Win. Your. League.

Receive 3 Free Downloads More Details

Can We Trust Strength of Schedule?

Why you should ignore strength of schedule during the offseason.

Zeus was a mythological Greek god of many appetites, and his wife knew it. Hera, Queen of the Gods, toiled in envy, possessive of her deity of a husband, resentful of his extramarital exploits.

Once, Hera tried to catch Zeus with nymphs on Earth. One nymph, Echo, often distracted Hera with stories while Zeus frolicked, at least until the Queen caught on. Incidentally, Hera ripped Echo's voice away, and the nymph was unable to say anything more than repeating what someone nearby said.

As a fantasy football owner, don’t be distracted by some echoes of the past. We should certainly look to the past to prepare for the future, but how much preparation is too much? 

If you pack 10 pairs of underwear for a weekend getaway, you might be overthinking things. That or you are preparing for quite the messy adventure, which we would love to know about out of morbid curiosity. If you dump three tablespoons of salt onto that flank steak you are grilling tomorrow, you might be overdoing it on the preparation.

When it  comes to planning in fantasy football, there is no such thing, right? There are so many variables to consider that you can never be over-prepared. Or can you?

There is certainly a litany factors to consider when deciding to rank or draft players in fantasy football. From previous performance to injury status to upgraded coaching staffs or personnel, there is plenty to scrutinize as we attach fantasy value to each player.

One factor commonly cited as a key to fantasy success is future strength of schedule. You will see something to the effect of. “Player X has a great schedule in 2015, which makes him a sleeper," or, "Player Y is good, but he has a tough schedule." But how much merit is there to the idea that we can tell what kind of schedule a player will see? Looking at SOS during the season yields important information, to be sure, but the offseason is a long and treacherous road for fantasy football owners.

The truth of the matter is there is little predictive quality for strength of schedule from one season to the next, and for good reason. The ravages of free agency, youth infusion from the NFL draft and return from injury all affect rosters in a big way. Few teams are truly have roster consistency from year to year. Last year's injury-plagued secondary could become this year's shiny new lockdown unit. A stingy run defense from a year ago may have lost its space-eating nose tackle and compromised its ability to stuff running backs at the goal line in the process.

Of course, there are teams that seem to thrive defensively regardless of roster changes. For years the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers boasted a fantastic defense in the AFC North, and the NFC West is a gauntlet with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers on top. While these top defenses have exhibited some consistency when it comes to giving up fantasy points over the years, they are a relative few among the 32 in the NFL.

How do teams fare from year to year when it comes to allowing fantasy points? Taking a close look at how teams have fared in fantasy points against tells an interesting story. Here is a look into the past six years based on a composite of fantasy points scored from various default scoring formats including FF Today, ESPN, CBS Sports, Yahoo and the FFPC. 

The Strength of Schedule Myth | Create Infographics

For the sake of brevity and clarity, the data focused on the quarterback position. The song remains the same at running back, wide receiver and tight end, however, to varying degrees.

Green Bay gave up the fifth-fewest fantasy points to running backs in 2010 and fell to 18th the following season. The Arizona Cardinals were awful against tight ends in 2013, giving up the most fantasy points at the position despite being eighth-best against tight ends the year before.  

Not all improvements or drops are that dramatic, of course—and some teams manage to retain their lofty or lowly rankings for one or two years—but you get the picture.

The most telling part of the data is average jump or drop among the top and bottom teams in terms of how many fantasy points they give up from year to year. What this means is that a team that has given up the fewest fantasy points at any given position is liable to fall out of the top 10, at least as far as recent history is concerned. In other words, just because the Ravens gave up the fewest fantasy points to running backs last season doesn’t necessarily mean they will get anywhere near the top of the heap in 2015. That is not to say the Ravens won’t do a good job keeping running backs from scoring fantasy points, but odds are those things won’t happen.

In fact, just one team has repeated as the stingiest against any position over the past six years—the Seattle Seahawks against quarterbacks.

There are, of course, schedule considerations. We are looking at raw data without accounting for quality of opponents. The AFC South is doomed to give up a ton of fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks thanks to Drew Brees and Cam Newton. Strength of schedule is far more nuanced than looking at a statistical overview of how a team fared last season. Personnel changes are the biggest difference. 

Perhaps past strength of schedule isn't entirely dead—only mostly dead.

There's not much Miracle Max can do to resucitate its relevancy, though. Even accounting for all the variables that might cause a team to rise or fall, predicting game situations and sheer luck is a task better left to the Oracle of Delphi.

In other words, determining a player’s true strength of schedule might be a fool’s errand.