Now that we have reviewed the changes to each defense over the off-season, we can make an assessment over whether or not each defense is a favorable, neutral, or unfavorable matchup against the run and pass.
2015 Defensive Ratings
I only categorized teams as favorable, neutral, or unfavorable to start the season and did not use the "very favorable" and "very unfavorable" tags. This is because, for our purposes, it is only necessary to determine that a matchup is generally favorable or generally unfavorable. To try to predict defensive performance more specifically than that (at this point) would be more likely to be erroneous and misleading.
Now we must apply our defensive ratings to each team's schedule.
2015 Preseason Passing Strength of Schedule
2015 Preseason Rushing Strength of Schedule
Best Passing Schedules:
- Atlanta Falcons (6 favorable matchups, 2 unfavorable matchups)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6,2)
- Washington Redskins (6,3)
- New York Giants (6,3)
- New Orleans Saints (5,3)
Worst Passing Schedules:
- New England Patriots (1,8)
- Buffalo Bills (2,7)
- Oakland Raiders (2,7)
- Miami Dolphins (1,6)
- Kansas City Chiefs (3,7)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (3,7)
- San Diego Chargers (4,7)
- Baltimore Ravens (4,7)
- Cincinnati Bengals (4,7)
- New York Jets (3,6)
Best Rushing Schedules:
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11,4)
- Houston Texans (9,4)
- Atlanta Falcons (9,5)
- Carolina Panthers (9,5)
- Denver Broncos (5,2)
Worst Rushing Schedules:
- New England Patriots (5,9)
- Kansas City Chiefs (2,6)
- Chicago Bears (2,6)
- Miami Dolphins (5,8)
- Dallas Cowboys (5,8)
It is important to take into account not only the strength of this year's schedule but also that of last year's. Here's why: Looking at the 2015 Preseason Strength of Schedule, you might notice that the Kansas City Chiefs have one of the most unfavorable schedules against the run (2 favorable matchups, 6 unfavorable matchups). This might cause you to avoid drafting Jamaal Charles. However, looking at Jamaal Charles' strength of schedule in 2014, you will see that his schedule was even more unfavorable (1 favorable matchup, 8 unfavorable matchups). So by comparing this year's strength of schedule to last year's, you might even be more inclined to target Jamaal Charles knowing that he is basically matchup-proof and will perform as a top 10 or top 5 fantasy running back regardless of schedule.
Biggest Change in Passing Schedules Compared to 2014:
- Denver Broncos +8
- Oakland Raiders +4
- San Francisco 49ers -4
- Dallas Cowboys -4
- Baltimore Ravens -4
- Pittsburgh Steelers -4
- Cleveland Browns -6
Biggest Change in Rushing Schedules Compared to 2014:
- San Diego Chargers +8
- Denver Broncos +7
- Seattle Seahawks +5
- Oakland Raiders +4
- Arizona Cardinals +4
- Cincinnati Bengals -5
- Pittsburgh Steelers -5
- Cleveland Browns -5
- Chicago Bears -6
- Detroit Lions -6
A more positive number means more favorable while a more negative number means less favorable.
Players I am more confident about due to schedule:
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones - The Falcons had a similarly favorable schedule last year but Ryan and Jones have a lot going for them and I think they're in for a big year.
Demaryius Thomas - The Broncos' passing schedule isn't the most favorable (6,5) but it's much better than it was last year (2,9). There are reasons to avoid Peyton (age, offensive line concerns) but the schedule inspires some confidence for the Broncos passing game overall and Thomas will be the main benefactor.
Mike Evans (and Jameis Winston and Vincent Jackson) - It is uncertain if the rookie Winston can generate enough production for both Evans and Jackson to be every-week fantasy starters but his favorable schedule gives him a good shot.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Eli Manning - Eli is ranked 161 overall in ESPN's rankings. I think that's great value for a QB that I could easily see cracking into the top 10 (he finished 10th last year), especially with Victor Cruz back and new weapons RB Shane Vereen and WR James Jones.
Brandin Cooks - The lack of other receiving options in New Orleans combined with a favorable schedule is tough to ignore. Drew Brees is good enough to take advantage of the soft schedule. He will get his top receiver the ball.
Doug Martin - You can't rely on Martin for anything. But you wont have to because he's currently being drafted in the 8th round which is a reasonable place to pick him up as a lottery ticket. With the most favorable schedule in 2015, it's not impossible to see him approach the production of his rookie year.
Tevin Coleman - It's hard to trust rookies. However, due to several factors, favorable schedule being one of them, I'd rather roll the dice on Coleman compared to Todd Gurley or T.J. Yeldon who are being drafted slightly ahead of him.
Arian Foster - It seems like Foster always has a favorable schedule. He feasts on the easy run defenses of the AFC South.
Andre Ellington - Arizona's offensive line is greatly improved and Ellington has a significantly more favorable rushing schedule. There are concerns about his health and usage, however.
Cam Newton/Jonathan Stewart - I don't trust Stewart to stay healthy one bit. Although his favorable schedule makes him tempting, he will not be on any of my teams in the coming year. And when Stewart goes down, I expect Newton to be doing a lot of the running himself.
Players I am more concerned about due to schedule:
Tom Brady - Even before his 4-game suspension was announced, I would have advocated against drafting Brady. The AFC East has some truly terrifying defensive lines. Even a future Hall of Famer like Brady is going to struggle against Miami's Wake and Suh, Buffalo's Williams and Hughes, and New York's Richardson, Wilkerson, and Williams.
Ryan Tannehill - The schedule is only slightly worse than last year's but everybody is expecting a big year out of him and I just think that the schedule puts a cap on that.
Ben Roethlisberger - I think Roethlisberger is a top 6 QB in real life but he's not one in fantasy. Last season was, statistically, by far the best in his career. With a tougher schedule in 2015, he's due for regression and not worth the mid-round draft pick. Antonio Brown will be fine, he's basically matchup proof.
Tony Romo - I like Romo but he pretty much had his best year ever in 2014 and still only finished 11th among quarterbacks in fantasy. In addition, the other teams of the NFC East, who were atrocious against the pass last year, made large investments in improving their secondaries and/or pass rush this off-season.
Keenan Allen - I was never sold on his talent as a WR1 and it's going to be tough for him to bounce back when he has to face some of the toughest corners in the league.
LaGarrette Blount - First of all, Belichick is known for his lack of loyalty to his running backs. I'm doubly worried about Blount because he is mediocre at best and has the toughest rushing schedule of all running backs in 2015.
Joique Bell - His schedule is significantly worse (9,3 in 2014 and 4,4 in 2015) and he didn't even perform that well last year, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry (27th best among qualifying running backs).
Justin Forsett - With 6 favorable matchups and just 1 unfavorable matchup in 2014, Forsett's schedule behind a dominant offensive line was a cake walk. The offensive line is still elite but the schedule gets quite a bit tougher.
Matt Forte - I think Forte is a great player and I still think he's probably worth a 1st round pick but the schedule does give me pause. With Trestman gone, his receptions total is certain to be reduced (possibly drastically) and the significantly tougher schedule could make for an uphill battle.
Lamar Miller - I loved him last year when he was cheap. He just seems a bit risky considering the tough schedule and the fact that you have to take him in the 3rd round.