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2013 Draft Prep: Fantasy factors in the 2013 schedule

Senior Fantasy Writer
  •  

There's no such thing as a magical crystal ball for Fantasy owners to look into. If there was, someone would probably lock it away in their house and not tell anyone about it, dominating their leagues year after year.

In lieu of such a thing, we consider the matchups every team has from a high level. Besides, if Fantasy Football is all about matchups, then it would only make sense to look at the schedule to see who has the easy matchups and who has the tough matchups.

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Therein lies a problem: A defense that looks easy now could be a problem once the games start. Last year we might have overlooked the Chargers and Rams defenses while putting too much stock in the Eagles, Chiefs and Lions. We don't use 2012 data to tell you which matchups are good or not. Instead we focus on who the defenses have now and whether or not they will be troublesome. You'll see some of this in our reviews for every team's schedule below.

The point of reviewing schedules is merely to help provide small tiebreakers between similar players at a given position. For instance, if you're debating which rookie running back to take from Montee Ball and Le'Veon Bell, this exercise showed that Ball should have the edge when it comes to the schedule. A lot of Fantasy owners will debate which of the four breakout quarterbacks from last season to draft -- according to their schedules, Russell Wilson has the biggest edge. Let this be a tool in your draft prep, not a manifesto to lean on.

Also, for the first time in the history of this annual piece, we're going to offer a prediction on the record for every team. By the end of the year we'll see if we look like we have a crystal ball in our house ... or if our brains are full of rocks.

Note: Thursday night matchups are in bold.

NFC East

Common opponents: NFC North, AFC West

Dallas Cowboys - Predicted Finish: 7-9
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
NYG @KC STL @SD DEN WAS @PHI @DET MIN @NO bye @NYG OAK @CHI GB @WAS PHI

If DeMarco Murray can stay on the field he should do pretty well. Only one or two of the Cowboys' first eight matchups look dangerous for him and ultimately the entire slate is manageable. Playing 10 indoor games help his cause too. The news isn't quite as good for Tony Romo, who faces familiar foes and/or dangerous pass rushers for most of those same eight matchups. A late-season bye and a Thanksgiving lay-up vs. Oakland highlight what is a fairly decent back-half schedule.

New York Giants - Predicted Finish: 8-8
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@DAL DEN @CAR @KC PHI @CHI MIN @PHI bye OAK GB DAL @WAS @SD SEA @DET WAS

One of the more challenging opening schedules you'll see. Four road games in their first six -- including at the Bears on a short week -- doesn't make life easy for Big Blue. The Panthers, Chiefs and Eagles might look like soft matchups for the offense but they'll be a challenge at least. All of the Giants' easier matchups (Oakland, Washington, San Diego, Detroit) come after the bye. It does help that they have a three-game homestand starting in Week 10. Overall this isn't a brilliant schedule for David Wilson seeing as how he'll split carries and play behind a less-than-perfect offensive line. Don't be the one to reach for him.

Philadelphia Eagles - Predicted Finish: 6-10
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@WAS SD KC @DEN @NYG @TB DAL NYG @OAK @GB WAS bye ARI DET @MIN CHI @DAL

Welcome to the NFL, Chip Kelly: The Eagles' hurry-up offense begins the year playing three games over 11 days including two on National TV. That three-game stretch is followed by three straight games on the road. The lone positive is that they don't face a dangerous run defense until they're at Tampa Bay in Week 6, so the early sked shouldn't completely scare prospective LeSean McCoy owners off. Now every team is different but getting this squad rested and prepared over what might be a 2-4 start could be a challenge for Kelly, and his veterans could grow weary of his scheme by then. It could get ugly before it gets better, which should precisely be in Week 11 when the Eagles start a four week, three-game stretch where they don't leave town. That's when Kelly will have this offense rolling.

Washington Redskins - Predicted Finish: 9-7
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
PHI @GB DET @OAK bye @DAL CHI @DEN SD @MIN @PHI SF NYG KC @ATL DAL @NYG

An early bye combined with three fairly easy matchups in his first four games should give Robert Griffin III a solid shot to regain his hyper-productive form by October. Later in the year the Redskins land a three-game homestand but it comes against capable defenses in the 49ers, Giants and Chiefs. The second-half schedule is pretty good; over their last nine games the Redskins face one dangerous defensive team (the Niners) and several with suspect pass rushes and/or secondaries.

