Hopefully if you’re a Banana Stand fan you believe we’re self-obsessed in a good way. We’re definitely obsessed with the QB position. If you’ve been following my QB Workshop over at RotoViz, you know I believe it’s important to have a comprehensive approach to the position. I’ve tried to cover it from all angles.
Schedule analysis is probably the final piece of the puzzle. One of the reasons I like to play Late Round QB is the ability to take advantage of plus matchups. If you select a stud quarterback, you’re pretty much set playing that guy come hell or high water. We’re getting close enough to the real draft season that it’s time to start examining schedules and trying to find exploitable matchups.
I have a bit of skepticism about most schedule evaluations for a variety of reasons – reasons that are simultaneously too complicated and too boring to explain here – but you should maintain a healthy skepticism about my analysis as well since it’s of the “soft” variety. I went through the schedule for every NFL team and marked the game as favorable, neutral, or unfavorable to the quarterback based on my own intuition.
Here are a few ways in which my approach might provide some information that most schedule-based analyses will not.
1. I focus on the opposing team’s offense almost as much as the opposing team’s defense. This is important because defensive strength regresses to the mean more than offensive team strength. Green Bay and Detroit may be much improved defensively this season, but they’ll almost certainly have high-powered offenses. Even if your quarterback struggles in the first half, he’s going to see a lot of garbage time value against such offensive juggernauts.
2. I focus on home and away. The same team that might be a plus matchup at home could be a neutral matchup on the road. Again, I’m considering the opponent’s likely profile both on offense and on defense when trying to project the quarterback’s matchup. Contrary to what you might think, quarterbacks actually do well on the road from a fantasy perspective, in part because they spend more time playing from behind.
3. I focus on weather down the stretch. The difference between playing in a dome or playing at Buffalo is gigantic.
5 Guys Who See the Biggest Boost
1. Nick Foles – The likely Philadelphia starter played well in limited opportunities last season. He sees a big boost from the NFL’s easiest schedule. The NFC East is overrated defensively, and the Birds also benefit from playing the last place schedule (Tampa, Arizona) and crossing over against the pitiful AFC West. They also face the NFC North, a division with three potentially up-tempo, attacking offenses. That’s serious shootout potential.
2. Eli Manning – Manning is my most overrated quarterback this year, but his easy schedule might thwart that prediction. The Giants benefit from the same divisional weakness as the Eagles. The one caveat is a brutal Week 15 matchup against the Seahawks. If you pair your quarterbacks properly, you can avoid starting Eli in that one and then come back with him in Week 16 inside the Lions’ dome.
3. Matt Ryan – Ryan also shows up on most of my negative lists. I contrast his upside with that of Aaron Rodgers in Why Cheaper Isn’t Always Better and he just misses the starting job on my All-Trap Team. Fortunately for Ryan, he owns a favorable schedule in perpetuity. The NFC South is a train wreck defensively. Combine that with at least nine dome games a year and the relatively pleasant climes of Tampa and Carolina, and you have the makings of a fantasy utopia.
Two things to keep in mind. Ryan’s schedule was arguably even easier last season, which means his good schedule may already be priced into his ADP (since most people are just drafting off of last season’s numbers). Secondly, the Falcons do play at San Francisco in Week 16. Although the Niners were exploitable after Justin Smith’s injury last year, that’s a brutal matchup for a guy you pretty much have to play in your Championship Game if you own him.
4. Alex Smith – Charles Kleinheksel and I have been promoting Smith at every opportunity. (Don’t worry, his ADP isn’t going anywhere. Rotoworld just compared him to Colt McCoy in a recent blurb, and that hilarious note probably sums up what the fantasy world thinks about him.) All of the AFC West teams own plum schedules, but Smith might be your best candidate to take advantage. Philip Rivers and Matt Flynn are too low end, while Peyton Manning doesn’t need the schedule boost to get drafted super early.
