Fantasy Football is all about the matchups, right? Wouldn't it be helpful if you could gauge which players would have good matchups over much of the year before you enter your draft room?
That's what we try to accomplish here. We've evaluated every single team's schedule, finding the good and the bad in all of their 2010 itineraries. We do this because the popular strength-of-schedule chart that many Fantasy owners check out is filled with outdated information. Several teams have had defensive facelifts while others have deficits building up. It's our job to evaluate which defenses are going to be stronger, which ones will be weaker, and how they fit into their opponents week by week.
Get the latest news and analysis from the most informed Fantasy staff in the industry by following us on Twitter and Facebook.
That said, it's nowhere close to a foolproof process. The makeup of teams change weekly during the season, so a defense that looked great in Week 1 isn't guaranteed to look as good in Week 17 ... or even Week 2. Also, just because you have a good schedule doesn't mean you'll have players who post good stats. Last year we heralded the Rams with one of the best schedules in the league, and they won one game.
But we have had some success. While only two of the five teams we determined as having "the best schedules" made the playoffs last season, four of the five finished with non-losing records, with the fifth being St. Louis. Meanwhile, all five of the teams we tabbed as having "the worst schedules" all finished outside of the playoffs and only one (Atlanta) had a winning record.
In addition to measuring matchup strengths and weaknesses, we also look for three-game homestands and road trips. We feel that it's easier on a team when they play consecutively at home and hard on a team when they have to pick up and travel three weeks straight, though last year proved that theory wrong. In 2009 the Giants debunked our theory when they won three straight road games early in the year, but the Seahawks also played three in a row on the road and went 1-2 (they won at St. Louis). Of the eight teams that had three-game homestands, including those with a bye in-between, five failed to put up a winning record over the span (Seattle, Atlanta, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Kansas City). But to be fair, four of those teams stunk. Only the Vikings went 3-0 over three straight home games last year. You'll find teams with a trio of games at home and on the road this year, including three who have both!
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 teams with good and bad early- and late-season schedules, along with a cumulative listing of the teams with good and bad overall schedules. Print it out and put it in your pocket for Draft Day.
Common opponents: NFC North, AFC South
The first thing that jumps out here is that the Cowboys will face teams with very good-to-elite pass rushers in five of their first six games. We'll learn a lot about what they're made of very early. With a big question mark at left tackle in Alex Barron, the Cowboys might have to provide Tony Romo with extra pass protection, and Jason Witten is sure to be the first to take up that mission. That won't bode well for his numbers. The Cowboys will need that protection in those games as their improved receiving corps should be able to tear apart most of those teams. If Dallas indeed becomes a high-scoring team, look for shootouts in Weeks 12 through 14 when they play the Saints on Thanksgiving, then the Colts in Indy and the Eagles at home. The Cowboys play a league-high 12 games in weather-controlled stadiums -- another positive for their high-powered passing offense.
|New York Giants|
There's a legitimate chance that Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw will get off to hot starts -- there isn't a single defense the Giants will play in the first six weeks that can stuff the run, especially considering New York's quality O-line. In fact, the whole schedule for the Giants' run game isn't overly challenging until the end of the year. One issue: We believe the Giants will throw the ball a little more than usual this season thanks to their talented receiving corps. Maybe that won't happen so quickly. Subsequently, the Giants defense is going to see a battery of tests in their first five as they'll deal with powerful run offenses (Panthers, Titans) and pass offenses (Colts, Bears, Texans). Playing against the Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles twice each won't help, either. New York might be involved in many high-scoring games again (10 of their 16 games totaled more than 50 points), but their late-season schedule is rough. Also, the Giants are one of three teams that will play half of their road games indoors.
Kevin Kolb's first 2010 start vs. the Packers will be a challenge, but there isn't a shut-down secondary among their next 13 opponents who will challenge the Eagles' deep receiving corps. Pass rush is a different story, though the Eagles typically have done a good job protecting their quarterback (under 40 sacks allowed in three of the last four seasons; Kolb was sacked once in two starts). Similarly, the Eagles should be able to run the ball reasonably well outside of their matchups against the Packers and 49ers in the early going. Two games against Dallas and dates at the Giants and vs. the Vikings make for an awful four-game stretch to end the season, though.
