Start good players against bad defenses; sit bad players against good defenses. When it comes to Fantasy Football, the matchups are often the most important factor when setting a lineup.
That said, it might help to know in advance when an opponent will have a good or bad matchup. Instead of relying on the infamous strength of schedule chart (which is actually outdated information), considering how teams stack up on both sides of the ball now can lead to some interesting conclusions.
Visit Fantasy Football Draft Central!
Practice with our mock drafts!
For instance, the Dolphins wound up shocking the world by winning the AFC East last year. They did it with a last-place schedule and with matchups against two of the worst divisions in football (AFC West, NFC West). By virtue of winning the division, they now field a first-place schedule and also face off against the NFC South and AFC South. Their goal of repeating as division champions won't be easy to pull off.
Now we can't say with absolute certainty that some matchups this year are going to be good or bad -- we can only analyze each team and make a call. Last year we thought teams would steamroll the Dolphins. Oops. The reality is that injuries take a toll on deciphering matchups while upstart talent and brilliant schemes help tremendously. What might look one way before the preseason won't necessarily be the case come September or October.
Therefore, consider this information as supplemental to your overall draft plan. Don't rule out Ronnie Brown just because we don't like the Dolphins' 2009 schedule. Instead, use these notes as "tiebreakers" if you're debating between multiple players.
Also included after the team-by-team breakdown is a cheat sheet of sorts that gives you instant bye-week information along with our picks for the best and worst scheduled teams in 2009. Print it out and put it in your pocket for Draft Day -- you just might make a great pick because of it.
Common opponents: AFC West, NFC South
The Cowboys' run defense will be tested from the start as the Bucs, Giants and Panthers all will deliver punishing run offenses. That actually might be good for them since it's their secondary that seems to be their defensive weakness. Tentatively, the stretch from Week 4 through Week 12 looks great for Marion Barber and Felix Jones, as only the Eagles serve as a potential stumbling block for the run game. Weeks 13 through 16 are tough as they have three of those four on the road with the home game against the Bolts, who are familiar with Wade Phillips' coaching schemes.
|New York Giants|
Awful start for the Giants with that three-game road trip in Weeks 2 through 4. Additionally, their secondary will be tested big time with games at Dallas, at Kansas City, at New Orleans and vs. Arizona, all in the first seven weeks of the season. Subsequently, Eli Manning will face some quality secondaries throughout the season, and without top targets established, it could be a long year. The Giants' run game gets a dose of suspect run defenses from Weeks 4 through 6, but the road is tough otherwise. Their Fantasy postseason schedule is also challenging with three divisional games and the Panthers in Week 16. About the only Fantasy advantage the Giants' players have is a Week 10 bye, meaning you'll get full use of their guys for the majority of the Fantasy season.
Nice schedule for the Eagles, who have three straight homers against fair-to-middling' teams with a bye week in between from Week 2 through Week 5. The middle of the season could be tough, but they have it pretty easy from Week 13 through 16 with only a meeting at the Giants being a potential problem. Not exactly a glut of bad secondaries for Donovan McNabb to face, but because of how the Eagles' offense operates, and because of his O-line, this shouldn't detract you from taking him.
A lot of stop-and-go matchups for Washington with no real streaks of bad defenses, or offenses, for them to take advantage of. The offense should get off to a good start with games against the Rams, Lions and Chiefs over the first six weeks. The second-half schedule looms large with two games against Dallas and only four home games after Week 7. Their last two road games are at Oakland and at San Diego with home games against the Giants and 'Boys in between.
Common opponents: AFC North, NFC West
Aside from a home game against the Steelers in Week 2, the Bears have themselves a really nice schedule for the first half of the season. This means, of course, that the second half will be tough. Two games against the Adrian Peterson-led Vikings, home games against the Cardinals and Eagles along with a trip to Baltimore in Week 15 make Jay Cutler's second-half outlook pretty rough.
The Lions' first three overall, four of their first five and eight of their first 11 games are all in domes. That will definitely help. But if Matthew Stafford begins the season as their starting quarterback, he's going to have a tough start as only the Saints offer a weakish secondary through the first seven weeks of the season. It gets a little easier after that. Poor Kevin Smith won't go more than three games without facing one of the NFL's elite run-stuffing defenses thanks to games seemingly dispersed evenly against the Steelers, Vikings and Ravens.
|Green Bay Packers|
Aaron Rodgers & Co. luck out with a really favorable schedule through the first 12 weeks of the season. Games against the Bengals, Rams, Browns and two against the Lions are the highlights. It all goes south in Week 13, though: vs. Baltimore, at Chicago and at Pittsburgh will crush the hopes of anyone riding Packers players into the Fantasy postseason. It's also unfortunate that their game at Arizona fell on Week 17 -- that might be one of the highest-scoring games this season.
Minnesota might have the best schedule in the NFL. Aside from back-to-back games against the Ravens and Steelers in Weeks 6 and 7 and a challenging trio of contests to end the year, the Vikes should steamroll their way to some wins. Within the first 10 weeks of the season they get the Browns, the 49ers, the Rams and the Lions twice. They also play an NFL-high 11 games indoors (the only NFC team) with three of their five outdoor games before Nov. 2. And here's the icing on the cake: Minnesota even landed a three-game homestand against Detroit, Seattle and Chicago in Weeks 10 through 12! Someone in the NFL's scheduling office sure likes Adrian Peterson.
Common opponents: AFC East, NFC East
Michael Turner, Matt Ryan and the Falcons definitely have it tougher this year than last year, and that's clear to see simply in their first three games against the Dolphins, Panthers and a roadie at the Patriots. In fact, the Falcons have just five matchups against suspect run defenses all year long -- a huge strike against Turner. About the only safe stretch he has starts in Week 5 at San Francisco and ends in Week 9 against Washington, and even then they have a game at Dallas in there. They also face tough secondaries throughout the year and ultimately might struggle to be as good as they were in 2008. If there's a silver lining, it's that they have a three-game stretch at home against the Bucs, Eagles and Saints from Week 12 though 14.
The season might be a tale of two halves for the Panthers. They've got a nice schedule through Week 10, but in Week 11 it all goes downhill. From Week 11 through Week 16 they play the defensive beasts of the AFC East in the Dolphins, the Jets and the Patriots (those last two on the road) along with games against the Buccaneers, Vikings and Giants mixed in. Just an awful late-Fantasy-season stretch for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Additionally, the Panthers' secondary will be tested often as they play against a slew of strong-armed quarterbacks throughout the year, including Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo and Drew Brees and Matt Ryan twice each.
|New Orleans Saints|
Finishing in last place in 2008 might be what sets the Saints' schedule apart from their division rivals. With games against the Rams and Lions, they've got some easy spots and don't have any long stretches against shut-down pass defenses. Of course, that might not matter as they had only one game with less than 20 points last year. Ten indoor games and only two potentially bad-weather outdoor games late in the year (including Week 17 at Carolina) are positives.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
No night games for the Bucs all year, except for their trek to London vs. the Patriots in Week 7. The schedule does them no favors as three of their first five games are on the road and their London game is considered a home game. Plenty of rough spots for their run game as they have no more than two consecutive matchups against suspect run defenses.
Common opponents: AFC South, NFC North
Remember all the whining coming out of Arizona last year when they had so many East Coast trips? Between that and the Cards' postseason run, the league must have felt like they deserve better road games as they have only two East Coast contests total with only one starting at 1 p.m. ET. That helps, but their schedule overall is pretty good. It wouldn't be a shock to see Arizona's offense get off to a hot start as they don't face any tough defenses until Week 7 (at the Giants). Not many stiff run defenses on their schedule, either, which could be a good omen for Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower. Naturally, being the lead dog in the worst division in the league doesn't hurt them either as they'll play the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks twice each.
|San Francisco 49ers|
The Niners are one of two outdoor teams with five indoor games this year (Seattle is the other). Four of those dome games come in the first eight weeks of the season, which could lend itself to speed receivers like Josh Morgan and potentially Michael Crabtree getting off to good starts. Their overall schedule is not bad at all as they only take on two potentially tough run defenses all year (at Minnesota, vs. Tennessee). That's great news for Frank Gore. The Niners' secondary will be tested plenty, however, as they have dates with Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Donovan McNabb and two with Kurt Warner. They also have only one 1 p.m. ET start all year (at Philadelphia in Week 15).
|St. Louis Rams|
The Rams have a nice schedule with 10 dome games and a three-game homestand against defenseless teams (Saints, Cardinals, Seahawks) in Weeks 10 through 12. For Steven Jackson fans out there, he's only got two tough run defenses on his plate for now: The Vikings and at the Titans, though he'll also get an early look at the Redskins' run defense with Albert Haynesworth in Week 2. If he can stay healthy he could be a real stat machine. One more factor: They don't face a team with an established pass rush until Week 5 and really don't take on many great pass-rush teams all year. It wouldn't be a shock if Marc Bulger and Donnie Avery got off to a good start.
