News & Analysis

Evaluating 2020 fantasy football winners and losers based on Weeks 1-4 strength of schedule

PFF recently created an incredibly cool Fantasy Football Strength of Schedule (SoS) tool for EDGE and ELITE subscribers. The system factors PFF Player Grades into the methodology, which provides especially important early-season benefits to account for roster turnover from the previous year. This also comes in handy during the season by projecting how a defense will perform while dealing with injuries.

The strength of the opponent is rated from 0 to 10, with 10 being the most-favorable matchup for that specific position.

Cool stuff that will be actionable throughout the season, as well as today!

We’ll have so much more information on defenses after the first chunk of the season that it’s fairly useless to project season-long or playoff-specific strength of schedules. Still, identifying which players and teams have a troubling first four weeks could provide an early edge in fantasy football drafts of all shapes and sizes.

What follows is a breakdown on the easiest and toughest fantasy football schedules by position for the first four weeks of the 2020 season.

Quarterbacks

Easiest strength of schedule Weeks 1-4:

  • Lamar Jackson (Browns, Texans, Chiefs, Washington): Obviously, you’re starting the near-consensus QB1 regardless of competition. This early slate is simply the icing on the cake for any fantasy squad lucky enough to have Jackson under center.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo (Cardinals, Jets, Giants, Eagles): Cake start for Jimmy G, who should be closer to full health in 2020 nearly two years removed from tearing his ACL. There’s underrated spike week potential here; only Jackson had more games with at least four passing scores (four) than Garoppolo (three) last season.
  • Josh Allen (Jets, Dolphins, Rams, Raiders): Allen possesses a high rushing floor regardless of the matchup but has a chance to put up some early boom weeks through the air against these unproven and underwhelming secondaries.
  • Dak Prescott (Rams, Falcons, Seahawks, Browns): There are elite individual talents littered across these defenses, but none should resemble anything close to a top-10 unit. It’ll be tough to warrant benching Dak in 2020 regardless of the matchup.
  • Joe Burrow (Chargers, Browns, Eagles, Jaguars): A date with Derwin James and company isn’t a great rookie debut, although ensuing matchups against middling to soft secondaries could be fruitful. Of course, this is rather dependent on whether or not the Bengals’ shoddy offensive line can take a big step forward in 2020. Check out our 2020 NFL Offensive Line rankings here.

Toughest strength of schedule Weeks 1-4

  • Deshaun Watson (Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, Vikings): We saw Watson go toe-to-toe with the Chiefs on two occasions in 2019, but that’s going to be his easiest matchup of September by a long shot. It’s tough to warrant benching a top-five talent at the position; just realize it might be a slow start to the post-Nuk era.
  • Drew Lock (Titans, Steelers, Buccaneers, Jets): It seems unlikely the Broncos ask Lock to do too much in Year 2, particularly during this brutal early-season slate. None of these defenses should be confused for cake matchups; even the Jets, who could be stronger in 2020 with a healthy version of LB C.J. Mosley.
  • Aaron Rodgers (Vikings, Lions, Saints, Falcons): This is far from the most-intimidating schedule on the list. Still, road matchups to Minnesota and New Orleans aren’t the most ideal spots to expect fantasy greatness.
  • Patrick Mahomes (Texans, Chargers, Ravens, Patriots): Tough, but guess what: Don’t bench Mahomes. Never ever. Not even if there’s a fire.
  • Drew Brees (Buccaneers, Raiders, Packers, Lions): The good news: Brees luckily won’t have to play outdoors until Week 8.

