Monday, August 8, 2011

Schedule Difficulty

One of the hardest parts about preparing for the fantasy football season is analyzing schedules. Experts glibly use phrases like “the schedule is tough,” but what does that mean? Does it mean the win/loss record of opposing teams is better than average? Does it mean the average defensive rank of those teams was above average in 2010? Or does it actually have any relevance to the 2011 season – you know, the one that is actually about to be played? Last year, Oakland and Cincinnati were the 11th and 15th best defenses. Then they both lost a star player. This year, I would rank them both in the bottom 5. San Diego ranked 1st in total defense; this year, I’ll be shocked if they crack the top 10. Philly ranked 12th last year; they’ll be top 5 this year, easily. In short, last year means nothing.

So I’ve created my own defensive rankings in order to more realistically determine strength of schedule as it relates to fantasy projections. Here you go:

Really Good Defenses – 6 points

Green Bay
NY Jets

Above Average Defenses – 4 points

New England
Houston (they added Jonathan Joseph)
Kansas City
Atlanta (got Ray Edwards)

Average Defenses – 3 points

Tampa Bay
Jacksonville (added Paul Posluszny)
San Diego
New Orleans
St. Louis

Below Average Defenses – 2 points

San Fran
NY Giants

Crap Defenses – 0 points

Tennessee (lost their three best players)

Using those rankings, the Lions will face a strength of schedule of 52, which is slightly more difficult than average. The easiest schedule belongs to the Texans, who scored a 38 thanks to five games against ‘zeroes.’

Here are the final scores:

Toughest schedules:

1.Oakland – 60
2. San Diego – 56
3. Chicago – 55
4. New England – 54
5. NY Giants – 53
6. Kansas City – 53
7. Cincinnati – 53

Harder than average schedules:

8. Washington – 52
9. Detroit – 52
10. Miami – 52
11. Minnesota – 51
12. NY Jets – 51
13. Carolina – 49
14. Dallas – 49
15. Denver – 49

Average schedules:

16. Tennessee – 48
17. Seattle – 48
18. Green Bay – 48
19. Buffalo – 48
20. Atlanta – 47
21. San Fran - 47
22. Indy – 47
23. St. Louis – 47

Easier than average schedules:

24. Jacksonville – 46
25. Tampa Bay – 46
26. Cleveland – 46
27. New Orleans – 46
28. Baltimore – 45
29. Arizona – 44
30. Pittsburgh – 44
31. Philly – 44

The Impossibly Easy schedule:

32. Houston – 38

So to summarize, think twice before taking Darren McFadden, and don’t hesitate to pick Andre Johnson.

For kicks, I reduced the data to just include the first 8 weeks of the season, adjusting for the fact that 30% of fantasy players are going to get injured and their schedule from week 9-16 isn’t going to matter. The hardest schedule over the first 8 weeks belongs to the Ravens and Bears, with at least three games apiece against elite defenses. The best schedule to start the season? Not Houston, it’s actually Cleveland, who faces three worthless defenses in the first five games. Too bad Peyton Hillis is the only Brown worth drafting. Maybe you should consider taking Colt McCoy in the 14th round and then trading him to some sucker after 5 weeks when he’s got the league’s best passer rating.

Other weird trends:

The Rams play 3 elite defenses in the first 5 weeks, but then don’t play an above-average defense for their next 9 games.

Denver starts the season against three doldrums: Oakland, Cincinnati, and Tennessee. Don’t be shocked if Kyle Orton leads the NFL in fantasy points after 3 games, then goes to Lambeau the following week and has negative 6 fantasy points.

Green Bay is the only team that goes all season without playing an elite defense; Oakland is the only team that doesn’t get to play a single worthless defense all year. Not coincidentally, Green Bay is elite, while Oakland is worthless.

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