Naturally, Seattle will benefit from their poor 2008 campaign now that they're healthy and reloaded. They don't face a ton of tough run defenses but don't have a strong run game. They don't face a ton of tough pass defenses either, and that's a plus since Matt Hasselbeck is healthy and T.J. Houshmandzadeh is in the fold. There is some bad news as the Seahawks take to the road for three straight weeks beginning in Week 10, visiting the Cardinals, Vikings and Rams. That won't be easy. On the plus side, the Seahawks have no East Coast games and six 1 p.m. starts, all in central time. Also of note: The Seahawks play five games indoors this year.
Common opponents: NFC South, AFC South
The Bills start with three very winnable home games mixed in with four dangerous road games, including the Patriots in New England Week 1. It doesn't get much easier, especially when you consider that between Weeks 6 and 11, the Bills play at home once. A home game against the Pats in Week 15 dampers what would otherwise be a decent schedule between Weeks 13 and 16. It's not the worst schedule out there, but it's far from the best.
After shocking the NFL last year, the Dolphins have been dealt a much tougher schedule thanks in part to their first-place finish. Their first three games (at Atlanta, Indianapolis, at San Diego) are tough but their next three, all at home (Buffalo, the N.Y. Jets and the Saints) are easier. They play New England twice within a five week span, still have to deal with the upstart Jets defense twice along with dates at the Panthers and Titans. It won't be easy for the Dolphins, though Fantasy owners can thank the schedule makers that their game vs. Pittsburgh isn't until Week 17.
|New England Patriots|
The best news for the Patriots is that Tom Brady won't face many great pass defenses or pass rushes this season. Sure, the Jets and Dolphins will present a challenge and games against the Ravens (Week 4), Colts (Week 10) and Panthers (Week 14) could be tricky, but the schedule definitely favors him getting his feet back under him quickly. Otherwise, this is not a challenging schedule for New England though it's not the cakewalk last year's schedule was.
|New York Jets|
The Jets' defense will be tested early on as the club plays the Texans, Patriots, Titans and Saints all in the first four weeks. That's a lot of offense, so we'll see how strong Rex Ryan's defense is in short order. Naturally, it gets easier after that, and a late bye week makes the top Jets offensive players (however few there actually are) valuable since you'll have them for a long stretch of the Fantasy season.
Common opponents: NFC North, AFC West
The Ravens are going to have to rely on their run game this year to put points on the board, and their schedule will help them out. They alternate good matchups and bad matchups throughout the first six weeks, but after their bye they luck out and only see one legitimately tough run defenses the rest of the way. Of course, they see them twice (Pittsburgh), in Week 12 and Week 16. Not good for Fantasy owners heading down the stretch.
Obviously, the Bengals have four rough games a year against the Ravens and Steelers. But aside from those matchups, their schedule really isn't that bad until Week 14 when they have back-to-back road contests against the Vikings and Chargers. This suggests that Cedric Benson will be useful in those weeks where he's not running into a buzzsaw. Alternately, Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco could be good regularly since when Benson isn't running well and the Bengals are behind, they'll be throwing. The Bengals do have a three game, four-week stretch where they're at home (with a bye), sandwiched with road games against the Ravens and Steelers. They also have a nice three-game spell where they play at Oakland in Week 11, vs. Cleveland in Week 12 and vs. Detroit in Week 13.
Not that the Browns are expected to be major players this season, but the schedule simply does them no favors. The only time they'll go three games without a stout defense is in Week 15 when they end the year at the Chiefs and home vs. the Raiders and Jaguars. Sure, the Browns have some nice matchups this year, but with the team in flux on both sides of the ball, will those matchups make a difference?
You're supposed to pay a steep price in the schedule for winning your division, but the Steelers didn't get the memo. The conference matchups against the AFC West and NFC North favor them heavily, and with the Titans and Dolphins bookending the season, it all but eliminates the nasty first-place schedule most division champs get. Three of their first six games are against the Bengals, Browns and Lions, and they follow up their bye week with six teams in seven weeks who whiffed on the playoffs last year. It is worth noting that Willie Parker tends to get off to red-hot starts every September, but with games against the Titans, Bears and Chargers within the month, it won't come easy.
Common opponents: NFC West, AFC East
The Texans have one of the best schedules in the league, and certainly a great one for Fantasy Football. Not only do they have a late-season bye, not only do they play 11 games indoors and not only should weather not be an issue for them all season long, but they only take on three decent defenses all year, and one of them is the division-rival Titans, who they ran all over in 2008. They're better matched for the Colts now, too, so those games are no longer automatic losses. And even though they drew the AFC East, they don't play Miami until Week 16 and the Patriots until Week 17. Steve Slaton, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Matt Schaub look a lot better when you think about the positives of this schedule.
