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So there I was yesterday morning, thinking about strength of schedule in regards to fantasy football while enjoying my breakfast (a bologna sandwich) at work. Sure, it’s worth taking into account. But strength of schedule is too broad and doesn’t really give you anything to cue in on that’s too specific. Take the Kansas City Chiefs last year for instance. Although it’s hard to imagine them being good at anything, they actually had the fifth best pass defense in the league. They also had the fifth worst rushing defense. Don’t ask me how that happened, but it did.
It was after these breakfast ponderings that I had an idea. Completely oblivious to the fact that I already should have begun to take calls for the day, I sketched out a brief synopsis of my plan. Now I’m absolutely positive this has been done to some extent before, so I’m not saying this is some revolutionary idea or anything. I did however create my own calculation and ranking system. For better or worse.
Getting to the point, since most of you are probably wishing I would just hurry up and get on with it, I have dubbed these calculations “Filtered Strength of Schedule Rankings”. It allows you to assign a filtered, position-specific value to a team and thus it’s players based on the defenses they will be playing that year. Get it? Got it? I hope so, because we’re moving on.
Naturally, rushing defense will be featured first since the running back is the Godfather of all fantasy football positions. Even if we are becoming more immune to that fact thanks to the new RB-by-committee trend and an unbiased look at the other positions.
When ranking the rushing defenses, I took last year’s results into account but also, obviously, factored free agent acquisitions, departures, rookies -- pretty much all off-season activity. Then having ranked them from best to sickeningly worst, I busted out my old friend the tier system. I grouped the rushing defenses into these tiers and then assigned a point value to all teams in each given tier. The goal was to take a team, go through the schedule and end up with the team’s overall point value for the difficulty of rushing defenses faced. You could then apply that to every running back on the team.
It’s not perfect and likely needs tweaking, but I think it’s a good start. But first things first. Cue the tier rankings!
Tier 8 (0 points) - The better off just not even playing a defense at all tier.
Atlanta Falcons, Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins
Tier 7 (1 point) - The not a good role model for other rushing defenses tier.
Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions
Tier 6 (2 points) - The glass is half empty tier.
Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs
Tier 5 (3 points) - The headed in the right direction at least tier.
Houston Texans, St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets
Tier 4 (4 points) - The orange starburst middle of the pack tier.
Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tier 3 (6 points) - The better than your average D, eh ah Boo-Boo tier.
Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots
Tier 2 (8 points) - The not on any running backs favorite list of defenses to play tier.
Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars
Tier 1 (10 points) - The better have a good quarterback tier.
Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens
Now we just need to apply these points to each teams schedule. What’s that? You don’t like math you say? Well, luckily for you my four month old daughter’s nap lasted just long enough for me to pound out all the calculations with the help of the wondrous calculator. Sorry Ms. Shea, I’m aware I could have done it out longhand but I’m also no longer in second grade. I also included some information on who the ranking will benefit/decrement. It’s incredibly long but I couldn’t go anywhere today anyway so I figured why not? As always enjoy and feel free to question my vehemently disagree in the replies!
Note: Teams are ranked from difficult to easy.
32. Cincinnati Bengals
While I admit it’s not worth crossing players off of your draft board because of this type of info, it is worth taking it into account in the big scheme of things. Coming off of an injury-riddled, largely unimpressive 2007 campaign, Rudi Johnson is high on a lot of people’s draft boards. He’s only 28 after all and has had only one “bad” season. But the risk is there with his hamstring problems and it’s up to you on how you think having such a tough schedule will impact him.
31. Cleveland Browns
Jamal Lewis is a workhorse back and workhorse backs tend to fare a tad better against good rushing defenses. This is because they’ll keep getting carries, not get banged up and keep coming like a freight train despite not being able to feel many parts of their body. Lewis would make a good citation if there is ever a definition of the term workhorse back in the dictionary. Which there’ll never be but we can hope.
30. New York Giants
It always helps to have a variety of players to substitute when going against any strong defensive unit. Luckily for the Giants, they have Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward to mix it up with and interchange to keep the others fresh. Bad news for you, your not going to have all three of them on your team unless you’re an unabashed Giants homer. Or a questionable drafter.
29. Indianapolis Colts
Ah, the first team with an upper-echelon fantasy RB. The Colts play a lot of tough rushing defenses in 2008. Besides playing both the Titans and Jaguars twice, they will also have to face the Vikings, Ravens and Steelers. Does that mean you should let him slide into the third round on your draft projection sheet? No, you dumb ###. But it may behoove you to slide him behind other comparable RB’s with easier schedules. Just saying.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers brought Rashard Mendenhall in to help out the team in the wake of Willie Parkers fall-out with the end zone. Although Parker may have fallen in rank too much due to his injury last year and low TD total, his 2008 schedule is definitely a cause for concern. The Steelers only played against 4 respectable rushing defenses last year so it will be interesting to see if Parker can put up anything remotely close to 1,300 yards. Especially considering the Steelers have 8 tough rushing defenses on tap for them this year. I’m gonna go ahead and predict against that and for the record.
27. Dallas Cowboys
Marion Barber proved last year that he doesn’t discriminate against a good rushing offense and a bad one. He just goes to town regardless. Playing half of his games last year against stout rushing defenses, Barber III racked up 975 yards and 10 TD’s on 204 attempts (4.8 yards per carry). So it appears another difficult season running against talented defenses will not hinder Barber’s production. I mean, would you expect anything less from someone who’s nicknamed “The Barbarian”?
26. Houston Texans
The only thing perhaps more horrifying than the Texans backfields fantasy potential is the fact that the team plays 7 total games against some of the top run stoppers in the game. If you add the two together than you’ll likely have all the information you need.
25. Washington Redskins
Opinions on Clinton Portis’ 2008 season vary. Some think he’s going to have another season similar to his impressive 2007 while the other side thinks he’s going to regress from last year due in large part to the West Coast offense. With half of his games in 2007 being against top rushing defenses, the only other reason you think he’ll decline is if you subscribe to the West Coast theory. If not, well then there’s really no reason to expect anything different from what he did last year.
24. Detroit Lions
With Mike Martz’s departure, the Lions are said to have finally remembered that the running game is a part of the game in addition to passing. With no logical resume to reference Kevin Smith’s success against top running defenses with, this one is up in the air. If your comfortable with taking a rookie running back solely on upside and the fact the team is going to be using a zone-blocking scheme, than go for it. It’s pretty risky, though.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
Yet another top RB prospect. Here’s where this all gets interesting. Despite the Eagles having a tough 2008 rushing defense schedule, the one that they had last year was actually tougher with Westbrook going against 8 tough units last year as opposed to just 5 this year. What does that mean exactly? Well, while it’s unlikely Westbrook will eclipse the mark he set last year and enter 2,500 total yards territory, it is safe to say that it will be a lot easier for him to put up similar stats again this year.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars
The farther we get away from the top ten teams with the toughest rushing defense schedules, the more forgiving the schedule becomes. Despite playing five total teams with vaunted rushing defenses, the Jaguars get a break in between them with some easier units. With the gap between Maurice Jones Drew and Fred Taylor likely to close fast, MJD likely benefits overall while Taylor may not. The more beatings Taylor takes the more he’s going to feel it. He may be in excellent physical shape but 32 years old is 32 years old no matter how you try and sell it.
21. Tennessee Titans
Although LenDale White facing only 4 rough and tumble defenses last year would be a cause for concern if that number were increasing dramatically this year, it’s not since he’s only facing 5 this year. Rookie Chris Johnson is a risk if only because he’s a rookie but reports are that he’s progressing well and should see a fair amount of reps this season. With White being an injury risk and Johnson being inexperienced, all you’ll need to do to sleep well at night is handcuff the two of them and you’ll be fine. The schedule isn’t too big of a concern.
20. Chicago Bears
Due to the Bears QB situation, this rushing defense S.O.S. projection should be all you need to know about the Bears offense. However the Bears organization seems content with two under-achievers battling it out to lead the team. And they plan on throwing with whoever wins! So let’s stop trying to make sense of it and just change the subject. Rookie Matt Forte is said to be the real deal but his path through the 2008 season is marginally difficult. He’s been named the starter since before the pre-season even started, which was actually pretty weird. All in all, it’s buyer beware.
19. Green Bay Packers
Having been given what he felt his 10 game 2008 season was worth monetarily, Ryan Grant is ready to pick up where things left off last season. Unfortunately for him, he only played against 2 top rushing defenses last year. He’ll face 6 this year. Shouldn’t there be rules in place in regards to how long you have to play before you can demand money based on your skill? If Grant busts this year, expect the Packers to assure it will be turned into one. As for you, just snag the rookie Brandon Jackson as a handcuff. He’s been impressive.
18. San Francisco 49ers
Even though Frank Gore’s rushes should decline with Mike Martz’s arrival, he’s still going to get the ball. At least let’s hope so. Never say never with Mike Martz. When he does run, Gore will only face 1 elite rushing defense the whole year. While the rest of the schedule is consistently littered with solid units, Gore has already proved he can run no matter who he’s doing it against.
17. Seattle Seahawks
With some question marks hovering over much of the Seattle running game, the fact that the team essentially has an average run defense S.O.S. only further frustrates matters. Either you think Julius Jones will thrive and improve in Seattle or you don’t. Try just putting it that way.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Now that we’re about halfway through the list, let’s focus on the positives, shall we? First off, the Ravens run defense S.O.S. isn’t too tough. They’ll have their fair share of tough games ahead of them, but nothing Willis McGahee can’t run through. The most important thing to take into account is Cam Cameron is now running the offensive show. As LaDainian Tomlinson and the first 7 games of Ronnie Brown’s 2007 have shown, the man knows a thing or two about how to run the ball.
15. Arizona Cardinals
If you’ve been attempting to talk-up Edgerrin James to everyone, you’ve likely been told to stop kidding yourself. Or to stop talking to them because they don’t know you. What these people fail to realize, besides that your not a convicted felon, is that Edge has a favorable road ahead of him in 2008. With the still inexperienced, wee-hour loving Matt Leinart at QB, Edge may see even more carries then he did last year. He’s been there, he’s done that. He just might not do it all as well as he once did anymore.
14. St. Louis Rams
Speaking of holdouts, the Rams currently find themselves in one with Stephen Jackson. Unlike Ryan Grant however, Jackson actually deserves what he’s holding out for. Once the Rams eventually come to their senses and realize they are dealing with one of the best running backs in the franchises history, Jackson will find himself with a favorable 2008 schedule. Everything will turn out fine, it always does. That makes 3 top RB’s down, 2 to go (in case you weren’t counting).
13. Miami Dolphins
Three of Ronnie Brown’s impressive seven game 2007 campaign were against quality rushing defenses. Normally, an ACL tear would be a major concern heading into the next season. But with nearly a year to rehabilitate it, Brown should have no problem running at through and around his 2008 opponents. Especially with an easier overall schedule and another RB to help carry a bit of the load which is something that he hasn’t had in previous seasons.
12. Minnesota Vikings
Despite running his way to one of the best rookie rushing seasons in the history of the game, Adrian Peterson’s rookie season has it’s downside. Unfortunately it will ensure that at least one rookie per draft will be projected as a future Hall of Famer. And as the next ‘Adrian Peterson’. Not that it wasn’t happening before last year, but it’s going to get even worse now. Peterson enters his second season with the hopes and dreams of a bandwagon so packed, they’ve named it a double-decker bandbus. What, not funny? Peterson projects to surpass LaDainian Tomlinson as the overall #1 RB of fantasy addicts everywhere this year and he has a schedule that may help him do so. I wonder where Tomlinson will end up ranking..
11. Atlanta Falcons
L.T. backup and garbage time Hall of Famer Michael Turner has finally got his shot at a starting gig. It’s probably not the ideal situation that he envisioned but he’s still the starter none-the-less. The Falcons are in a rebuilding year this year, which is a polite way of saying that all three aspects of their team suck and need to be done over. Luckily for Turner, the Falcons are going to be playing a lot of questionable run defenses throughout the year. So even though they’ll likely finish 5-11, Turner will have a shot at 1200 or so yards. He’s a gamble, though. Don’t bank on him being one of your prominent starters unless you’re a glutton for punishment.
10. Carolina Panthers
With the Williams/Stewart 2008 debate still going in full force, I haven’t heard anyone mention that the Panthers have a very nice schedule in terms of running the ball this year. No matter who wins the starting job, he and the backup will likely both be productive. Stewart has the clear edge, but reports have been trickling out of Carolina that rejuvenate the Williams backers (myself included) all over again. So we’ll likely have to wait and see whether there will be one starter who gets 80% of the snaps or if the Panthers will take more of a 60/40 approach in favor of the starter. Probably the latter.
9. Oakland Raiders
With Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden likely to split carries until someone pulls away with the starting job, both should excel since many of the Raiders games will be against creampuff run defenses. In fact, they don’t face a respectable unit until Week 6. Even though many believe Darren McFadden will have a similar if not better season than Adrian Peterson’s rookie year, these people probably couldn’t tell you what college he went to and/or who his backup was. As I’m sure you know, both of those questions are very easy so just ignore those people since there the types of people who say things just to say they said them even when they know they’re blatantly and ridiculously wrong. Could McFadden have a great season? Yes. Will it surpass Adrian Petersons rookie year? Absolutely not. Do I like to ask myself questions? You bet!
8. Buffalo Bills
Marshawn Lynch emerged last year as a legit fantasy RB. As well as just a great RB for the select few who still don’t play fantasy football. He did this all while facing 9 very talented rushing defenses throughout the year. Not bad, especially considering he was playing on a Bills offense that wasn’t much of a threat to beat you with the passing game. Heading into 2008, Lynch finds himself with nearly opposite the schedule from last year. With many reports stating he’ll be even more involved in the passing game, I don’t think I need to tell you that these are all very good things. Especially if you have Lynch on your team. Cha-ching!
7. New York Jets
It is highly likely that Thomas Jones now believes in karma. After a 2007 season that saw him scoring only 1 rushing TD and running behind one of the worst offensive lines the Jets have ever seen, Jones must have been downtrodden. Fast forward seven months to the present and now look at the position he’s in. He has Alan Faneca and Damien Woody blocking for him, tons of people finally decided he was a legit RB due to the stats he put up in such a horrid situation and he has Brett Favre running his offense. Complete 180 turn around, right there. Plus, karma decided to throw in one of the easiest run defense S.O.S. in the league as an extra treat. It would behoove you to try and get Jones on your team especially if you had him last year.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With Cadillac Williams broken down and Warrick Dunn not getting any younger, Earnest Graham is poised to be the starter in Tampa. Although the teams he faced in his breakout party last year weren’t too tough as a whole, who are we to judge? He finds himself with another great schedule for running so expect him to do so and for the Buccaneers to keep telling him to.
5. New England Patriots
It’s common knowledge that the Patriots had the easiest overall schedule in the NFL this year, so I was interested to see just how cupcake the rushing side would be. As you can see, pretty cupcake. Lawrence Maroney is poised to have a breakout year, being healthy and participating in all of training camp and pre-season and all. Although I don’t see why the Patriots will stop throwing so much until they have to, a lot of people are saying the Patriots will run a bit more this year. Who knows, since you can never accurately predict anything Bill Belichick does, but everything is in place for Maroney to finally be the running back the Patriots wanted him to be.
4. Denver Broncos
Normally one would roll their eyes at this ranking since the way Mike Shanahan uses his RB’s makes about as much sense as a eating a brownie with cranberry juice. However Ryan Torain has dislocated his elbow and damaged some ligaments. Recovery time is expected to take about three months and by then he likely won’t be able to contribute very much. That leaves the Broncos backfield with Selvin Young, Michael Pittman and Cecil Sapp. If there was ever, ever a year to take a Denver RB than this is the year. Young showed last year he’s a talented runner who can break one at anytime. Unless Mike Shanahan really likes to mess with fantasy football than Young should be the main RB this year. Never say never, though.
3. New Orleans Saints
With Deuce McAllister’s health in question and Reggie Bush’s ability to be a feature RB himself in doubt, the Saints at least find themselves with the third easiest schedule in terms of running against their opponent. If McAllister can stay healthy than Bush may have the season everyone expected of him his rookie year. If he can’t then Bush will have to split and prove he’s better than Pierre Thomas. No matter what happens, there’s a very good chance they’ll have a lot of success running the ball this year.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Too bad there’s major concern surrounding the Chiefs offensive line this year. Larry Johnson could have probably had a pre-2007 type year. With QB Brodie Croyle not fooling anyone into defending against the pass, Johnson will have to overcome poor blocking and the opposing defenses full attention in order to run successfully. He’s going to get a lot of carries and may get his fair share of yardage, but nothing like what he once was. Too bad, because they have the second easiest run defense schedule in the NFL. And that leaves..
1. San Diego Chargers