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Stack 'Em - Teams with Favorable Schedules for Top Players


Using last year’s results alone to predict this season’s outcomes is borderline foolish. Luckily, when it comes to the task of projecting the upcoming NFL season there are a few other factors which can increase our odds of success. I mean sure, you could draft based on talent and opportunity alone, but the number of elite players who consistently ball out regardless of matchup is relatively short. A little foresight never hurts, and the best starting point? Las Vegas.

Frankly, casinos aren’t in business to give away money, so accuracy with their lines is paramount. Which is why it’s always a good idea to stay on top of what’s going on in Sin City if you wish to put your fantasy team in the best position for success. And not just during the season.

Let’s take a look at each team’s projected win total for 2018 (per BetOnline.com):

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Projecting 2018 Based on Strength of Schedule

2018 NFL Regular-season win totals
Team 2017 Wins 2018 Win Total OVER UNDER
Arizona Cardinals 8 5.5 -150 +130
Atlanta Falcons 10 9 -130 +110
Baltimore Ravens 9 8 -145 +125
Buffalo Bills 9 6.5 +165 -190
Carolina Panthers 11 8.5 -120 +100
Chicago Bears 5 6.5 -135 +115
Cincinnati Bengals 7 6.5 -125 +105
Cleveland Browns 0 5.5 -145 +125
Dallas Cowboys 9 8.5 -110 -110
Denver Broncos 5 7.5 +115 -135
Detroit Lions 9 7.5 -120 +100
Green Bay Packers 7 10 +110 -130
Houston Texans 4 8.5 -160 +140
Indianapolis Colts 4 6.5 -120 +100
Jacksonville Jaguars 10 9 -110 -110
Kansas City Chiefs 10 8.5 +105 -125
Los Angeles Chargers 9 9.5 +100 -120
Los Angeles Rams 11 10 +105 -125
Miami Dolphins 6 6.5 -120 +100
Minnesota Vikings 13 10 -120 +100
New England Patriots 13 11 -155 +135
New Orleans Saints 11 9.5 -120 +100
New York Giants 3 7 -125 +105
New York Jets 5 6 +120 -140
Oakland Raiders 6 8 -130 +110
Philadelphia Eagles 13 10.5 +120 -140
Pittsburgh Steelers 13 10.5 +110 -130
San Francisco 49ers 6 8.5 -115 -105
Seattle Seahawks 9 8 +105 -125
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5 6.5 +125 -145
Tennessee Titans 9 8 -110 -110
Washington Redskins 7 7 +120 -140

What we have here are the anticipated win totals for each of the 32 NFL teams in 2018, and the odds they exceed or fall short of that total should you find yourself in Vegas and decide to bet on these outcomes. Per the odds, the Cardinals, Browns, and Jets will be the three worst teams in 2018 – not much surprise here as the Browns and Jets have been bottom dwellers for almost all of eternity, while the Cardinals find themselves in a bit of a transitionary period.

On the flip, the Patriots, Eagles, and Steelers have the highest projected win totals for 2018. The Pats are the Pats, but honestly, I won’t be the least bit surprised if they go under their projected total of 11 games; 9-7 feels about right. They're without longtime defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and their wide receiver corps is a mess. The Steelers always seem to be better than their season results suggest. And the Eagles? Well, the Eagles are the defending Super Bowl Champs. Again, not much surprise. It’s the other 26 teams that create the issues, and while delving through those remaining teams will give you a good idea on what to expect – and which teams to target to find fantasy difference makers - it doesn’t end there.

There are few things I enjoy more in life than making a point, only to wholeheartedly contradict that same point I just made a few moments later. In fact, I purposely do it from time to time to ensure people are listening. Remember that whole bit about using last season’s stats to predict this season’s outcomes being foolish? Well, the creator of Sabermetrics, Bill James (who’s smarter than most of us will ever be combined), came up with a Pythagorean expectation formula which analyzed each MLB team’s runs scored/allowed in a particular season to determine how many games they should have won without external factors. If the formula produced a number lower than the amount of games the team actually won, said team under-performed and would be likely to improve in the following season and vice versa. Sounds crazy, but it’s surprisingly accurate. The good folks at FootballOutsiders.com have since taken the formula, and modified it/applied it to fit the NFL. I’ve since borrowed this formula (all credit due) and here are the results:

Team 2017 Win Total Pyt Win Proj. Rounded Difference
Cleveland Browns 0 3.294 3 -3
Jacksonville Jaguars 10 11.950 12 -2
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5 6.710 7 -2
Baltimore Ravens 9 10.520 11 -2
Los Angeles Chargers 9 10.463 11 -2
Houston Texans 4 5.512 6 -2
Chicago Bears 5 6.227 6 -1
New York Giants 3 4.019 4 -1
Los Angeles Rams 11 11.551 12 -1
San Francisco 49ers 6 6.571 7 -1
New York Jets 5 5.646 6 -1
Denver Broncos 5 5.384 5 0
Indianapolis Colts 4 4.169 4 0
New Orleans Saints 11 11.051 11 0
Kansas City Chiefs 10 9.988 10 0
Seattle Seahawks 9 8.955 9 0
Oakland Raiders 6 5.956 6 0
Detroit Lions 9 8.875 9 0
Washington Redskins 7 6.754 7 0
Dallas Cowboys 9 8.627 9 0
Green Bay Packers 7 6.232 6 1
Cincinnati Bengals 7 6.249 6 1
Atlanta Falcons 10 9.100 9 1
New England Patriots 13 11.991 12 1
Philadelphia Eagles 13 11.998 12 1
Miami Dolphins 6 4.901 5 1
Minnesota Vikings 13 11.688 12 1
Tennessee Titans 9 7.376 7 2
Arizona Cardinals 8 6.084 6 2
Carolina Panthers 11 9.019 9 2
Pittsburgh Steelers 13 10.632 11 2
Buffalo Bills 9 6.348 6 3

A lot to digest here – let’s start with what the hell this even means. Each team has a Pythagorean Exponent which is calculated with the formula 1.5LOG x ((points scored + points allowed)/16)). The static exponent of 2.37 was initially derived by Daryl Morey when he translated the formula to the NFL, but again, the good folks at FootballOutsiders have since adjusted the calculation to factor in differing offensive environments. From there, the formula looks like this:

Pythagorean Projected Wins: ((Points scored ^Pyt Exponent)/((Points scored^Exp)+(Points Allowed ^ Exp)))*16 – resulting in the figures you see in the 3rd column (expected wins based on the season stats). FootballOutsiders even took it a step further and adjusted the points to remove any garbage time scores. But, one, I don’t have time. And, two, it’s here if you want to see their adjusted results (which are probably more accurate, but the difference is minuscule).

Now, the Pythagorean Win Expectation isn’t as much about predicting a team’s future success as it is an aid in determining how good they really are/were. From there, we can break down the off-season changes in an effort to determine what they’ll look like moving forward. Example: 2017 saw the rise of Deshaun Watson, the resulting depression in S. Texas when he tore his ACL along with a plethora of ailments throughout the Texans roster. Yet, per the formula, they should’ve won six games instead of the four Ws they actually finished with. Meaning, they’re a candidate to improve, and that’s before we even factor in the return of Watson, J.J. Watt, and Whitney Mercilus. For fantasy purposes, though, it isn’t of much use for me to tell you to target Texans on your fantasy squads. In fact, it’d be completely useless. Instead, we’ll be looking at a combination of the Vegas odds, Pythagorean Expectations, and schedules, to point out a few offenses which we may be undervaluing heading into 2018…

Los Angeles Chargers

2017 Record: 9-7
2017 Pythagorean Win Expectation: 11
Difference: -2
Opponent’s 2018 Projected Win% (BetOnline): 51%
Stack: Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen

Philip Rivers is 36-years young, yes. Philip Rivers also put up 4,515 yards a season ago – the 4th highest total of his 14-year career. Father Time is definitely approaching, but his GPS is buffering and he hasn’t reached his destination quite yet. Six of the Chargers first seven games are against teams which ranked in the Top-15 in passing yards allowed per game (three of these teams landed in the Top-10 with the 49ers falling a yard and a half shy), and most importantly, Keenan Allen finally played a full season. A full season which resulted in him finishing 4th in receptions, and 3rd in yards. Both of which help explain why Rivers finished 2017 as the 8th highest fantasy scoring QB and Allen finished #3 at the WR position. All the while, Melvin Gordon finished the season 3rd in rushing attempts, 9th in yards per game, and tied for 6th with 8 rushing TDs. Gordon finished the season as the 5th highest fantasy scoring RB and will start the season against four-straight defenses who finished in the Top-10 in rushing yards allowed per contest.

