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Faceoff: Discussing SOS

August 24th

Clayton Gray: Assuming a player is on the same team as last year, how important is strength of schedule when determining the player's 2012 prospects?

Matt Waldman: I don't account for it at all. I'm sure there is someone on staff that will make a compelling case of math behind it in some limited fashion that might be helpful However, until I see it there are too many variables with the turnover of players, coaches, and schemes to give SOS serious credence until at least a month into the regular season. Why should I worry about facing the Jets twice a year with my running back if two weeks into the year, the New York defensive front and linebacker corps is a shadow of itself due to injury? Are you really going to downgrade Ray Rice because he faces the Steelers twice a year? Marshawn Lynch because of the 49ers (and not his alleged option of fueling up with the wrong kind of gas before getting behind the wheel of an Econoline van)?

Count me out.

Andy Hicks: I value SOS. Retrospectively, before the draft and especially in season. I recognize the arguments Matt makes, but it often helps me decide between a group of particular guys I have graded similarly.

It is very useful in evaluating players who may have played above themselves due to a retrospectively weak schedule, especially when they eg go from facing Indianapolis, Miami and Cleveland circa 2011, to New England, Pittsburgh and Baltimore to open a season. Sure this may not affect someone like Ray Rice, but what about Dustin Keller, Greg Little and Donald Brown? It could be the difference between drafting these guys or skipping them.

Before the draft, I will look primarily at the first few rounds and look for any teams which are scheduled to be against very weak or very strong opposition. Then I'll look at the schedules myself and see if these teams that are allegedly weak or strong, match my perception of them. I will then adjust any player I feel needs to be distinguished or dropped in their respective tiers. I will also look at guys that have very strong or weak playoff schedules and evaluate them myself. Obviously it's a long season and a lot changes, but there are obvious bad teams and teams that are highly likely to do well. If I can find an offensive player up against 2 or 3 week defenses in weeks 14-16, then they'll get an upgrade. Similarly if they are up against 2 or 3 strong defenses, then they may drop a touch or 2.

Obviously last years SOS and pre-season evaluations need to be adjusted as teams reveal their stripes in the current season. After the first 4 or 5 games have been played, you can usually make trade offers or target the waiver wire and strengthen your squad, with an eye on the playoffs.

SOS is not the only tool to do all the above, but I find it an incredibly useful contributor to the decisions I make before, during and after the season.

Heath Cummings: I feel like, especially in more casual leagues, in season SOS is not given near enough credence. I can see Matt's point about preseason SOS and have struggled with some of those same thoughts, but once your in the middle of the season and looking at trades, I find it very valuable. I think the most important thing with strength of schedule is keeping it in perspective. You can't start moving players from one tier to another based on how difficult we think their schedule is going to be. But you can absolutely use it as a tool to differentiate between players in the same tier, as well as using it midseason in evaluating trades.

Sigmund Bloom: Unimportant. I might use it as a tiebreaker between elite players when looking at playoff matchups, but only where nothing else provided a distinct split between the two players. Teams rise and fall so much during the offseason and they change so much during the regular season that preseason strength of schedule data is generally unreliable. I wouldn't look at it too much because it could unduly sway you away from players that your instincts otherwise tell you are good plays this year.

Jeff Pasquino: It matters some, but not entirely. If a player played only a handful of games as a starter for example, you should look at who he had to face. This is probably most important for tailbacks. DeMarco Murray is a name to consider here. He beat up on weak competition for four weeks (Rams, Eagles, Seahawks, Bills) while posting three of his four 100+ yard games. Once it got a little tougher (Washington, Miami) he failed to break four yards per carry. While Murray looked good at times, sometimes racking up 1-3 big games against inferior competition can give you a false sense of accomplishment. Anyone remember Josh Freeman two years ago?

Will Grant: I'll admit that it's very much an after-thought for me. The only time it really comes up is when I'm looking for a backup or I'm in a slow live draft and a guy that I drafted early like Jason Witten or Ryan Matthews could miss the first game or two due to injury. When I need a player who will only fill in for a week or two, I look at who the available players are for that position and then look at their opponents/projected fantasy points for the weeks that I need them. The Draft Dominator is really good for this. It will allow you to hold off on a backup QB much longer than you might expect because a guy like Christian Ponder might be playing a weak opponent when your starter is off. Most guys won't take Ponder as a backup, so you can hold off another 2-3 rounds and still get a guy who will be solid when you need him.