We're going to find out quickly if the Redskins' O-line is good enough to hang: Six of their first seven opponents have top-tier pass rushers. Rookie left tackle Trent Williams will get tested plenty, and if he isn't ready for the job the entire Redskins offense will struggle. Donovan McNabb is good at getting away from the pass rush, but good secondaries in Dallas, Philadelphia and Indianapolis could make the start of the season tough. Not much in the way of run defense, though -- just Dallas and the Packers offer real threats through the first half of the season and the Cowboys, Vikings and possibly Tennessee in the second half. If one of the Redskins' running backs can get going and land the lion's share of work, the docket isn't too scary over the course of the year.
Common opponents: NFC East, AFC East
Opening the season vs. the Lions is a nice treat for the Bears, but following it with games at the Cowboys, vs. the Packers, at the Giants and at the Panthers could get rocky. But after that the Bears have an interesting four-game span where they play three games at home with a matchup against the Bills in Toronto sandwiched in. The toughest opponent they'll play in that span is the Vikings, who they beat at home late last season. That could be a very good stretch for Jay Cutler. Don't trust Bears players in the Fantasy postseason, though: The Patriots, at the Vikings, the Jets and at the Packers are on the docket for Chicago. That might be the worst finishing four-game stretch for any team.
Beginning the year with three divisional road games in four weeks is brutal. We suspect that Jahvid Best will be given most of the team's rushing workload to start the season, but this start takes some bloom off his rose. Their second-half schedule is a bit friendlier as it includes a three-game homestand with the Patriots on Thanksgiving, the Bears 10 days later and the Packers after that, and that's followed by back-to-back road tilts in Florida (at the Bucs, at the Dolphins). The silver lining is that the Lions' last game with potential weather issues is at Buffalo in Week 10. That could enhance their passing production a little bit.
|Green Bay Packers|
The Packers should get off to a great start with games at the Eagles, vs. the Bills, at the Bears, vs. the Lions, at the Redskins and vs. the Dolphins. They could be no worse than 5-1 when they host Favre and the Vikings in Week 7. That game actually starts a very tough spell for the Pack -- only a game at Detroit in Week 14 and the season finale at home vs. the Bears could provide relief. The Packers will be a trendy team in 2010 with plenty of Fantasy options, but they'll get tested starting in the middle of the season.
Awesome three-game start for the Vikings with the season kickoff at New Orleans followed by back-to-back home games against the Dolphins and Lions. We should see plenty of big stats for Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice and Visanthe Shiancoe. But then the Vikings have a bye and play three of their next four on the road against the Jets, Packers and Patriots (with a home date vs. the Cowboys in between). But the schedule makers made up for that with a three-game homestand for the second year in a row, this time vs. the Bills, Giants and Bears -- and it coincides with the start of the Fantasy postseason. Too bad a Week 17 game at the Lions is wasted for owners who don't play into the season's final week.
Common opponents: NFC West, AFC North
The Falcons are one of two teams with a three-game homestand and a three-game road trip in the same season. Their start should be fine for Matt Ryan as none of the defenses they play should hold up the Falcons' pass attack. And past Week 1 when he plays at Pittsburgh's defense at full strength, Michael Turner should be solid for owners early on. The three-game homestand ends with the Ravens coming to Atlanta on short rest, potentially a game Turner could dominate, and the three-game road trip is against average defenses and bleeds into the Fantasy postseason. Two games with the Panthers come within the final four weeks of the season, so if the Panthers' run defense isn't up to snuff, Turner could be a beast down the stretch.
