I do not know what would be a bigger mistake: to place a high priority on strength of schedule or to ignore it. There was a time when it was a huge factor, but with fewer shutdown defenses versus the run and the pass and with fewer “get well” defenses in the league right now, SOS can be an overrated element.
However, SOS is still an element to consider, which is why we’re going to continue to do our best to break down each team’s strength of schedule.
As we know, it’s a pass-happy league, so the numbers are way up, which makes handicapping SOS vs. the pass a bigger challenge than ever. Rushing SOS is easier to decipher, but then you get into all the committees and dual backfields, which complicates matters. But clearly, more stock should be put on rushing SOS analysis than passing SOS analysis.
As usual, I arrive at my projected SOS by assigning a number grade to each defense against the run and the pass. I then average out all the grades for both for all 32 teams and then rank them from lowest grade to highest for both the run and the pass. That’s how I arrive at the rankings I’ll discuss often below. After the draft, I will tweak the grades I’ve given the defense and will rerun all the numbers in a larger 2012 Strength of Schedule article.
Arizona – You have to be little careful with any team in the NFC West these days because the 49ers skew the numbers, especially against the run. In addition, Seattle’s defense is ascending, so the NFC West isn’t a cakewalk anymore. Their schedule is better for the pass, but it’s on the tougher end vs. the run and the pass. The good news is they get SF in Week 17, and you might not be playing for anything that final week.
Weeks 13-16: Not terrible, against NYJ, Sea, Det, and Chi
Atlanta – According to my very early SOS projections, the Falcons have the easiest schedule vs. the run and the second-easiest against the pass, so the schedule sure does seem favorable for the Falcons this year. There are certainly plenty of rock solid defenses, but I don’t see a top defense on the schedule other than maybe the Giants. So you have to be a little more encouraged for the Falcons this year based on the schedule.
Weeks 13-16: Nothing seriously concerning, against NO, Car, NYG, and Det
Baltimore – My projected SOS has the Ravens about middle-of-the-pack for the run and a little worse than that against the pass. The schedule doesn’t look brutal at all (they don’t have to play themselves, which always helps), but it’s littered with defenses that could be rock solid, like Cin, Phi, KC, Dal, Hou, Was, NYG. But overall, I can’t be convinced that the schedule is going to be particularly prohibitive for the Ravens.
Weeks 13-16: Pretty challenging, against Pit, Was, Den, and NYG
Buffalo – The numbers don’t look great (below average vs. the run and the pass), but a detailed look at their 16 matchups doesn’t exactly strike fear. Playing SF and Sea doesn’t help, but there are a good number of nice matchups for the Bills, so I’d be inclined to lean more toward the favorable side, despite what the numbers say. Or at least it’s a push.
Weeks 13-16: Pretty solid overall, against Jac, Stl, Sea, and Mia
Carolina – Looking at their 16 games, every matchup appears to be about average or above average, so the schedule appears to be pretty good for the Panthers. They check in as the 6th easiest vs. the run according to my early projected SOS. And while it’s a little below average vs. the pass, it doesn’t look particularly tough. So basically, the schedule shouldn’t be a factor when considering the Panthers, unless you’re giving their running game a bit of a bump up.
Weeks 13-16: Looks favorable, against KC, Atl, SD, and Oak
Chicago – The Bears check in at slightly above average for the run and the 3rd easiest against the pass, so the schedule looks okay. As stated above, figuring the SOS for the pass can be futile, but Jay Cutler’s schedule certainly does look good on paper, which is noteworthy because he now has Brandon Marshall. I will be factoring this into our projections and everything else.
Weeks 13-16: Nothing scary, against Sea, Min, GB, and Ari
Cincinnati – As usual, playing four games total against the Steelers and Ravens will make a schedule look tough, and the Bengals’ settles in as near the bottom of my projected SOS vs. the run and the pass. It doesn’t look brutal, at least, and there are a lot of matchups against some mediocre teams like Jac, Mia, Oak, plus the Browns twice.
Weeks 13-16: Not great, against SD, Dal, Phi, and Pit
Cleveland – The Browns get a little bit of an easier schedule than the Bengals, but it’s still below average against the run and the pass. But other than the Steelers and Ravens twice, it doesn’t stand out as a major red flag.
Weeks 13-16: Pretty decent, against Oak, KC, Was, and Den
Dallas – Dallas’ schedule against the run and the pass checks in as below-average, so that’s not great. Their division is obviously pretty solid, and they’re playing the AFC north this year, with games against Pit/Bal, so that hurts.
Weeks 13-16: Not great, but not too bad against Phi, Cin, Pit, and No
Denver – While a lot has already been made of their tougher schedule in NFL terms, I actually have Denver with the 9th best schedule against the run and the 8th best schedule against the pass, so that’s not bad. There are definitely a lot of good teams on the schedule, but nothing scary. Of course, I have a hard time being scared about all but a few defenses in the league right now. They do get Oak twice, TB, and Cle, and Car isn’t a bad matchup.
Weeks 13-16: One rough spot, but otherwise great, against TB, Oak, Bal, and Cle
Detroit – The Lions are a little below average against the run and the pass, but that’s probably due to matchups with a couple of high-end defenses on the schedule (SF, Hou, and Sea). Otherwise, it looks pretty decent, so I don’t think the schedule presents much of a problem for Detroit.
Weeks 13-16: Looks pretty damn good, against Ind, GB, Ari, and Atl
Green Bay – The Packers are a little below average against the run, but that probably doesn’t mean much because, you know, they don’t run it. They are above average against the pass, so that’s good. Their division isn’t exactly tough, and they have some good matchups against teams like Ind, Stl, Ari, and Ten.
Weeks 13-16: Pretty, pretty good, against Min, Det, Chi, and Ten
Houston – The Texans check in as top-10 against the run and the pass on the favorable end, so that is good to know. The Jag defense was decent last year, but playing in the AFC Central really helps. Otherwise, the schedule looks fine to me.
Weeks 13-16: Very good, against Ten, NE, Ind, and Min
Indianapolis – The Colts are essentially middle-of-the-pack against the run and the pass, so the schedule looks negligible. It could be a lot worse, though, so I’ll lean to the positive side. Probably their toughest matchup is Houston, and they get them for the second time in Week 17, when your league may be over.
Weeks 13-16: Could be a lot worse, against Det, Ten, Hou, and KC
Jacksonville – The Jags need all the help they can get, and the schedule does offer some relief. You don’t want to go overboard, but their schedule does check in as #5 against the run and #1 against the pass (in terms of ease), so that helps. They may get smoked by GB, Det, and NE, plus Hou twice, but this is a schedule full of weaker teams like Min, Ind, Oak, Buf, Mia in addition to their other weaker divisional foes.
Weeks 13-16: Good enough, against Buf, NYJ, Mia, and NE
Kansas City – Coming off a horrible season, the Chief schedule looks understandably good on paper. It’s top-5 against the run and the pass, so that’s a positive for them. They’ve made some great offseason acquisitions, so KC could be a force in 2012. Other than matchups against the Ravens and Steelers, this is a nice schedule.
Weeks 13-16: Perhaps the best in the league, against Car, Cle, Oak, and Ind
Miami – Miami’s schedule checks in as slightly above average against both the run and the pass, so it’s not scary. There are a couple of trouble areas, like SF in Week 14, but overall the schedule should not be a big concern. Now everything else related to this team, those are concerns.
Weeks 13-16: Not bad overall, against NE, SF, Jac, and Buf
Minnesota – The Vikings are just about in the middle-of-the-pack against both the run and the pass, and there are a lot of seemingly favorable matchups. There’s also SF, Hou, and Sea, but the schedule isn’t terrible for the Vikings.
Weeks 13-16: Kind of tough but not brutal, against GB, Chi, Stl, and Hou
New England – While the numbers actually come out as below average against the run and the pass, that’s likely because of matchups against Bal Sea, Hou, and SF. Those are four tough ones for sure, but otherwise their schedule is favorable from an NFL standpoint, and probably also a fantasy standpoint.
Weeks 13-16: Mixed bag against Mia, Hou, SF, and Jac
New Orleans – The Saints are in the top-12 for the run and the pass according to my projected SOS, so that’s something positive for a team that has handled enough adversity for a decade. Playing the weaker NFC West certainly helps and their own division isn’t exactly full of top defenses.
Weeks 13-16: Not bad, against Atl, NYG, TB, and Dal
NY Giants – This is a pretty tough schedule, especially for the run (SF, Pit, and Bal are in there), which is what you’d expect from a division winner in a tougher division. It may not matter much for their highly-evolved offense, but things could be a little tricky for the G-Men.
Weeks 13-16: Could be worse, against Was, NO, Atl, and Bal
NY Jets – Somehow, the Jets come out as being near the bottom against the run (in a bad way) and near the top against the pass. Their first five games as a whole look pretty brutal against the run (Buf, Pit, Mia, SF, and Hou), so this is a case where I might lower someone like Shonn Greene’s rating based on the schedule. As for the ease against the pass, it helps, but it’s not going to sway anyone to invest heavily.
Weeks 13-16: Pretty good, against Ari, Jac, Ten, and SD
Oakland – The Raiders are just above average against the run and just below average against the pass, so the schedule seems to be negligible. Looking at their 16 games, this looks like an 8-8 team at best, but it’s not scary for fantasy.
Weeks 13-16: Looks solid, against Cle, Den, KC, and Car
Philadelphia – The schedule doesn’t look great on paper, and it checks in as below average against the run and the pass. The good news is their out of division schedule doesn’t look too bad, and they know their divisional opponents well, so ultimately the SOS shouldn’t be a huge issue for Philly.
Weeks 13-16: Decent enough, against Dal, TB, Cin, and Was
Pittsburgh – The Steelers are in the top-12 for the run, but near the bottom for the pass, but that’s likely on the strength of their divisional games, which can mean very little. They also play the tougher NFC East, which doesn’t help, but the schedule doesn’t look scary for the Steelers.
Weeks 13-16: Could be worse, against Bal, SD, Dal, and Cin
San Diego – The schedule looks pretty good for the Chargers, especially for the run, so that’s good news for Ryan Mathews. He does get the Ravens and Steelers in the second half of the season, but overall the schedule looks okay for San Diego.
Weeks 13-16: Not too scary against Cin, Pit, Car, and NYJ
San Francisco – It’s good for them they don’t have to play themselves, and while the NFC West is improving, their schedule looks slightly above average (slightly below average against the run). But overall, the schedule appears to be a positive for the Niners.
Weeks 13-16: Favorable, against Stl, Mia, NE, and Sea
Seattle – Their schedule doesn’t look brutal, and they get some help with four beatable matchups against the Rams and Cardinals, but they also play SF twice and many other solid defenses. By the projected SOS, their schedule ranks in the bottom third against the run and the pass, so it’s certainly not a big positive for them.
Weeks 13-16: Hard to say, against Chi, Ari, Buf, and SF
St. Louis – Even though they were one of the worst teams in the league last year, the Rams have the toughest schedule against the run, thanks in large part to two games against the Niners and two against the solid Seahawks. The schedule doesn’t look too, too bad otherwise, yet they also rank as the 6th hardest against the pass. Those ranking are hardly etched in stone, but it does reflect what looks like a schedule that will be challenging. That’s not great news.
Weeks 13-16: Good after first one, against SF, Buf, Min, and TB
Tampa Bay – Coming off a bad year, the Bucs get some relief from the schedule makers. Against the run, they check in with the 3rd best schedule, and they’re 6th best against the pass. They need some help, and it’s fair to say they get some with the schedule, one that does not include a single matchup against perennial powers (Pit, Bal, SF, etc.).
Weeks 13-16: Good enough, against Den, Phi, NO, and Stl
Tennessee – They made the top-10 against the pass in terms of ease of schedule, but they’re in the bottom third against the run, which isn’t the best news for Chris Johnson, who feasted at times on some bad defenses in 2011. Still, other than Pittsburgh (a team that is clearly slipping defensively), the schedule doesn’t look awful on paper.
Weeks 13-16: Not too shabby, against Hou, Ind, NYJ, and GB
Washington – The Redskins are about middle-of-the-pack for both the run and the pass, but their schedule at least looks easier to start the season. Playing in a tougher division doesn’t help, plus they’re playing the AFC North, so overall the schedule should be prohibitive. This is a good team, but unless RG III lights it up, they may have a tough time reaching .500. This looks like an 8-8 or 7-9 team based on their matchups.
Weeks 13-16: Could be tough, against NYG, Bal, Cle, and Phi