Fantasy Football: 10 Insights to the 2019 NFL Schedule Release

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The 2019 NFL Schedule was released and it’s now become an annual tradition where individual teams showcase their schedule on social media while getting more and more creative. Search them all if you have some time to kill at the office. My personal favorites: I know I’m biased as a Falcons fan… but that was a perfect shot taken at the Saints.

But by far the best schedule release belongs to the Panthers. Well done!

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For all the fun and excitement this brings, I cannot stress enough the value of NOT using last year’s records as the main indicator of what will happen in 2019. Using SOS (strength of schedule) numbers from last year as the main determinant is outdated and assumes that the NFL isn’t an ever-evolving ebb and flow of chaos.

Every year is different and wild things happen every year. The Browns now have five(!) primetime games, which was almost unthinkable a year ago.  The Steelers look like a completely different group and at the beginning of 2018, we still would’ve thought about Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown influencing our decision. We honestly need to come to terms that we don’t know as much as we’d like to think.

Now, we already knew who was playing who this year and what divisions matched up against each other. But the schedule release gave us a clear picture of when the games are played and their order. For fantasy purposes, the opening schedule (Weeks 1-4) gives us a small but tangible start to make our choices of streaming options, hot start candidates, and who could disappoint at the beginning of the year.

1. Week 1 starts out with the bang!
  • Houston @ New OrleansDeAndre Hopkins! Michael Thomas! Deshaun Watson! Drew Brees! Alvin Kamara! Lamar Miller?
  • Indianapolis @ Los Angeles Chargers– Two playoff teams from 2018 wanting to take next step in the AFC
  • Los Angeles Rams @ Carolina– Last years NFC Champs face a tough Panthers team on the road
  • Pittsburgh @ New England– Tom Brady is 10-3 against Big Ben in his career.
  • Atlanta @ Minnesota– Two NFC playoff hopefuls with WRs to make you gaze for days
  • Kansas City @ Jacksonville– This game last year (Week 5) was only one Mahomes didn’t throw a passing TD
  • Green Bay @ Chicago– Remember last year’s Week 1 miracle?
2. The Patriots don’t face a playoff team until Week 9!

Wait? So who’s idea was that?

Now that headline is a bit deceiving considering the Steelers were on the cusp of making the playoffs last year. The early season schedule sets up well for New England to run away with their 11th consecutive AFC East division title and 17th out of their last 18th, which is just mind-boggling. Sony Michel finished last year on a roll averaging 113 yards on the ground and two TDs during their three-game march to a Super Bowl title. Expect big things again as six of those first eight are against teams that ranked in the bottom-12 of DVOA against the run in 2018: MIA (24th), NYJ (21st), WAS (28th), NYG (20th), NYJ (21st), CLE (25th).

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3. Is it Mark Ingram‘s time to shine?

After splitting a backfield in New Orleans, Ingram signed with the Ravens to be their main guy in 2019. Baltimore luckily starts out with facing teams that were gashed in the run game in 2018 and among the league-worst in rushing yards per game. For the first four weeks, the Ravens face Miami (31st), Arizona (32nd), Kansas City (27th), and Cleveland (28th). As discussed recently in the early RB rankings podcast, he’s a solid RB2 with early upside based on this schedule.

4. Expect a hot-start from the forgotten Kirk Cousins.

The Vikings first three opponents had a rough go when it comes to defensive DVOA in 2018. The Falcons (31st), Raiders (30th), and Packers (29th) all were exposed because of major injuries and poor cohesive units. As stated earlier, much of that can change year-to-year but Cousins is basically going undrafted everywhere. The pendulum and coach speak has definitely swung in favor of emphasizing the run game in Minnesota. However, if we look at the way this organization has spent their money the last two off-seasons, they’ve tied up their future to their passing game and two dynamic WRs.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

5. The Chiefs have a gauntlet at the end of the year.

Here are KC’s final four games: at New England, a divisional matchup with Denver, at Chicago, and ending the season against the Los Angeles Chargers. This shouldn’t scare people off from using Mahomes as he averaged 32 fantasy points against top AND bottom-16 defenses as detailed in the TRUTH about QBs in 2018. He is a force and immune to good defenses but at that point in the year (and a years worth of film), teams might be adjusting more to Mahomes.

6. Don’t overlook the 49ers and Jimmy G out of the gate.

Yes, he’s returning from a major injury and we’re not quite sure how the backfield will shape up. But this Kyle Shanahan offense knows how to stay in games. Though they start the first two games on the road, the Buccaneers and Bengals were as bad as they get against the pass in 2018. Tampa Bay gave up the highest completion percentage (72.5) and the third most TD passes (34) in the league. The Bengals were awful surrendering the most passing yards per game (275.9 per game) and the third most 20+ yard plays in the league. He’s on the streaming radar right away.

7. Be conscious of the road woes.

Road teams went 101-155-2 last year which was less than a 35 percent win rate. Now not all road teams are created equally as some teams rise to the challenge and some teams get in a shootout (ala the Buccaneers and Ryan Fitzpatrick who hung 48 points in New Orleans last year in Week 1). The Chiefs and Titans have three of their first four on the road. It’s also worth noting that Philadelphia (Weeks 4-8), Seattle (Weeks 10-15) and Denver (Weeks 11-15) have stretches where they play four of five on the road.

8. The NFC South, once again, will come down to the end.

For years now, the NFC South has delayed their divisional games with some back-to-back in Weeks 16 & 17 that have decided the division. The Saints don’t play a divisional game until Week 5 and the Falcons… wait for it… don’t play in the NFC South until Week 10, their Thanksgiving battle against New Orleans. The Falcons play FIVE in a row Weeks 10-14 and the Saints play four in a row Weeks 10-13.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Sport

9. Some teams could be out of the playoff picture sooner than we think.

For the Redskins, three of the first four are intradivisional NFC East games. That is a brutal start for a team that is struggling to find its identity offensively.

The Dolphins are going to be bad in 2019 and they’ve shown their cards with the signing of Ryan Fitzpatrick. While three of their first four are at home and it could be a fun ride with Fitzmagic, their opponents (BAL, NE, DAL, & LAC) are all playoff teams from 2018.

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Jacksonville could be out early with an ugly first six games including the season opener against Kansas City, playing at Houston, at Denver, at Carolina and then home against New Orleans. Jags fans are hoping Nick Foles measures up.

10. For Week 17 in the NFL, it’s personal.

Hopefully, you’ve noticed this by now but Week 17 has almost been an afterthought for many teams and fantasy owners over the last few years. (If your league hasn’t changed this yet make it now!) 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.

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