Never Bury the Lede: The difference between Baker Mayfield’s schedule last year and his schedule this year was the difference between him finishing 25th and 15th in fantasy points per game.
Other Strength of Schedule Articles
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? 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. This is typically done by calculating a defense’s FPG allowed average, and then looking at the average for all players over a full 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 +6.9 fantasy points per game over their season-long average when facing Miami, which ranked worst in the league. (Miami was the most favorable fantasy matchup for opposing quarterbacks; worth, on average, an additional 6.9 fantasy points per game.) On the opposite end of the spectrum, quarterbacks fell short of their season-long average by 6.2 points when facing Pittsburgh, which ranked best in the league. (Pittsburgh was 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 2020.
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 that it is not. In fantasy football--like 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, Baker Mayfield had the toughest schedule among all fantasy quarterbacks. His average matchup was worth -1.25 [team quarterback] FPG. Because he was responsible for 100% of the fantasy points generated by Cleveland’s quarterbacks last year, 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 +1.25 fantasy points per game. This would have been the difference between him finishing 25th in fantasy points per game (15.6) and 17th (16.9). Looking forward, Mayfield’s schedule is much-improved (most-improved at the position), fairly soft (fifth-softest), and worth an additional +0.64 fantasy points per game in real terms. Essentially, if he had this schedule last year, he should have scored 17.5 fantasy points per game, which would have ranked 15th.
Clearly, strength of schedule – something totally outside of a player’s control and entirely due to luck – can have a big impact for fantasy.
Gaps in players denote a large drop-off.
Best Overall Schedule (2019)
1. Sam Darnold, Average Matchup: +1.30
2. Kyle Allen (+1.24)
3. Carson Wentz (+1.05)
4. Mason Rudolph (+1.04)
5. Drew Lock (+1.02)
Worst Overall Schedule (2019)
1. Baker Mayfield, Average Matchup: -1.25
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick (-0.88)
3. Derek Carr (-0.78)
4. Russell Wilson (-0.76)
5. Deshaun Watson (-0.68)
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Best Overall Schedule (Weeks 1-16)
1. Carson Wentz (+0.83)
2. Dwayne Haskins (+0.69)
3. Ben Roethlisberger (+0.66)
4. Teddy Bridgewater (+0.65)
5. Baker Mayfield (+0.64)
Worst Overall Schedule (Weeks 1-16)
1. Josh Allen (-1.23)
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick / Tua Tagovailoa (-1.18)
3. Deshaun Watson (-0.79)
4. Ryan Tannehill (-0.71)
5. Drew Lock (-0.66)
Off to a Hot Start (First Four Weeks)
1. Mitch Trubisky / Nick Foles (+3.49)
2. Gardner Minshew (+3.16)
3. Jarrett Stidham / Brian Hoyer (+1.99)
4. Lamar Jackson (+1.75)
5. Jimmy Garoppolo (+1.71)
5. Kyler Murray (+1.71)
Slow Starters (First Four Weeks)
1. Deshaun Watson (-3.78)
2. Daniel Jones (-3.25)
3. Ryan Tannehill (-3.14)
4. Pat Mahomes (-2.51)
5. Ryan Fitzpatrick / Tua Tagovailoa (-2.35)
Best Playoff Schedule (Weeks 14-16)
1. Pat Mahomes (+3.95)
2. Jimmy Garoppolo (+3.17)
3. Lamar Jackson (+3.01)
4. Carson Wentz (+2.19)
5. Derek Carr (+1.80)
Worst Playoff Schedule (Weeks 14-16)
1. Josh Allen (-5.12)
2. Jared Goff (-2.80)
3. Drew Brees (-2.29)
4. Drew Lock (-2.26)
5. Gardner Minshew (-1.76)
Schedule Change (in Real Points)
Most Improved Schedule
1. Baker Mayfield (+1.88)
2. Russell Wilson (+1.12)
3. Teddy Bridgewater (+0.74)
4. Mitchell Trubisky (+0.74)
5. Dwayne Haskins (+0.59)
Least Improved Schedule
1. Drew Lock (-1.68)
2. Josh Allen (-1.39)
3. Sam Darnold (-1.35)
4. Marcus Mariota (-1.01)
5. Drew Brees (-0.88)
Thoughts / Notes / Dank Stats
- No quarterback will benefit more from an improved schedule this year than Baker Mayfield. (Explained in more detail in the introduction.)
- Patrick Mahomes (+3.95) and Lamar Jackson (+3.01) have the first- and third-most-favorable postseason schedules this year. Oh boy. Yeah, that’s frightening.
- Russell Wilson is one of my favorite upside plays this offseason, and here’s another reason to like him: among all starters, he has the second-most-improved schedule, worth +1.12 FPG above his 2019 total. Essentially, if he had his 2020 schedule in 2019, we should have expected him to score 22.0 fantasy points per game (instead of 20.9), which would have ranked third-most.
- It’s easy to get hyped about Drew Lock’s new and improved supporting cast, but he also went from having the fifth-softest schedule in 2019 (+1.02) to the fifth-toughest in 2020 (-0.66). This differential (-1.68) ranked worst among all quarterbacks, and represents a drop from 14.2 fantasy points per game to 12.5.
- Since entering the league, Josh Allen averages 25.8 fantasy points per game against bottom-12 defenses. If, over a full season, that would rank sixth-most all-time, comparable to Peyton Manning’s famed 2013 season (26.3). So, he’s already been one of the league’s most matchup-sensitive fantasy players, and his schedule gets much tougher this year. He has the worst overall schedule at the position (-1.23) and the toughest playoff schedule at the position (-5.12). His change in schedule ranks second-worst (-1.39) behind Lock. For this reason, and because he’s so matchup-sensitive, I prefer getting my exposure to Allen in DFS and best- ball (rather than typical start/sit redraft leagues) this year.
- Aaron Rodgers was also one of the most matchup-sensitive players in fantasy last year. He averaged 27.8 fantasy points per game against teams ranking bottom-six in fantasy points per game allowed to quarterbacks. In all other games, he averaged just 14.3 fantasy points per game. His schedule basically remains unchanged, but he might be another quarterback you’d be better off getting exposure to in DFS.
- Sam Darnold was a major disappointment in 2019, and it looks even more concerning when factoring in the league’s softest quarterback schedule (+1.30) last year. On top of that, he was also exceedingly matchup-sensitive, averaging 18.3 FPG in above-average matchups and only 8.0 fantasy points per game in below-average matchups. With a much tougher schedule in 2020, he’s an easy fade.
Notes: Special thanks to Mike Beers of Rotoviz for his help with this multi-year project.