We could be looking at a very good season for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart as the Panthers play a lot of good-but-not-great run defenses. Save for the Ravens in Week 11 and the Steelers in Week 16, there isn't a legitimate scary run defense on the docket. Granted, they do host the 49ers and the Bengals, two teams with potentially solid run defenses, and teams like the Saints and Bucs are improving in that area, but none strike fear in the heart of Fantasy owners. With Carolina expected to be run-based, their schedule is quite favorable. The passing game is just as appealing, though the only safe pick there for Fantasy is Steve Smith. Really, finishing in third place last season combined with their games against the NFC West and AFC South will give the Panthers a chance to be productive.
|New Orleans Saints|
With 11 indoor games and a well-balanced schedule, the Saints should be strong yet again. But it starts with a tough game at home against the Vikings and a tough game at San Francisco in Week 2, though it comes 11 days later. After that, the Saints shouldn't have many problems until the Steelers visit in Week 8 and then at the Cowboys on Thanksgiving in Week 12. There's also that game at Baltimore in Week 15 that could dampen spirits come Fantasy postseason time, but the Saints have it pretty good. About the only other bad news is that their home game vs. the Bucs will be wasted for many owners as it comes in Week 17.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
Because the Bucs' offense is still a work in progress (especially with its top receivers a pair of rookies), there aren't many great matchups for them to exploit. But the Bucs' run game should get off to a good start vs. the Browns and at the Panthers in 2010. It gets tough from there until Week 7 when they host the Rams -- then things get ugly. The Bucs will play four road games in five weeks with a home game against the Panthers in between, and two of the road games are on the West Coast. They do close favorably, so maybe the Bucs' rookie receivers along with Cadillac Williams (if he holds up all season) could be impact options come the Fantasy postseason.
Common opponents: NFC South, AFC West
Matt Leinart gets a nice set of games to re-ignite his career -- the Rams, Falcons and Raiders don't offer too many problems as far as pass rush goes. Those three games should be just as good for Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower, too. Actually, one would argue that the Cardinals won't have a tough run opponent until they play at the Vikings in Week 9. Even after that game, the Cardinals have it relatively easy, and that includes a three-game homestand that starts Week 12 against the 49ers and ends with the Broncos. If Leinart is truly focused on improving this summer and develops top-notch chemistry with his receiving corps, he could be an incredible surprise for Fantasy owners based on who he'll play over the course of the season.
|San Francisco 49ers|
The 49ers are the unfortunate team that has nine road games this season -- seven home games plus the "home" team for their Week 9 game against the Broncos in London. That alone makes their schedule tough, but starting the season with three road games in four weeks doesn't help things. And their final four games of the season look like a cakewalk on paper but include a road game at San Diego on three days rest. That won't be easy. It's a tough travel schedule for the 49ers, though the bright side is that the toughest defense they'll play will be at Green Bay in Week 13, a benefit of finishing second last year in a division that doesn't have powerhouse defenses.
|St. Louis Rams|
Maybe if we all send "get well" cards to Steven Jackson for his achy back it'll go a long way to keep the stud rusher healthy for the 2010 season. If you target and/or draft Jackson, you'll want him healthy as the Rams landed a very good schedule for the second year in a row. Despite St. Louis landing a three-game road trip this season, its trail is littered with good, not great, run and pass defenses. Really, the toughest it gets for the Rams are their divisional games against the 49ers and a road trip against the Saints. Not only does this bode well for Jackson, but it could go a long way in buoying Sam Bradford's stats. One more point: The Rams play six of their first eight and four of their last five games indoors -- with speedster receivers like Donnie Avery and Mardy Gilyard on the roster, we could see their pass attack come alive against good, not great, secondaries. The Rams' offense might have a shot to turn it around in 2010.
Pete Carroll's Seahawks don't have it too rough in 2010, but then again their offense is full of question marks. With a suspect offensive line and a receiving corps lacking a sure-fire No. 1 option, good matchups will be hard for them to come by. Another strike against the Seahawks: Just one set of back-to-back home games all year, and it comes in November. Their itinerary certainly doesn't do their notable Fantasy options any favors even though they don't have an overly challenging schedule.
