Fantasy Quarterback Streaming: Preseason Planning
We have spent a lot of time this offseason discussing the merits of streaming fantasy starters depending on what position they play and who their opponent happens to be. It has been proven that this is an effective way to approximate starter-level production with inexpensive quarterbacks and tight ends.
Many fantasy owners think of the word ‘streaming’ and picture weekly waiver wire bloodbaths, as opponents battle over scraps of marginal talent who happen to be facing the Raiders or Redskins that Sunday. However, proficient streamers strive to have qualified candidates already rostered. They rarely wade into the mayhem that can prove both expensive and fruitless (i.e. settling for Sanchez at Miami, because you got outbid for Kolb versus the Colts).
While the strategy certainly is actionable, a persistent fly in the ointment remains the yearly turnover among fantasy friendly defenses, and our inability to identify them before our rosters take shape. For instance, half of the defenses that were in the top half of the league in defending tight ends in 2011 wound up on the bottom half in 2012. Yet sometimes there is not wholesale rankings upheaval, as illustrated by just five of the top quarterback defenses in 2011 finding themselves in the weaker half in 2012.
This makes a lot of sense. If teams were bad at the same things every single year, a lot more people would be watching hockey. Parity in the NFL is not just a hollow marketing buzzword, it is crucial to the league’s appeal. It is also the bane of fantasy forecasters’ existence.
With a new season just around the corner there are preparatory measures that we can take when it comes to streaming. In the sea of unknowns, we can cling to a few strong likelihoods to build plans upon. And what exactly is fantasy football, if not a series of choices (hopefully) based on favorable odds?
We can start by attempting to identify defenses that are going to be toughest on fantasy quarterbacks, and use them to come to conclusions that will aid in our quest for successful streaming.
High Probability Top-10 Fantasy Defenses vs QBs
Seahawks – The hardest defense on fantasy quarterbacks in 2012, Seattle surrendered a league-low 11.1 points per game to passers. This followed a coming-out season in 2011, during which they ranked as the seventh toughest unit against fantasy quarterbacks. They bolstered their pass rush with Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, and upgraded their elite secondary with slot cornerback Antoine Winfield. PFF’s top graded coverage team, Seattle tied for the second fewest touchdown passes surrendered, and placed third in opposing quarterback rating allowed (71.8).
Bears – Over the last three seasons the Bears have an average ranking of eighth toughest defense against fantasy passers. In 2012, they came in fourth overall on that list, collected a league-high 24 interceptions, and came within one tenth of a point of leading the league in opposing quarterback rating (71.3). Their 41 sacks were good for eighth most in the league. While their standout cornerbacks are a little long in the tooth, Charles Tillman is 32 and Tim Jennings will be 30 this season, they still received impressive PFF grades of +22.8 and +12.4, respectively, last year. They also deepened an already strong defensive front seven and lost nobody of great consequence.
49ers – The tenth toughest defense for fantasy quarterbacks in 2012, they have given up just 12.8 points to passers over the last two seasons, on average. They were PFF’s fourth best pass coverage squad in 2012, and they ranked third best in 2011, to go along with grabbing the second spot when it came to rushing the passer. Losing safety Dashon Goldson looms large, but Eric Reid should contribute quickly. A healthier Justin Smith will reignite Aldon Smith and help the Niners defense remain one of the most feared in the NFL.
Cardinals – The Cards (11.3) allowed the second fewest fantasy quarterback points per game in 2012, and surrendered an average of 12.7 during the prior two seasons. They held opponents to a league worst 71.2 quarterback rating, were second in interceptions (22), and their 54.3 completion percentage allowed ranked third. With the departure of coordinator Ray Horton they will be switching to a 4-3 defense, and have personnel well suited for the transition. Losing Adrian Wilson will not be felt as much as fellow safety Kerry Rhodes’ departure, but Yeremiah Bell and rookie Tyrann Mathieu should be able to pick up most of the slack – helped by the continued development of cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Probable Top Half Fantasy Defenses vs QBs
Bengals – Over the past three seasons they have gone from 13th, then to 10th, and last year they were the sixth stingiest defense against fantasy passers. Cincinnati quietly was one sack behind the league leaders (51), and surrendered just 16 touchdown passes. They received outstanding PFF grades in pass coverage (8th), pass rush (4th), and run defense (4th) – making them the only team to finish in the top eight of each. They were able to bring back the lion’s share of their defensive free agents, and boast an outstanding secondary that should benefit from a healthy Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback aiding Leon Hall, Pacman Jones, and stud safety Reggie Nelson.
Ravens – Last season’s seventh toughest defense on fantasy quarterbacks, and 2011’s number one on that list, the Ravens have averaged 11.4 points surrendered to passers the last two years. While absolute conviction that they will maintain that level while experiencing substantial personnel turnover is presumptuous, they have arguably imported as much talent as they bid adieu to. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed had bigger names than games, Cary Williams got more money than he deserves, and Paul Kruger and Danell Ellerbe are in the same boat to lesser degrees. A healthy Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, along with imports Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Michael Huff, Arthur Brown, and Matt Elam, will make up for those departures.
