FANTASY FOOTBALL: A Fun Facts-style breakdown of the NFL’s 2020 schedule

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Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger owns stellar averages of a 329 yards passing and 2.7 TDs in his last 20 November/December home games -- dating back to 2014.

BATSBY Sports offers a slew of fantasy-related fun facts for the 2020 schedule release, a listing which brings prominence to bankable stars such as Saquon Barkley, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Dalvin Cook, Kyler Murray and Ben Roethlisberger:

15 FUN FACTS FOR THE 2020 SCHEDULE

FUN FACT #1
Let’s start with a factoid that most certainly has something to do with the Coronavirus … and the league’s subsequent flexibility with potentially moving certain games back on the schedule, if necessary:

For the first time since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, not a single team opens the season (Weeks 1/2) with two straight home games or two consecutive road outings.

On the back end, however, the Falcons, Dolphins, Titans and Vikings close out the campaign with back-to-back road trips; and the Lions, Texans, Chiefs and Patriots possess consecutive home encounters for Weeks 16 and 17.

So, in one respect, let’s give the NFL credit for having some symmetry with the bookend weekends of the 2020 schedule.

FUN FACT #2
Tom Brady has averaged 4,425 yards passing and 32-plus touchdowns since 2011, a nine-year run of fantasy gold.

Here’s the kicker, though: During this time, I have never owned Brady in any league, citing a general distaste for riding cold-weather quarterbacks during the fantasy-playoff period of Weeks 13-17.

As Exhibit A, I always point to Brady’s record-breaking campaign of 2007. Yes, he single-handedly carried fantasy owners to the playoffs that year, amassing 4,806 yards passing and 50 touchdowns (the first NFL quarterback to reach this strata).

However, for Week 15, traditionally the semifinal round of the fantasy playoffs, Brady rolled for just 140 yards passing and zero touchdowns — the ugly result of facing a top-notch Jets defense … and encountering raw, blustery weather that day in Foxboro, Mass.

For me, that wretched outing, even as an outlier to Brady’s Hall of Fame-worthy success, has always served as a tiebreaking deterrent with highly competitive fantasy drafts.

As a general rule, prodigious warm-weather quarterbacks should always get the nod over someone battling Nor’easters in December.

However, that’s not the case for 2020.

Along with the Vikings and 49ers, Brady’s Buccaneers are near-certain locks to avoid any cold- or bad-weather games for Weeks 10-17, thanks to a schedule which includes four sun-drenched home outings (Rams, Chiefs, Vikings, Falcons), two climate-controlled matchups (@ Detroit, @ Atlanta) and one bye.

Throw in the Bucs’ absurd arsenal of playmaking talent (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Ronald Jones, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Justin Watson, Tyler Johnson) … and there should be zero complacency with investing a Round 5-6-7 pick on Brady in 12- or 14-team drafts.

FUN FACT #3
Speaking of quarterbacks, it also wouldn’t hurt to prioritize Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Jared Goff or Ryan Tannehill during fantasy drafts.

Why is that?

For Weeks 10-17, neither the Falcons, Lions, Colts, Rams or Titans should encounter more than one bad-weather game during this all-important sector of the fantasy season.

In 2019, Stafford’s midseason injury served as a death knell for the eminently flawed Lions, who went winless without their franchise signal-caller last season.

There were also fantasy consequences to swallow, since Stafford was on pace for 4,998 yards passing and 38 touchdowns … before going down with a serious-but-not-surgery-worthy back ailment.

Can Stafford produce another year of monster numbers?

**Unlike previous years, the Lions are blessed with high-upside playmakers at the tailback, receiver and tight end slots.

**The schedule-makers have apparently been very kind, since Detroit draws the vulnerable pass defenses from the AFC South (Texans, Colts, Jaguars) and NFC South (Bucs, Falcons, Saints).

**Stafford posted the third-highest average of points among QBs last year (25.9 per game).

The two passers ranked ahead? Lamar Jackson and Jameis Winston … who’s now Drew Brees’ backup with the Saints.

FUN FACT #4
Need a reason to ignore Giants tailback Saquon Barkley (1,441 total yards, 8 TDs last year) at the very top of a fantasy draft?