NFC North

Common opponents: NFC East, AFC North

Chicago Bears - Predicted Finish: 7-9
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
CIN MIN @PIT @DET NO NYG @WAS bye @GB DET BAL @STL @MIN DAL @CLE @PHI GB

Matt Forte's season could get off to a tough start against three teams (Bengals, Vikings, Steelers) with big defensive fronts, especially if the Bears' offensive line can't improve by leaps and bounds. Forte's history against the Vikings isn't overly positive (hasn't scored on them since 2008). All three of those teams also sport tough pass rushes, so it could be tough for Marc Trestman's crew to get off to a good start. The Bears do have more than their fair share of matchups against sketchy secondaries -- particularly after those first three games -- a plus to Brandon Marshall and by default Jay Cutler. The Bears play all of their road games in back-to-back matchups (one set has a bye week in between), kind of a weird wrinkle.

Detroit Lions - Predicted Finish: 8-8
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
MIN @ARI @WAS CHI @GB @CLE CIN DAL bye @CHI @PIT TB GB @PHI BAL NYG @MIN

Half of the Lions' road games will be played within the first six weeks but half of their home games come in a five-week span between Weeks 12 and 16 -- the thick of Fantasy crunch time. But the reality is pretty much any matchup the Lions have where Matthew Stafford will have some time to throw is good enough. When they take on a team with a perceived soft run defense they'll still throw the ball plenty because that's the strength of their team. That said they will have a number of challenging games this year against units that should bring some heat and have enough talent in the secondary to make things a little tough on them. Not that you'd ever bench Stafford or Calvin Johnson or even Reggie Bush but Weeks 4 through 7 and 10 through 13 won't be a walk in the park.

Green Bay Packers - Predicted Finish: 12-4
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@SF WAS @CIN bye DET @BAL CLE @MIN CHI PHI @NYG MIN @DET ATL @DAL PIT @CHI

Coach Mike McCarthy recognized the gauntlet the NFL threw down on the schedule in Week 1: a rematch against Colin Kaepernick's legs and the Niners. After Kaepernick ran for 180 yards on them in the playoffs it will be certain the Packers won't let it happen again. But they'll have to not only battle Kap but RG3 in Week 2, a double dip of speedy quarterbacks. Other than Michael Vick in Week 10, though, that's really it. Most everything else represents a tough matchup that could be high scoring or a one-sided matchup the Packers should win. The Packers don't play a divisional opponent until Week 5 and the late season schedule is a fairly decent series of games for the Packers until a pretty exciting matchup vs. the Steelers at Lambeau in Week 16. That's not going to be the cake walk Fantasy owners of Aaron Rodgers will look forward to in their league title game.

Minnesota Vikings - Predicted Finish: 7-9
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@DET @CHI CLE vsPIT bye CAR @NYG GB @DAL WAS @SEA @GB CHI @BAL PHI @CIN DET

The Vikings might begin the year with a nice game at Detroit but that's the first of three road games in their first four weeks. That's because their "home" game against the Steelers is in London in Week 4, followed by an early-season bye. They have four more road games in their next seven matchups after the bye, too. And while we're on the road, check out the Vikings' final four opponents outdoors: Seahawks (Week 11), Packers (Week 12), Ravens (Week 14) and Bengals (Week 16). The silver lining isn't that great but the Vikes get three December games in their dome, but it includes the cush matchup vs. Detroit in Week 17, a matchup that might not count for your league.

NFC South

Common opponents: NFC West, AFC East

Atlanta Falcons - Predicted Finish: 10-6
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@NO STL @MIA NE NYJ bye TB @ARI @CAR SEA @TB NO vsBUF @GB WAS @SF CAR

Eleven indoor games for Matt Ryan & Co. should translate well to the passing game statistics. Steven Jackson has already shown an ability to run well on turf, so there shouldn't be any worries there or for any prominent Falcons Fantasy stars ... until Week 16 when they play at San Francisco. In fact, three of the Falcons' last five are on the road. Also, the Falcons are the only team to play opponents coming off of a Thursday night game in back-to-back weeks. Worse yet, they're both on the road (at the Cardinals, at the Panthers). Those could be tight yet prodductive games. The good news is those matchups follow a four-week stretch where the Falcons won't leave Atlanta (Weeks 4 through 7).

Carolina Panthers - Predicted Finish: 6-10
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
SEA @BUF NYG bye @ARI @MIN STL @TB ATL @SF NE @MIA TB @NO NYJ NO @ATL

It's hard not to like the Panthers' early-season schedule. Opening with the Seahawks at home will be tough but after that the toughest defense they'll face might be the Vikings from Week 2 to Week 7. Expect a good start from Cam Newton. The Panthers also landed a real nice Fantasy playoff schedule, getting the Saints twice and the Jets once (hello, Ryan Brothers!) in Weeks 14 through 16. It's between those stretches where the Panthers could struggle -- they take on an improved Bucs defense twice and three conference championship teams between Weeks 8 and 13.

New Orleans Saints - Predicted Finish: 8-8
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
ATL @TB ARI MIA @CHI @NE bye BUF @NYJ DAL SF @ATL @SEA CAR @STL @CAR TB

Knowing Rob Ryan's history as a defensive coordinator along with what the Saints have in terms of a pass rush, Fantasy owners should continue to expect plenty more high-scoring games from the Saints as the offense chases points. The schedule shakes out as being a mostly even mix of good matchups and challenging ones until you get to Week 11, when they host the Niners. After that tough battle the Saints will play four road games (two outdoors) over a span of five weeks. Of those road games only Seattle in Week 13 is a daunting task, though.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Predicted Finish: 11-5
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@NYJ NO @NE ARI bye PHI @ATL CAR @SEA MIA ATL @DET @CAR BUF SF @STL @NO
You have to like the Bucs' early-season schedule -- only a matchup at New England could separate the Bucs from a 5-0 start before playing at Atlanta in Week 7. Doug Martin especially could have upwards of 700 rush yards by the time he takes on the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 9. Getting the Niners at their place in Week 15 could be tough on the offense, as might a game at St. Louis the week after. Nonetheless, the Bucs have a great chance to compete for a playoff spot thanks to this slate.

NFC West

Common opponents: NFC South, AFC South

Arizona Cardinals - Predicted Finish: 5-11
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@STL DET @NO @TB CAR @SF SEA ATL bye HOU @JAC IND @PHI STL @TEN @SEA SF

Four road games in the Cards' first six weeks is set off by three home games in a row with a bye in between. That's followed by a five-game stretch where the toughest defense the Cardinals offense plays might be the Rams or the Titans. Either way, not bad at all. Bruce Arians' bunch drew a tough Week 16 matchup against the Seahawks in Seattle and they end the year against the Niners at home, making the Fantasy championships tough on Larry Fitzgerald's owners. It also stinks for the Cards that they have to play the Seahawks and Niners in back-to-back games twice in 2013!

San Francisco 49ers - Predicted Finish: 12-4
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
GB @SEA IND @STL HOU ARI @TEN vsJAC bye CAR @NO @WAS STL SEA @TB ATL @ARI

Nothing like starting the season against three playoff teams. That's what the Niners have along with half of their season's home games within the first six weeks. However, they have a span from Week 6 until Week 13 where they might not lose a game (and score 24-plus points per game in the process). Winning without Michael Crabtree seems like a chore at first, and they'll have some trouble against teams that can slow down the run, but they just don't play many of them.

St. Louis Rams - Predicted Finish: 8-8
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
ARI @ATL @DAL SF JAC @HOU @CAR SEA TEN @IND bye CHI @SF @ARI NO TB @SEA

St. Louis might field the most improved team that shows it everywhere but in the standings. Opponents with thin secondaries will be beneficial to the Rams but they come in short supply in 2013. Everyone else the Rams face is a dominant team on both sides of the ball or a squad that should be able to put the Rams away by the end of the fourth quarter. For the Rams offense to keep up with the likes of the Cowboys, Panthers and Colts, they need some breakout offensive players. For now it seems too unlikely. Even with their additions along the O-line and in the pass attack there are still too many question marks, especially as they play in the tough NFC West.

