Exploitation Theory: What the NFL Schedule Can Teach Us About Streaming 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 6 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.
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 Denver Broncos, to last, the Detroit Lions. While defensive rankings will assuredly fluctuate due to injuries and matchups, with seven weeks of data to analyze, we now how a pretty decisive look at which defenses are great and which flat out stink.
Below is a chart that identifies the ranking of each quarterback's 2015 opponents (by week) in terms of their opponents' Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play rank through Week 7 of the 2015 season. 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, although keep in mind that remaining bye weeks are not factored in to this total.
As you select your daily fantasy quarterback or identify waiver wire targets, utilize this chart to help you navigate the options.
What are a few takeaways as we evaluate the remaining games on the NFL schedule?
Saints quarterback and perennial fantasy stud Drew Brees has been somewhat of a letdown in 2015, ranking just 15th in the NFL in points-per-game at just 20.9.
But for those looking for a player to target down the stretch, Brees might prove to be worth the wait. The Saints finish with the league's 30th, 32nd and 27th ranked pass defenses in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, a schedule that perhaps could allow Brees to regain his dominant form.
While some remain confident that Tony Romo will return to action in Week 11 following a broken clavicle, a look at his schedule throws uncertainty into the conversation about whether or not it will matter in terms of fantasy production. The Cowboys will certainly be a much better team with Romo, but with four top-10 opponents on the schedule for the final five games, he may possess more value as a trade asset than a fantasy quarterback down the stretch.
The Cowboys close their season with the Packers, Jets and Bills from Weeks 14 to 16, an intimidating slate at the most crucial time in the fantasy playoffs. There are assuredly worse players to own at the quarterback position than Romo, but I'd be looking at alternative options if the right opportunity presents itself.
Andrew Luck will enter the Colts' Week 10 bye having just played the top two pass defenses according to our metric. And if the first half of the season is any indication, he very well may struggle. If that happens, there may be many fantasy owners tired of Luck's inconsistency and ready to make a deal for the stretch run.
But that's exactly when the Colts' schedule takes a turn for the super easy, with five of their final six games against bottom-12 defenses in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. We know how good Luck can be if he can get healthy and perhaps be kept upright by his offensive line, and it's upside worth buying into if he can be had for a discount.
The annually underrated Philip Rivers is currently on pace to break the NFL record for passing yards in a season and is averaging more than 350 yards per contest and 26.1 fantasy points, good for third at the position. And while a track record does exist for Rivers struggling down the stretch, if it happens again in 2015 it won't be because of the schedule.
With only one top-12 matchup left on the schedule and a stagnant running game due to the ineffectiveness of rookie Melvin Gordon, the Chargers should continue to rely on their veteran signal caller to carry them on his shoulders as long as he is able.
Regardless of what your strategy is moving forward in daily or redraft, allow the remaining schedule to inform your decisions. Understanding the matchups can help you identify the perfect moment to take a chance on Nick Foles and the right time to fade Andy Dalton. Doing your homework can quite literally pay off.