I've had a chance to review the NFL schedule. I like to look for certain things to file away for this year's fantasy drafts. It's not about which team has an easy or tough schedule, one because we've known the opponents for months, two because we don't know which teams will actually be good or bad. It's more about things I'd like to avoid or embrace, for various reasons, come draft time. For example:
Early bye weeks: The Jets and 49ers have byes in Week 4, and the Lions and Dolphins have byes in Week 5. These are important me to because it's a little early in the season to have to be scrambling to replace key starters at quarterback or running back, or having to pick up a second kicker or defense, if I wanted to preserve a starter on one of these teams. My sleeper and bench running backs probably haven't emerged yet, and I don't want to cut those guys this early -- better not to draft them at all if you're forced to cut them in Week 4.
The good news is at least three of these teams will probably suck; two of them certainly. I wasn't about to be relying on the Dolphins kicker or Lions defense in any fantasy league. I don't imagine I'll be relying on any of these teams' quarterbacks as my No. 1 guy, either. So I won't be drafting any of these passers or kickers to start for my teams, and there's a really good chance I wouldn't have been doing so anyway.
Late bye weeks: This is a huge deal, especially if you're a fan (as I am) of the FFPC leagues. In those leagues, the last week of the regular season is Week 11. League playoffs occur in Week 12 and 13, and there's an overall championship competition in Week 14-16. So although it's just one week whenever your team has its bye, it can get you bounced from the playoffs if you're missing the wrong players. I watched it happen in my FFPC league last year: one guy dominated with Todd Gurley and Patrick Mahomes, then didn't have them in Week 12 for his opening playoff game, and lost. Yes, this is why you have a bench, but taking your MVPs away in the playoffs is enough to give you pause when drafting them early.
The schedule makers clearly do not care, since there are four teams on bye in Week 11 (Packers, Giants, Seahawks and Titans) and four teams on bye in Week 12 (Cardinals, Kansas City again!, Chargers and Vikings). So for the sake of discussion, if I'm in an FFPC league that used two of my first three picks on players like Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, Dalvin Cook and Patrick Mahomes, I'm not going to have those guys available for my first playoff game. It will give me pause before selecting them. Absolutely.
Monday night schedule: Maybe this doesn't have a huge amount of fantasy impact. It won't cause me to re-set my draft board or anything; teams playing on Monday night are interesting each week because they enable you to make up a huge deficit or lose a huge lead, if you have the right or wrong players playing. So it's interesting, while not the kind of thing you build a draft board around.
I mention it primarily because this looks like about the worst slate of Monday night games I can remember ever seeing. Week 2 through Week 5 feature Browns-Jets, Bears-Washington, Bengals-Steelers and Browns-49ers. Now, I get that the Browns are more interesting with Baker Mayfield and now Odell Beckham Jr. And the Jets have Sam Darnold and LeVeon Bell, so that should be fun. But 49ers? Bengals? And Washington, which will likely be starting, I don't know, Case Keenum? The Bengals-Steelers rivalry was last interesting 5-10 years ago, maybe.
Do things get better? Eh. Week 6 is Lions-Packers, 7 is Patriots-Jets and 8 is Dolphins-Steelers. I look at the entire slate of games and see about 3 (Chargers-Kansas City, Colts-Saints and Packers-Vikings) that look compelling, and two of those are in Week 15 and 16. ESPN, which will televise these games, got no love from the NFL, not surprisingly I guess.
December slates: I look at these primarily with weather in mind. Do teams have an unusual number of games that might be influenced by cold weather or snow? A few jump out.
The Bills are home for two games and play the other two at New England and Pittsburgh. The Dolphins play at the Jets, Giants and Patriots in December. Patriots have three home games and are at Cincinnati. So the AFC East could be affected by weather, as it usually is.
Houston, in contrast, won't need to worry about weather late. Four of their last six are at home, and the road games are in Tampa Bay and Tennessee. Colts too; home for four of their final eight, and the road games are at Jacksonville, Houston, Tampa Bay and New Orleans. Saints shouldn't play any bad weather games. Their last eight are home for four and the road games are at Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Tennessee and Carolina.
Rough starts, favorable finishes: As I said initially, I don't dwell on easy or hard schedules, because we can't say for sure how good these teams will be. But the Steelers jumped out as seeming to have a very difficult early schedule, and very favorable (in some respects) late schedule.
Take a look: they open at New England, then host Seattle in Week 2. They'll also play the Chargers, Colts and Rams in the first nine games. Now, their last seven games are unkind in terms of home-away. They play five of those on the road, something to keep in mind for those mindful of Ben Roethlisberger's home-away stats. On the bright side, they should be favored in most of those seven games: Bengals, Cardinals, Bills, Jets, Ravens and then both Cleveland games. Again, I realize the Browns won't be the pushover they've been in the past. But too early to imagine they'll have a good defense; their personnel looks sketchy on that side of the ball.
So these are the things that jumped out at me from the schedule. Let me know if anything particular thrills -- or concerns -- you.