10 Fantasy Insights from the 2021 NFL Schedule Release
Every year this is one of my favorite articles to write. The schedule is a puzzle and now we have the last piece of information we needed to start officially projecting: the order. Last year’s 10 Insights article nailed some early streaming options and beneficial schedules to pounce on in your fantasy drafts. There is still so much we don’t know regarding depth charts and situation as I explained earlier this week.
I’ll count down ten insights starting with a fun one to get you pumped about the season.
1. Who Wore It Best?
Before I go into the details and my main fantasy takeaways, I always like to share my favorite schedule release videos put out be team social media teams. If you have a moment, here are the most creative. The Panthers’ social media team always kills it. Seriously, I’m a Falcons fan but I’ve been following them for years and they don’t disappoint.
2021 Schedule release… pic.twitter.com/ylbaH3E0fm
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) May 12, 2021
"Eric DeCosta…quite the prankster! He wanted me and my friends to surprise you by revealing the schedule…" 🤣🤣
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) May 12, 2021
Ok enough with the pleasantries, let’s share the fantasy insights.
2. Let’s Get Ready to Rummmmble!
Week 1 is always a treat and starts out with a bang with the Cowboys Week 1 Cowboys at the Bucccaneers. Other exciting Week 1 matchups include:
- Pittsburgh @ Buffalo– Josh Allen and company steamrolled the Steelers near the end of 2020. Repeat?
- Cleveland @ Kansas City– Rematch from last year’s AFC divisional game. Outside of Buffalo, Cleveland looks like they have the best shot to dethrone Kansas City in the AFC.
- Los Angeles @ Washington- Both of these teams have playoff aspirations and their defenses could be top-notch.
- Seattle @ Indianapolis– Is Carson Wentz a thing? Is Russell Wilson happy?
- Philadelphia @ Atlanta– A peek into Devonta Smith-Jalen Hurts and the Kyle Pitts hype train begins.
- Green Bay @ New Orleans–
Rodgers vs Brees. Rodgersvs. Jameis Winston/Taysom Hill. Jordan Love? Who knows…
Here’s a look at the early Vegas lines by William Hill Sportsbook. Betz and I will briefly tease this on The Fantasy Footballers DFS Podcast this week if you want some initial gut reactions. It’s way too early but consider this the “syllabus”. Don’t throw it away but put it in a place you can refer to again later as we draw nearer.
3. It’s Primetime Baby!
One of the biggest conversation pieces annually centers around who receives the coveted primetime games on Sunday and Monday nights. It’s essentially a badge of approval for the NFL saying: “Hey, we think people will watch you”. For 2021, here is the Monday Night Football schedule:
— NFL (@NFL) May 13, 2021
Everyone loves a good revenge narrative including TV producers. The buildup in the pre-game reporting is all about “what happened in that locker room” and “what a great group of guys they are”. Blah, blah, blah. We want some football and most of this is overblown. Still, here are a couple of revenge narratives worth noting:
- Week 1– Sam Darnold versus the Jets. Ummmm.. this is awkward. We don’t know how to tell you this but, we have a new QB Sam.
- Week 4– Tom Brady goes to Foxboro on a Sunday night. Enjoy every TV sports talk show ranting about this for the week leading up to it.
- Week 4– Corey Davis welcomes the team that took him 5th overall to East Rutherford, New Jersey, the armpit of the nation to take on the Jets and babyface Zach Wilson.
- Week 8– Hunter Henry returns to Los Angeles but fantasy managers are still kicking themselves that his value disintegrated linking up with Jonnu.
- Week 9– Will Fuller V is thankful he struck the free-agent market at just the right time to get out of Houston.
- Week 11– Ron Rivera and Curtis Samuel have teamed up again in Washington but they’ll travel back to Charlotte to @ CAR
- Week 12– Jonnu Smith joins in on the action versus his former Titans.
- Oh and probably the most important one of them all: Ryan Fitzpatrick. His revenge tour in 2021 looks like tame compared to the past with only Buffalo (Week 3) and Tampa Bay (Week 10). As mentioned in 25 Ryan Fitzpatrick Facts to Make You Rethink Your Life, Fitz has never played in an NFL game against the Green Bay Packers or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’ll have the chance to take on both in 2021. Legendary stuff people.
5. Streaming QBs
Honestly, the first thing I look at with the schedule release, at least for fantasy purposes, is who has a juicy opening schedule. If you are a subscriber to the late-round QB strategy, here are a few guys (even some unconventional) with enticing matchups in the first few weeks. This is not an endorsement just a simple “wow look who they play early!”.
- Carson Wentz– Listen we have no idea who he is and what kind of condition we. But we’ll find out in the first month as the Colts play their first five games against teams that all went 10-6 or better last year. The Colts open Week 1 versus a Seahawks pass defense that was historically bad (30th in passing yards per game allowed) before running into the best pass defense in the Rams. The rest of that stretch is workable with road matchups against Tennessee (28th) and Miami (22nd) and a home game versus Houston (23rd). Oh, probably don’t start him against Baltimore in Week 5. Just saying don’t write off Wentz completely.
- Drew Lock– Don’t make me say it… ugh. Ok, I guess the Broncos have an easier opening schedule against the pass: the Giants, Jaguars, and Jets. Oh my god, what if they start 3-0? Will this guy really be rapping again? I can’t have that GIF on my timeline anymore, please. But yes, his supporting cast is great, and perhaps Lock surprises. Or Teddy Bridgewater.
- Ben Roethlisberger– I know it might not be pretty, but Big Ben might be a viable streamer again out of the gate. His first three matchups are enticing from a passing perspective as the Bills (18th), Raiders (25th), and Bengals (19th) were all below average in terms of passing yards per game allowed.
- Tyrod Taylor– Gulp. You didn’t expect that name here. The lowly Texans are projected for four wins on the season. It’s just a sad state of affairs for new head coach David Culley. But if Tyrod is the starter, check out who the Texans open with: Jacksonville (26th in passing yards per game allowed in 2020), at Cleveland (27th), Carolina (17th), and at Buffalo (18th). A couple of those are revenge matchups as well and I hated even typing this paragraph but I had to point it out. Taylor’s magic is obviously with his legs but the rest of this Texans squad is basically a JV squad.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick– Fitz doesn’t have an easy opening schedule but after Washington’s Week 9 bye, there is a stretch where I might be tempted to roll with our hairy-chested hero: Tampa Bay, Carolina, Seattle, and Las Vegas. All four of those teams were in the bottom half of passing yards allowed.
6. 2021 “Gauntlets”: Aka Make it to the Bye
After looking through all 32 teams, I’ve identified three potential playoff teams who will “make or break” their seasons with a “gauntlet” two-month stretch before their bye weeks. If your unfamiliar, “running the gauntlet” was a punishment where someone was forced to run between “two rows of soldiers, who strike out and attack with sticks or other weapons”. It was inhumane, ruthless, and not something I’d wish upon anyone.
|Green Bay Packers||@CHI||WAS||@ARZ||@KC||SEA||@MIN||LAR||BYE|
I’m not here to get caught up in all the drama. But if Aaron Rodgers isn’t the Green Bay signal-caller, good luck surviving this part of the schedule. From October all the way to early December, this schedule features five playoff teams from 2020 while Arizona and Minnesota should be in the mix in the NFC as well in 2021. On the other side of the bye, it goes Chicago, at Baltimore, and Cleveland. Yea, it’s tough in the streets of Green Bay. This is what you get with a “1st-place” schedule.
|Los Angeles Chargers||@WAS||DAL||@KC||LV||CLE||@BAL||BYE|
I like the Chargers. In fact, Betz and I recently mentioned their line of making the playoffs (+149) is tempting when you look at the rest of the AFC and who could sneak into a wildcard spot. This first half schedule ain’t easy folks especially for a first-year head coach in Brandon Staley. For more on the Chargers’ outlook with Staley, check out NFL Coaching Changes for 2021 & What it Means for Fantasy.
Earlier last month, I mentioned Seattle as a team I liked the ‘over’ on their Vegas win total of 9.5. Russell Wilson has averaged 10.9 wins in his nine seasons in the league including nine wins or more in all of them. That is nuts and maybe you’re thinking this is the year things fall apart. If there is a danger, it’s the first half schedule before their bye. Russ has been known to have drastic splits in 1st and 2nd halves of seasons so don’t be surprised if this one does the same.
7. The NFC L-East?
The NFC East was laughably less than mediocre last year as “the Football Team” decided to punch the rest of us in the face and become a competitive team near the end of the season. Washington’s defense is elite and with our main man Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm this year and Dak Prescott back from injury, this division is looking up. Schedule-wise, I’ve found a couple of interesting quirks for each team that are worth mentioning.