Honorable mention: The Steelers, Eagles, Patriots, Bears and Jaguars round out the top 10 teams with the most QB-friendly schedule to start the season. … Gardner Minshew represents a solid late-round streamer option to use early in the season thanks to matchups vs. the Colts, Titans, Dolphins, Bengals, Texans and Lions before a Week 7 bye. … Tyrod Taylor’s rushing upside could be useful in matchups against the Bengals, Chiefs and Panthers to start the season. … Teddy Bridgewater has an up-and-down start against the Raiders, Buccaneers, Chargers, Cardinals and Falcons; “luckily” the Panthers should be in comeback mode thanks to their potential league-worst defense regardless, which should be good for Bridgewater’s fantasy value. … September is especially gloomy for Daniel Jones, who starts with the Steelers, Bears, 49ers and Rams. … Baker Mayfield won’t be an advised start at Baltimore in Week 1, but his next stretch against Cincinnati, Washington, Dallas and Indy is doable. … Matt Ryan and Ryan Tannehill join our aforementioned five QBs with especially tough starts to the season. 

Running backs

Easiest strength of schedule Weeks 1-4:

  • Miami Dolphins (Patriots, Bills, Jaguars, Seahawks): Initial battles against smart defenses that value stopping the pass over the run are followed by easier matchups against the Jaguars and Seahawks’ shoddy front-sevens. Jordan Howard and Matt Breida form the single cheapest two-back committee in fantasy football. Check out my thoughts on the pecking order in all 32 backfields here.
  • New England Patriots (Dolphins, Seahawks, Raiders, Chiefs): The Patriots’ ever-evolving committee is more unknown than ever entering 2020, but the likes of Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris and/or Rex Burkhead can take advantage of this soft opening slate. 
  • Cincinnati Bengals (Chargers, Browns, Eagles, Jaguars): Three defenses that were considerably better against the pass than the run in 2019, along with the Eagles, should help Joe Mixon pick up right where he left off.
  • Baltimore Ravens (Browns, Texans, Chiefs, Washington): The league’s best rushing attack is capable of balling out against even the best run defenses. Regardless, this start is especially juicy.
  • Indianapolis Colts (Jaguars, Vikings, Jets, Bears): Expect a committee of sorts between Jonathan Taylor, Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines to start the season. This schedule isn’t the weakest we've seen, but the Colts’ league-best offensive line is plenty capable of dominating pretty much any defensive front.

Toughest strength of schedule Weeks 1-4: 

  • Denver Broncos (Titans, Steelers, Buccaneers, Jets): The Titans aren’t anyone’s fool on defense, while the latter three teams finished the 2019 season as the league’s top-three defenses in DVOA against the run (Football Outsiders). 
  • New York Giants (Steelers, Bears, 49ers, Rams): Back-to-back-to-back-to-back matchups against defensive lines that will in all likelihood have their way against the Giants. Luckily, Saquon Barkley is a super human.

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Saints, Panthers, Broncos, Chargers): Week 2 is certainly an exploitable matchup, but Ronald Jones, Ke’Shawn Vaughn and/or Dare Ogunbowale have some tough sledding to start the season.
  • Cleveland Browns (Ravens, Bengals, Washington, Cowboys): Nick Chubb proved plenty capable of knifing through the Ravens’ front-seven in 2019. The problem is that the NFC East’s sneaky-solid defensive lines won’t make life easy in Weeks 3-4.
  • Tennessee Titans (Broncos, Jaguars, Vikings, Steelers): Derrick Henry has always made the most of his offensive line’s limitations with gaudy YAC stats. He’ll need to be on his A-game aside from his Week 2 blowup spot.

Honorable mention: The Cowboys, Cardinals, Bills, Vikings and Falcons round out the top-10 easiest RB schedules in Weeks 1-4. … Leonard Fournette might have a short leash (especially as a pass-catcher), but matchups against the Colts, Titans, Dolphins, Bengals, Texans and Lions to start the season are appetizing. … Alvin Kamara has a good opportunity to get back to his high-end RB1 ways in a hurry with opening matchups against the Buccaneers, Raiders, Packers and Lions. … Life for Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Damien Williams might not be smooth sailing in September against the Texans, Chargers, Ravens and Patriots. … Game-script concerns for Josh Jacobs could be plentiful early in the season against the Panthers, Saints, Patriots, Bills and Chiefs. … David Montgomery would do well to take advantage of a soft first three weeks against the Lions, Giants and Falcons. … The Rams, Steelers, Packers, Jets and Texans round out the top 10 backfields with the toughest opening season schedules.