Seattle Seahawks - Predicted Finish: 13-3
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@CAR SF JAC @HOU @IND TEN @ARI @STL TB @ATL MIN bye NO @SF @NYG ARI STL

The Seahawks have three games against 2012 playoff teams in their first five games, and only three more the rest of the season. It's a good schedule and especially one lacking a lot of tough defenses. The Niners for two games, the Texans, the Bucs and maybe the Vikings are really the only challenges in front of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. Throw Percy Harvin in the Seahawks' mix and even those tough defenses are going to have their hands full. Expect the Seahawks to battle for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

AFC East

Common opponents: AFC North, NFC South

Buffalo Bills - Predicted Finish: 4-12
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
NE CAR @NYJ BAL @CLE CIN @MIA @NO KC @PIT NYJ bye vsATL @TB @JAC MIA @NE

The poor Bills take on a team coming off a Thursday game not once, not twice, but three times in 2013. They also play the Dolphins, Saints and Jets coming off of their byes -- that's six matchups where their opponents have more time to prepare than they do. It's borderline criminal! It's also going to take matchups against suspect run defenses for the Bills to compile their wins. Fortunately for them, they have a number of those kinds of opponents lined up. It might not be enough to win 10 games, but it should make C.J. Spiller a very productive Fantasy player.

Miami Dolphins - Predicted Finish: 7-9
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@CLE @IND ATL @NO BAL bye BUF @NE CIN @TB SD CAR @NYJ @PIT NE @BUF NYJ

Starting with three road games in four weeks is a nightmare, but the matchups are anything but. The Browns, Colts and Saints defenses are far from complete and a young offense like the Dolphins' could be dangerous. Throw in a declining Falcons defense and it could make for a good early-season start for Lamar Miller and Mike Wallace. Also helping the Dolphins is not facing a familiar foe until Week 7, and that's when things get rough. A number of playoff contenders and strong pass defenses along with AFC East rivals litter the rest of their schedule.

New England Patriots - Predicted Finish: 12-4
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@BUF NYJ TB @ATL @CIN NO @NYJ MIA PIT bye @CAR DEN @HOU CLE @MIA @BAL BUF

The Patriots have more games against teams boasting strong offenses than strong defenses, suggesting they'll be in a lot of high-scoring matchups. That's what the Pats do best, though. One thing I looked for in their schedule is matchups against weaker run defenses since the Pats could get back to the ground game if their passing attack really is limited. The Pats really don't have many games against those kinds of defenses -- most of their opponents are expected to be good against the run. Granted, just because they look good now doesn't mean they'll look good once Tom Brady starts firing away and loosens up the safeties.

New York Jets - Predicted Finish: 3-13
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
TB @NE BUF @TEN @ATL PIT NE @CIN NO bye @BUF @BAL MIA OAK @CAR CLE @MIA

Anyone using a member of the Jets passing game in Fantasy is asking for trouble, so we're especially focused on how Chris Ivory might do in his first full year as a starter. He'll be hit or miss at the beginning of the year but assuming he doesn't get hurt and holds off others for reps, he might end up being a Fantasy postseason MVP. The Jets finish with the Raiders at home, at the Panthers, the Browns at home in Week 16 and the Dolphins in Miami in Week 17. That should be juicy for Ivory.

AFC North

Common opponents: AFC East, NFC North

Baltimore Ravens - Predicted Finish: 10-6
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@DEN CLE HOU @BUF @MIA GB @PIT bye @CLE CIN @CHI NYJ PIT MIN @DET NE @CIN

Much has been made of the Ravens opening the season on the road instead of at home to a festive celebration. But what they lost by playing at Denver in Week 1 they gain by hosting the Browns in Week 2, the Texans in Week 3 and a three-game homestand starting in Week 12. The Ravens face plenty of good secondaries including defenses with at least one good cornerback in 13 games. That could be a problem for an offense with one quality receiver (Torrey Smith) and a lot of question marks. The defense will certainly be tested: Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler all will crank up their arms to face this defense.

