Fantasy Football Week 6: What We Learned

San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis
San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis
Oct 13 2013 San Francisco CA USA San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis 85 catches the ball for a touchdown against Arizona Cardinals strong safety Yeremiah Bell 37 during the second quarter at Candlestick Park Ed Szczepanski USA TODAY Sports

A hearty faction of fantasy footballers, consisting mostly of those who tacitly advocate deploying the same lineup week in and week out, no matter what, wave a dismissive hand at a player’s strength of schedule.

I, as someone who has made season-altering trades based almost entirely on a guy’s upcoming schedule, don’t understand why anyone would ignore more than a month of fantasy data that shows us which defenses struggle against which positions. Those numbers should be treated as a map, not black magic.

Knowing which defenses are generous to receivers, running backs, quarterbacks, and tight ends shouldn’t just inform your weekly lineup decision making — your dreaded start-sit calls — but also your long-term approach. Players are so often buy-low or sell-high candidates based on their upcoming schedule (along with changes in usage, injuries, and myriad other factors).

Draft picks in the waning days of August shouldn’t be based on strength of schedule for one simple reason: we really don’t know who will be truly awful — or consistently brutal — against certain positions. We can guess, and sometimes guess right, but it’s when we have a decent sample size that we can leverage our understanding of statistical trends to gain an edge on the competition.

Frank Dupont of rotoViz correctly points out that making transactions based on a player’s upcoming strength of schedule is akin to counting cards in blackjack. Does it guarantee success? Not at all. Will every player with a favorable schedule thrive? Not even close. But making this sort of sound decision making, again and again, will work over the long haul.

I’ve built a pretty hefty straw man here, I know, but I’d point to Week 6 as evidence that we do, in fact, know a little something about defenses and how to exploit matchups. Listen up, Straw Man.

  • The Cardinals have struggled mightily against tight ends since the ghost of Jared Cook roasted them over an open flame in Week 1. They had allowed 13.2 fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends heading into Week 6, and Vernon Davis did his part in raising that already startling average. Davis, in case you missed it, hauled in eight passes for 180 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona — the most standard points for a tight end in 2013.
  • The Eagles’ sieve of a secondary, over the past two weeks, had been gouged by wide receivers for 46.5 fantasy points per contest. Philadelphia was by far the most receiver-friendly defense, allowing 37 points a game through the season’s first month. And wouldn’t you know, Vincent Jackson — who had scored 12 total fantasy points over the past three weeks — blitzed Philly’s cover guys for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Glennon was fantasy’s seventh highest scoring signal caller on Sunday.
  • The Rams’ front seven has proven to be one of the most reliably soft fronts in the NFL. St. Louis, in a particularly rough Week 2-4 stretch, gave up an average of 28 fantasy points to running backs. That’s remarkable. Arian Foster, who didn’t eclipse 80 yards in his first three games of 2013, decimated St. Louis for more than 100 first half rushing yards. He was well on his way to the 200 yard mark when Houston’s offense imploded and effectively forced the team into the two minute drill for the entire fourth quarter.
  • Probably a few of you bought low on A.J. Green after his owners gnashed their collective teeth during his dreadful September. While Green’s schedule doesn’t soften all that much for the rest of 2013, he had an easily-identifiable Week 6 plus matchup against a Buffalo secondary that had given up the second most per-game fantasy production to receivers after five weeks (31 points per game). Green — and teammate Marvin Jones — helped the Bill continue that proud tradition yesterday. Green finished with 103 yards and a score.

This isn’t to say that fantasy success is predicated on strength of schedule alone. Marshawn Lynch was the second highest-scoring running back against a Tennessee defense that had been somewhat stingy against backs headed into Week 6. Eddie Lacy rumbled for 120 yards against fantasy’s best run defense (Baltimore), and big Joseph Fauria had 34 yards and three — three! — scores against Cleveland’s defense, which had been fantasy’s third best defense against tight ends.

This is the time of season for trades that make or break a million fantasy squads, and the start-sit choices you make over the next few weeks will leave you flailing desperately for a playoff spot or asserting your team as a fantasy postseason favorite. Don’t eschew strength of schedule in any of this.

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C.D. Carter
C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');