Strength of schedule is always one of the hottest topic in the offseason and the debate regarding whether or not strength of schedule matters is always a controversial one. One of the most important things to remember is that it's February, so we're early in the offseason and you have expect each team's strength of schedule to slightly shift with every free agency acquisition/departure, every draft pick, every retirement announcement and every current player becoming just one year older. All these transactions affect the team's chemistry as a whole and when you play in a league with such a small margin for error like the NFL, then one small change can make a big difference.
So while you may be deciding many things about your fantasy team such as which player to keep or which player you should get rid of, just remember that you really want to take your potential keepers strength of schedule into consideration when deciding if you should keep him. You should also base your decision on several other factors as well such as his age, the talent surrounding him and his team's offensive system. But for now, let's take a look at which players stand to benefit most from the 2015 NFL schedule released by CBS earlier this week.
1. Matt Ryan/Julio Jones
The Atlanta Falcons have the easiest schedule on paper in 2015 with a combined opponent record of 104-150-2. They lead off the first three weeks with New Orleans, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay. Of those three opponents, the Buccaneers ranked 3rd worst against wide receivers, averaging 24.7 fantasy points per game. The Saints weren't far behind, giving up 23.3 points per game to wideouts as well. The Bengals fared better against the pass but ranked in the bottom five in fantasy points allowed to running backs. They surrendered 19.4 points per game on average to RBs in 2014. Keep in mind, this is just the first three games.
But with strength of schedule, you always have to look at the opponents during the money weeks (usually Weeks 14,15 and 16 in most leagues). In that span, the Falcons get Green Bay in Week 14, Pittsburgh in Week 15 and New Orleans in Week 16. Both the Saints and Steelers were in the bottom six for fantasy points allowed against quarterbacks.
Julio Jones came a little over 100 receiving yards shy of winning his first receiving title in 2014. Had he not been injured over the final stretch of the season, he probably would've gotten it as he really caught fire in the waning games with 613 total yards in his last four contests. Unless some of the Falcons' opponents really revamp their defenses in the offseason, Julio could easily kick off 2015 on a similar note. If you want to go with Ryan and Jones as a combo in 2015, this is the year to do it.
2. Andrew Luck
The Colts are a team on the rise. Since Luck entered the picture as the team's franchise quarterback in 2012, Indy has been passing its checkpoints with flying colors and hasn't shown any hitches in the process. Make the playoffs in your first year? Check. Make the playoffs in your second year and win in impressive comeback fashion? Check. Make the playoffs your third year and advance all the way to the AFC Championship game? Check.
To top it off, the Colts will have the second easiest schedule on paper in 2015 with a combined opponent record of 106-149-1. The Colts play in the weak AFC South, a division where two of its teams will be picking in the top 3 come the 2015 draft. They also get the benefit of playing tougher opponents like New England at home in their cozy dome as opposed to the often unforgiving cold weather in New England. The Colts are 19-5 at home since Luck took over and they haven't lost more than two games at Lucas Oil Stadium since then as well.
3. DeAndre Hopkins
The Texans announced Ryan Mallet as their likely 2015 starter at quarterback earlier this week and his performance will definitely play a huge role in Hopkins' further development. Good news for him and his fellow wide receiver Hopkins that he'll have a relatively easy slate to work with in 2015. Like Indy, the Texans will feast on the defensive backfields of Tennessee and Jacksonville twice. They will also play three of the worst fantasy defenses against wide receiver teams in New Orleans, Tampa Bay and the New York Jets. All those games are home games as well.
Hopkins is coming off a solid 76/1,210/6 season and posted a monster game against Tennessee where he compiled nine catches for 238 yards and two touchdowns. Mallet's big arm complements Hopkins speed perfectly. Hopkins is a big play receiver, as evidenced by 15.9 yards per catch average which ranked eighth overall in 2014. That, plus a weak division and three additional shaky secondaries makes Hopkins a high upside WR2 in 2015.
4. Cam Newton
The Carolina Panthers finished strong in 2014 despite a banged up defense and an unfortunate car accident that sidelined quarterback Cam Newton for a game with two back fractures. Even with that, the Panthers found their run game thanks to a resurrected Jonathan Stewart and rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin showed much promise as a red zone jump ball threat.
The Panthers have one of the top 5 best schedules in 2015 with a combined opponent record of 111-145 (.434) and hopefully their bad injury luck will be a thing of the past. They play in the weak NFC South which was full of terrible defenses last year and they also get (I can see you're sensing a theme here) the AFC South as their out of conference opponents.
5. Tom Brady
Coming off his first Super Bowl victory in over a decade, Brady and the Patriots will have the luxury of a not-so-difficult path on their way to repeating as champions. They play Philadelphia at home, a team that gave up more fantasy points to wide receivers than any other team in the league last year. The team right behind Philadelphia in that category was the Washington Redskins, a team New England will also play at home. New England also plays AFC South punching bags Tennessee and Jacksonville. Consider Brady and all his receivers including Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and of course, Rob Gronkowski as viable fantasy options in 2015 once again.