Here's the funny thing about strength-of-schedule analysis -- a popular topic right now because of the upcoming fantasy playoffs -- somebody gets the favorable schedule, and in exchange, somebody else gets the unfavorable schedule. It's the latter that instills fear in fantasy owners this time of year.
Ah, but here's the grand thing about sports: Things don't always play perfectly in line with expectations. Some players are capable of rising above their matchups.
Again, no fear.
The measures used in this space can't solely be used to measure consistent weekly performers; they can also be used to identify matchup-busters, players for whom you shouldn't sweat a bad schedule. There's a simple way to do this: split the statistics by difficulty of matchup and see who succeeds most in each group.
Today, let's do that, isolating only the most difficult matchups. We'll define these as the eight least favorable in the given season, using opposing defenses' fantasy points per game allowed to each position, and we'll use statistics from 2010 to 2013 for a more meaningful sample size. (This means that fantasy-points-allowed rankings for 2010 games are only 2010 numbers, 2011 for 2011 and so on.)
Every player listed below faces one of the worst remaining schedules at his position, but accounting for their histories of performance facing difficult matchups, there isn't a chance I would trade any of them (at below value, that is, as anyone has a price).
11 G, 7 Start, 2 Stud, 1 Stiff, 63.6 percent Consistency Rating (No. 1 among quarterbacks with at least five bottom-eight matchups); Saints have the second-worst schedule for a quarterback (totaling remaining opponents' fantasy points allowed per game).
Hello, Captain Consistency. This might be a "no duh" realization, but historically speaking, the caliber of defense that Brees has faced has been irrelevant, exemplified not only by his quarterback-leading 70.7 percent Consistency Rating overall since the beginning of 2010 (also leads with 80 percent in 2013 alone) but also his position-best rating against the bottom 25 percent of quarterback matchups.
Here's why that's important: We've now witnessed the Carolina Panthers shut down Colin Kaepernick and Tom Brady in back-to-back weeks, and it won't be long before Brees' owners look forward on his schedule and see Panthers matchups upcoming in Weeks 14 and 16, both of those playoff weeks. Toss in a Week 13 at the Seattle Seahawks -- the second-best defense at limiting quarterback scoring -- and it's an easy argument that Brees' remaining schedule is brutal.
So ask yourself what you believe: that Brees' fantasy production is about to go into the tank or that his streak of four consecutive games with 325-plus passing yards totaling 12 passing touchdowns against the Panthers takes precedence? I know the side I prefer, examining his historical consistency against the worst matchups.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
13 G, 6 Start, 2 Stud, 5 Stiff, 46.2 percent Consistency Rating (third among tight ends with at least five bottom-eight matchups); Saints have the fifth-worst schedule for a tight end.
Well, if Brees is matchup-proof, it follows that Graham would be too. Heck, Graham's consistency against lockdown defenses in large part is thanks to Brees, and vice versa, evidenced most by this fact: Since the beginning of 2010, Graham is the Saints' team leader in targets (418, 3 more than Marques Colston), red zone targets (62, again 3 more than Colston) and goal-to-go targets (28, 6 more than Lance Moore and Darren Sproles), illustrating precisely how critical he is to Brees in scoring position.
Remember that Week 8 game, during which Graham squeezed in 17 snaps played despite a foot injury and totaled 15 fantasy points? There's no greater evidence that Graham's role is what drives his fantasy production, and it's that of Brees' most trusted option when he smells a touchdown. Besides, consider this: The Panthers, after affording a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski in Week 11, have surrendered five scores to the position in the past seven weeks, while the Seahawks allowed Timothy Wright and John Carlson to total 17 fantasy points against them in the past three weeks.
As an aside, let's delve a little into how unreliable the tight end position is as a whole facing such difficult schedules as Graham's, yet another reason why his remaining path should inspire no fear. Consider that the only tight ends with at least five matchups against bottom-eight defenses since the beginning of 2010 to have been a Stiff -- a weekly score outside the top 20 at the position -- less than one-third of the time are Jason Witten (1 in 17), Tony Gonzalez (1 in 11), Owen Daniels (1 in 6), Jermichael Finley (3 in 10) and Vernon Davis (4 in 13).
In the examples of Witten and Gonzalez in particular, be aware that both players face remaining tight end schedules ranking in the bottom half of the league, with Witten's 52.9 percent track record of success (9-for-17), not to mention his position-leading 3 Stud scores in this split, an encouraging sign.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
19 G, 11 Start, 4 Stud (No. 1 among running backs), 3 Stiff, 57.9 percent Consistency Rating; Seahawks have the worst schedule for a running back.
He's the No. 1 running back in fantasy points, he faces the worst remaining schedule for anyone at his position, and his Seahawks are on their bye week, meaning he has 17 percent fewer remaining games than a typical running back, so naturally the only decision to make is to sell high on Lynch, right?
If the crux of the remaining-matchups argument against Lynch is his games against the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals, be aware that he has scored 65 fantasy points total in his past three against the 49ers and 54 in his past three against the Cardinals. To put that into perspective, consider that, since the beginning of 2012, no other running back has more than 33 fantasy points total against the 49ers (Ahmad Bradshaw, in two games) or 20 in an individual game against them (Danny Woodhead, 2012 Week 15) and no other running back has more than 30 fantasy points total against the Cardinals (Frank Gore, in three games) or 21 in an individual game (Adrian Peterson, 2012 Week 7). Lynch has dominated these D's in a way no one else has recently.
Consistency Ratings Benchmarks
Using 2013 statistics and fantasy points determined by ESPN's standard scoring, the charts contained in this column rate players based on how consistently reliable they are. To familiarize you with some of the terminology:
Start: The number of times that the player's point total in a given week was worthy of having had him active in an ESPN standard league.
Stud: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the top at his position.
Stiff: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the worst at his position, making almost any waiver-wire option a smarter choice.
These are the benchmarks for what constitutes a Start, Stud or Stiff performance, numbers identifying the player's rank at his position:
Sat: The number of times the player missed a game. Players are not charged Stiff points for sitting out, but it hurts their overall Consistency Rating.
%: The player's overall Consistency Rating, calculated as number of Start performances divided by scheduled team games.
3 G, 2 Start, 0 Stud, 1 Stiff; Rams have the seventh-worst schedule for a running back.
This one manipulates the sample size, as three games is usually not enough evidence to support a player's ability to buck the matchups, especially when one of those games was a Stiff performance. That said, Stacy's Stiff game came in Week 1, when he was not the starter, was locked in a battle for the No. 2 duties and had just one carry against the stifling Cardinals. In his other two games against bottom-eight matchups -- Weeks 7 at the Panthers and 8 versus the Seahawks -- he totaled 27 fantasy points, thanks to 21 and 27 touches in those games.
Stacy has topped 25 carries in each of his past three games, and while not a single one of his remaining games represents a plus matchup, he is sure to get the ball anywhere from 15 to 30 times depending upon game flow. Workload alone supports his case, as do the 4.3 yards per carry and 1.8 yards after contact per carry he averaged against those challenging matchups in Weeks 7 and 8.
6 G, 3 Start, 2 Stud, 2 Stiff, 50.0 percent Consistency Rating (tied for sixth among wide receivers with at least five bottom-eight matchups); Colts have the fourth-worst schedule for a wide receiver.
In addition to the above numbers, consider this: Hilton's 12.7 fantasy points per game in those six contests are the most of any wide receiver with at least five such matchups. Granted, some of that might have been the product of his having been the No. 2 receiver behind a healthy Reggie Wayne, but the argument that Hilton's per-game target total should be higher in the final six weeks than the first six is valid, and that alone might be enough to drive him into double digits a few more times.
That said, be aware that wide receivers as a whole tend to struggle facing the most challenging matchups, just as tight ends do. That's why Hilton's production stands out; most wide receivers are Stiffs more than one-third of the time, many as often as half the time or worse.
Other quarterback matchup-busters: Michael Vick (5 Starts in 8 matchups, 62.5 percent), Tom Brady (9-for-18, 50.0 percent, 4 Stud G), Aaron Rodgers (4-for-8, 50.0 percent, 1 Stud G), Matthew Stafford (3-for-7, 42.9 percent, 2 Stud G).
Other running back matchup-busters: Maurice Jones-Drew (10-for-11, 90.9 percent), LeSean McCoy (9-for-10, 90.0 percent, 3 Stud G), Adrian Peterson (11-for-14, 78.6 percent, 4 Stud G), Ryan Mathews (5-for-7, 71.4 percent, 1 Stud G).
Other wide receiver matchup-busters: Brandon Marshall (9-for-13, 69.2 percent, 1 Stud G), Roddy White (9-for-14, 64.3 percent, 1 Stud G), Steve Johnson (9-for-15, 60.0 percent), A.J. Green (7-for-13, 53.8 percent).
Other tight end matchup-busters: Jason Witten (9-for-17, 52.9 percent, 3 Stud G), Owen Daniels (3-for-6, 50.0 percent), Brent Celek (5-for-11, 45.5 percent).
Consistency Ratings chart
Players are initially ranked in order of their Consistency Rating, calculated as the percentage of the player's scheduled games -- not games played, scheduled games -- in which his fantasy point total registered a Start score. All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort.
Players must have at least a 25 percent Consistency Rating in either standard scoring or PPR leagues for inclusion in the chart. All defense/special teams are included, regardless of whether they met those minimums.
These statistics are for 2013 only. Statistics for games since 2010 can be found here.