Washington Football Team– Four of their final six games are on the road including three against their NFC East opponents. They are the only team in the NFL that plays all of their divisional road games in the final month of the season.
Dallas Cowboys– Dallas plays three home games in a row Weeks 3-5 (PHI, CAR, NYG) and then three road games in a row Weeks 13-15 (NO, WAS, NYG). What gives?
New York Giants– After their Week 10 bye, the Giants will then be on the road for five of their next six games including playing against potential playoff teams away from home in Tampa Bay, Miami, and Los Angeles.
Philadelphia Eagles– While Jalen Hurts likely will be drafted as a top-10 QB and he’s been hyped up by many, Hurts has arguably the hardest home schedule in the NFL. Luckily, he’ll go up against Atlanta in Week 1 so you can assess his upside with an easy matchup right away.
8. Running Game Advantage
As the season wears on, the term “fresh legs” gets used a lot to describe RBs. We’ll take any window of opportunity for the most important position in fantasy. There are also dream scenarios like what David Montgomery ran into over the final two months where matchup-after-matchup was a cakewalk in terms of run defense. While rushing yards allowed statistics are only descriptive of what happened in 2020, it is a helpful piece of the puzzle that we can factor into our expectations.
- Chase Edmonds/James Conner– In the first three weeks, the Cardinals face Tennessee (24th), Minnesota (27th), and Jacksonville (30th). We’re not quite sure how this situation will turn out but as Mike mentioned on Tuesday’s podcast, Edmonds has only one goal-line carry in his career. One. James Conner could be sneaky valuable and although he stumbled at the end of the year, he was the RB8 from Weeks 2-8.
- Cam Akers– He’s going to be a borderline first-round pick but don’t be surprised if he stumbles out of the gate. The first three weeks are rough with Chicago (14th), Indianapolis (2nd), and Tampa Bay (1st) and you might have an opportunity to trade with a weary manager. He’s good enough to overcome this schedule but don’t be shocked if his value dips early on.
- Antonio Gibson– Whoa budddy… The 2nd year RB and Mike Wright’s heartbeat has an awesome stretch over the final two months of the season: Las Vegas (23rd), Dallas (31st), Philadelphia (22nd), Dallas again, and Philadelphia again. In other words, Washington could be entering Gib-szn all the way to the playoffs.
- Michael Carter & Company– The Jets have a soft early schedule with four-plus matchups in a row to open the season. I doubt Carter overtakes as the lead guy but he can have standalone value due to his passing catching work. He was one of the rookie risers mentioned in the latest Dynasty Pass update.
Here is a full breakdown of each team’s schedule sorted by how they ranked versus the run in 2020:
9. Tanking for 2022…
As mentioned on the AFC win totals podcast Betz and I recently did, there a number of teams who can go full Jacksonville (1-15 in case you forgot) en route to the No. 1 pick. Here are the current favorites in my book and how their schedule shapes up near the end of the year:
- Houston– At four wins, the Texans look like the bottom of the barrel in the NFL. Jacksonville might have some hidden value in fantasy playing them twice but it’s San Francisco in Week 17 that has me interested from a BestBall and championship week perspective.
- Detroit– The fighting Dan Campbells finish with Arizona, Atlanta, Seattle, and Green Bay. While grit might be a value, it won’t help against those passing attacks Guns Mahoney.
- Philadelphia– Things could fall apart for the Eagles if Jalen Hurts isn’t the answer. As mentioned earlier, that late Week 14 bye is a killer. Things could be heading south and plans change for the final four games.
Week 17 is for losers… I mean Week 18
Every single NFL team will be playing a divisional game on the last week of the season as theoretically every division could come down to this. But due to the collective bargaining agreement and the added week, we need to look at Week 17 matchups as the final week for the fantasy championship. Here are the most enticing Week 17 matchups that jump off the page:
- Arizona @ Dallas– Who would you rather have in this matchup: Kyler Murray or Dak Prescott?
- Atlanta @ Buffalo– Not gonna lie, I have a Josh Allen–Stefon Diggs stack in dynasty that has me licking my chops… even against my hometown Falcons.
- Kansas City @ Cincinnati– Joe Burrow & Patrick Mahomes. That should be a fun one
- Green Bay @ Minnesota– The NFC North could come down to this matchup. Jordan Love versus Kirk Cousins… right folks?