Minnesota and Houston have really good schedules, but the Colts take the cake with the best schedule this season. Eleven dome games and a three-game homestand highlight what amounts to a challenging but not overwhelming series of games, and much of it is thanks to the Colts finishing second in the division last year. Four road games are off the books by Week 7, and two are indoors at Arizona (can you say shootout?) and at St. Louis. In fact, save for a two-game brouhaha in Weeks 10 and 11 against the Patriots (at home) and Ravens (on the road), it should be smooth sailing for Indy all year. Even the three consecutive games at home are good as they have the 49ers and Texans before their showdown with the Pats. And aside from Week 17, weather shouldn't be a dilemma for Peyton Manning & Co. You were probably comfortable with drafting/owning Colts players already, but this should really cement that feeling.
Not a great schedule for the Jaguars. How's this for tough: Their first three games are at the Colts, vs. the Cardinals and at the Texans -- three dynamic passing offenses. It doesn't get much easier after that as the Jaguars face their fair share of tough defenses (including the Titans twice between Weeks 4 and 8). There are but two glimmers of hope: One is that the Jags do have three home games in a row, though even that slate isn't easy (vs. Houston, vs. Miami and vs. Indianapolis on a short week). The other is that while the Jaguars will struggle with this schedule as a team, Maurice Jones-Drew should be all right as only the Titans, Patriots and potentially the Jets provide matchup problems for now. Remember, the Jaguars beefed up their O-line this offseason, so even the tough matchups shouldn't be too bad for Jones-Drew.
The Titans have a rough go of it early on and then late in the year, but they have a delicious sandwich of a schedule in-between. Three of their first four road games are against the Steelers, Jets and Patriots, so that could really hinder Chris Johnson right off the bat; he was not very good against solid 3-4 defenses last season. But after their Week 6 bye, the Titans have a really nice schedule that includes a three-game homestand starting in Week 14 against the Rams, Dolphins and Chargers (the latter two will provide a decent challenge). Really, this is a nice schedule for the Titans, whose offense should be more mutli-dimensional this season.
Common opponents: NFC East, AFC North
The Broncos' schedule looks really good early with games against the Bengals, Browns and Raiders, but it gets ugly after that. Surely, Knowshon Moreno and Brandon Marshall must cringe when they see that they play, in succession, the Cowboys, Patriots, Chargers, Ravens, Steelers, Haynesworth-led Redskins, Chargers and Giants from Weeks 4 to Week 12. It eases up from there, but owners won't want to deal with the Broncos' tough stretch during the thick of the Fantasy season.
|Kansas City Chiefs|
The best part of the Chiefs' schedule comes late in the year when they play three home games in a row against weakish defenses and finish on the road at Cincy and at Denver. Problem is, that doesn't start until Week 13. That means their early- and mid-season schedule includes the likes of the Steelers, Ravens, Giants, Cowboys and two games with the Chargers. It's going to be tough for Matt Cassel and Larry Johnson to put up their best numbers while surrounded by a mix of great and so-so talent against some of the league's toughest defenses. The Chiefs' O-line will be tested early as they start the year at Baltimore, then take on the entire NFC East in four straight weeks starting in Week 3. That's the toughest intra-conference schedule you'll see for any team this year. Also of note: No indoor games for the Chiefs this year.
Like their AFC West brethren, the Raiders have their fair share of tough games in 2009. But they should get out of the gate smoothly against their division rivals and a trip to Houston, avoiding tough matchups until Week 5 against the Giants. It gets sketchy from there, but the Raiders are helped by a late-season bye and a Week 17 game against the Ravens, which helps those owners who don't play in the season finale. Back-to-back road games at Dallas (on Thanksgiving) and Pittsburgh are among the lowlights, but their relatively easy start and chance for some wins at home makes their schedule less intimidating.
|San Diego Chargers|
Being the toast of a rebuilding division has its benefits as the Chargers get much of their tough schedule out of the way early in the year. After their first game at Oakland, the Bolts battle the Ravens, Dolphins and Steelers in Pittsburgh. Those matchups will slow down LaDainian Tomlinson, but following the Chargers' Week 5 bye they have a pretty nice run of games. The long-awaited Philip Rivers-Eli Manning game is the only questionable spot for San Diego between Weeks 6 and 13. Games at Dallas in Week 14 and at Tennessee in Week 16 complicate their Fantasy postseason potential, but that's not enough to steer clear of their players all year long.
Quick-glance bye-week guide
|Week 4 byes:||Week 5 byes:||Week 6 byes:||Week 7 byes:||Week 8 byes:||Week 9 byes:||Week 10 byes:|
Best and worst schedules
|Five best||Five worst|
Have a question or a comment for Dave about Fantasy Football? Send your thoughts or questions to DMFantasyFootball@cbs.com and he'll get to as many as he can. Be sure to put Attn: Schedule analysis in the subject field. Include your full name, hometown and state.