Can it be Week 17 already?
In today's Fantasy Life Newsletter presented by Epic Seats:
Key takeaways from the NFL schedule release
Pete Carroll gushes about yet another RB
Favorite schedule release matchups: MIN at CIN and more!
Team Preview: Washington Commanders
It’s 5/12. Take it away, Ian Hartitz
After a (rather ridiculous) few days of leaks and rumors: 2023 NFL schedules are confirmed.
This naturally means it’s time to overreact and immediately figure out actionable takeaways because what else is a fantasy football addict supposed to do in May?
I took every team’s 2023 schedule and made some handy dandy conditionally formatted charts to help designate the strength of schedule by position, which is based on the opposing defense’s rank in fantasy points per game allowed to that specific position in 2022 (half-PPR scoring).
A high number (blue) denotes an opposing defense that was bad vs. that position — so theoretically, it’s an easier matchup for your fantasy players.
Low numbers (red) denote good real-life defenses that caused problems for that specific position last season in fantasy land.
2023 fantasy football strength of schedule based on opponent's 2022 fantasy points allowed per game rank (half-PPR)
High number (blue): Opponent bad vs. position
Low number (red): Good vs. position
QB, RB, WR and TE sorted by season. Week 17, Weeks 1-4 + Weeks 15-17 also there. https://t.co/ZXCIuUFIZ1
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz)
May 12, 2023
Obviously, plenty changed about offenses and defenses alike during the offseason, and strength of schedule isn’t the stickiest metric to base fantasy player selection on anyway. So please don’t treat this as the absolute gospel for future fantasy drafts.
Still, there can be value in outliers — especially when looking at specific periods of the season.
Here are some key early takeaways on the 2023 schedule.
🏅 Best late-round QB early-season streaming options
I like to focus on the first four weeks of a QB’s schedule when looking for a potential mid to late-round streaming option. This way, every QB has four-relevant games thanks to bye weeks not starting until Week 5, and we aren’t getting too far ahead of ourselves with pretending to know how good 2023 defenses will be.
The rich get richer with Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes getting the position’s first- and fourth-easiest schedules during September, but the other three QBs in the top five are plenty affordable at the moment over at Underdog Fantasy:
Broncos QB Russell Wilson (Weeks 1-4: Raiders, Commanders, Dolphins, Bears)
Packers QB Jordan Love (Bears, Falcons, Saints, Lions)
Falcons QB Desmond Ridder (Panthers, Packers, Lions, Jaguars)
🤓 Most fantasy-friendly skill-position schedules
Again: The numbers we are using haven’t been adjusted for offseason moves just yet (give me a few weeks, please). But it’s also fair to assume that teams ranked near the bottom of the league last season have a better chance of finishing around that area again as opposed to the better defenses from 2022.
At RB, the Lions (Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery), Titans (Derrick Henry), Broncos (Samaje Perine), Chiefs (Isiah Pacheco and company), and Steelers (Najee Harris) boast the top-five easiest matchups on the season. The Titans and Steelers particularly stand out thanks to having the No. 1 and No. 5 easiest schedules in Weeks 15 to 17 during the fantasy playoffs.
The top-three teams with the easiest season-long WR schedules also happen to have top-10 cake stretches during the fantasy playoffs.
Don’t be surprised if WRs from the Saints, Packers and Seahawks enjoy a lot of matchup-induced success throughout 2023.
TE delivers a similar story: Packers, Saints, Bears, Panthers and Falcons have the easiest season-long schedules. The Falcons and Packers have top-three stretches during the fantasy playoffs.
Anyone else ready to get hurt by Kyle Pitts again?
💪 Best DSTs to stream early in the season
Similar mindset as streaming QBs here: We’re only focusing on the first four weeks of the year to avoid placing too much weight on what we think lies ahead.
The following five defenses boast the best opening month of the season in terms of the combined opposing offense rank in fantasy points per game allowed last year:
Bengals DST (Weeks 1-4: Browns, Ravens, Rams, Titans)
Colts DST (Jaguars, Texans, Ravens, Rams)
Ravens DST (Texans, Bengals, Colts, Browns)
Browns DST (Bengals, Steelers, Titans, Ravens)
49ers DST (Steelers, Rams, Giants, Cardinals)
The Browns (No. 1), Colts (No. 5), and Bengals (No. 7) also stand out as having cozy schedules throughout the entire 2023 season. I’m especially fond of the former and latter DSTs considering their heightened potential to, you know, be good football teams.
Additionally, the Saints’ DST will have the eighth-easiest season-long schedule and certainly seemed to have benefited from their opponent’s offseason QB turnover.
👑 The one matchup that repeats in the fantasy playoffs…
… it’s the Texans vs. the Titans.
Sorry to America, but its a good day for contrarian best ball drafters willing to game stack these two putrid offenses and benefit from getting the same matchup twice in the fantasy playoffs.
Of course, these two offenses could very well each finish among the league’s bottom 10 units. Just realize lineups that manage to land Derrick Henry, Dameon Pierce, or Treylon Burks early should think extra hard about throwing some late-round darts at guys like Will Levis/Ryan Tannehill, Nico Collins and John Metchie, among others, in case these AFC South contenders get frisky in December.
This schedule is particularly juicy for Henry, who has ripped off 32-211-3, 22-212-2, 34-250-2, 32-219-2, and 23-126-1 rushing lines in his last five games against the Texans. The age cliff is here, but if anyone were to keep defying the odds of nature…
👀 Week 17 propaganda
Fantasy Life’s Peter Overzet has already written about the benefits of stacking best ball mania teams with an eye towards Week 17.
The goal here is less about trying to figure out the best matchups and more about pinpointing the likely shootouts, which drafters can then prioritize with game stacks.
The following five Week 17 matchups own the highest combined points per game total from 2022:
Chiefs (No. 1 scoring offense in 2022) vs. Bengals (No. 8)
Cowboys (No. 3) vs. Lions (No. 5)
Bills (No. 4) vs. Patriots (No. 17)
Eagles (No. 2) vs. Cardinals (No. 21)
Vikings (No. 7) vs. Packers (No. 14)
✍️ The best social media team account schedule release
Call it a legacy award all you want, but kings stay kings. And no NFL social media account has been more royal than the Chargers from day one.
should we REALLY make our schedule release video an anime AGAIN?
yes yes yesyes
yesyes yes yes yes
yes yes yes yes yes
yes yesyes yes yes
yes yesye yes yes
yes yes yesyes https://t.co/z7qyNGyWHp
— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers)
May 12, 2023
The Titans social media squad also deserves a raise. Good efforts from the Jets and Bears as well.
It truly was a great day to be great.
The schedule is out, and Fantasy Life’s Chris Allen has early thoughts on his favorite 2023 matchups.
I know what you’re thinking. The whole idea of creating content around a schedule feels contrived.
It’s May. Go out and touch some grass.
But the best-ball bros need their rosters fully correlated. And the leaks already had us thinking back to highlights from last season. So, with the table set for the ’23 season and a few spreadsheets, I found some matchups I’m excited about once the games kick off in September.
🐬 Dolphins @ Bills – Week 4
Honestly, I’d have picked this one just based on vibes anyway. Do you remember how their regular season games ended?
From a dehydrated Josh Allen leaning on Tua after a sun bowl in Miami, to Bass & Diggs sliding through the snow covered field in Buffalo, the dichotomy between the two Dolphins-Bills games this season is incredible.
Snow football remains one of the best things in all of sports. https://t.co/QjRMee6dpy
— The Brotherhood (@BrotherhoodCBB)
Dec 18, 2022
And let’s not forget the near-catastrophic Super Wild Card game with Skylar Thompson bringing the Dolphins within a field goal of an upset. With Mike McDaniel at the helm, this AFC East rivalry goes from a cakewalk for the Bills to a barnburner anytime the two teams get together. And last season’s efficiency ranks back up the hype.
Both squads finished the ’22 season top 10 in PROE and EPA per play. Josh Allen was the fantasy QB2, and Tyreek Hill was the WR2. Seven skill players across both offenses require a top-100 pick in best ball drafts making both offenses one to target. But I chose this divisional matchup for another reason.
The Bills and Dolphins upgraded their personnel through the draft. Dalton Kincaid went to Buffalo on Day 1, and Devon Achane took his speed to Miami. Given a month of action, we’ll see both rookies integrated into the offense.
With 60 points generated in their last two matchups, I’ll have my popcorn ready for this one.
🐅 Vikings @ Bengals – Week 15
Come on. You knew something about the Bengals was coming. Regardless, let’s do a vibes check.
