Fantasy Football strength of schedule

How Strength of Schedule Will Impact 2020 Fantasy Production

Strength of schedule is a favorite option of fantasy players when determining which players to draft, and which to avoid. Defense, context, roster changes, and well, the schedule are factors in gauging strength of schedule’s importance.

Measuring Defensive Strength

How does one measure the strength of a defense? Is it by the number of yards, points they give up, or the number of turnovers forced? While these are all good measuring tools, they must be used in context. For example, if a team’s defense only gives up 21 points, it is much more impressive if the team they were facing was the Ravens, who gained an average of 33 points per game in 2019, than the Jets, who averaged roughly 17. Based on the context, it could be said that the defense performed above expectation against the Ravens, allowing 16 fewer points than average, but under-performed against the Jets, giving up four more points than average.

To determine how good a team’s defense truly is, this context must be applied throughout the season. For this determination, yards allowed above average will be used rather than points, as yardage is more directly correlated with fantasy football performance. For each of the 16 regular season games played, a team’s yards allowed above average would increase if their defense gave up more yardage than the opposing offense averaged. If they gave up fewer yards than expected, their yards allowed above average would decrease. Thus, the fewer yards allowed above average, the better the team’s defense performed in 2019.

The table below shows the rankings of 2019 defenses using this method on a per-game basis. Since defenses are trying to prevent yardage gained, the more negative the score, the better.

RankTeamYards Allowed Above Avg/Game
1San Francisco 49ers-71
2New England Patriots-57
3Pittsburgh Steelers-44
4Baltimore Ravens-35
5Buffalo Bills-32
6New Orleans Saints-32
7Chicago Bears-29
8Los Angeles Chargers-25
9Los Angeles Rams-21
10New York Jets-17
11Tampa Bay Bucaneers-15
12Denver Broncos-15
13Philadelphia Eagles-9
14Atlanta Falcons-7
15Minnesota Vikings-5
16Dallas Cowboys-5
17Indianapolis Colts-5
18Kansas City Chiefs2
19Green Bay Packers7
20Tennessee Titans7
21Carolina Panthers13
22Las Vegas Raiders16
23Seattle Seahawks22
24Cleveland Browns23
25Jacksonville Jaguars25
26Houston Texans30
27New York Giants35
28Washington Redskins35
29Arizona Cardinals40
30Cincinnati Bengals50
31Detroit Lions54
32Miami Dolphins63

Using this method, the San Francisco 49ers’ defense performed the best based on their 2019 schedule, allowing 71 yards less than average. If a team’s offense averaged 350 yards/game, they would be expected to only gain 279 yards when facing the Niners. On the flip side, the Miami Dolphins’ defense ranked last, allowing 63 more yards than average. A team averaging 350 yards/game would be expected to gain 413 yards when facing the Dolphins. These results show that the defenses a team must face over the course of the season can significantly impact its offensive fantasy potential.

Projected over the entire 2019 season the Dolphins gave up over 200 more fantasy points from yards alone than the 49ers.

2020 Strength of Schedule

Since the defensive strength of a team in 2020 cannot be known before the start of the season, it is assumed that the defensive performance in 2020 will be roughly the same as that in 2019. The graph below shows an example of yards allowed above avg for the Packers’ 2020 season.

In Week 1, they faced the Vikings, who had -5 yards allowed above average in 2019 and in Week 2, they faced the Lions, who had 54. So, over the first 2 weeks of the season, the Packers would be expected to gain (54 – 5) 49 offensive yards above expected vs an average defense. This addition would be continued through the rest of the season to determine how many yards above average the Packers are expected to gain based on their schedule and this process would be done for each team.

The table below shows the 2020 rankings for offensive performance above average, based on a team’s schedule. The larger the value, the easier the team’s schedule is from an offensive perspective.

RankTeamYards Gained Over Avg
1Pittsburgh Steelers145.1
2Indianapolis Colts144.9
3Chicago Bears142.6
4Jacksonville Jaguars124.5
5Baltimore Ravens118
6Minnesota Vikings97.8
7Tennessee Titans75.6
8Dallas Cowboys74.9
9Washington Redskins73.3
10San Francisco 49ers71.5
11Philadelphia Eagles71.5
12Cleveland Browns55.6
13Cincinnati Bengals40.6
14Detroit Lions38.2
15Houston Texans22.2
16Los Angeles Chargers-2.4
17Green Bay Packers-23.9
18Carolina Panthers-26.6
19New England Patriots-29
20Tampa Bay Buccaneers-33.1
21New York Giants-35.6
22Atlanta Falcons-45.1
23Los Angeles Rams-48.7
24Arizona Cardinals-59.8
25New York Jets-84.9
26New Orleans Saints-94
27Seattle Seahawks-102.3
28Buffalo Bills-110.7
29Denver Broncos-135.2
30Kansas City Chiefs-136.4
31Las Vegas Raiders-140.8
32Miami Dolphins-187.8

The Pittsburgh Steelers top the list as the easiest schedule from an offensive perspective. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner will feast on the Bengals, Redskins and Giants’ defenses, and being in a division with the Browns does not hurt either. Their schedule affords the Steelers an extra 145 yards of offense over the course of the season.

Last on the list is the poor Miami Dolphins. With all three divisional opponents ranking in the top 10 yards allowed above average, as well as contests vs the Rams and 49ers, the Dolphins’ schedule is brutal. Though a myriad of draft picks will no doubt help offensively, the defenses they face will reduce their expected yardage by approximately 188 over the season.

While less than 200 yards difference over an entire season may not seem like much, the Steelers’ offense is expected to gain over 33 more fantasy points than the Dolphins based on strength of schedule alone. Knowing the strength of schedule impact on fantasy production could be the extra piece to put your team over the top.