Rams – Rams have slid from the eighth, to the 12th, to the 16th toughest defense for fantasy passers to face over the last three seasons. However, they possess coverage talent that helped them stand as one of just five teams with more interceptions than touchdown passes allowed, and a pass rush that led them to a league best sack total of 52. Inconsistency is what did them in. They surrendered an average of 27.1 fantasy quarterback points (which easily would rank them last) in just five games, ruining their overall average. In the other 11 contests, they averaged 10.4 points surrendered – which would have placed them first. Another year of growth for their talented defenders should lead to more consistency, making them a defense to avoid.
Browns – They are switching to the attacking, blitz-happy 3-4 defense coached by former Cardinals coordinator Ray Horton, and he has some quality, if unheralded, players to work with. The Browns were the third toughest defense for fantasy passers to face in 2011, when they gave up only 10.4 points per game. Last year they regressed, but it had a clear correlation to cornerback Joe Haden missing five games. They ranked as the 18th toughest defense against fantasy quarterbacks (16.4 points per game surrendered), but if only the 11 games that Hayden played were counted they would have been 12th (14.7 ppg). In the five games he missed, they gave up 20.2 quarterback points per game, which would have ranked them last in the NFL.
Identifying eight of the teams that will make up the top half of fantasy quarterback defenses gives us a basis to form opinions about who to avoid this season. However, there are a few more teams, the Steelers, Jets, and Texans, that stand out as likely to remain troublesome for opposing passers.
Over the last three seasons the Steelers have averaged a ranking of the fourth toughest defense for fantasy quarterbacks, and placed third in 2012. The Jets defense did not crumble when Darrelle Revis’ knee did, and they came in one place shy of their 2011 ranking as the fifth hardest on fantasy passers. The Texans defense started 2012 like a house afire before injuries took their toll, and they eventually finished15th. They have one of the league’s best front sevens, a reinforced secondary, and were the fourth stingiest against fantasy quarterbacks in 2011.
Quarterback Streaming Conclusions
If you have stuck with us through 1,500 words you deserve to be rewarded with some facts to arm yourself with when selecting streaming candidates. But first, a word of warning.
While it may look like a lot of fun to project what second tier passers will produce when matched up against bottom half fantasy quarterback defenses, the inverse is also just as true as it is ugly. The glamorous life of a streamer masks a seedy underbelly so distasteful that you would be better off drafting cigarette butts beneath the Atlantic City boardwalk than starting a Ponder against a top half quarterback defense.
Consider the table below, from our quarterback streaming study, and behold what you have to lose by employing this strategy too passively:
QB Group (by Point Total)
PPG against top ½ QB defenses
PPG vs. bottom ½ QB defenses
QB 1 – QB 10
19.8 average PPG
21.6 average PPG
QB 11 – QB 20
13.1 average PPG
19.0 average PPG
QB 21 – QB 30
12.9 average PPG
16.4 average PPG
*- Week 17 fantasy point totals are not included
If you want to risk putting up 13.1 points per game, when the average of the top 10 quarterbacks is 20.7, you have too much faith in the rest of your roster. This is why it is absolutely crucial to avoid bad matchups when you are starting a tier two passer.
The table below lists the 2013 schedules of second tier fantasy quarterbacks. The four high probability top-10 defenses are shaded red, the four probable top-half defenses are shaded orange, the three honorable mentions are shaded yellow, and bye weeks are shaded red. Since there is a demarcation after the top 12 passers (many owners are smartly waiting, and taking Tony Romo), we started with Eli Manning.
- Bradford has a rocky schedule, with eight red-rated weeks. Pairing him with Freeman or Schaub might take the edge off.
- Flacco’s schedule is not appealing, with two red, four orange, and four yellows. Although he might have a fantasy playoff run similar to his 2012 NFL playoffs.
- Palmer has four red weeks among his seven shaded opponents, but can be streamed successfully by a hands-on owner.
- Alex Smith and Manning have the potential for fairly accommodative schedules and pair well with everyone.
- Vick has none of his three red weeks until around Thanksgiving, by which time he’ll probably be injured anyway.
- Freeman and Flacco pair very well together, even though both have plenty of shaded weeks.
- Roethlisberger and Weeden represent a good pair, sharing shaded weeks twice.
- Rivers looks like he has an easy schedule as he tries to show that he’s not as far gone as most assume.
- Weeks 2, 7, and 14 look like they will have ample streaming opportunities on the waiver wire.
- Weeks 6, 8, and 12 will make you wish you had a startable passer already rostered, if you don’t.
- Locker might not make it past his bye week with the starting job, if not with his head attached.
- Some good pairings: Palmer/Cutler; Palmer/Dalton; Dalton/Tannehill; Cutler/Tannehill
- Some pairings to avoid: Bradford/Flacco; Bradford/Dalton; Bradford/Tannehill; Roethlisberger/Flacco; Cutler/Dalton; Sanchez/Anyone