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Fantasy Football: Best and worst strength of schedule in 2021

Dec 27, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) carries the ball during the second half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I highlighted some of the biggest winners and losers from the  NFL schedule release. At that time, PFF’s strength of schedule tool had not been fully updated, so I was relying more on my research and knowledge of matchups heading into 2021.

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PFF’s version of strength of schedule is the only one that factors PFF player grades into the methodology. This is especially important for projecting how things will play out early in the season, as it accounts for roster turnover from the previous year and considers substitutes for injuries week-to-week.

The tool has now been updated with the entire 18-week 2021 schedule, and there are plenty of takeaways to unpack. I'm going to take a look at both the favorable/tough overall schedules and the fantasy playoff matchups here. 

Again, strength of schedule is not the most important factor for fantasy football success. But it can be a great tiebreaker to leverage when considering two extremely close players

BEST SCHEDULES

QUARTERBACKS

DREW LOCK, DENVER BRONCOS
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, DENVER BRONCOS

Whoever is under center for the Denver Broncos this season (my last best-ball team prays it’s Aaron Rodgers) has the chance to shock the fantasy football world in 2021. 

No team has a more favorable schedule than Broncos quarterbacks in 2021. The matchups are primed for a hot start with the third-easiest schedule over the first five weeks, in addition to a strong finish with the second-easiest schedule from Weeks 14-17. 

Once we get some clarity on the starting QB situation, that particular signal-caller becomes extremely intriguing in the late rounds of best ball drafts. If I had to make a call on Bridgewater or Lock right now, I’d lean Teddy B. 

His more conservative nature probably makes him the better bet to help Denver win games, which is ultimately what the Broncos are looking for in their starting quarterback.

Sep 27, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA;Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) throws a pass during pregame warmups before playing the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Bridgewater also posted more 19-plus fantasy performances (seven) than Lock (five) in 2020, suggesting that the former might have the slightly better fantasy ceiling to go along with a much safer floor. 

The ex-Panthers quarterback is also a prime candidate for positive touchdown regression. He was one of only two quarterbacks (Jared Goff) to throw for at least 3,700 yards last season and less than 24 touchdowns. Bridgewater only threw 15 touchdowns in 15 games in 2020.

New surroundings could be exactly what Bridgewater needs to turn his NFL career around. 

RUNNING BACKS

NICK CHUBB, CLEVELAND BROWNS
KAREEM HUNT, CLEVELAND BROWNS

The Cleveland Browns own the easiest overall schedule in 2020 for running backs, along with the second-most favorable five-week opening stretch to start the season behind only the Houston Texans

Don’t be surprised to see Nick Chubb rip off multiple 100-yard games to start the year. 

His consistency since entering the NFL — three seasons averaging over 5.0 yards per carry and a top-four PFF grade — is a testament to his talent. He’s a surefire bet to continue his impressive efficiency in 2021.

We err on the side of volume over efficiency when it comes to RBs in fantasy football, but Chubb is the exception to the rule. Most running backs can’t come close to matching his overall production on just 17 touches per game. 

That’s why he is my No. 7 overall running back heading into next season. 

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