The NFL has a strength of schedule formula that's simple to understand. Just take the opponents' records from the previous season, add up the wins and losses and calculate a percentage for all 17 opponents. In fantasy football, there's a different method. Rather than using team records, we use the number of PPR points allowed by defenses against a single position the previous season and rank the teams/players according to the average.
The numbers, admittedly, can be very close in many cases.
For example, the most favorable quarterback total (17.9) for this season is just 2.3 points more than the worst total. The tight end spot is even closer, as the best and worst slates are separated by 1.5 points. That’s why you shouldn’t use this data as a determining factor in whether you should draft a player. Instead, this is useful in picking between players with similar value in drafts.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the five toughest schedules per position as we head into 2023 fantasy football drafts.
Kyler Murray is not only coming back from a torn ACL, but he’ll face the most difficult schedule among quarterbacks. His most formidable opponents include the 49ers (twice), Eagles, Bengals and Browns, all of whom were among the six best defenses against the position. Murray’s postseason slate includes games against the 49ers (Week 15) and Eagles (Week 17), which hurts his redraft stock further.
Los Angeles Rams
Matthew Stafford is no longer considered an elite fantasy option, especially after an injury-plagued 2022 campaign that saw him average just 12 points a game. His slate of games this season includes two against the 49ers, plus tough matchups against the Bengals, Browns, Cowboys and Packers. He’ll still be worth a later-round look, but Stafford is now more of a No. 2 fantasy field general.
Kenny Pickett should see an increase in fantasy production in his second season, but a tough schedule could make it hard for him to make a consistent impact. In addition to two matchups against his AFC North rivals, including the Browns and Bengals, who were among the four toughest teams against quarterbacks last year. He’ll also face the 49ers, Packers and Texans.
New York Giants
Daniel Jones is coming off a breakout season that saw him average 18.1 fantasy points, so he’s a low-end No. 1 fantasy quarterback. The 2023 slate is a tough one though, as he’ll face off against the Eagles and Cowboys twice, the 49ers, Bills, Jets and Packers. Jones has to face Green Bay the week before the fantasy playoffs begin, and the Eagles during semifinals weekend.
Fantasy managers aren’t rushing to their drafts to pick Sam Howell in typical drafts, though he will of course have value in superflex and two-quarterback formats. His slate includes two matchups against the Eagles and Cowboys, plus games against the Broncos, Bills and 49ers. His fantasy postseason matchups are tough too, as Howell faces the Rams, Jets and San Francisco.
It’s bad enough that the Seahawks drafted Zach Charbonnet in the second round, which could result in a committee with Kenneth Walker, but the schedule won’t be kind, either. Seattle will face the Niners twice in the division, plus contests against the Commanders, Cowboys and Titans. In the fantasy playoffs, this duo will battle the Eagles, Titans and the Steelers in a tough slate.
The Eagles flipped their backfield in the offseason, losing Miles Sanders to Carolina, trading for D’Andre Swift and signing Rashaad Penny. The schedule won’t be kind to the new duo, as they’ll face the Cowboys and Commanders twice, plus games against the Patriots, 49ers and Bills. On a positive note, their fantasy playoff slate is favorable with games against the Seahawks and Cardinals.
The Dolphins backfield has the look of a messy committee, including vets Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. and rookie Devon Achane. Their schedule will make it tougher on this trio, too, as they’ll face the Patriots and Bills twice in the division in addition to the Eagles, Cowboys and Commanders. Their fantasy playoff slate will be tough, too, facing the Jets, Cowboys and Ravens.
New York Giants
The fact that Saquon Barkley’s schedule is among the five toughest at the position isn’t going to change his status as a top-15 draft pick, but it’s still worth noting. The Commanders and Cowboys allowed the second- and third-fewest points to backs last season, respectively, and he’ll also go up against the 49ers, Bills, Jets and Patriots. The playoffs include games against the Saints, Eagles and Rams.
The Bills figure to use a backfield committee with James Cook and Damien Harris, though the former is considered a potential sleeper in fantasy this season. Both backs will face a tough slate of games, though, as the Bills go up against the Jets and Patriots twice within the division. In addition, Cook and Harris will battle the Commanders, Buccaneers, Eagles and Cowboys.
Los Angeles Rams
No one is going to knock Cooper Kupp down in their fantasy rankings because of his schedule, but the stats are the stats. Two of his NFC West opponents, the Cardinals and Seahawks, ranked among the eight toughest teams for wideouts to score on last year. He’ll also face the Browns, Ravens and Eagles. This won’t affect Kupp, but it could hurt Van Jefferson or Ben Skowronek.
The Titans have one of the worst wide receiver groups in the NFL, so only Treylon Burks (and maybe Kyle Phillips) will be picked in drafts. The slate includes tough games vs. the Texans (2), Browns, Ravens, Chargers and Seahawks. In the fantasy playoffs, Burks faces the Texans twice and Seattle. Their defenses were among the four toughest for receivers to score against in 2022.
Stefon Diggs is matchup-proof, so the fact that he has a tough slate isn’t going to alter his value. It could make Gabe Davis less attractive, however. Buffalo has tough games in the division against the Jets and Patriots, and the Dolphins will be better with CB Jalen Ramsey in the mix. The Bills wideouts also face tough games against the Chargers, Broncos and Eagles outside the division.
The Browns should be better with Deshaun Watson under center, but the slate will be tough. I won’t move Amari Cooper down in rankings, but division games against the Steelers, Bengals and Ravens are never a breeze. Also, facing the Seahawks, Broncos, Texans and Jets could hurt Elijah Moore and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Two of those games (Texans Jets) are in the playoffs.
The Commanders have an underrated trio of wideouts in Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel heading into 2023, though their slate of games is tough. The Eagles are formidable in the division, and Dallas should be better with new CB Stephon Gilmore. Washington also faces the Broncos, Bills, Patriots and Seahawks, not to mention the Jets during the fantasy postseason run.
It’s ironic that the team that gave up the most points to tight ends last season has the toughest schedule for the position in 2023. The 49ers (twice), Commanders, Cowboys and Browns were all among the toughest teams for tight ends to score against last season, and they’re all on the Cardinals’ slate. That could be bad news for Zach Ertz, who’s coming off a knee injury, and Trey McBride.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers offense has plenty of question marks heading into the season now that Baker Mayfield (or Kyle Trask) will be the starting quarterback. So, while Cade Otton did show some flashes a season ago, he could be hard-pressed to make a big impact. The schedule, which includes two games against the Saints and Panthers in the division, won’t be easy for Otton to overcome, either.
T.J. Hockenson is one of the three best tight ends in fantasy football, so a bad slate of games isn’t going to hurt his draft stock. Still, we’ll go through the tougher games for the sake of knowledge. Hockenson will face the Packers (twice), Bears (twice), Saints, 49ers and Packers overall, though he will get some positive matchups against the Lions and Bengals during the fantasy postseason.
New York Giants
The Giants’ biggest move of the offseason was acquiring Darren Waller from the Raiders. While he’s a must start in fantasy leagues at a weak position, he does have tough matchups against the Cowboys (twice), Commanders (twice) and Bills. Two games against the Eagles won’t be a walk in the park either, and facing them and the Saints in the fantasy playoffs is a difficult stretch of games.
The Lions drafted Sam LaPorta, who could be seen as a potential sleeper in the late rounds of fantasy leagues. The schedule won’t be kind to the rookie, though, as he’ll face the Bears (twice), Packers (twice), Cowboys and Ravens. The postseason slate won’t be easy, either, as the Lions will face Dallas on the road in championship week. If you do target LaPorta, it should be later in drafts.