Common opponents: AFC North, NFC North
So how will C.J. Spiller do this season? Judging by the schedule, he'll have to work hard for his yards. While the Bills' home schedule isn't terrible, their road slate is tough save for a stop in Kansas City. We already see Spiller as a No. 3 Fantasy running back, and it looks like he'll be at his best in Orchard Park. Adding insult to injury is a three-game spell where the Bills play at the Ravens, at the Chiefs and then in Toronto vs. the Bears in what is considered a home game. At least that trio of matchups is sandwiched with home games vs. the Jaguars and Lions, very beatable defenses. We weren't feeling good about the Bills' chances to put up yards and points in 2010 in the first place, and the schedule won't help us change our minds..
The schedule makers did the Dolphins very few favors. Sure, they gave them a Kickoff Weekend date in Buffalo, eliminating a potential cold-weather game, but after that they play 2009 playoff teams and 2010 playoff contenders in their next nine games. That includes a four-game stretch where they play at the Packers, vs. the Steelers, at the Bengals and at the Ravens. That's a death march for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams' stats, and it also will mean a ton of pressure in the face of quarterback Chad Henne. It gets a little easier after Week 9 when they have three of four games at home with a road trip to Oakland mixed in. The Dolphins also have home games vs. the Bills and Lions in Weeks 15 and 16, creating some potentially tremendous matchups, but they're nestled between trips to play the Jets and Patriots. Nothing will come easy for the Dolphins in 2010.
|New England Patriots|
The Patriots are going to get their fair share of the league's top teams. Not only do they get the Jets twice, but they also host the Ravens, Bengals and Colts and go play at the Chargers and Steelers. And for good measure, they also host the Vikings and Packers. Worse yet, only twice all season will the Patriots go two games without playing one of these teams (Weeks 2 and 3, Weeks 16 and 17). They don't even play back-to-back home games all year! Other than an 11-day break after playing at Detroit on Thanksgiving before hosting the Jets, they don't get any help. Tom Brady spoke this offseason about the Patriots not being "mentally tough" last season; they'll have to be tough to survive this gauntlet.
|New York Jets|
The first half of the Jets' season is going to be tough, but the second half should work out nicely. The Jets' best matchups in the first eight weeks of the season are on the road at Miami, Buffalo and Denver, but when you remember that the Jets did better on the road last year (5-3) than at home (4-4), that shouldn't make much difference. Look for dogfights in each of their first four home games, all against 2009 playoff teams with capable defenses. That alone makes the concept of drafting Shonn Greene early a little nerve-wracking, but the concept of trading for Shonn Greene before Week 9 is alluring. That's because the Jets face the likes of the Lions, Browns, Texans and Bears down the stretch of the season. Really, their toughest challenge during the second half of the year will be taking on the Bengals at home on Thanksgiving night, then taking on the Patriots 11 days later in Foxboro. The Jets could end up being second-half studs for Fantasy owners.
Common opponents: AFC East, NFC South
The Ravens added quality talent on both sides of the ball via free agency and the draft, and they're going to need them. It starts tough with the Rex Ryan Bowl in Week 1 followed by three straight divisional games including visits to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. That alone is enough to make Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin owners a little queasy. But it gets better, including back-to-back home games against the Bills and Dolphins with a bye in-between. Playing at Atlanta on a Thursday after that Dolphins game could be a challenge, but they'll be rested to finish the season strong. Check out their last four games during the Fantasy postseason -- enough to turn those aforementioned queasy feelings into ecstasy. You'll want Ravens on your team for the Fantasy championship run.