Here’s some motivation to look elsewhere for picks 2-5 (presuming Christian McCaffrey at No. 1 overall):

The gauntlet of 2020 opponents (citing 2019 defensive stats), covering the first eight games include:

STEELERS — 3rd in rushing touchdowns allowed … 3rd in overall TDs surrendered to tailbacks

BEARS — 9th in receiving yards yielded to tailbacks … 9th in receiving TDs given up to the same position

49ERS — 4th in rushing touchdowns allowed … 3rd in overall TDs surrendered … 8th in rushing yards yielded

COWBOYS — 10th in rushing yards surrendered

EAGLES — 4th in rushing yards allowed

BUCS — 1st in rushing yards surrendered … 7th in rushing TDs yielded … 3rd in receiving TDs allowed to tailbacks

Does this mean Barkley’s incapable of replicating the seismic numbers from his rookie campaign of 2018 — 2,028 total yards and 15 touchdowns?

No.

We’re merely saying it might be the smarter play to bypass Barkley on draft day … and then stealthily trade for him around Week 5, a time when the original owner might be a little disenchanted with his Round 1 choice.

FUN FACT #5
As stated above, Christian McCaffrey (2,392 total yards, 19 TDs last year) will be a runaway pick for the No. 1 overall pick in PPR drafts, come August.

However, the Panthers star doesn’t have the cake schedule of another fantasy dynamo, Vikings tailback Dalvin Cook.

Carolina, Jacksonville, Seattle, Chicago and Green Bay surrendered the most rushing touchdowns to tailbacks last season — a staggering 93 combined scores — and Cook’s the only fantasy superstar to encounter all five wayward defenses in 2020.

Plus, with divisional rivalries … that’s seven total chances at the NFL’s most porous rushing defenses from last season. (Gambler’s caveat: Air-tight trends from previous years doesn’t always guarantee future results.)

Adding to the fun, here’s an important reminder: Before incurring a substantive injury in Week 15 last year, Cook (1,654 total yards, 13 TDs) was a perfect 13 for 13 in reaching the elite-level threshold of 110 total yards and/or one touchdown.

FUN FACT #6
Only three quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Kyler Murray, Jarrett Stidham) will incur back-to-back-to-back road trips this season.

Here’s how those matchups stack up:

CARDINALS — @ Carolina, @ N.Y Jets, @ Dallas for Weeks 4-6

In 2019, neither the Panthers, Jets nor Cowboys cracked the top 10 in fewest passing yards allowed; and only Dallas finished in the top 10 with fewest passing TDs surrendered.

PATRIOTS — @ L.A. Chargers, @ L.A. Rams, @ Miami for Weeks 13-15

The Chargers were among the elites in passing yards and passing TDs surrendered last season; and keep in mind, dynamic safety Derwin James missed a good chunk of time to injury.

The Rams were middle-of-the-pack with the above categories, but also ranked fourth overall in sacks (50); and the Dolphins (dead-last in passing TDs yielded) were routinely crushed by opposing quarterbacks last year, which explains why the franchise poured a ton of money into the secondary during the offseason (via free agency).

SAINTS — @ Denver, @ Atlanta, @ Philadelphia for Weeks 12-14

The Broncos notched top-10 rankings with passing touchdowns and passing yards allowed last season.

The Falcons were bottom-10 with passing scores surrendered in 2019; for good (er, bad) measure, Atlanta’s defense also tied for 31st in sacks.

As for the Eagles, it’s worth noting: From Weeks 5-17 last year, only Kirk Cousins and Ryan Fitzpatrick shredded the Philly defense for 300 yards passing and multiple touchdowns.

And last but not least …

FUN FACT #7
Now that we have fresh video of QB Ben Roethlisberger throwing to Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, post-elbow surgery, this seems like a good time to reconnect with a classic fantasy stat:

Charting his last 20 home outings for November and December, dating way back to 2014, Roethlisberger owns staggering averags of 329 yards passing and 2.7 touchdowns.

How’s that for bankability?

On the down side, the 2020 Steelers merely have four games at Heinz Field in the final two months — Bengals (Nov. 15), Ravens (Nov. 26), Redskins (Dec. 6) and Colts (Dec. 27).

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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