Cincinnati Bengals - Predicted Finish: 10-6
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@CHI PIT GB @CLE NE @BUF @DET NYJ @MIA @BAL CLE bye @SD IND @PIT MIN BAL

Andy Dalton could be in for a rough start with three straight games against tough defenses that bring a serious pass rush. That early schedule is also a big red flag for the Bengals' run game. The rest of the season is considerably easier for Dalton until Week 15, when Cincinnati plays at Pittsburgh and Week 16 when it hosts Minnesota. Again, more pressure on Dalton and more pressure on the rushing offense to perform.

Cleveland Browns - Predicted Finish: 7-9
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
MIA @BAL @MIN CIN BUF DET @GB @KC BAL bye @CIN PIT JAC @NE CHI @NYJ @PIT

The Browns start their schedule with four defenses that should be able to at least contain Trent Richardson and hold him to, say, 100 total yards per game. Without Josh Gordon for their first two matchups the Browns will be hard pressed to put up a lot of points. But it gets easier thanks to a three-game homestand with some beatable opponents, then it gets ugly again with matchups against the Packers, Ravens, Bengals, Patriots, Bears and two against the Steelers (at Pittsburgh in Week 17) in their last 10 games. At least Richardson should pulverize the Jets in Week 16, assuming he's still upright by then.

Pittsburgh Steelers - Predicted Finish: 9-7
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
TEN @CIN CHI vsMIN bye @NYJ BAL @OAK @NE BUF DET @CLE @BAL MIA CIN @GB CLE

There are a lot of Le'Veon Bell fans out there but he doesn't have the best starting slate. Matchups against Tennessee and the Jets aren't bad but nothing you can salivate over until a trip to Oakland in Week 8. The schedule does ease up for Bell and the Steelers down the stretch, which is always a plus. Tough game for them at Green Bay in Week 16.

AFC South

Common opponents: AFC West, NFC West

Houston Texans - Predicted Finish: 10-6
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@SD TEN @BAL SEA @SF STL @KC bye IND @ARI OAK JAC NE @JAC @IND DEN @TEN

The Texans should get off to a great start against the re-tooled Chargers and good-but-not-feared Titans. After that, it's a murderer's row of defenses: The Ravens, Seahawks and Niners could push the Texans to a sub-500 record and especially put a crimp in Arian Foster's totals. It's basically a Fantasyland of opponents after that. Save for a home game against the Patriots (as part of a three-game homestand) and another home game against the Broncos in Week 16, the Texans' schedule is pretty great, enough to consider Matt Schaub, Owen Daniels and DeAndre Hopkins when you otherwise might not have. You might not draft Foster but overpaying for him after Week 5 could pay off in the long run.

Indianapolis Colts - Predicted Finish: 8-8
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
OAK MIA @SF @JAC SEA @SD DEN bye @HOU STL @TEN @ARI TEN @CIN HOU @KC JAC

You'll love the Colts' star players after Week 1 and their game against the Raiders. They might even be as effective against the Dolphins in Week 2. After that it's trouble with the Niners, Seahawks, Broncos and Texans among their next six opponents. The second half of the slate is better, including games against the Chiefs and Jaguars to wrap the season.

Jacksonville Jaguars - Predicted Finish: 3-13
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
KC @OAK @SEA IND @STL @DEN SD vsSF bye @TEN ARI @HOU @CLE HOU BUF TEN @IND

Jacksonville's schedule starts harmlessly enough with games against the Chiefs, Raiders and Colts as three of its first four. Then they hit the road for four of their next five games, including dates vs. San Francisco (in London) and at Denver. Prominent offenses highlight the back half of the Jaguars' schedule, meaning the offense might have to unfurl an aggressive pass attack just to keep up. Only the Texans defense stands as the most dangerous in the second half of the year, but they play the Jags twice within a three-week span. Justin Blackmon may wind up as a second-half hero for the second year in a row.

