Exploitation Theory: What the NFL Schedule Can Teach Us About Streaming Quarterbacks

Identifying the best and worst matchups for the top 26 fantasy quarterbacks.

Any great quarterback streamer will tell you that an effective use of the strategy really starts with an understanding of the matchups. Identifying the weakest pass defenses in the NFL and utilizing that understanding to target average quarterbacks who can exploit bad teams is the recipe for success.

In Week 13 of the 2014 season, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 358 yards and six touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans, a team ranked 30th in pass defense according to our metrics.

In Week 16, Eagles backup quarterback Mark Sanchez threw for 374 yards and two touchdowns against the 32nd-ranked Washington Redskins.

And in Week 14, an up-and-down Matthew Stafford had his best passing day of the 2014 season against the 31st-ranked Tampa Bay Buccaneers, throwing for 311 yards and three touchdowns.

These are just a few examples about how understanding the schedule can help you identify the best opportunities to stream quarterbacks, even deep in the fantasy playoffs. But even for owners who just want to identify the best bye week fill-in for their weekly starter, identifying positive matchups can help you avoid mistakes and target the player most likely to return value to your team on any given week.

For example, I think Carson Palmer is a great value as the 17th quarterback off the board and will have a great year if he stays healthy. But if I'm the Andrew Luck owner, do I really want to start Palmer against the Seattle Seahawks during the Colts' Week 10 bye? For my money, I'd rather have Teddy Bridgewaterr against the Raiders and their 25th-ranked pass defense or perhaps even Robert Griffin III against the 29th-ranked Saints. 

Okay, perhaps Griffin is a bit of a stretch, but you get the point. Plus, by Week 10, we'll be able to identify which pass defenses are struggling and which have improved from their 2014 standing.

For a more detailed look at quarterback pairings and players to target, check out my recent breakdown of quarterback schedules.

To research quarterback strength of schedule, I utilized our signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP), which measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average player would be expected to perform in each scenario using historical data. A team's NEP indicates how they performed relative to that expectation. You can learn more about NEP here in our glossary.

The specific metric I utilized was Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, which identifies how many points a defense is taking away from an offense on a per-play basis, adjusted for strength of schedule. This allowed me to rank NFL pass defenses from first, the Houston Texans, to last, the Washington Redskins. While defensive rankings can often fluctuate year to year, I found it interesting that only two defenses, the Giants and the Saints, went from the top 10 in 2013 to the bottom 12 in 2014. Jumps like that are rare, and more often than not, bad defenses stay average or worse year to year.

Below is a chart that identifies that ranking of each quarterback's 2015 opponents (by week) in terms of their opponents' Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play rank from 2014. I also produced a cumulative score to identify the quarterbacks with the best schedule overall. The higher the total cumulative score, the easier the schedule.

As you draft or identify waiver wire targets, utilize this chart to help you navigate the options. 

Click here for larger chart

Quarterbacks from the NFC South find themselves with some of the best overall schedules in the group. Conversely, quarterbacks from the AFC North take a big hit because of their schedule this year. It's also tough sledding for the passers from the NFC West.

Expect some changes to these rankings, of course, but relying on an NFC South quarterback isn't a bad way to start off your year.

But, of course, there is always value to be found on the waiver wire at the quarterback position. You just have to know how to find it.