Which quarterbacks have the toughest or easiest fantasy schedules this year? Which quarterbacks had the toughest or easiest schedules last year? Or, what about the toughest or easiest schedules in the fantasy postseason this year? Or to start the season? Which quarterbacks saw their schedules improve the most or least? How big of an impact was that change in schedule? Can we quantify that change in real terms using fantasy points?
Luckily for our subscribers, we can answer all of these questions and more. But in order to do so, we first had to quantify strength of schedule (SOS). This is typically done by calculating a defense’s FPG allowed average, and then looking at the average for all players over an entire season. This will also be our approach; however, we’ll be taking things one step further – we’re going to use a control for the opposing offense by measuring FPG over an opponent’s average.
For instance, last season, opposing quarterbacks averaged +5.2 fantasy points per game over their season-long average when facing the Lions, which ranked worst in the league. (Detroit was the most favorable fantasy matchup for opposing quarterbacks — worth, on average, an additional 5.2 fantasy points per game.)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, quarterbacks fell short of their season-long average by 3.6 points when facing the Texans, which ranked best in the league. (In other words, the Texans were the toughest fantasy matchup for opposing quarterbacks.) Calculating these numbers for all teams and then applying the full-season average for all players quantifies in real terms which players had the easiest and most difficult schedules for fantasy last year. We can also use these numbers to project out strength of schedule for each team and each position in 2023.
Ah then, you might ask: “do defenses get the benefit of being ‘tough’ matchups because bad QB play against them is dragging the numbers down?” Not for this study. The strength of schedule (SOS) average used in this study controls for quality of opponent by eliminating a QB’s own performance against a defense when measuring that individual’s SOS. So this SOS study filters out the notion that the quarterback being studied was responsible for his own schedule difficulty — I measure the QB’s SOS by measuring how his peers performed relative to their average against a particular defense. In essence, the defenses playing Zach Wilson don’t simply look tough statistically because they were playing Zach Wilson during a bad season, because I control for that.
Calculating these numbers for all teams and then applying the full-season average for all players quantifies in real terms which players had the easiest and most difficult schedules for fantasy last year. We can also use these numbers to project out strength of schedule for each team and each position in 2023.
While this methodology isn’t perfect — of course roster turnover and coaching changes will complicate things — strength of schedule doesn’t not matter. This data is still far more actionable than it is not. In fantasy football — like in poker — there may only be small edges to be gained, but those small edges can be compounded to yield a massive advantage. And they must be taken advantage of… and are, by the most dominant players. That’s the case with strength of schedule. It’s another small edge to be realized, and at the polar extremes, it might matter a lot more than you’d expect.
Here’s an example: last season, Deshaun Watson had the toughest strength of schedule among all fantasy quarterbacks. His average matchup was worth -1.53 [team quarterback] FPG. Because he was responsible for just about 100% of the fantasy points generated by Cleveland’s quarterbacks last year (in games he started), we can say that – adjusted for strength of schedule, or if he had a perfectly average strength of schedule last year – he would have scored an additional -1.53 fantasy points per start. Looking forward, Watson’s schedule is still tough (-0.72) but much-improved (most-improved at the position), and worth an additional +0.81 fantasy points per game in real terms. Essentially, if he had this schedule last year, he should have averaged 15.9 fantasy points per start, which would have ranked 19th-best instead of 25th-best.
Clearly, strength of schedule – something totally outside of a player’s control and entirely due to luck – can have a big impact for fantasy.
Running Backs (click here)
Wide Receivers (click here)
Tight Ends (click here)
Best Overall Schedule (2022)
1. Brock Purdy, Average Matchup: +1.59
2. Davis Mills (+0.82)
3. Russell Wilson (+0.76)
4. Matt Ryan (+0.75)
5. Justin Herbert (+0.74)
Worst Overall Schedule (2022)
1. Tua Tagovailoa (-1.12)
2. Matthew Stafford (-0.77)
3. Baker Mayfield (-0.66)
4. Lamar Jackson (-0.60)
5. Jacoby Brissett (-0.58)
PDF and CSV downloads available here.