The Bengals not only have a difficult schedule, but they also will face a lot of high-powered offenses. Here's their prize for winning the AFC North: they are the only team in their division playing the Colts and Chargers. That's going to put a lot of pressure on their defense, and it's almost enough to ignore their DST this season aside from cupcake matchups. That said, there aren't many cupcake matchups, meaning it will be hard for Cedric Benson to repeat his feats of a year ago. Potentially, there is a five-game stretch starting in Week 3 where the Bengals should be able to make headway offensively, but once they take on the Steelers, Colts and Jets, it's going to get tougher. For Fantasy owners who don't play through Week 17, consider it a gift that you'll only have to worry about the Ravens matchup once on the year (Cincy plays at Baltimore in Week 17).
Not that we're expecting big things from the Browns offense this season, but their opening schedule isn't so bad. Starting with the Bucs in Tampa Bay and a home game against the Chiefs should get the Browns off to a good start. It gets worse, of course, including a four-game stretch at the Steelers, at the Saints, then a bye, then home against the Patriots and Jets. If that's not bad enough, the Browns end the year with three straight road games followed by back-to-back home games against the Ravens and Steelers. If Jerome Harrison and/or Montario Hardesty get off to a good start in the first two weeks, trade them for whatever you can.
One thing is for sure: The league did the Steelers a favor with just one divisional game in their first four weeks, the expected time they'll be without suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Because the Falcons, Titans and Buccaneers don't have a debilitating pass rush, the Steelers should be OK for those three games; the matchup vs. the Ravens will be tougher. The Steelers are also one of two teams with a three-game road trip (not so bad: at Miami, at New Orleans and at Cincinnati) and a three-game homestand (vs. the Bengals, Jets and Panthers). An interesting note: The Steelers have three straight night games (at New Orleans, at Cincinnati, vs. New England). Also of note, their game at the Browns, a matchup Fantasy owners would want to have, will be on Week 17 this year.
Common opponents: AFC West, NFC East
Houston will try to top nine wins with a tougher schedule than last season. They might be in for a tough beginning as three of their first five games are against NFC East teams, though two of them (Dallas, N.Y. Giants) are at home, and a home game vs. the Colts opens the year. But Fantasy owners are most concerned about the secondaries the Texans will face because of their passing offense. They see two of the league's three premier cornerbacks (Nnamdi Asomugha in Week 4, Darrelle Revis in Week 11) and several other quality secondaries in Indianapolis, Dallas, San Diego, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Denver. Remember, a big reason for Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub's amazing numbers was because of their weak schedule. It's going to be tougher for them in 2010, but probably not enough to scare you off of considering them for Fantasy purposes.
Three of the Colts' first four games are on the road, though only one is against a tough secondary (Denver). That qualifies as a decent start for Peyton Manning & Co. It will get a bit more challenging for them toward the second half in the season when they take on tougher defenses at Philadelphia, vs. Cincinnati, at New England, vs. San Diego and vs. Dallas consecutively, and that last game is followed by a game at Tennessee on a Thursday night. But that Titans game kicks off a good four-game stretch to end the season, meaning that Colts players will be worth owning in Fantasy for the postseason run. As for Indy resting their players down the stretch, don't count on it this year given the schedule they have.
Maurice Jones-Drew should get off to a really good start as the Jaguars have three home games in their first four and really don't play a stingy run defense until a game at Dallas in Week 8. More good news: That's the only tough run defense the Jags will battle all season. It's a different story for their passing game, but for those of you considering Jones-Drew for Fantasy, keep expectations high, especially since he's done well against his division rivals for years. Granted, the Jaguars defense will see plenty of great offenses all year, so Jones-Drew could conceivably lose touches if the Jaguars fall behind thanks to their suspect run and pass defense.
Chris Johnson will get a shot to come close to his 2,006 rush yards from 2009 thanks to the Titans' slate. He might get 200 yards against the Raiders at home in Week 1, a matchup tailor-made for him. Facing the Steelers and Cowboys over his next four games could be an issue, but it's legitimately smooth sailing thereafter. That goes for the Titans' passing offense too, including their final four games at home against the Colts and Texans and road games at Kansas City in Week 16 and at the Colts in Week 17. That's right: Tennessee won't play the Colts until Week 14, when they'll play them twice in four games. The sky is the limit for the Titans.
Common opponents: AFC South, NFC West
The Broncos should get off to a great start with games at Jacksonville and vs. Seattle, and that's followed by a home game vs. the Colts and a game at the Titans. There's a rough two-game stretch thereafter and a date with the 49ers in London in Week 9, but it's smooth sailing from there, even with a three-game road trip toward the end of the year and into the Fantasy postseason. They have the table set to do something good. Of course, there's no Brandon Marshall in Denver anymore, so counting on rookie receiver Demaryius Thomas is shaky and Kyle Orton can't be relied upon as a Fantasy stud. So while this schedule is a nice one, it's somewhat wasted since the only player who could/should benefit is Knowshon Moreno -- and he shares reps.
|Kansas City Chiefs|
I won't start a diatribe about the Chiefs' addition of Thomas Jones here, but boy did we lose an opportunity for Jamaal Charles to be a beast this season. See any scary run defenses facing the Chiefs this year? San Francisco in Week 3 is the closest the Chiefs will get to facing a stiff front seven in 2010. Sure, that bodes well for Charles and Jones, but with one stealing touches from the other there could still be some disappointing weeks. Similarly, the schedule is nice for Matt Cassel and the Chiefs' passing offense. Though their division has solid secondaries, the Chiefs have the luxury of playing three teams with a strong pass rush over four games the entire year (Indy, Houston, Denver twice). This is a boon for Cassel, who has seen good things happen around him as far as the Chiefs' passing game goes this offseason.
Like their division rivals, the Raiders' schedule isn't bad at all. With home games against the Rams and Brian Cushing-less Texans and road trips versus the Titans and Cardinals, there's a chance for Michael Bush and Darren McFadden to get off to a good start. Really, the home schedule for the Raiders is tremendous with the Seahawks and Chiefs among those who could come to the Black Hole and lose. Another point: Only the Broncos, Colts and 49ers stand as opponents who have the scheme and talent to limit the potential production of tight end Zach Miller. With Jason Campbell the new man under center for the Raiders, Miller is expected to see a lot more work thrown his way (Campbell made a living throwing to his tight ends in Washington). The schedule is very favorable for that connection.
|San Diego Chargers|
Ryan Mathews is going to think the NFL is a snap judging by his early-season schedule. Talk about cakewalks, he and the Chargers won't face anything resembling a challenging run defense until possibly the Patriots in Week 7 and the Titans in Week 8. Otherwise, it's going to be very smooth sailing for him on the ground, enhancing his Fantasy output. That does change a little bit toward the Fantasy postseason when he plays vs. the 49ers and at the Bengals, but that's a long way off. The Chargers' pass attack also has a very good outlook, even with their games with the Raiders and Broncos (one of which is in Week 17). Otherwise, the Chargers lucked into getting a three-game homestand late in the season and no games that start at 10 a.m. Pacific Time (three at 11 a.m. Pacific Time, though).
Quick-glance bye-week guide
Here's a quick Fantasy tip: Drafting players with late bye weeks (highlighted in bold) saves you from turning over parts of your roster until later on in the year. This is especially helpful for kickers and DSTs -- value the kickers and DSTs with a late bye a little more than others. Also, drafting too many players with the same bye week, regardless of when it is, usually forces a lot of roster turnover. Be sure to keep track of the bye weeks for players you draft.
|Week 4 byes:||Week 5 byes:||Week 6 byes:||Week 7 byes:||Week 8 byes:||Week 9 byes:||Week 10 byes:|
This is our ranking of teams with the best and worst first four-week schedules and last four-week schedules, including Week 17. Please note that it is very difficult to properly gauge the strength/weakness of a team's final four-week schedule because of changes and injuries that impact teams annually; early-season schedules are typically easier to forecast. We do not recommend drafting anyone solely based on how their late-season schedule looks in the summer.
|Best early||Worst early||Best late||Worst late|
|BEST FIVE||WORST FIVE|
Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at email@example.com .