Tennessee Titans - Predicted Finish: 6-10
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@PIT @HOU SD NYJ KC @SEA SF bye @STL JAC IND @OAK @IND @DEN ARI @JAC HOU

Chris Johnson might be called CJ0.1k after his first two matchups: at Pittsburgh and at Houston. That's rough, but he should do better when the Titans open a three-game homestand against the Chargers, Jets and Chiefs. Then it's two more horrible matchups at Seattle and vs. San Fran. Things should open up for Johnson after that as only games at Denver and vs. Houston stand to trip up Johnson. His goal of getting to 2,000 rush yards seems unlikely, but 2,000 total yards might not be out of the question. The second half of the year looks good for Kenny Britt too.

AFC West

Common opponents: AFC South, NFC East

Denver Broncos - Predicted Finish: 15-1
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
BAL @NYG OAK PHI @DAL JAC @IND WAS bye @SD KC @NE @KC TEN SD @HOU @OAK

Despite opening the season against each of the last two Super Bowl champions, the Broncos have the easiest schedule of any team in the NFL. They have only two sets of back-to-back road games all year. They cross the Mississippi river three times. Their toughest home game is likely going to be in Week 1 and their toughest road opponents (New England, Houston) are basically revenge games from losses in 2012. The Chiefs might give the Broncos a little trouble, too. About the only terrible aspect here is that the Broncos play at Oakland in Week 17, a matchup we'd rather see earlier in the year. Couple all of this with a Week 9 bye and it might not be a bad idea to load up on Broncos players in Fantasy drafts.

Kansas City Chiefs - Predicted Finish: 7-9
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@JAC DAL @PHI NYG @TEN OAK HOU CLE @BUF bye @DEN SD DEN @WAS @OAK IND @SD

The Chiefs don't have it too bad. Not only are two of their division rivals in a freefall but they also hired Andy Reid just in time to face the teams he used to play against (and coach) in the NFC East. Three of the Chiefs' first four games are against the NFC East and they don't face a division rival until Week 6 when they start a three-game stretch at home. Kansas City's ultimate division rival -- Denver -- in on tap twice in three weeks after their bye. Those games, along with the matchup at home against Houston, are the scariest on their slate.

Oakland Raiders - Predicted Finish: 2-14
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@IND JAC @DEN WAS SD @KC bye PIT PHI @NYG @HOU TEN @DAL @NYJ KC @SD DEN

You don't need a schedule to know it's going to be a long year for Oakland. Their offense and defense are both in disarray. It would take a schedule chock full of matchups against their own team for them to have a crack at a winning record. Know this: Darren McFadden should have a chance at a good start against the Colts, Jaguars and Redskins among his first four opponents. It doesn't get much easier after that, yielding yet another reason to be wary of him when you think about drafting him.

San Diego Chargers - Predicted Finish: 6-10
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
HOU @PHI @TEN DAL @OAK IND @JAC bye @WAS DEN @MIA @KC CIN NYG @DEN OAK KC

After a home debut against Houston, the Chargers offense will have a chance to get going with a nice stretch of games from Week 2 through Week 9. The closing schedule isn't nearly as appealing, save for one very attractive matchup: home vs. the Raiders in Week 16. If everyone's healthy and active for the Bolts then they should be in excellent shape to put up a ton of points in that matchup.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard .

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Player News
QB struggles begin to impact Cardinals DST
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:13 am ET) The Cardinals DST scored just one Fantasy point in standard CBSSports.com leagues Week 16 against Seattle, interrupting a stretch of 10 games in which it averaged 15.1, and the Cardinals' offensive woes may have had something to do with it.

Specifically, they've been unable to find a decent quarterback since losing Carson Palmer to injury in Week 10. Backup Drew Stanton at least mounted some kind of threat, but with him sidelined by a sprained knee in Week 16, the Cardinals had to turn to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. He turned the ball over twice without once leading his team into the end zone, completing less than half of his passes in the process.

The quick trips back to the sideline gave the Seahawks more chances to pile up points and yards, and they did, finishing with 35 and 596. Only one other time have the Cardinals allowed more than 30 points in a game, and the 596 yards were a season high. Worse yet, they were lacking in big plays, recording one sack with no takeaways.

