There are plenty of talented NFL skill players out there. But fantasy football isn't just about talent.
Case in point: No one would argue Jameis Winston is a better quarterback than Russell Wilson, but the ex-Buccaneers gunslinger still racked up more 2019 fantasy points than Wilson thanks in part to a pass-happy offense and a favorable schedule against the questionable pass defenses of the NFC South.
On the flipside, superstar New York Jets running back Le'Veon Bell had to face the New England Patriots' and Buffalo Bills' stingy defenses two times each in 2019 and suffered the consequences, finishing outside the top 20 running backs in fantasy scoring.
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That's all to say the strength of a team's schedule can have a major impact on the stats its players produce. Savvy fantasy owners can get an edge by factoring matchup-based stats into their player rankings, identifying potential steals with easy schedules and steering clear of guys who may have tougher sledding.
We've got you covered on both sides of the coin. Below are five players you should target and five players you should avoid based on who they're playing in 2020.
Players to target (easy strength of schedule)
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys: We have Prescott as our third-ranked QB behind Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. Part of the reason for that optimism? He plays in a division with two awful pass defenses in the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. Dallas also has favorable matchups against the Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals, so draft Dak with confidence.
Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots: We're sure you're wary of Michel after it was revealed he's recovering from foot surgery. But here's the good news: The Patriots play nine games in 2020 against bottom-12 run defenses, according to FantasyPros, including two matchups against a Miami Dolphins team that allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to RBs in 2019. So, if Michel misses time, it might be worth considering James White or Damien Harris.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts: The Colts rookie will share touches with Marlon Mack, but both should benefit from playing in the AFC South, which features two of the six teams that gave up the most fantasy points to opposing running backs last season in the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans. Taylor has plenty of upside in the middle rounds.
D.J. Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers: If Moore can jell with new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the opportunity is there for a big season. The NFC South features the NFL's easiest wide receiver matchup in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while Moore has tasty matchups against the Denver Broncos (Week 14) and Washington (16) in the heart of the fantasy playoffs.
Tyler Higbee, TE, Los Angeles Rams: The Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks were two of just three teams to allow over 1,000 yards to tight ends last season. Higbee's Rams play both clubs twice in the NFC West. Two of those matchups are late in the season, too, so Higbee is set up nicely to continue the massive success he enjoyed late in 2020.
Players to avoid (difficult strength of schedule)
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans: Tannehill will have a much harder time lighting up the league in 2020. Why? The Titans QB has to face six of the NFL's eight stingiest defenses against opposing QBs in 2019: the Baltimore Ravens, Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. Get ready for a lot of Derrick Henry in those matchups.
Devin Singletary, RB, Buffalo Bills: There are a lot of reasons to be excited about Singletary. Buffalo's schedule isn't one of them. The Bills running back has to face New England's stout defense twice and faces a brutal late-season gauntlet of the San Francisco 49ers, Steelers, Broncos and Patriots. Have a playoff insurance policy on hand.
Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers: Not only does Ekeler get Denver twice, he also faces the NFL's top two run defenses from 2019 in the Bucs and the Jets. With Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon gone, those run defenses will be gearing up to stop Ekeler -- and may find some success.
N'Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots: The Patriots' schedule is much less favorable to the passing game than the running game, as they'll face several strong secondary units in the 49ers, Bills (twice), Ravens, Chiefs and Rams. Julian Edelman has been pretty matchup-proof over the years, but the same can't be said for the 22-year-old Harry entering his second season.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: Before you draft Green banking on a resurgence with rookie Joe Burrow, consider that their AFC North opponents are very unfriendly to wide receivers: The Browns, Ravens and Steelers all ranked among the top 12 in fewest fantasy points allowed to wideouts last season.
Fantasy football 2020: 10 players impacted most by strength of schedule originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston