Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Look in almost any fantasy guide and one of the charts you will find is "Strength of Schedule." It supposedly tells you which teams/players have a tougher schedule and which teams play an easier schedule.
Here's the problem with the theory. They are all based on the won/loss percentage of the opposing teams. The theory might work if the 4-12 Cincinnati Bengals defense had the identical weaknesses of the 4-12 Buffalo Bills squad.
Unfortunately, that's not the case. The Buffalo defense gave up league-high 169.6 yards-per-game on the ground last year while the Bengals defense yielded 115.2 ypg (19th best).
Which team do you want your fantasy running back playing on Sunday?
Obviously, there's a huge difference in the two defenses which will likely show up in your running back's fantasy production.
Meanwhile, the Bills' pass defense was a bit tougher to throw against than the Bengals. Or possibly, the opposing teams were simply having so much success on the ground that they didn't bother to attack the Buffalo secondary. It doesn't really matter, because your team is probably going to find the same weaknesses to exploit and the receivers going up against Buffalo aren't going to go crazy.
Just because their records are the same, their defenses may or may not be similar. Therefore, the "Strength of Schedule" based on won/loss records must be ignored.
Instead, I have based my "Strength of Schedule" for running backs on the rushing defenses (and in a later article for quarterbacks and receivers on the passing defenses) of the teams on their respective 2011 schedules.
Based on the chart below, the teams with the weakest opponents rush defense for 2011 are the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers, New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings.
Their opponents yielded around 119 yards-per-game on the ground last season. Which means that selecting Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson is a good idea. That's not exactly "breaking news" because they're likely going to be good no matter what the schedule looks like as long as they are healthy.
However, it also means that rookie running back Daniel Thomas out of Kansas State, selected by the Dolphins in the second round, might have a chance to post some surprisingly good numbers. Miami is expected to make Thomas their primary ball carrier as both veterans, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, are free agents.
Or that last year's most coveted rookie running back, Ryan Mathews (2010 ADP of 23.7), might get a chance to redeem himself for his injury-filled first year (678 yards, seven TDs). He and Mike Tolbert should be manning the Chargers rushing game this season as free agent Darren Sproles is expected to sign with another club.
In New York, Shonn Greene might finally achieve the success that many fantasy owners thought would come last season. Greene rushed for just 766 yards and two touchdowns last year after impressing the world during the Jets' 2009 playoff run (54 carries, 304 yards, two touchdowns in three games).
At the other end of the spectrum are the Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals. Though each team has a solid running back (Peyton Hillis and Knowshon Moreno, respectively), 2011 might not be the year they show it.
2011 Rushing Strength of Schedule
San Diego Chargers
New York Jets
New York Giants
San Francisco 49ers
Kansas City Chiefs
New England Patriots
New Orleans Saints
Green Bay Packers
St. Louis Rams
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
* - ypg equals the average rushing yards yielded in 2010 by the 16 opponents on a team's 2011 schedule.
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