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2013 Draft Prep: Fantasy factors in the 2013 schedule

Senior Fantasy Writer
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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
Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans working way back from injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:37 pm ET) There was a bit of a discrepancy Thursday in regard to the practice participation of Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

Chip Kelly said before the session that Ryans would be a full-go despite him being just seven months removed from rupturing his Achilles tendon. Ryans did practice, but he told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was not a full participant.

Ryans missed half of the 2014 season with the injury, but contributed to 45 tackles in eight games before going down.


Eagles QB Mark Sanchez optimistic as offseason rolls on
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:28 pm ET) A stronger arm, greater familiarity with the offense and more confidence has Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez feeling quite good these days.

Sanchez underwent shoulder surgery two years ago that affected him early last season. He expects to be better in 2015, especially if given an opportunity to play over newcomer Sam Bradford.

"First thing, physically, I feel so much better," he told the team website. "The farther it gets away from surgery and all the reps I've had, all the rehab on through, it can only get better and stronger. So this is definitely the best I've ever felt. And then as far as the scheme, every rep, every time we sit down and watch film, every meeting, that can only help with my growth as well."

The chance to play is one reason why Sanchez chose to return this offseason to the Eagles.

"Were there other opportunitites? Absolutely," he said. "Did they look potentially good, better, similar, maybe worse? Potentially, yeah, there was some stuff out there. But when I factored it all in, I just felt this was the best spot for me. I enjoy playing for coach Kelly, I love this system, I love the tempo, I love the pace."

Sanchez also expressed a desire to remain on the team for which he threw his highest completition percentage of his career in 2014. He hit on 64.1 percent, by far a personal best.

Chip Kelly has seen a difference in Sanchez.

"I think you can see it in how he's performing out there now," he said. "He's also not learning an offense again. ... He is really comfortable in terms of the scheme."


Ravens waive/injured Julian Wilson
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:04 pm ET) The Ravens waived/injured cornerback Julian Wilson on Thursday, the Baltimore Sun reports. Wilson suffered a broken leg on the first day of rookie camp and will miss the season.

Saints' Anthony Spencer works ahead of Junior Galette Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:01 pm ET) Saints linebacker Anthony Spencer worked ahead of Junior Galette in the team's base 4-3 defense, a run-heavy look that featured just three linebackers, ESPN.com reports.

"However it came out, we’re not worried about depth chart now," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "We’re putting in a defense, we’re all working hard together and getting to know each other, our teammates and what we got. But I know both those guys can play, so we’re excited about 'em."

Spencer had a career-high 11 sacks in 2012 but has managed just 24 total tackles and a half-sack in 14 games over the last two years while dealing with a major knee injury.

"I think sometimes there are tougher positions to evaluate at this time of year," coach Sean Payton said, when asked to give his early thoughts on Spencer. "But I think, No. 1, he can affect the passer. ... He’s an edge player, I think he’s very good at fitting the run, and I think he can affect the passer."


Report: Bryant participates in drills despite unsigned franchise tender
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5:46 pm ET) Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant took a huge risk by participating in a limited portion of his team's organized team activities on Thursday, because he has yet to sign his franchise-tag tender, sources told Todd Archer of ESPN.com.

Bryant, who wants a long-term deal, has made a number of appearances at the Cowboys' offseason conditioning program but Thursday was the first day he participated in meaningful on-field work.

Bryant and the Cowboys need to work out a long-term deal before July 15 or he would be forced to play the season under the franchise tag, which would pay him $12.8 million.

In 16 games last year, Bryant caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns.


Browns' Josh McCown not bothered by 'game manager' label
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:40 pm ET) Browns quarterback Josh McCown brushes off the negative connotation around phrases like "game manager" and "building around the quarterback," per the team's website.

"That stuff doesn't bother me," McCown said after Tuesday’s OTA. "We're trying to win a championship. You can call it what you want to call it. I just want to win football games. That's my main focus. I understand who I am and how I want to go about winning football games. That's the key for us."

Coach Mike Pettine understands why McCown was attracted to Cleveland as a potential landing spot this offseason.

"I think he sees that as potentially a way to win football games," Pettine said. "I think virtually any quarterback in the league, if we said, ‘Hey, we want to get you in second-and-5 and not second-and-11. We want to get you in third-and-2 and not third-and-8,’ I think they’d all be appreciative of that."

McCown also had praise for his new offensive line after getting to work with the unit.

"I knew they were physically good, you see it on tape, but these guys are so smart," McCown said. "It's rare to get a group of five guys that can really see the field the way they do. I've said this all along, they were a big reason why I wanted to come here. After being with them now the last five or six weeks, had I known it was this good, I might not have even had to take a visit (before signing). They're really sharp. I'm looking forward to continuing to work with them."


Jaguars' Denard Robinson ready for second try as kick returner
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:33 pm ET) Jaguars running back Denard Robinson is getting a shot at being the team's kick returner this offseason, a role he hasn't performed since early in his rookie season, but he's ready for the challenge, ESPN.com reports.

"Anything they ask me to do, I’m doing," Robinson said. "Now I feel more comfortable [returning kicks] than I was my rookie year."

General manager David Caldwell has said that while Robinson will get work returning kicks, he'd still have a significant role on offense. The running back hasn't dwelled on the comment.

"You just go out there and do yourself," Robinson said. "Do your thing and have fun and get better every day."

Robinson averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 135 rushes last season while racking up 582 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The Jaguars are expected to use rookie T.J. Yeldon as their primary runner in 2015.


Jaguars' Toby Gerhart feels for first time since last September
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:25 pm ET) Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart is expected to fill an H-back role after the team selected T.J. Yeldon in the second round, but he's worried less about his role and focusing on the fact that he's back to full health, ESPN.com reports.

"It’s feeling good," Gerhart said of the ankle that bothered him all of last season. "I feel healthy for the first time since last September. Feeling good and excited to go out there and be healthy and fresh this spring and show what I can do and compete."

Gerhart's new role will open him up to be a bigger part of the passing game.

"I’m learning the F [H-back] and running some of that and also taking just as many reps at tailback and competing and just trying to be the best I can be and see what happens," Gerhart said. "A lot of it so far has been a lot of routes and stuff like that, not so much iso downhill, more get me out in the flat, get me in pass pro and get out. It’s exciting to move around and we’ll see what happens."

Gerhart averaged just 3.2 yards on 101 carries last season while scoring two touchdowns. His average of 9.3 yards per reception represented a season high.


Eagles' Walter Thurmond moves to safety
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5:20 pm ET) The Eagles have made a lot of moves to improve their defense this offseason, one of which was to bring Walter Thurmond aboard.

Most thought he would play cornerback, but Chip Kelly announced Thursday that Thurmond has moved to safety, per nj.com.

Thurmond said the coaching staff approached him about the idea some time ago, giving him the option to compete at either position. 

"It was a couple weeks ago, just after the draft, they asked me how I would feel about moving to safety,'' Thurmond said. "They said I could stay and compete at corner, or I could move to safety and compete there. After drafting three corners, even though some of them might be safeties, they thought it would be better for me at safety. I'm good with it. I just want to play."

The move is intriguing given that Thurmond has never played a game at the safety position, but he isn't concerned too much about that.

"I've played it in practice, but never in a game,'' Thurmond said. "In this defense, though, it's not much different than playing in the nickel.''


Buccaneers DE Jacquies Smith opens OTAs on first team
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:16 pm ET) Buccaneers defensive end Jacquies Smith was part of the first-team defense in Thursday's open OTA practice, the first of the offseason, per the team's website.

Smith and George Johnson were the bookends on the defensive line, surrounding Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald. Lavonte David and Danny Lansanah were the two linebackers in the nickel set, with Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks at corner and Chris Conte and Major Wright at safety. Sterling Moore and Isaiah Frey each played nickel.

Smith was a castoff by Buffalo early last season but developed into a rotational end with the Buccaneers, racking up 6 1/2 sacks.


 
 
 
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