Wide receivers

Easiest strength of schedule Weeks 1-4:

Toughest strength of schedule Weeks 1-4: 

  • Denver Broncos (Titans, Steelers, Buccaneers, Jets): Things don’t get easier for Courtland Sutton after September with matchups against the Patriots and Dolphins looming in Weeks 5-6. The offense’s crop of talented rookie receivers could have trouble getting off to a hot start against these tenacious secondaries.
  • New York Giants (Steelers, Bears, 49ers, Rams): The brutal start to the season only seems to be beatable by Golden Tate, who gets multiple defenses that didn’t exactly shut down slot receivers in 2019.
  • Houston Texans (Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, Vikings): Figuring out Deshaun Watson’s new pecking order won’t be easy in this tough opening season stretch. Road dates against Kansas City and Pittsburgh don’t help matters.
  • Kansas City Chiefs (Texans, Chargers, Ravens, Patriots): Week 1 has the makings of a shootout. Obviously, Tyreek Hill will remain in starting lineups regardless of the matchup; just realize things will be a bit tougher than usual to start the season.
  • Philadelphia Eagles (Washington, Rams, Bengals, 49ers): One badass defensive line after another; there’s an uncertain pecking order in the Philly WR room, and this early-season slate won’t help clear things up during September.

Honorable mention: The Cardinals, Buccaneers, Rams, Colts and Jets round out our top-10 WR cores with the best September schedule. … Davante Adams has an exploitable first month of the season against the Vikings, Lions, Saints and Falcons. … D.J. Chark and company face off against the Colts, Titans, Dolphins, Bengals, Texans and Lions before their Week 7 bye. … Adam Thielen is another alpha No. 1 WR set up well out of the gate against the Packers, Colts, Titans, Texans, Seahawks and Falcons. … OBJ won’t have an easy time in his opening season matchup against the Ravens, but he’ll have a chance to rebound in Weeks 3-5 against Washington, Dallas and Indianapolis … Amari Cooper also won’t have an easy start to the season against Jalen Ramsey, although ensuing matchups against the Falcons, Seahawks, Browns and Giants should be a bit more manageable. … The Panthers, Raiders, Washington, Saints and Dolphins round out the top-10 WR rooms with the toughest opening month of the season.

Tight ends

Easiest strength of schedule Weeks 1-4:

  • Buffalo Bills (Jets, Dolphins, Rams, Raiders): Dawson Knox is an exciting rising second-year TE, although target volume likely won’t be there due to the Bills’ sneaky-loaded WR room. Still, he’s the type of talent worth betting on in plug-and-pray situations.

  • Baltimore Ravens (Browns, Texans, Chiefs, Washington): Mark Andrews is this season’s near-consensus TE3. He’ll have every opportunity to start off strong out of the gates with multiple cake matchups to start the year.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars (Colts, Titans, Dolphins, Bengals): Tyler Eifert and 2019 third-round pick Josh Oliver are probably going to split snaps too evenly for either to emerge as a legit fantasy option in 2020.
  • San Francisco 49ers (Cardinals, Jets, Giants, Eagles): The Cardinals’ decision to add Clemson playmaker Isaiah Simmons to their defense should help them against the TE position in 2020. Of course, attempting to stop George Kittle with any mere mortal is usually wishful thinking.
  • Dallas Cowboys (Rams, Falcons, Seahawks, Browns): Blake Jarwin is worthy of his fair amount of offseason hype considering his proven efficiency with Dak Prescott under center. He’ll have plenty of chances to put up some early-season numbers with this cake September stretch.