Best Overall Schedule (Weeks 1-17)
1. Jordan Love (+1.08)
2. Justin Fields (+0.98)
3. Bryce Young / Andy Dalton (+0.70)
4. Derek Carr (+0.55)
5. Jimmy Garoppolo (+0.39)
Worst Overall Schedule (Weeks 1-17)
1. Kyler Murray / Colt McCoy (-1.27)
2. Daniel Jones (-0.91)
3. Geno Smith (-0.75)
4. Deshaun Watson (-0.72)
5. Kenny Pickett (-0.69)
Off to a Hot Start (First Five Games)
1. Justin Herbert (+2.44)
2. Jordan Love (+2.14)
3. Bryce Young / Andy Dalton (+2.00)
4. Patrick Mahomes (+1.49)
5. Jared Goff (+1.29)
Slow Starters (First Five Games)
1. Jimmy Garoppolo (-2.14)
t2. Lamar Jackson (-1.71)
t2. Kyler Murray / Colt McCoy (-1.71)
4. Tua Tagovailoa (-1.35)
5. Kenny Pickett (-1.32)
Best Playoff Schedule (Weeks 15-17)
1. Jimmy Garoppolo (+1.63)
2. Desmond Ridder (+1.55)
3. Dak Prescott (+1.51)
4. Joe Burrow (+1.43)
5. Russell Wilson (+1.40)
Worst Playoff Schedule (Weeks 15-17)
1. Sam Howell / Jacoby Brissett (-2.58)
2. Tua Tagovailoa (-2.47)
3. Ryan Tannehill (-1.85)
4. Deshaun Watson (-1.76)
Schedule Change (In Real Points)
Most Improved Schedule
1. Justin Fields (+0.84)
2. Deshaun Watson (+0.81)
3. Desmond Ridder (+0.78)
4. Derek Carr (+0.68)
5. Tua Tagovailoa (+0.56)
Least Improved Schedule
1. Kyler Murray (-1.99)
2. Brock Purdy (-1.96)
3. Daniel Jones (-1.03)
4. Aaron Rodgers (-0.90)
5. Geno Smith (-0.81)
1) Deshaun Watson had the toughest strength of schedule among all fantasy QBs last season. But his schedule was also difficult and unlucky in a less obvious way. Weather and field conditions were atrocious in his final four games of the season – in those games, Watson saw an average temperature of 33.8 degrees and an average wind speed of 14.0 mph.
Although Watson’s results were unsightly from a fantasy perspective, you can see how weather impacted his performance by the fact that he still managed to beat out his opposing QB in passing yards in four of his last five starts of the season. And that’s part of the equation as it relates to his unlucky strength of schedule – opposing offenses weren’t forcing Cleveland to keep their foot on the gas, in part because opposing QBs were afflicted by the same weather-related issues. Watson averaged only 183.7 passing YPG over his six starts (down from a prior career average of 269.2), but opposing QBs averaged just 168.0 YPG.
Anyway… Even in spite of his tough strength of schedule and poor weather luck, Watson didn’t play particularly well. But he was also understandably rusty – his first start of the season came 700 days after his last NFL start. With that in mind, Watson has only finished top-6 in FPG prior to last year – 6th in 2021 (23.1), 2nd in 2020 (21.4), 5th in 2019 (20.7), and 1st in 2018 (24.1). And yet, he’s being drafted as just the QB9 in Underdog leagues.
From @MatthewBerryTMR: expect the #Browns’ offense to be Deshaun Watson’s, not Nick Chubb’s, with more 5-wide stuff & much more passing.— Ed Greenberger (@EdGreenberger) March 7, 2023
Thank god. I figured that’s the way this had to go, and this appears to be confirmation. Need another great WR, though. pic.twitter.com/bLrbONJ5N5
2) It’s hard not to get excited about Justin Fields, who averaged an obscene 25.5 FPG over his final 9 games (would have ranked 9th-most all-time). But he also benefits from the most-improved schedule of any fantasy QB this year, worth in real terms a +0.84 FPG jump from his 2022 average.
3) For those of you interested in Underdog’s tournament-style leagues, note that the following QBs have the best postseason schedules (Weeks 15-17): Jimmy Garoppolo (+1.63), Desmond Ridder (+1.55), Dak Prescott (+1.51), Joe Burrow (+1.43), and Russell Wilson (+1.40). When looking for an ideal QB to stack, I’d recommend Burrow over any other QB on this list – although Burrow ranks 4th among QBs, his WRs (+2.35) and TEs (+0.88) also rank top-5 in playoff strength of schedule.
4) Brock Purdy has the 2nd-worst projected schedule change of any QB, worth in real terms -1.96 FPG off his average. And yet, I don’t really care, given his QB28 ADP.
Per Ian Rapaport, “For the San Francisco 49ers there is no doubt that Purdy is QB1 this year.” He’s currently rehabbing from elbow surgery, and although he may not be ready by Week 1, he shouldn’t be out for many games beyond that. For #LateRoundQB advocates who really like to test the limits of their preferred QB strategy, I really like the idea of drafting both Purdy and Trey Lance in the latest rounds of your (non-best ball) draft. Lance offers massive upside in the however many games Purdy will miss – Lance averages 12.3 rushing attempts per game in the 3 career games he started and finished (would rank most all-time). And Purdy, I think, offers underrated upside, given his elite supporting cast (a top-5 offensive line, elite receivers, and a genius play-caller in Kyle Shanahan.) Last season, Purdy averaged 18.6 fantasy points per start (low of 16.5), which ranked 8th-best. And hinting at his upside, Purdy led all QBs last season in fantasy points per dropback (0.60).
5) Kyler Murray is one of the easiest fades in fantasy, and not only because his brutal 2023 schedule is worth a handicap of 2.0 FPG off of his 2022 average. Still rehabbing from ACL surgery, he’s not due to return to the field until about Week 10. The obviously tanking Cardinals are heavily incentivized not to play him, even when he’s fully healthy. And the ACL injury is expected to negatively impact his rushing abilities until 2024.
6) It was pretty crazy how Russell Wilson seemingly fully Freaky Friday’d with Geno Smith in 2023. Is Wilson just fully cooked at this stage of his career? I’d say probably. And his decline looks even worse in light of his pillow soft-schedule last year (+0.76, 3rd-softest). However, if you’re looking for a glimmer of hope, I’ll say this – a fully cooked Drew Brees averaged 19.3 fantasy points per start (would have ranked 7th-best last year) under HC Sean Payton in his age 40-41 seasons before retiring.
7) Despite having the league’s toughest strength of schedule in 2022 (-1.12), Tua Tagovailoa still averaged 8.9 YPA, which ranks 18th-best in NFL history. If excluding the two games Tagovailoa failed to play on at least 75% of the team’s snaps and then the Week 3 game against Buffalo in which he never should have been allowed to return to the field, Tagovailoa averaged 20.8 fantasy points per start, which would have ranked 5th-best last season. I definitely understand the injury concerns, but Tagovailoa looks to me like a tremendous value at his current ADP (QB12).
8) Jordan Love would be your top recommended early-season streamer. His schedule over his first five games (+2.14) ranks 2nd-best among all QBs, only behind Justin Herbert.
9) If Justin Herbert isn’t absolutely lighting the league on fire before his Week 5 bye, I’d consider trading him. Herbert has by far the softest schedule through the first four weeks (+2.44) and should benefit from a play-caller upgrade in OC Kellen Moore. So, if he gets off to a slower-than-expected start, you may be able to salvage some value via trade and let your opponent get caught holding the bag when his schedule toughens up.
#Cowboys under OC Kellen Moore— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) April 2, 2023
Points per game:
1st*, 1st, 1st*, 6th
Yards per game:
5th*, 1st, 1st*, 1st
2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th
Top-10 No-Huddle % each year
Plays per game:
1st*, 2nd, 1st*, 6th
They let Moore go for Brian Schottenheimer. 🤦♂️
10) Lamar Jackson finished 6th-best in fantasy points per start (20.3) last season. His 2023 strength of schedule is significantly improved (+0.35), and GM Eric DeCosta greatly improved his arsenal of pass-catchers, adding Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers to Rashod Bateman, Mark Andrews, and Isaiah Likely. Moreover, OC Todd Monken may also represent a significant improvement upon Greg Roman. In three career seasons as an NFL play-caller, Monken’s teams threw on 61.6% of their plays (7th-most), while the Ravens ranked dead-last under Roman (49.3%). Monken’s QBs combined to average 18.2 passing FPG over this span, which if combined with Lamar Jackson’s career 9.3 rushing fantasy points per career start would yield an absurd 27.5 FPG.
11) Derek Carr should benefit from trading the AFC West for the NFC South (+0.68), but the AFC East is going to be a lot more difficult for Aaron Rodgers than the NFC North (-0.90). But ultimately, I expect both QBs to rebound in 2023. Carr hit career lows in just about every metric, struggling in Josh McDaniel’s offense, which is notoriously difficult to learn. Rodgers struggled last season while playing with a broken thumb from Week 5 on, but gets reunited with Nathaniel Hackett, who helped him win back-to-back MVP awards in the two seasons prior to that.
12) I'm going to remain bullish on Daniel Jones, but it is worth noting his schedule is significantly tougher this year (-1.03). Including the playoffs, Jones averaged 24.1 FPG over his final seven games against non-division opponents (would have ranked 4th-best among all QBs). Against the NFC East, he averaged just 13.6 FPG (would have ranked 30th).