Warren Sharp

Against the Spread

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Superior Strength of Schedule

Tuesday, May 15, 2018



10. San Francisco 49ers

It was a great time for Jimmy Garoppolo to arrive in San Francisco. The Cardinals are in rebuild mode. The Seahawks aren’t close to the team they were two years ago. The 49ers’ 2018 schedule is extremely segmented, however. They open as underdogs in five of their first seven games, facing the NFL’s third-toughest schedule with four games against top-ten teams in that stretch. But from Week 8 onward, the 49ers have the NFL’s second-softest slate and face the league’s fourth-easiest schedule of opposing offenses. This translates to positive game-script city with the Niners set up to get a ton of production from their Jerick McKinnon-infused run game.

9. Miami Dolphins

All of the AFC teams’ schedules are softened merely by playing in the soft AFC East. For the Dolphins, it means four games against the Jets and Bills. A big plus for the Fins is that they face the NFL’s easiest schedule of pass defenses in Weeks 1-12. Miami no longer has target monster Jarvis Landry, of course, which means plenty of opportunity for DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, and perhaps rookie TE Mike Gesicki. The Dolphins also face a difficult run-defense slate during that stretch, enhancing their need to rely on the Landry-less passing game.

8. Green Bay Packers

Depending on which way you read this article – top down or skipping ahead to see who faces the easiest slate – this will either be the final or first NFC team you read about. Indeed, the NFL’s seven easiest schedules all belong to AFC clubs, illustrating the NFC’s vast superiority. Not only is the Packers’ schedule navigable, but it’s distributed nicely. In the first six weeks, Green Bay draws just one top-ten team (Vikings) and it’s at Lambeau. The Packers have a Week 7 bye before facing the Rams. The do draw New England the following week, but it’s a Sunday night game, giving the Packers a little extra rest. From Week 9 onward, Green Bay’s slate is the second softest in football with four bottom-ten opponents, including three bottom-five clubs.

7. Tennessee Titans

The Titans’ schedule is harder than its average makes it appear; they simply benefit from facing four bottom-ten opponents. Tennessee’s slate does set up relatively nicely pre-bye; they draw difficult foes Philadelphia, Houston, and Baltimore at home with a road game at the Chargers, where home-field edge is minimal. If the Titans can navigate those four games, they’ll be in prime position to rev up entering the playoffs with the NFL’s softest schedule from Weeks 11-17, including four bottom-ten opponents in a seven-week span. One note is that entering their bye, the Titans face a gauntlet of top pass defenses (Jags, Ravens, Eagles, Chargers, Bills) in five consecutive weeks. Post-bye, the strength of opposing pass defenses dips markedly, however. Tennessee’s passing game is set up to start slowly and finish fast.

6. New York Jets

Unlike Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, or Josh Rosen, if Sam Darnold wins the Jets’ starting job in training camp, he will face a soft slate to begin the year. The Jets have the NFL’s easiest schedule in Weeks 1-6, including the league’s tenth-softest slate of pass defenses. They play just one top-ten team (Jacksonville) and three bottom-five teams (Miami, Cleveland, Indy) during that stretch. And through Week 10, Gang Green still has the easiest schedule in the league, and no team plays more bottom-ten opponents (six) or bottom-five clubs (four) than the Jets. It’s not until after the Jets’ Week 11 bye that they face a difficult run (three top-ten teams). Ultimately, the Jets may be better off starting Darnold early than waiting for the bye.

5. Oakland Raiders

After a tough opener against the Rams, the Raiders’ schedule turns progressively easier in September with games against the Broncos, Dolphins, and Browns. But from Week 9 onward, Oakland draws the NFL’s fifth-toughest schedule of defenses. After a decade away from the sidelines, it will be fascinating to watch Jon Gruden’s club handle those opponents.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars drew the NFL’s softest 2017 slate and it paid off for Leonard Fournette. This year, the Jags’ schedule divides at their Week 9 bye. Before the open date, the Jaguars face the league’s 12th-hardest schedule featuring both Super Bowl 52 participants. After the bye, the Jaguars face the league’s second-softest slate with four bottom-ten foes and just one top-ten team. Jacksonville’s offense is projected to face the easiest 2018 schedule, so Fournette should be in store for another volume-heavy campaign.

3. Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers benefit from being the NFL’s only team to play just two top-ten opponents: the Rams and Steelers. (Both are road games, however.) The Bolts do not have an overly easy schedule filled with tremendously bad teams – they face only four bottom-ten foes all year – but the schedule is stocked with winnable games. Given the Chargers’ lack of a real home-field advantage, this note may be overrated, but the Bolts play four tough opponents at home in the first seven weeks (Chiefs, 49ers, Titans, Raiders). The back half of L.A.’s slate features more difficult road games and good run defenses. It will be critical for the Chargers to avoid the predictable and highly inefficient first-down runs they were so confusingly committed to in 2017.

2. New England Patriots

Any schedule is going to be easy when you face the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins for six of your 16 games. The Patriots’ toughest tests come at the beginning and end of their season, facing the Jaguars and Steelers in Weeks 2 and 15, respectively, and both games are on the road. No team plays more bottom-ten opponents (8) than New England. The Pats get the rest of their tough draws at home (Packers, Vikings, Texans, Chiefs). But New England is currently favored by 4.5 points or more in all four of those contests.

1. Houston Texans

The AFC South is not remotely the pushover it once was, and the division will get even harder if Andrew Luck returns. But fortunately for the Texans, their toughest opponents are broken up nicely over the course of their schedule. Houston faces New England in Week 1, hosts the Bills before facing the Jaguars, and draws the Jets before the Eagles. Overall, it’s the softest schedule in the league, and massively so from Weeks 3-15 with winnable-to-cupcake dates against the Giants, Colts (twice), Cowboys, Bills, Dolphins, Broncos, Redskins, Browns, and Jets. In a higher-scoring offense quarterbacked by Deshaun Watson, figuring out which Texans running back will lead the team in touches could be an underrated edge in 2018 fantasy football.



You can follow Warren Sharp on Twitter @SharpFootball.
Email :Warren Sharp



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