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Out of the Gate

Everybody will tell you that a win is a win, but let's face it....we all want to start 4-0.

Everybody will tell you that a win is a win, but let's face it....we all want to start 4-0.  Early victories give a fantasy owner breathing space and allow for early trash talking.  Additionally, winning early allows one to trade away overvalued hot players and acquire the players that can win the Championship.  So what is the secret to winning early?  First, you need to understand player value, but since you found this site.....we'll assume you are past that step.  Equally important, though, is to analyze the first five weeks of the NFL schedule.

Many websites and magazines will publish schedule strength values, but I'll save you the time and tell you that they are worthless.  They usually have to do with wins the previous season which the last I checked has nothing to do with fantasy scoring.  A crude method I have devised over the years is to simply use the FBG staff rankings at the position and adjust for whether the game is being played at home or away.  The table below summarizes this point well:

Rank Team Base # @ Team Value vs. Team Value
1 Denver Broncos -5 @Den -7 Den -3
2 Houston Texans -5 @Hou -7 Hou -3
3 Seattle Seahawks -5 @Sea -7 Sea -3
4 Kansas City Chiefs -4 @KC -6 KC -2
5 Minnesota Vikings -4 @Min -6 Min -2
6 Arizona Cardinals -4 @Ari -6 Ari -2
7 New England Patriots -3 @NE -5 NE -1
8 Carolina Panthers -3 @Car -5 Car -1
9 Los Angeles Rams -3 @LAR -5 LAR -1
10 New York Giants -2 @NYG -4 NYG 0
11 Jacksonville Jaguars -2 @Jac -4 Jac 0
12 Pittsburgh Steelers -2 @Pit -4 Pit 0
13 Baltimore Ravens -1 @Bal -3 Bal 1
14 Philadelphia Eagles -1 @Phi -3 Phi 1
15 Oakland Raiders -1 @Oak -3 Oak 1
16 Green Bay Packers 0 @GB -2 GB 2
17 Cincinnati Bengals 0 @Cin -2 Cin 2
18 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 @TB -1 TB 3
19 Miami Dolphins 1 @Mia -1 Mia 3
20 Buffalo Bills 1 @Buf -1 Buf 3
21 Los Angeles Chargers 2 @LAC 0 LAC 4
22 Atlanta Falcons 2 @Atl 0 Atl 4
23 Dallas Cowboys 2 @Dal 0 Dal 4
24 Detroit Lions 3 @Det 1 Det 5
25 New York Jets 3 @NYJ 1 NYJ 5
26 Tennessee Titans 3 @Ten 1 Ten 5
27 Washington Redskins 4 @Was 2 Was 6
28 Chicago Bears 4 @Chi 2 Chi 6
29 Indianapolis Colts 4 @Ind 2 Ind 6
30 Cleveland Browns 5 @Cle 3 Cle 7
31 New Orleans Saints 5 @NO 3 NO 7
32 San Francisco 49ers 5 @SF 3 SF 7

For purposes of this metric, a bye is calculated at -3.  Playing a team like Denver would earn a team a -7 if Denver is at home or a -3 if Denver was away.  It's an over-simplification because all defenses are not equal.  Some yield yards, but create turnovers.  Others pressure the QB.  Some defenses shut down the opponent's best WR, etc.  But despite these limitations, I think applying this metric across the early schedule does give a pretty good relative approximation of the teams that have easy and hard schedules out of the gate.

So let's do just that (and sort by the largest sums).  Easiest schedules appear at the top of this table (in green).  The hardest schedules appear at the bottom of the table (in red)

