What can 2015 Strength of Schedule teach us for 2016?
We don’t put much stock in projected Strength of Schedule when putting together projections and rankings. It’s using last year’s stats to make predictions for this year.
There's too much turnover from season to season for that to make sense. Last summer, for example, the Falcons were considered a plus matchup for QBs. Only 9 teams allowed more QB fantasy points in 2014. But Atlanta improved significantly last season, finishing 7th in fantasy points allowed to QBs. A matchup that looked favorable before the season turned out to be a tough draw.
Strength of Schedule becomes more useful as we get into the season and start getting current data. By October, we have an accurate read on positive and negative matchups.
Another good use of last year’s SOS? Examining which players benefited from easy schedules and which were tasked with tough slates. These guys are candidates to improve or regress in 2016 as their strength of schedule normalizes.
Cake Walks: These players feasted on favorable schedules this past season. They could be candidates to regress in 2016.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins
Cousins’ breakout 2015 season — and 9th-place fantasy finish — was aided by 1 of the easiest schedules at his position. He drew 5 games against bottom-5 QB defenses and none against the top 5. Washington was 1 of 10 teams that didn’t face a top-5 QB defense.
Cousins took full advantage of those plus draws, averaging 26.7 fantasy points per game. Only Cam Newton averaged more over the course of the season.
But Cousins mustered just 19.5 fantasy points per game in his 11 neutral draws. That would have ranked 25th among QBs.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Jets
The Jets were 1 of the other 10 teams that didn’t draw a top-5 QB defense last year. Fitzpatrick benefited from that, plus 3 games against bottom-5 QB defenses, on his way to a top-12 fantasy finish.
He averaged 23.9 points per game in those plus matchups. But he scored a still-solid 22.3 points per game in the other 12 (excluding Week 8 when he left early with injury). That would have ranked 9th among QBs.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons
Freeman faced 1 of the fantasy-friendliest schedules last year, regardless of position. He drew a bottom-8 RB defense in 7 of 15 games and had just 1 matchup with a top-8 unit.
Now, 2 of those plus matchups came when Freeman was splitting touches with Tevin Coleman in the season’s first 2 weeks. He averaged 11.8 PPR points in those. Freeman was a monster in the other 5, ripping off 28.2 PPR points per game. To put that in perspective, that’s 0.3 more than Larry Johnson averaged in his 27-TD 2003 season.
Freeman scored 15 PPR points in his 1 difficult matchup and averaged 20.2 against 7 neutral Ds. Adrian Peterson ranked 2nd among RBs in PPR points last year and averaged 16.7 per game. Freeman was a beast regardless of opponent.
Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers
The Bucs tied for 2nd in the league with 8 games against bottom-8 RB defenses. Martin averaged 16.8 PPR points in those outings, which would have landed him 2nd among RBs over the course of the entire season.
In his 1 meeting with a top-8 RB defense, Martin mustered just 6.4 points. He fared fine in neutral matchups, though, averaging 12.7 points per game. That’s low-end RB1 production.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
Carolina also drew 8 games against bottom-8 RB defenses last year. Stewart missed 2 of those matchups. He faced 2 top-8 RB defenses and 5 neutral Ds.
Matchups didn't impact his production. Check it out:
A potentially more difficult schedule in 2016 shouldn’t impact your valuation of Stewart.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks
Baldwin’s breakout 2015 campaign was fueled in part by a favorable schedule. He didn’t face a single top-5 WR defense and drew 3 bottom-5 units.
All 3 of those plus matchups came during Baldwin’s massive 2nd half of the season. He averaged a whopping 30.4 PPR points per game in those outings. Baldwin’s 13.7-point average in 13 neutral matchups would have left him 21st among WRs over the course of the season.
Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers
Carolina and Tampa Bay tied for the league lead with 5 games against bottom-5 TE defenses last year. (Division foes Atlanta and New Orleans were both among that group.)
Olsen had 3 of his 4 biggest games of the year in those plus draws. He averaged 18.3 PPR points across the 5 outings.
But he still tallied 12.5 PPR points per game in his other 11 games — 1 against a top-5 TE defense and 10 in neutral matchups. That would have ranked 8th over the course of the season.
That plus Olsen’s career resume has us unworried about a potentially more difficult schedule in 2016.
Tough Sledding: These players faced a difficult slate of opponents in 2015. With an easier schedule this coming season, their numbers could climb.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
Roethlisberger didn’t struggle last year, ranking 9th in fantasy points per game and 6th if we remove the Week 3 game when he was knocked out shortly after halftime.
The schedule-makers didn’t do Big Ben any favors, though. Pittsburgh was 1 of 10 teams that didn’t draw a bottom-5 QB defense and tied for the “lead” with 4 games against top-5 Ds.
Roethlisberger fared fine in those tough matchups, averaging 20.8 fantasy points. That would have ranked 18th at the position — and just a point per game out of 12th. He smoked the non-top 5 defenses, posting 25.1 points per game. Only Cam Newton averaged more than that.
Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders
Murray is coming off 1 of the more underwhelming top-10 fantasy seasons by a RB in recent memory. He was fueled by 308 total touches but averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and 5.7 yards per catch.
The schedule was part of his problem. Murray didn’t face a single bottom-8 RB defense and drew 5 top-8 units. He averaged 12.6 PPR points in those 5 vs. 13.1 in 11 neutral matchups.
Interestingly, though, Murray gained 4.3 yards per carry against those top 8 RB defenses but just 3.8 otherwise. That’s probably a case of small sample size skewing the numbers. An easier schedule would still figure to benefit Murray in 2016.
Randall Cobb, WR, Packers
On top of the absence of Jordy Nelson and an unthreatening running game, Cobb dealt with a tough schedule last year. He didn’t draw a single bottom-5 WR defense and faced 3 top-5 units.
Cobb struggled against those elite defenses, failing to reach double-digit PPR points in 2 of the 3 games. He averaged 11.7 points. In 13 games against neutral WR defenses, Cobb averaged 12.9 PPR points.
A potentially easier schedule is just another reason to like Cobb’s chances of bouncing back in 2016.
Charles Clay, TE, Bills
Clay’s Bills debut was disappointing. He missed 3 games and ranked just 19th in PPR points per game in the other 13.
A tough schedule was at least part of the problem. Clay faced 4 top-5 TE defenses and averaged just 7.9 PPR points in those outings. He was more productive in the other 9 — 1 plus matchup, 8 neutral — averaging 10.0 points per game. Fifteen TEs averaged double-digit PPR points over the course of last season.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Dolphins
If Clay’s Bills debut was disappointing, then Cameron’s 1st year in Miami was a disaster. He caught just 35 balls in 16 games and finished 27th among TEs in PPR points.
A Cameron bounce back in 2016 could start with an easier schedule. He drew 6 top-5 TE defenses and just 1 bottom-5 unit last season. Cameron wasn’t much better in those positive or neutral draws, though, averaging 5.9 PPR points per game vs. 5.5 in the 6 difficult matchups.