I’ve always found strength of schedule to be an underrated factor when it comes to evaluating and drafting a fantasy team.  Many NFL players over the years have turned in statistical seasons far above their talent levels due to being fortunate enough to play a string of embarrassingly bad defenses.    When it comes to debating two or more players at a position, you should always take into consideration who their opponents will be throughout the season; it can tip the scales in favor of a player and make your decision an easier one.  To me, this statistic isn’t covered well enough in the endless supply of cheat sheets, magazines, and internet articles.  It’s simply too valuable to dismiss.

The rankings below are based on the 2021 schedule for each NFL team and the results of passing yards given up in 2020 by the NFL defenses they will be facing.  This isn’t a perfect statistic, as some defenses will improve in 2021 and some will regress, but I still find it to be a useful guide.  



  1. San Francisco 49ers:  I find it a little amusing that the team with the easiest schedule against the pass will be one of the more conservative passing offenses.  This is also a team with the QB position in flux – they will start the season with Jimmy Garoppolo but everyone knows they will end it with hotshot rookie Trey Lance.  The 49ers have a talented young WR in Brandon Aiyuk and one of the best TE’s in the league with George Kittle, and this schedule certainly doesn’t hurt them.  Aiyuk in particular receives a little more intrigue, but it simply a hard situation to trust with a rookie quarterback under center.  However, the 49ers have made it clear that they want to win this season by running the football, which makes this great passing schedule a bit of a waste.  
  2. New England Patriots:  Let the hilarity continue - the Patriots may be the worst passing team in the NFL.    Such a juicy schedule:  the Jets twice, the Falcons and Titans – if only the Patriots had some playmakers to take advantage of it.  Just like the 49ers, New England will be starting the season with Cam Newton, but will transition to rookie Mac Jones at some point during the year.  The Patriots don’t have a single receiver worth mentioning, and they spent all their money in the offseason on not one but TWO free agent tight ends (Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith).  I suppose the schedule makes some of these players slightly more attractive late-round flyers, but I think fantasy owners will probably be better off scrolling past New England players on draft day regardless of the schedule.  
  3. Miami Dolphins:  Finally we have a team that’s a little more interesting through the air.  Tua Tagovailoa was promoted last season and brought a little excitement to a passing game that has been stagnant for countless years.  The Dolphins brass decided to go all in on the passing game, drafting Jaylen Waddle in the first round to add to an already solid group of wideouts, and there’s been a new offseason focus in establishing the deep ball.  Miami also offers rising TE Mike Gesicki – Tua targeted TE’s on 31% of his throws in 2020.  Tagovailoa is an interesting player with a lot of upside, and who is currently being drafted in the QB16 range.  Both him and his fellow pass catchers get a bit of a bump with this terrific schedule that includes the Jets (twice), Falcons, Jaguars and Raiders.    



  1. Seattle Seahawks:  Russell Wilson had another outstanding season in 2020 (40 TD passes), but he’ll be severely put to the test this year.  Tough pass defenses faced will include the Rams (twice), Washington, and Pittsburgh.  At this point, Wilson has probably proven that he’s going to rise above the obstacles and deliver a great fantasy season, so it’s up to each person to decide whether or not this should hurt him (along with star receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett).  One thing for certain is that the schedule does not help him, and could potentially tip the scales as to whether you take him over someone like Dak Prescott or Justin Herbert.  
  2. Las Vegas Raiders:  Derek Carr continues to play solid but unspectacular football, as he’s done for 7 seasons now.  Jon Gruden doesn’t seem to care for him particularly much, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they yank him at some point in the season for Marcus Mariota.  The passing defenses the Raiders will face spell a tough season through the air, including matchups against Pittsburgh and Washington.  Few fantasy owners would ever consider starting Carr, so this probably won’t make much of an impact on his draft status.  The Raiders also have a very uninspiring group of receivers.  Their primary playmaker is TE Darren Waller, who exploded for 1,196 yards and 9 TD’s on an astounding 146 targets.  Without much help around him, Waller could find himself the new defensive focus in a tough slate of games.  
  3. Green Bay Packers:  Aaron Rodgers walked away with the 2020 MVP (48 TD passes) and gets rewarded with a schedule full of top secondaries prepared to challenge him.  Other than juicy matchups against the Seahawks and Jets, the Packers face a brutal slate the remainder of the season.  Those that think Rodgers will fall back into the 6-9 QB range have a little ammunition behind those feelings now.  Superstar WR Davante Adams (18 TD catches) may also find the hill a little bit tougher to climb this season.  


ALL THE REST (ranked easiest to hardest)

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars
  2. LA Rams
  3. Indianapolis Colts
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers
  5. NY Jets
  6. New Orleans Saints
  7. Houston Texans
  8. Carolina Panthers
  9. Buffalo Bills
  10. Washington Football Team
  11. Denver Broncos
  12. Chicago Bears
  13. Arizona Cardinals
  14. Atlanta Falcons
  15. Philadelphia Eagles
  16. Baltimore Ravens
  17. Tennessee Titans
  18. Tampa Bay Bucs
  19. Detroit Lions
  20. Cincinnati Bengals
  21. Dallas Cowboys
  22. NY Giants
  23. Minnesota Vikings
  24. LA Chargers
  25. Kansas City Chiefs
  26. Cleveland Browns


by Aaron Bland