QB Strength of Schedule Map & Guide
Fantasy analysts have an odd relationship with strength-of-schedule (“SoS”). The requisite disclaimer about not putting much stock into it usually precedes a point strengthened by citing SoS. It’s like saying, “I don’t eat McDonald’s, I but do enjoy the occasional Egg McMuffin.”
You will find no such half-stepping here—well, unless you read last year’s version. By now we can assume it is known that everything in fantasy football is a projection, on both sides of the ball. Is it more of a leap to say that the Rams have a top defensive line than it is to say the same about the Cowboys’ offensive line? The picture will sharpen as we close in on Week 1, but it’s time to build the initial version of a SoS grid.
The specific color assigned to each defense is a fluid designation, but it will be rare for the toughest opponents—like Seattle—to go from red to dark green. Similarly, it’s doubtful that the Bears will crawl too far out of the green and into bad-matchup territory. For more on color designations, and to view the full SoS grid, skip down to the bottom.
Much like that McDonald’s meal, we know most of the ingredients NFL defenses will bring to bear on fantasy passers, and it’s a solid enough jumping-off point. Whether you partake in 2-QB leagues or MFL10s, are a quarterback streaming aficionado, or simply enjoy looking ahead at bye week fill-ins and fantasy playoff schedules, there should be something for everyone below. Even if you get egg whites on your McMuffin.
The hot start for the Colts offense might be delayed by opening in Buffalo before welcoming the Jets to Indy.
Eli Manning’s schedule looks favorable again.
Johnny Manziel might want to stay on the bench all year.
Jameis Winston’s schedule is a walk in the park.
In general, the AFC and NFC North have rough roads. Playing the NFC West will do that.
It’s mostly smooth sailing for the AFC and NFC South. Playing most games within those two cupcake divisions will do that.
We are still waiting to definitively hear who will call signals for the Texans (good schedule), Jets (decent schedule), Browns (bad schedule), and Bills (does it matter?).
The pairings suggested (in italics) cover most or all of the listed quarterbacks’ byes and toughest scheduling draws with accommodating matchups of their own. The passers are ordered by ADP, and their suggested pairings are typically drafted after they are. Obviously this becomes more challenging once we reach the bottom of the barrel.
In many cases the correct call will be to go with your starter despite a daunting opponent, but—especially for MFL10s and 2-QB leagues—these pairs can inform your late-draft quarterback decisions.
Andrew Luck – Joe Flacco, Nick Foles
Aaron Rodgers – Eli Manning, Jameis Winston
Russell Wilson – Eli Manning, Derek Carr
Peyton Manning – Jameis Winston, QB Jets
Cam Newton – Carson Palmer*, Alex Smith
Drew Brees – Sam Bradford, Marcus Mariota
Ben Roethlisberger – Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota
Matt Ryan – Tony Romo, Joe Flacco
Ryan Tannehill – Tony Romo, Blake Bortles
Matthew Stafford – Jay Cutler, QB Jets
Tom Brady – Sam Bradford, Jameis Winston
Tony Romo – Ryan Tannehill, QB Texans
Eli Manning – Sam Bradford, Blake Bortles
Philip Rivers – Tony Romo, Nick Foles
Teddy Bridgewater – Alex Smith, Sam Bradford
Colin Kaepernick – Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston
Joe Flacco – Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin
Sam Bradford – Andy Dalton, QB Jets
Jay Cutler – Alex Smith, Marcus Mariota
Jameis Winston – QB Jets, QB Houston
Carson Palmer – Cam Newton*, Tony Romo
Andy Dalton – Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford
Derek Carr – Matt Ryan, QB Jets
Alex Smith – Marcus Mariota, Sam Bradford
Marcus Mariota – Tony Romo, Blake Bortles
Robert Griffin – Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill
Blake Bortles – QB Jets, Eli Manning
Nick Foles – Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers
QB Jets – Jameis Winston, Matthew Stafford
Josh McCown – Marcus Mariota, Sam Bradford
QB Texans – Marcus Mariota, Sam Bradford
QB Bills – Good Luck
Perfect Pair – Cam Newton and Carson Palmer
While “perfect” is a stretch—Newton’s mid-to-late seventh round cost is close to full retail—this is my favorite pair from a schedule-plus-ceiling perspective.
While Newton did not get expected offensive line reinforcements, if he’s running—and he was late last season—he’s a top-five fantasy quarterback. When healthy, Palmer is an excellent bet to finish top-12 positionally, and there will be blow-up weeks mixed in with Arizona’s prohibitive matchups. Their schedules are well-synched and, if managed well, they combined upside will more than pay off their draft cost.
If you take a streaming approach and want to give yourself every chance to start strong, here are several inexpensive combinations that allow for smooth navigation through September’s fantasy waters.
Eli Manning and Jay Cutler or Derek Carr: This may be cheating because Manning’s ADP isn’t as cheap as it was last year, and you would start him in his first three games (Dallas, Atlanta, Washington). But Cutler and Carr face off in Week 4, and both should be more attractive than Eli in Buffalo.
Colin Kaepernick and Jimmy Garoppolo or Marcus Mariota: Kaepernick handles Week 2 (Pittsburgh) and Week 4 (Green Bay, who he’s torched). In Week 1 and Week 3, Garoppolo enjoys home matchups with the Steelers and Jaguars, respectively. Mariota has the Bucs Week 1 and Colts Week 3 (or Kaep has the Cardinals).
Joe Flacco and Marcus Mariota: Mariota in Tampa over Flacco in Denver, followed by Flacco in Oakland over Mariota in Cleveland, followed by Mariota against the Colts over Flacco against the Bengals, and finally Flacco in Pittsburgh while Mariota is on bye (drop him with the Bills and Dolphins up next).
