You’ve probably already seen Strength of Schedule rankings for the coming season. And if you read through them, then you just might have wasted 10 minutes of your life.
That’s because folks often just apply last year’s final fantasy points allowed rankings to this year’s schedule. The obvious problem: No 2 years are the same.
Sure, none of us will really know what adjustments to make for schedule until we actually get some game results in 2018. But we can look back at recent history and project some reasonable expectations.
Effects on QB Scoring
Everything starts with the QBs, right? So let’s visit that position first.
I looked back over 10 years of fantasy-points-allowed data and found that the largest scoring differences come at each end of the spectrum. This table shows the average impact vs. median QB scoring over that span for each spot in the rankings.
The percentages in the first column represent the percentage of median QB scoring that QBs tallied against the defense at that spot. For example, the defense at the top of the list (the easiest fantasy matchup, in this case) allowed QBs to score 124.13% of his usual fantasy points. The last defense listed allowed just 71.1% of a QB’s average fantasy scoring.
The “Diff” column marks the difference in percentage points (not actual percent) between each ranking spot and the 1 below it.
As you can see, the splits between the individual QB defenses grow at both the top and bottom of the list -- increasing the impact on fantasy scoring when a QB faces either the friendliest or toughest matchups.
With that in mind, I focused on the top and bottom of the list in projecting potential 2018 impact. As you can also see in the chart above, the 7 toughest defenses have cost QBs 10+% of fantasy scoring over the past 10 years, while the 6 friendliest defenses have added 10+% value to a QB’s scoring.
So we’re using those 2 groups as the impact ranges for QB matchups in 2018, and treating the middle 19 teams as neutral. Obviously, there will be differences among plenty of the 19 teams that land in the middle, but we’re also not going to know how these “neutral” units sort out until well into the coming NFL season.
The next step is to figure out which teams we should include in the “good” and “bad” matchup groups. It’s easy to look at last year’s tough matchups and just be wary of those defenses, but we’ve seen just 2.3 teams repeat as “bad” matchups year to year, on average, over the past 10 seasons. Just 1 year within that range (2012), saw more than 3 teams carry over. Only 2 other seasons saw 3 teams stay in “bad” range.
As for the bottom 6 -- or “good” matchup range -- we’ve seen 2 defenses repeat, on average, over the past 6 years (up from 1.6 per year over the full 10-year span). None of the past 10 seasons has seen more than 3 defenses repeat as “good” matchups in consecutive campaigns.
So where do each new season’s “bad” and “good” matchup defenses come from? In each case, about 5 per year came from the league’s corresponding top or bottom half of QB defenses overall. In other words, you are more likely to become 1 of this year’s toughest QB matchups if you ranked among the 16 toughest last season (and vice versa).
That makes sense and shouldn’t shock anyone. But it does also mean that we’ll need to search the other half for at least 1 defense ready to make the leap (or the tumble).