We’ve got Justin Jefferson on one side and his former LSU teammates, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, on the other. They haven’t been on the field together since Week 1 of the 2021 season, but a pre-game check to see who has the best griddy may be in order.
Oh, and the actual game should be fun, too.
Despite a disastrous end to a playoff run, Minnesota’s offense looked futuristic compared to their ’21 tendencies. Under coach Kevin O’Connell, their PROE skyrocketed, and Kirko Chainz hit a career-high in pass attempts. And the Vikings’ offense only looks more potent with T.J. Hockenson fully onboard and Jordan Addison waiting to complement Jefferson.
But this game isn’t about just the passing attacks. We’ve also got a potentially weak defense for the Bengals to exploit.
Minnesota was 31st in passing yards allowed per game and gave up the tenth-most QB1 performances last season. As a result, they used three of the first four draft picks on their defense.
Cincinnati will return their primary starters and host a young Vikings defense with two rookies in the secondary who are both under six feet tall. I expect Tee Higgins to Moss defenders again, but Minnesota has the offensive firepower to answer back and keep things plenty competitive.
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🤩 Every Week 17 matchup for your enjoyment. Correlate away.
❤️ Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll gushes over his rookie RB. Not the one you think.
⛏️ How many franchise QBs does one team need? Kyle Shanahan is a glass-half-full kind of guy.
🚑 This rising second-year QB’s injury recovery is going well. Can God turn off injuries already?
🧑🍳 “All signs” point towards this star RB leaving town. Let Dalvin cook?
😥 Nothing worse than getting sniped in best ball. Better luck next time, Pete!
🙂 Drafting Kyle Pitts was not good for your mental health in 2022. But 2023 is a new year!
📈 There’s an undervalued rookie RB out there you NEED to draft. What are you waiting for?
🐶 Great Best Ball Mania III takeaways from Michael Leone. Where are my value hounds?
Fantasy Life senior analyst Ian Hartitz is breaking down all 32 NFL teams over the next two months. Let’s take a look at the Commanders, who quietly have a pretty solid roster if they can figure out that whole QB thing at some point…
Brian Robinson (Ian’s RB27)
Antonio Gibson (RB36)
It’s hard to overstate just how much fantasy-friendly opportunity is suddenly available in this backfield with free agent RB J.D. McKissic (neck) seemingly out of the picture. Overall, Commanders RBs ranked second in expected PPR points per game during the 2020 to 2022 seasons, mostly because of their willingness to pepper the backfield with targets.
Historically, one target is equal to about 2.7 carries in terms of expected PPR points. Only Austin Ekeler, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara had more targets per game than the former Washington scatback over the past three seasons.
Of course, the 2021 production was far superior to what Gibson managed in 2022 without McKissic due to the presence of Robinson, who worked as the team’s early-down bell-cow back throughout his rookie season.
Credit to Robinson for his awesome big hats and for finishing his debut campaign strong. It makes sense that it took a while to fully recover from a freaking gunshot wound – but we’re still talking about one of the league’s least-efficient rushers on the year.
PFF rushing grade: 81.0 (16th among 41 qualified RB)
Yards per carry: 3.9 (33rd)
Yards after contact per carry: 2.7 (35th)
Missed tackles forced per carry: 15.6% (27th)
Part of the reason why Robinson’s PFF grade is superior to his per-carry metrics is due to his status as one of just nine RBs who faced eight-plus defenders in the box on at least 30% of their carries (Next-Gen Stats). Plus, the 2022 third-round pick earned just 12 targets all season and still only played 52% of the offense’s snaps in Week 17, with both Gibson and McKissic sidelined.
Ultimately, Robinson and Gibson profile as middle-class versions of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt over the past few years. A true every-down role seems out of the picture for Robinson, while Gibson is more of a “FLEX with benefits” play thanks to his pass-game upside AND sky-high handcuff potential.
It’s possible that an offense led by Bieniemy and Howell doesn’t keep the RB as involved in the passing game, and nothing is guaranteed in terms of overall scoring upside. Still, this uncertainty is already more than baked into the cost of both RBs.
Robinson and Gibson profile as rather great zero-RB options who are being drafted after the first 50 (!) WRs.
When I welcome Kyle Pitts to my roster each year. https://t.co/3hF3PNCrIw
— Andy Holloway (@andyholloway)
May 11, 2023