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Strength of Schedule Analysis – AFC North: Fantasy Football Draft Strategy

Fantasy Football Matchup Analysis and Draft Prep: AFC North Strength of Schedules

Welcome back to the Rotoballer Strength of Schedule series! Over the course of eight beefy, diesel articles, we will examine every team’s schedule with an eye towards how it will impact your fantasy football aspirations and how it should impact your 2014 fantasy football draft strategy and preparation.  After reading this series, you will have a solid outlook on which teams have favorable schedules, which players could potentially be great 2014 fantasy football sleepers, and which players can be buy-low or sell-high options based on the timing of their NFL matchups.

At this point, all we can do is look at how teams performed last year  and consider offseason adjustments to make some predictions for this upcoming season.  I’m sure there will be teams that were terrible defensively last year who will be much improved this season, just as the 2012 Saints were consistently one of the best matchups for fantasy offenses as their defense was terrible, while the 2013 Saints had one of the best defenses in the league, but huge changes like that are extremely difficult to predict.

In the subsequent charts, you will see rankings for each position in relation to a team’s schedule. These rankings are based on how many average fantasy points per game a particular team gave up last season to a specific position. You can use these charts as a reference when reading the analysis for each team.  If you see that a team is ranked first under a position, this means that they gave up the most fantasy points of any team to that position, and thus they present a great matchup. Similarly, if you see a team is ranked 32nd under a position, this means that they gave up the fewest fantasy points of any team to that position, and consequently they present a difficult matchup. All rankings are based on fantasy points in standard Yahoo! leagues from 2013.  You can also use the color codes as a guide. In sum, green represents a “plus” matchup, orange an “average” matchup and red a “minus” matchup.

Last week, we examined the NFC East. This week, we take a look at the AFC North.


Baltimore Ravens

1. CIN 26th 31st 22nd 29th 21st
2. PIT 21st 17th 21st 20th 22nd
3. @CLE 13th 14th 23rd 18th 6th
4. CAR 31st 30th 30th 13th 25th
5. @IND 17th 20th 14th 27th 27th
6. @TB 7th 27th 17th 16th 13th
7. ATL 4th 7th 10th 14th 12th
8. @CIN 26th 31st 22nd 29th 21st
9. @PIT 21st 17th 21st 20th 22nd
10. TEN 28th 4th 31st 6th 15th
12. @NO 30th 23rd 27th 23rd 28th
13. SD 9th 21st 8th 21st 26th
14. @MIA 27th 9th 29th 5th 9th
15. JAC 3rd 10th 12th 3rd 4th
16. @HOU 16th 12th 25th 11th 2nd
17. CLE 13th 14th 23rd 18th 6th


Key Takeaway: I don’t want any Ravens on my team, except maybe Dennis Pitta.

Dennis Pitta 2011 stadium practiceDeeper Analysis: Yes, a very blanket statement indeed. But a look at the opponents + a tough division + Joe Flacco as the QB = very risky propositions for Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Torrey Smith and company. We know the Bengals defense is very stout, and I would be very surprised if the Steelers aren’t drastically improved on both sides of the ball this year. And Cleveland very often plays its fellow AFC North opponents well-- their overall defense wasn’t half bad last year and should improve. The Baltimore schedule is filled with above-average defenses, including Indianapolis, Carolina, Tampa Bay and New Orleans, on top of their AFC North divisional opponents. Additionally, teams like San Diego and Atlanta made several off-season moves and quality draft picks to improve their defenses. Even with the addition of former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator, I really have no interest in the Ravens offense.

The one exception might be TE Dennis Pitta. Both Miami and Jacksonville were terrible against tight ends last season, and the Ravens get them in the fantasy playoffs. Kubiak also loves utilizing the TE position in the red zone, as Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham were the recipients of a combined eight red zone touchdowns last season.


Cincinnati Bengals

1. @BAL 24th 25th 18th 24th 10th
2. ATL 4th 7th 10th 14th 12th
3. TEN 28th 4th 31st 6th 15th
5. @NE 11th 15th 20th 15th 24th
6. CAR 31st 30th 30th 13th 25th
7. @IND 17th 20th 14th 27th 27th
8. BAL 24th 25th 18th 24th 10th
9. JAC 3rd 10th 12th 3rd 4th
10. CLE 13th 14th 23rd 18th 6th
11. @NO 30th 23rd 27th 23rd 28th
12. @HOU 16th 12th 25th 11th 2nd
13. @TB 7th 27th 17th 16th 13th
14. PIT 21st 17th 21st 20th 22nd
15. @CLE 13th 14th 23rd 18th 6th
16. DEN 8th 11th 13th 9th 32nd
17. @PIT 21st 17th 21st 20th 22nd


Key Takeaway: Be careful with Gio Bernard

Deeper Analysis: I personally do not believe that Bernard is ready to be a RB1 in most fantasy leagues, and much of it is out of his control. As we saw last season, especially in the playoff loss against San Diego, the Bengals offense consists far too much of Andy Dalton simply throwing the ball up in the direction of A.J. Green and hoping he comes down with it. Sure, with Jay Gruden out and now leading the charge in Washington, perhaps the offense will evolve. But I still don’t trust Dalton, now in his fourth season, to progress any more than he already has, and I believe this will hurt Bernard’s production, especially considering where he is being drafted (20-25 ADP range).

After the Week 4 BYE, Bernard will not face a “plus” matchup; the schedule includes games against the following teams: two against the Steelers, two against the Browns, one against the Ravens, one against the Saints, one against the Panthers, and one against the Colts. He sees  the Ravens and Titans prior to the Week 4 BYE. I’m sorry, but that is a pretty brutal schedule on paper.  I’m not saying don’t draft Bernard, but I would be very careful to assume RB1-like numbers week-in and week-out, even in PPR leagues.

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Cleveland Browns

1. @PIT 21st 17th 21st 20th 22nd
2. NO 30th 23rd 27th 23rd 28th
3. BAL 24th 25th 18th 24th 10th
5. @TEN 28th 4th 31st 6th 15th
6. PIT 21st 17th 21st 20th 22nd
7. @JAC 3rd 10th 12th 3rd 4th
8. OAK 6th 5th 11th 19th 7th
9. TB 7th 27th 17th 16th 13th
10. @CIN 26th 31st 22nd 29th 21st
11. HOU 16th 12th 25th 11th 2nd
12. @ATL 4th 7th 10th 14th 12th
13. @BUF 25th 19th 5th 26th 11th
14. IND 17th 20th 14th 27th 27th
15. CIN 26th 31st 22nd 29th 21st
16. @CAR 31st 30th 30th 13th 25th
17. @BAL 24th 25th 18th 24th 10th


Key Takeaway: I won’t have Ben Tate on any of my teams

Ben Tate 2014 Browns training camp (2)Deeper Analysis: We heard it the past two seasons in Houston. “If Arian Foster gets hurt, look out for Ben Tate!” Well, Foster got hurt last season, and we did look out for Ben Tate. But he proceeded to get banged up in his own right, and while he still had a decent season, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a break-out year. I’m simply not sure I can trust a career backup who can’t even stay healthy in only a part-time role. And now I’m supposed to count on him as my RB2 in a new offense that quite possibly has the least amount of playmakers of any team in the league (assuming Josh Gordon is done as a Brown)? With either Brian Hoyer or rookie Johnny Manziel at QB, Tate could quite often see eight or nine guys in the box.

Forgetting the offensive situation, the schedule is tough, just like it is for all of the AFC North teams. On the surface, it appears as though Oakland and Atlanta are the only “plus” matchups for Tate, and the schedule includes many “minus” opponents that will make Tate’s life very difficult. I simply cannot justify Tate with a fourth-round draft pick, but someone else will take him there, so it’s safe to say I won’t have Tate on any of my teams.


Pittsburgh Steelers

1. CLE 13th 14th 23rd 18th 6th
2. @BAL 24th 25th 18th 24th 10th
3. @CAR 31st 30th 30th 13th 25th
4. TB 7th 27th 17th 16th 13th
5. @JAC 3rd 10th 12th 3rd 4th
6. @CLE 13th 14th 23rd 18th 6th
7. HOU 16th 12th 25th 11th 2nd
8. IND 17th 20th 14th 27th 27th
9. BAL 24th 25th 18th 24th 10th
10. @NYJ 14th 28th 6th 12th 5th
11. @TEN 28th 4th 31st 6th 15th
13. NO 30th 23rd 27th 23rd 28th
14. @CIN 26th 31st 22nd 29th 21st
15. @ATL 4th 7th 10th 14th 12th
16. KC 18th 16th 16th 32nd 29th
17. CIN 26th 31st 22nd 29th 21st


Key Takeaway: I think Ben Roethlisberger is primed for a big year.

Deeper Analysis:  Of all the AFC North teams that can overcome a relatively tough schedule, I think the Steelers have the best chance. In 2013, Roethlisberger had some of his best numbers in several years (64.2% completion percentage, over 4,200 yards and 28 TD). He also started all 16 games for the first time since 2008. He has a true number one WR in Antonio Brown, a very good RB in Le’Veon Bell, and a fully-healthy TE in Heath Miller, who missed much of last season recovering from knee surgery. The weapons are there, and Roethlisberger could excel.

As discussed, the schedule for AFC North teams is tough, and the Steelers' schedule is no exception. But if there is any team that could do well with some potentially difficult matchups, it’s going to be one that has a Super Bowl winning QB and head coach combination. I would limit expectations for Le’Veon Bell a tad, as he has yet to show he’ll be able to handle a full workload, especially against some tough defenses, but I do think he has greater upside this season than Bernard does. And the aforementioned Miller could be a fantastic late-round TE option, if you choose to wait on the position in your draft.

Be sure to check back soon for the NFC North installment in the Strength of Schedule analysis series!


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