5. Tony Romo – This is our third NFC East quarterback. Romo finishes with a Week 15 game against Green Bay and a Week 16 game against Washington. The Packers tilt should be one of the highest scoring games of the season, and by the time your fantasy championship game comes around, RG3 will have Washington scoring at will. Romo was one of the only QB1 candidates to not be overvalued.
5 Guys Who Get Crushed
1. Ben Roethlisberger – If you’ve been following my RotoViz series on quarterbacks, you know Big Ben profiles as the somewhat rare veteran breakout candidate. He owns a spectacular projection in both upside and in safety. Unfortunately, Roethlisberger comes in dead last in my QB schedule rankings. There’s very little good news attached to having the worst schedule in the NFL, but I offer this silver(ish) lining. Roethlisberger also had a terrible schedule last year and the app loves him anyway. So this is my takeaway: BB’s awful schedule may already be priced into his ADP, but his potential breakout isn’t.
2. Andy Dalton – Dalton is my No. 1 QB breakout candidate for 2013. He’s poised to become a cheaper Matt Ryan, or, in an extreme upside scenario, the next Drew Brees. Playing in the AFC North isn’t quite as bad as it used to be. All four squads are poised to be much more explosive. That’s a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats situation. Despite this, Dalton’s schedule will be a serious liability. Many pundits are focusing on the late season swoons the third year signal caller experienced in 2011 and 2012. Schedule, not talent, played a huge role in that.
3. Joe Flacco – Flacco is the star of my QB Safety rankings. Even more than Big Ben, he represents explosive breakout potential. In fact, he should be the next quarterback to undergo the Tom Brady 2007 mid-career fantasy explosion. If Flacco does go supernova, it will be despite another difficult schedule. From Week 7 to Week 13, he has zero plus matchups. Why shouldn’t you worry? Well, Flacco took apart a number of elite defenses in last year’s playoffs. And after the horrible mid-season stretch he gets Detroit and New England in the fantasy playoffs.
4. Tom Brady – Brady is a definite trap player this season. Sure, he’s overcome a lack of targets before, but this is an extreme version of that scenario. In recent years, the Patriots have begun to struggle in big games against elite defenses, which should give you pause about pulling the trigger on the Pats’ trigger man. They face a rebuilt Jets defense twice and play the entire AFC North. A tilt with the Ravens during the fantasy finals brings back memories of last year’s playoff debacle.
5. Aaron Rodgers – I’ve been promoting Rodgers as the perfect combination of safety and incredible upside. Unfortunately, even star quarterbacks put up very different numbers in difficult matchups. The NFC North crosses over against the AFC North this season. Although it doesn’t always stop them, Green Bay’s weather is not a plus, and facing another division with serious climatic issues doesn’t help. The Packers start the season with San Francisco and finish with Pittsburgh. You don’t want to bookend your season with losses.
Can You Play the Schedule Strength Issues to Your Advantage?
If you draft Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, you basically have to play them every week. A bad schedule is a clear negative, plain and simple.
The opposite might be true for Flacco and Roethlisberger. In competitive leagues your opponents are probably going to engage in some serious schedule analysis, which could play to your advantage. If Flacco and Big Ben are devalued due to schedule, it could make two guys with spectacular risk/reward profiles even cheaper. I’ve been advocating the Flacco/Roethlisberger committee as the perfect way to maximize your roster value in 2013. When you pair their schedules, most of the problems go away. A combined schedule gives you 10 favorable matchups, 3 neutral matchups, and 3 negative matchups.
You could further remedy that issue by adding E.J. Manuel or Jake Locker when necessary. After a brutal start to the season, Locker has a dream schedule down the stretch. He’ll almost certainly be available on waivers. His temporary pickup would give you 12 favorable matchups, 3 neutral matchups, and 1 negative matchup. The ability to cheaply take advantage of such efficiency glitches is yet another reason to consider Late Round QB as the dominant strategy.
Shawn Siegele has finished in the Top 10 of the NFFC’s Main Event Classic for two consecutive seasons and is one of only a handful of players to own three or more Main Event league titles. He also contributes to Rotoviz and works as Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.