Toughest strength of schedule Weeks 1-4: 

  • Houston Texans (Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, Vikings): Darren Fells and Jordan Akins form a two-TE committee that is fairly TD dependent regardless of the matchup. This early-season stretch certainly won’t help matters.
  • Green Bay Packers (Vikings, Lions, Saints, Falcons): Jace Sternberger has received some sleeper hype, although he’ll have his hands full during the first few weeks against defenses that simply didn’t give up much to the position in 2019.
  • Tennessee Titans (Broncos, Jaguars, Vikings, Steelers): Jonnu Smith is a freakish-enough talent to overcome tough matchups, but his expected lack of volume will be even more of an issue in these early season spots against some of the league’s tougher secondaries.
  • New Orleans Saints (Buccaneers, Raiders, Packers, Lions): Jared Cook made the most of his targets in 2019, something he’ll need to do again in early-season matchups against some of the league’s tougher LB and S groups.
  • Atlanta Falcons (49ers, Washington, Lions, Panthers): Hayden Hurst is a popular late-round option in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes, but he’ll have a tough debut against the 49ers before more middling matchups.

Honorable mention: The Patriots, Eagles, Chargers, Steelers and Bengals round out the top-10 teams with the softest September schedules for the TE position.  … Mike Gesicki has to deal with the Patriots in Week 1, but the Bills, Jaguars and Seahawks should provide bounce-back opportunities for the primary slot receiver.  … Ian Thomas has a tough first three weeks of the season before seeing solid spots against the Cardinals, Falcons, Bears, Saints and Falcons during Weeks 4-8. … Noah Fant has an up-and-down start against the Titans, Steelers, Buccaneers, Jets, Patriots and Dolphins in the first five weeks of the season. … Evan Engram must survive matchups against the Steelers, Bears and 49ers to start the season before getting a chance to feast on the Los Angeles Rams, Dallas, Washington and Philadelphia. … The Rams, Lions, Browns, Buccaneers and Jets round out our top 10 teams with the least fantasy-friendly TE schedules to start the season.

Defenses/Special Teams

Easiest strength of schedule Weeks 1-4:

  • Indianapolis Colts (Jaguars, Vikings, Jets, Bears): The soft QB schedule for the Colts persists up until their Week 7 bye with matchups against the Browns and Bengals in Weeks 6 and 7, respectively.
  • Tennessee Titans (Broncos, Jaguars, Vikings, Steelers): The Broncos and Steelers *should* be much tougher than what we saw in 2019.
  • Buffalo Bills (Jets, Dolphins, Rams, Raiders): Three consecutive matchups against porous offensive lines ends with a trip to Las Vegas to take on Derek Carr and company.
  • Miami Dolphins (Patriots, Bills, Jaguars, Seahawks): The Dolphins retooled their secondary in a major way this offseason, but there are still enough concerns across the line of scrimmage to wonder if “average” is the ceiling from this defense.
  • Carolina Panthers (Raiders, Buccaneers, Chargers, Cardinals): Good for Carolina for using every draft pick on its defense. They need it. And so much more.

Toughest strength of schedule Weeks 1-4: 

  • Washington Redskins (Eagles, Cardinals, Browns, Ravens): This defensive line is beastly, but the secondary is the opposite. Matchups against what could wind up being some of the league’s more-explosive passing games isn’t a great way to start the season.
  • Minnesota Vikings (Packers, Colts, Titans, Texans): Don’t expect too many turnovers from this group of veteran opposing signal-callers.
  • Houston Texans (Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, Vikings): Things get a little better after September once the Texans can coast into their AFC South schedule, but this opening month is as brutal as they come.
  • Dallas Cowboys (Rams, Falcons, Seahawks, Browns): This defense will need to take advantage of these meh offensive lines in order to avoid consistent shootouts.
  • Green Bay Packers (Vikings, Lions, Saints, Falcons): One high-efficiency passing offense after another will take on the Packers’ underwhelming defense.

Honorable mention: The 49ers, Seahawks, Chiefs, Steelers and Buccaneers round out the top 10 softest schedules for fantasy defenses in September. … The Bucs in particular are worth paying attention to, as they get the Panthers, Broncos, Chargers and Bears following their tough season-opening matchup against the Saints. … The Cardinals, Lions, Falcons, Patriots and Ravens round out the bottom 10 defenses in terms of strength of September schedule.

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