Fortunately, the Cardinals will take on a struggling 49ers offense in Week 17, so even if Lindley is back under center, the DST at least has a chance of a respectable performance. Still, if you've been relying on it all season, you might want to make sure there isn't an appealing matchups play on the waiver wire.


Seahawks DST can't be stopped
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:04 am ET) The Seahawks DST had another dominant performance Week 16 at Arizona, continuing a nine-week run that has made it once again arguably the top unit in Fantasy. During that stretch, it has averaged 16.2 Fantasy points, allowing 11.9 points on 231.3 yards.

It allowed only six points on 216 yards in Week 16, recording four sacks and one interception. Of the Seahawks' 33 sacks this season, 20 have come in their last five games.

Clearly, they had a favorable matchup in this one, but they also shut down the Eagles in Week 14. You don't have any reason to shy away from the Seahawks DST against St. Louis in Week 17.


Kenbrell Thompkins comes out of nowhere
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:58 am ET) After making only modest contributions since coming over from the Patriots in Week 6, Raiders wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins suddenly emerged as quarterback Derek Carr's favorite target Week 16 against Buffalo, catching five passes for 90 yards. He hadn't caught even one pass since Week 13, and his previous high in yardage was 47.

Of course, you should know how this goes by now. Fellow wide receivers James Jones and Andre Holmes have both had their stretches of Fantasy relevance this season, as has tight end Mychal Rivera. The Raiders have a multitude of viable receiving targets, but their roles aren't so clear, which makes the task of picking the most impactful from week to week next to impossible.

In other words, you'd need to play in an especially deep league to take a flier on Thompkins for the season's final week.


Latavius Murray trustworthy up to a point
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 am ET) If his 23 carries Week 14 against San Francisco didn't convince you, Latavius Murray's 23 carries Week 16 against Buffalo should make the message loud and clear: He is the Raiders' top running back, and they're putting more faith in him than they ever did Darren McFadden.

Granted, it hasn't translated to much production yet, but the 49ers and Bills are two of the toughest defenses against the run. Unfortunately, Denver, the Raiders' Week 17 opponent, is ranked even higher at both.

Can you trust Murray to get his carries? He's gotten them two of the last three weeks, so most likely, yes. And with 20-plus chances, there's always the chance he breaks a long one. But the matchup will make it difficult.

You'd like to start him given his ever-increasing role, but you shouldn't force him into your lineup if you have two (or maybe three) respectable running backs already.


One way or another, Fred Jackson gets his
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:44 am ET) Trailing early Week 16 at Oakland with their playoff hopes on the line, the Bills didn't stick with the running game for long, attempting only three runs in the second half. But in a way, that worked to running back Fred Jackson's advantage. He's such a good pass-catcher out of the backfield that he still topped 100 total yards, doing so for the first time since returning from a groin injury in Week 12.

Even with the return of C.J. Spiller from a long-term shoulder injury, Jackson still led the Bills in carries, but with only six for 10 yards. He also led the team in catches with nine for 93 yards. He had 10 catches just two weeks ago, so clearly, he's a PPR stud.

Is he worth starting in standard leagues as well? Well, he's also gotten 20 carries twice in five games since returning. He hasn't been as effective on the ground as through the air, but yards are yards, however he gets them.

Their matchup Week 17 at New England will probably force the Bills to go pass-heavy again, so unless you're stacked at running back, you can find a spot for Jackson in your lineup.


Desperation fuels Kyle Orton's performance
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:35 am ET) Bills quarterback Kyle Orton didn't have the most efficient day throwing the ball Week 16 at Oakland, but from a Fantasy perspective, it was a productive one. He threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns but also had two interceptions.

What's crazy, though, is that 196 of those yards came in the second half. The Bills were trailing a winnable game with their playoff hopes on the line, and their desperation showed. Unfortunately, that desperation also contributed to the second of Orton's interceptions.

The Bills have been eliminated, so no matter how much they're trailing Week 17 at New England, they probably won't be quite as desperate. You can expect more typical numbers from Orton -- maybe about 250 yards with one or two scores -- even if the matchup appears to be a favorable one, making him a player better left for two-quarterback leagues.