Team Wk1 Wk2 Wk3 Wk4 Wk5 Sum
Mia TB (3) @LAC (0) @NYJ (1) NO (7) Ten (5) 16
Min NO (7) @Pit (-4) TB (3) Det (5) @Chi (2) 13
LAR Ind (6) Was (6) @SF (3) @Dal (0) Sea (-3) 12
Ari @Det (1) @Ind (2) Dal (4) SF (7) @Phi (-3) 11
Car @SF (3) Buf (3) NO (7) @NE (-5) @Det (1) 9
Sea @GB (-2) SF (7) @Ten (1) Ind (6) @LAR (-5) 7
Cle Pit (0) @Bal (-3) @Ind (2) Cin (2) NYJ (5) 6
Atl @Chi (2) GB (2) @Det (1) Buf (3) BYE (-3) 5
Den LAC (4) Dal (4) @Buf (-1) Oak (1) BYE (-3) 5
GB Sea (-3) @Atl (0) Cin (2) Chi (6) @Dal (0) 5
NYG @Dal (0) Det (5) @Phi (-3) @TB (-1) LAC (4) 5
Cin Bal (1) Hou (-3) @GB (-2) @Cle (3) Buf (3) 2
NYJ @Buf (-1) @Oak (-3) Mia (3) Jac (0) @Cle (3) 2
Oak @Ten (1) NYJ (5) @Was (2) @Den (-7) Bal (1) 2
Ind @LAR (-5) Ari (-2) Cle (7) @Sea (-7) SF (7) 0
Pit @Cle (3) Min (-2) @Chi (2) @Bal (-3) Jac (0) 0
Chi Atl (4) @TB (-1) Pit (0) @GB (-2) Min (-2) -1
Bal @Cin (-2) Cle (7) @Jac (-4) Pit (0) @Oak (-3) -2
TB @Mia (-1) Chi (6) @Min (-6) NYG (0) NE (-1) -2
Hou Jac (0) @Cin (-2) @NE (-5) Ten (5) KC (-2) -4
Jac @Hou (-7) Ten (5) Bal (1) @NYJ (1) @Pit (-4) -4
NE KC (-2) @NO (3) Hou (-3) Car (-1) @TB (-1) -4
Buf NYJ (5) @Car (-5) Den (-3) @Atl (0) @Cin (-2) -5
KC @NE (-5) Phi (1) @LAC (0) Was (6) @Hou (-7) -5
Phi @Was (2) @KC (-6) NYG (0) @LAC (0) Ari (-2) -6
Det Ari (-2) @NYG (-4) Atl (4) @Min (-6) Car (-1) -9
LAC @Den (-7) Mia (3) KC (-2) Phi (1) @NYG (-4) -9
Dal NYG (0) @Den (-7) @Ari (-6) LAR (-1) GB (2) -12
Was Phi (1) @LAR (-5) Oak (1) @KC (-6) BYE (-3) -12
SF Car (-1) @Sea (-7) LAR (-1) @Ari (-6) @Ind (2) -13
Ten Oak (1) @Jac (-4) Sea (-3) @Hou (-7) @Mia (-1) -14
NO @Min (-6) NE (-1) @Car (-5) @Mia (-1) BYE (-3) -16

The easiest schedules:

1.  The Miami Dolphins play a neutral or plus matchup each of the five weeks including three games at home.

2.  The Minnesota Vikings have 4 plus matchups with the only tough spot being week 2 at Pittsburgh.  Rookie running back Dalvin Cook could use this schedule to lock down the starting running back job early.

3.  The Los Angeles Rams face three very soft defnses out of the game with home games against the Colts and Redskins and an away game vs the 49ers. This could be exactly what RB Todd Gurley needs to put his dismal 2016 campaign in the rear view mirror.

The hardest schedules: 

1.  New Orleans faces a murderous row out of the gate with four negative matchups and a bye in their first five games.  Three of these games will also be on the road.  Drew Brees stats in losses has been much worse than in wins making him a clear fade near his ADP of QB3.

2. The Titans may find themselves struggling to move the ball with four negative matchups in the early going including games against the Seahawks at home and the Texans on the road.

3.  The 49ers could find things rough out of the gate with road games against the Seahawks and Cardinals early.  Their home games against the Panthers and Rams won't be push overs either.   

Bottom Line: 

If you want to draft a team that starts hot, lean on players from Miami, Minnesota, Los Angeles (Rams), and Arizona while minimizing players from Dallas, Washington, San Francisco, Tennessee, and New Orleans.