When it comes to a strength of schedule discussion, the most important element is to keep things in perspective. We're not trying to find reasons to start LeGarrette Blount over Adrian Peterson. SOS usually stands as a tie breaker for me, or at least one of the bottom factors I consider before making a decision.
That said, let's not ignore how a weak defense can make a fantasy star, or how a staunch defense can suffocate a respected commodity. Ray Rice's Week 11 breakthrough was obviously sponsored by the leaky Chicago defense. And the surging Detroit front seven had a say in Le'Veon Bell's washout week.
I've crunched running back strength of schedule for the next five games, Weeks 12-16. There's no perfect way to do this, of course. To some fake teams, the next two games are critical with a playoff spot in the balance. Some other teams can focus on the later matchups - when a lot of factors will be different, of course. Some running backs still have a bye to come. Some fantasy owners will have a bye in Week 14. On and on it goes.
Imperfections understood, let's see what the grid says and talk about what it might mean. I'm using two months of defensive data to construct this grid. Maybe you prefer more, maybe you prefer less. And maybe you don't see value in this exercise at all - and that's your constitutional right.
Bears: @STL, @MIN, DAL, @CLE, @PHI
The next three weeks are gifts for Matt Forte, up against a trio of sieves. Cleveland and Philly are close to neutral in Weeks 15-16.I haven't adjusted for home/away factors, the only real downside to this slate.
Packers: MIN, @DET, ATL, @DAL, PIT
Bills: Bye, ATL, @TB, @JAC, MIA
Niners: @WAS, STL, SEA, @TB, ATL
You get to the finals, and Frank Gore will win it for you in Week 16 against the give-up Falcons. Well, sounds good on paper.
Browns PIT, JAC, @NE, CHI, @NYJ
Raiders: TEN, @DAL, @NYJ, KC, @SD
Giants: DAL, @WAS, @SD, SEA, @DET
Maybe Sean Lee will be back late in the season, but the time to attack the Cowboys front seven is now (by land or by air) . . . Fantasy owners will weep if the surging Rashard Jennings has to back up Darren McFadden down the stretch. Go look at the Week 11 tape on Jennings again. Monstrous.
Cardinals IND, @PHI, STL, @TEN, @SEA
Redskins: SF, NYG, KC, @ATL, DAL
I feel like I say this every week, but I'd try to buy low on Alfred Morris. A 5.1 YPC doesn't grow on trees. I realize other backs have cut into the cheap scores, but Morris still has three spikes in six weeks. Look at that glorious Atlanta/Dallas combination for Weeks 15-16.
Cowboys: @NYG, OAK, @CHI, GB, @WAS
Texans: JAC, NE, @JAC, @IND, DEN
Patriots: DEN, @HOU, CLE, @MIA, @BAL
Jaguars: @HOU, @CLE, HOU, BUF, TEN
Saints: @ATL, @SEA, CAR, @STL, @CAR
Jets: @BAL, MIA, OAK, @CAR, CLE
Broncos: @NE, @KC, TEN, SD, @HOU
Montee Ball scored a couple of times in the KC win and the Broncos were patient with his ball-security issues. Bully for them. But I'm not panicking over Knowshon Moreno; he's still the team's most reliable and versatile back, and that keeps him in my Top 10 going forward.
Chiefs: SD, DEN, @WAS, @OAK, IND
Bengals: Bye, @SD, IND, @PIT, MIN
Eagles: Bye, AZ, DET, @MIN, CHI
Philly unfortunately loses the Dallas matchup (Week 17), and it also has a bye at hand for Week 12.
Panthers: @MIA, TB, @NO, NYJ, NO
Vikings: @GB, CHI, @BAL, PHI, @CIN
Steelers: @CLE, @BAL, MIA, CIN, @GB
Rams: CHI, @SF, @AZ, NO, TB
Ravens: NYJ, PIT, MIN, @DET, NE
So much for the Ray Rice revival: that schedule is a killjoy. But I'm sick of hearing about Bernard Pierce like he's a savior - his 2.7 YPC stinks, too.
Falcons: NO, @BUF, @GB, WAS, @SF
Titans: @OAK, @IND, @DEN, AZ, @JAC
Colts: @AZ, TEN, @CIN, HOU, @KC
I wouldn't start Trent Richardson on a dare right now. Perhaps the versatility of Donald Brown will enable him to help us down the stretch.
Dolphins: CAR, @NYJ, @PIT, NE, @BUF
The Dolphins can't open holes to begin with, and the schedule makes things even worse.
Buccaneers: @DET, @CAR, BUF, SF, @STL
I liked everything Bobby Rainey showed in Week 11, but Atlanta's defense left a few weeks ago to beat the traffic. Look how nasty the schedule ahead is (Buffalo's defense might be the best-kept secret in the league, and you should know about the pitfalls of Detroit, Carolina and San Francisco). If you're in a league where trading is still available, I'd be shopping Rainey all week.
Chargers: @KC, CIN, NYG, @DEN, OAK
Lions: TB, GB, @PHI, BAL, NYG
Tricky time for Reggie Bush, with fumbling issues, suring Joique Bell, and a loaded schedule.
Seahawks: Bye, NO, @SF, @NYG, AZ
I get it, Marshawn Lynch can do it against anyone (and despite that lousy offensive line). I'm not trying to get anyone to panic on him.