Kenny Britt clearly better with Shaun Hill
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:27 am ET) Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt caught a season-high nine passes on a season-high 11 targets Week 16 against the Giants, but his 103 receiving yards actually weren't a season high.

That's because he had 128, along with a touchdown, Week 11 against the Broncos.

That was Shaun Hill's first game back under center. Week 16, obviously, was his latest one. In the six games since Hill reclaimed the role, Britt has averaged 3.8 catches for 66.3 yards. In the nine games before then, he averaged 2.3 catches for 34.7 yards.

Britt has been especially good lately, averaging 73.3 yards in his last three games. Hill has also been fond of Stedman Bailey, but he doesn't seem to have a clear preference for one or the other.

Of course, the Rams passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain both, so if you're going to target Britt or Bailey off the waiver wire, make sure it's in a deeper league. You wouldn't want to roll the dice on either in the season's final week if you can help it.


Andre Williams showing more ability
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:19 am ET) Carrying the load for the third straight game with Rashad Jennings sidelined by an ankle injury Week 16 at St. Louis, Giants rookie running back Andre Williams delivered his second 100-yard effort during that stretch, picking up 110 yards on 26 carries. Of course, just like in Week 14, it wasn't the steadiest performance. He had a 50-yard run in that one en route to a career-best 131 yards. He had a 45-yard run en route to his 110 yards in this one.

But that's true for most 100-yard rushing performances. The best backs break long runs occasionally, which makes up for all the 2- and 3-yard gains in between. It's easy to discount Williams' performance because of a long run here or a long run there because he's been so bad on a per-carry basis this season (take that 45-yard run away, and he averaged only 2.6 yards per carry -- oh noes!), but the fact is those long runs count, too. And he barreled over a couple of tacklers to complete it, which was nice to see.

Because Williams is short on receiving ability, his numbers don't look so great when he doesn't break a long run, but with all the carries he's getting now, his chances are better than not of breaking one. He's worth starting in standard leagues Week 17 against Philadelphia.


Rueben Randle not overshadowed for once
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:08 am ET) Since the emergence of rookie Odell Beckham in Week 9, and especially since his even bigger emergence in Week 12, wide receiver Rueben Randle has been an afterthought in the Giants passing game, averaging 2.3 catches for 31.8 yards in the four games leading up to Week 16 at St. Louis. But quarterback Eli Manning finally had enough yards to go around in that one, delivering Beckham his usual eight grabs for 148 yards and still finding Randle on six passes for 132 yards.

Randle even caught a touchdown pass, his first since Week 5. Of course, Beckham caught two and is now up to eight in his last five games, averaging 9.6 catches for 131.4 yards during that stretch.

You see the problem here, don't you? Manning was able to sustain both Beckham and Randle in this one, but that's only because he threw for a season-high 391 yards. If he regresses to a more modest total Week 17 against Philadelphia, we all know Randle is the one taking a back seat. Beckham has other-worldly talent, and Manning is smart enough to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

Of course, the Giants will probably have to throw a lot to keep pace with the Eagles, which bodes well for Randle, but you should still treat him as no more than a No. 3 wide receiver in Fantasy.


Odell Beckham making Eli Manning a stud
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:58 am ET) Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham had another eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns Week 16 at St. Louis, which has become par for the course for him. It was his second straight game and third game in five with more than 140 receiving yards and multiple scores.

What you may not have noticed, though, is that quarterback Eli Manning has taken off during that same stretch. He had a season-high 391 yards and three touchdowns in Week 16, completing 25 of 32 passes. Over his last five games, he has averaged 297.2 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.

It stands to reason, of course. Beckham couldn't be putting up all those numbers without someone throwing him the ball. This may be one of those rare cases of the wide receiver making the quarterback as opposed to the other way around. Beckham is clearly a special talent, and Manning has made a point to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

It's reason enough to give Manning another chance Week 17 against Philadelphia if you've been suffering with Matthew Stafford or Colin Kaepernick and are somehow still alive in spite of it.


 
 
 
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