Sam Bradford and Nick Foles or QB Jets: Assuming he’s healthy, Bradford will definitely start Week 1 (Atlanta) and Week 4 (Washington). Foles has Washington and Pittsburgh Weeks 2 and 3, and the Jets quarterback has the Colts Week 2 and the Eagles Week 3. You’ll want Bradford on the bench for that.
Jameis Winston and Blake Bortles or QB Texans: Winston starts with the Titans and Saints before it gets dicey. Bortles will need to throw a lot against the Patriots and Colts in Weeks 3 and 4. During those weeks, Houston is set up nicely with the Bucs at home and Falcons on the road. At least they’re all cheap.
Bye Week Band-Aids
If you have a deep bench or prefer to draft your starter’s bye week fill-in—which is not usually a recommended practice—here are a few lightly-owned quarterback suggestions.
Week 4 (byes: New England, Tennessee)
The Texans get the Falcons’ thin pass rush and secondary. The Bears and Raiders square off in what should be a mostly defenseless matchup. Fortunately it’s a light week for byes.
Week 5 (byes: Carolina, Miami, Minnesota, New York Jets)
The Bills quarterback, whoever he is, gets to face the Titans. The Jags and Bucs young passers tangle in Tampa Bay, and Alex Smith gets to 6.0-yard aDOT the Bears to death at home.
Week 6 (byes: Dallas, Oakland, St. Louis, Tampa Bay)
The Jets get Washington at home and start a four-week run of nice matchups—so hopefully they settle on a quarterback by then. The Cardinals face the Steelers and the Texans have the Jaguars.
Week 7 (byes: Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Green Bay)
The Jets face the Patriots, who may or may not have their secondary in order by then. The Chiefs play the Steelers, and RGIII gets a shot at the Bucs defense—if he’s still starting.
Week 8 (byes: Buffalo, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Washington)
The Jets travel to Oakland. The Bengals visit the Steelers. Whoever is starting for the Texans gets a visit from the Titans, and Jameis Winston’s Bucs are set for an indoor shootout with the Falcons.
Week 9 (byes: Arizona, Baltimore, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Seattle)
The Jets finish their soft schedule run with a visit from the Jaguars. Marcus Mariota heads to New Orleans, Derek Carr’s Raiders welcome the Steelers to town, and RGIII heads to New England.
Week 10 (byes: Atlanta, Indianapolis, San Diego, San Francisco)
Nick Foles gets his first soft opponent since September (Bears). Winston (Cowboys) and RGIII (Saints) could blow up or get only 40 snaps, depending on game flow. The Browns go to Pittsburgh.
Week 11 (byes: Cleveland, New Orleans, New York Giants, Pittsburgh)
The Titans are in town for Blake Bortles to do battle with Mariota. Other than that, it’s slim pickings for streamers, unless you trust Buffalo’s QB-du-jour against the Patriots.
Playoff Payoffs and Pot Holes
The most quixotic task of all strength-of-schedule projections is looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs. How did the vaunted Colts do in Dallas during fantasy Super Bowl week against a preseason “worst defense ever” candidate? On the flip side, it was no stretch to project Colin Kaepernick face-planting the prior week in Seattle (he wound up as the No. 22 QB), or Eli Manning lighting up Washington at home (No. 4 QB).
Since this projection is the furthest away, we should recognize that it will likely be the least accurate snapshot. However, there are a few things that stand out.
Aaron Rodgers gets a potential shootout against Dallas at home, followed by a trip to Oakland. A fantasy Super Bowl date with the high-powered Cardinals is tough to predict. Their talented secondary won’t be able to cover forever if Arizona doesn’t find a pass rush.
Drew Brees travels to Tampa Bay and has the Lions at home in Weeks 14 and 15. He finishes with a visit from the Jaguars, whose roster is headed in the right direction but should be considered a favorable fantasy matchup until further notice.
If Blake Bortles gets his act together as the season moves along, he sets up as an interesting playoffs streaming candidate. Visits from the Colts and Falcons—both of whom can drag the Jaguars into shootouts—precede a Super Bowl week trip to New Orleans.
Whoever is starting for the Texans (they face the New England, Indianapolis, and Tennessee), the Jets (they get Tennessee, Dallas, and New England), and the Bills (they play Philadelphia, Washington, and Dallas) will at least have the schedule in their favor.
The 2014 cover boy for this article, Eli Manning, has a more attractive early-to-midseason schedule than what starts Week 13 (Jets). A trip to Miami, followed by a visit from the Panthers, and a fantasy Super Bowl road game in Minnesota is his toughest stretch of the year.
Although in the same division as Manning, the Cowboys first place finish earned them unique matchups with the Seahawks and Packers. The second one kicks off Tony Romo’s fantasy playoffs in Lambeau, and it goes downhill from there, with miserable draws against the Jets and Bills.
Tom Brady might be suspended until Week 6. Complicating matters is a fantasy playoff slate that does include a juicy Week 15 visit from the Titans but is bookended by trips to battle the Texans and Jets.
Few will be tempted to start a Browns quarterback in the fantasy playoffs, but a date with the 49ers followed by trips to Seattle and Kansas City should nail that coffin. Not that anyone who owns a Browns quarterback will make the fantasy playoffs.
Strength of Schedule Grid
Color assignments were based on more than fantasy points surrendered to quarterbacks in 2014. Player and coach offseason movement, current depth charts, and overall team game plan (San Diego playing ball-control, for instance), all came into play. Again, these will change as the season approaches and, especially, after Week 1 kicks off. But if a team is labeled as red or orange there’s an actionable probability that it will be a tougher matchup than one colored dark or light green. As always, I would welcome discussing them and expect to make changes.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman