and Indianapolis.


These two players are extremely similar, but all things considered it’s Cooper who gets the slight nod. He has the better matchups especially later in the season, and I expect him to avoid the soph slump as both he and QB Derek Carr should take a nice step forward. DRAFT AMARI COOPER