This offense is loaded, well-balanced, the schedule is favorable (as much as it pains me to say that), and they’re due for improvement based on their Pythagorean Win Expectation. You’ll have to grab Allen (ADP – 16) and Gordon (ADP – 11) early, but Philip Rivers projects to be a late round steal once again (ADP – 112). Not only was LA one of the top offenses in 2017, but they check all of the boxes for a repeat in 2018.

Jacksonville Jaguars

2017 Record: 10-6
2017 Pythagorean Win Expectation: 12-4
Difference: -2
Opponent’s 2018 Projected Win% (BetOnline): 52%
Stack: Blake Bortles, Leonard Fournette, Marqise Lee

The Jaguars defensive gets all of the credit, deservedly so, but stacking the Jags offensive weapons might be something to look into for your fantasy squads in 2018. Especially, considering it won’t cost you much. Bortles current ADP of 191 puts him as the 27th QB off the board while Lee is being drafted behind guys like D.J. Moore who has far more competition in the way of targets.

Blake Bortles finished 2017 with more fantasy points than all but 12 QBs and it was arguably his worst season (statistically) since his rookie campaign in 2014. Now, it’d be shortsighted to ignore guys like Matt Ryan, Marcus Mariota, and Derek Carr – who all had down years –and we can’t forget Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson who had their seasons shortened by injury; that #13 finish for Bortles may be nothing more than anecdotal. However, the Giants, Patriots, Titans, Jets, Chiefs, and Texans – six of the Jags first eight opponents in 2018 - all ranked in the Top-12 in passing yards allowed per game a season ago. Another reason to like Bortles? Consistency. This marks year three under Head Coach Doug Marrone and Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett so if he doesn’t have command of the offense at this point, it probably won’t ever happen. A healthy Leonard Fournette commanding stacked boxes doesn’t hurt, either - 1,040 yards and 9 TDs in 13 games a season ago. Add a solid offensive line with Marqise Lee, Donte Moncrief, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins over the top and you have the makings of a solid offensive unit. The potential reward in Jacksonville far outweighs the associated risk.

Dallas Cowboys

2017 Record: 9-7
2017 Pythagorean Win Expectation: 9-7
Difference: 0
Opponent’s 2018 Projected Win% (BetOnline): 52%
Stack: Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Allen Hurns

43% of Dak Prescott’s completions a season ago wound up in the hands of either Dez Bryant, or Jason Witten. In fact, from the time Dez entered the league in 2010 through last season, those two gentlemen accounted for 41% of the Cowboys’ completions and 43% of their passing yards. Factor in the 15 games they didn’t play over that stretch, and we’re looking at about 50% of the Cowboys passing offense. We won’t see either of them on the field this season. At least not donning a Cowboy uniform. Add that to the fact that Dak followed his MVP-esque rookie season up with what many would consider a sophomore slump, and there’s plenty of reason for trepidation surrounding this Cowboys offense.

Well, we know Zeke is the truth, and the Cowboys still have arguably the best offensive line of the game. No need to even discuss Zeke. However, combine his rushing ability, with Dallas’ O-line, Dak having more rushing yards than all but 5 QBs since entering the league, and the aforementioned receiving void, and you have to figure the passing game won’t be very high on Defensive Coordinator’s priority lists. Even if it is, Dallas has some teams on the schedule whose secondaries were all but laughable a season ago. I was once told there is no disappointment without expectation, and if their ADP is any indication (Dak – 123, Hurns – 116) there isn’t much buzz around this Cowboy passing game. Not a bad option for a buy low stack; especially if we fast forward to their schedule for the fantasy playoffs where they see Indy, Tampa, and the Giants.

 

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