2015 Schedule Release: Winners and Losers
With the draft, training camp and preseason still yet to come, many will wonder if it’s too early to evaluate this sort of thing. It’s not. Too often, studies like this will focus simply on each opponent’s win percentage or defensive ranking in 2014. I go a different direction, focusing on projected game temperatures and conservative projections related to how good each defensive unit will be.
The former is fairly straight forward and probably a bit overlooked when it comes to player evaluation. Statistically, playing in a dome is an advantage on the scoreboard. Completion, sack and interception rates correlate well with temperature. Yards per carry marks are less consistent, but actually tend to rise as the temperature drops.
The latter considers historical team/coordinator trends, as well as, offseason personnel changes in order to predict how good a defense will be. Since it’s early, I’m very conservative here, but it would be ignorant of me to, for example, not consider a team like Seattle a tough opponent.
The below chart includes each team ranked from easiest to hardest projected fantasy schedule. It also includes how much each team’s projected touchdown total is influenced by the schedule, which, as noted, is still on the conservative side.
|Rk||Tm||TD +/-||Rk||Tm||TD +/-||Rk||Tm||TD +/-||Rk||Tm||TD +/-|
Down below are my reactions to the schedule, including teams and players who benefit/take a hit as a result of the alignment.
The Atlanta offense will have the advantage of the easiest projected schedule in 2015. The Falcons play the entire NFC East during the first five weeks of the season and the rest of their out-of-division schedule includes trips to Tennessee, San Francisco and Jacksonville and home affairs against Houston, Indianapolis and Minnesota. After Week 9, Atlanta will play four games in the Georgia Dome, one in North Carolina, and two in Florida. At 65 degrees, they enjoy the third-warmest projected road schedule.
Upgrade: TBA lead back. The Falcons will be more balanced under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan this season. A soft schedule will allow additional second half leads, which is promising news for the club’s lead back. Currently, that’s Devonta Freeman, but expect this position to be addressed during the draft.
“Easy” and “Hard” schedules tend to travel in packs, so it’s no surprise that the Saints have the second-easiest projected schedule. New Orleans’ home schedule should breed six or seven wins and includes a matchup with Jacksonville during all-important Week 16. After a Week 10 trip to Washington D.C, the Saints road games take them to Houston, Tampa Bay and Atlanta.
Upgrade: Drew Brees. I also love Mark Ingram as a strong RB2 and think we’re running out of potential roadblocks between Josh Hill and a Top 15 fantasy season at tight end. That said, many are down on Brees this season despite the fact that he was exceptional in 2014. The losses of Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills and Pierre Thomas certainly sting, but Brees has done more with less throughout his career. New Orleans will lean on its running game a bit more, but as we saw in Dallas last season, that’s not the worst thing for a quality quarterback. Brees is a Top 3 fantasy passer and worth considering if he falls to the sixth round.
The toughest projected fantasy schedule belongs to the Ravens. Already down Torrey Smith and Gary Kubiak, 2015 has the makings of a step back for the Baltimore offense. After long trips to Denver and Oakland to kick off the season, the Ravens host the Bengals, head to Pittsburgh for a tough rivalry game and follow up with a trio of games against defensive-minded Cleveland, San Francisco and Arizona. The sledding gets extremely tough during the fantasy playoffs. During Weeks 14-16, Baltimore hosts Seattle, Kansas City and Pittsburgh. At least they’re home games?
Downgrade: Joe Flacco. After sporting a 19:22 TD:INT ratio in 2013, Flacco improved to 27:12 during a bounce back 2014 campaign. He jumped from 19th to 13th in fantasy points among quarterbacks. Expect a return to back-end QB2 production this season. As if the tough schedule isn’t enough, Baltimore is a bit of a mess offensively. Justin Forsett is a quality player, but turns 30 this year. Steve Smith is about to turn 36 and he’s joined at wide receiver by Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro. Dennis Pitta’s (hip) career remains in doubt. Baltimore still has the draft in its arsenal, but this unit has a long way to go.
The league’s second-toughest schedule belongs to the Steelers. Pittsburgh leads off with a trip to defending Super Bowl champion New England and the slate doesn’t get much easier from there. The Steelers next string of games includes the 49ers, Rams, Ravens, Chargers, Cardinals, Chiefs and Bengals. That’s a rough first half of the season for their fantasy-relevant performers. The second half of the schedule includes a Week 12 trip to Seattle and brutal fantasy playoff schedule opponents in Cincinnati, Denver and Baltimore.
Downgrade: Ben Roethlisberger – Sticking with the quarterback theme, Roethlisberger is in for a bit of a dip in production this season. Fantasy’s No. 6 quarterback last season currently sits ninth in my rankings. It’s not a massive dip, but his upside isn’t where it was. Roethlisberger put up a 32:9 TD:INT ratio and racked up 4,952 yards last season. I have him at 28:13 and 4.421 yards in 2015. I think this news also hurts Le’Veon Bell’s prospects as the No. 1 overall pick. Of course, I wouldn’t drop him any further than second (behind only Adrian Peterson).
A few other notes:
I posted this on Twitter, but I’ll include it here for good measure. Here is each team’s road schedule ranked from warmest to coldest: CAR (68 degrees) NO ATL JAX TEN HOU BAL IND MIN TB GB MIA PHI NYG NE SEA DET NYJ DEN CIN DAL CLE CHI KC ARI SF BUF WAS OAK PIT SD SL (53 degrees).
Including all games, the Vikings have the coldest projected schedule at 52 degrees. I imagine Teddy Bridgewater and Co. can’t wait for that new dome in 2016. Rounding out the Top 5 are the Steelers, Packers, Bears and Browns.
Including all games, the Buccaneers have the warmest schedule at 70 degrees. Assuming he’s the pick, this is good news for Jameis Winston. The Jaguars, Dolphins, Saints and Falcons fill out the Top 5.
The Bills, Dolphins and Chargers are the only teams set to play all 16 games outdoors this season. Both Buffalo and Miami play a game in Wembley Stadium, which, even when closed, still has a rather large hole in the ceiling.
Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL