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The NFL schedule is out. While we already knew which teams were playing which other teams, the sequence of those games is at least as important for best ball purposes considering the heightened importance of Weeks 15-17. Furthermore, seeing the full schedule allows us to optimally make duos at onesie positions; for example, since J.J. McCarthy might not start Week 1, which QBs have a soft early-season schedule and therefore pair well with the Vikings’ rookie?

Below, Pat Thorman and Jack Miller explore 11 things best ball drafters need to know about the NFL schedule. Note that defensive strength was primarily based on Mike Clay’s 2024 position group rankings rather than 2023 output (h/t Mike Clay) because fantasy points allowed to a position by a defense isn’t sticky year-over-year.


1. New England has a brutal schedule, especially at the start of the year; when will Drake Maye debut?

The Patriots’ entire schedule looks tough, but their opening eight games deliver a brutal stretch that raises questions about when they’ll nudge Drake Maye from the nest. Road matchups against the Bengals, Jets, and 49ers defenses dot the opening month, followed by games with the Dolphins, Texans, and Jets again. With the latest bye possible coming in Week 14, there is no clear soft spot for the No. 3 overall pick to make his debut. Until we get some training-camp tea leaves to read, the schedule-based uncertainty renders Maye even less bankable for fantasy from an early-season production standpoint.


2. Falcons have ideal schedule during fantasy playoffs

On the other side of the coin and the opposite end of the schedule, the opposing defenses the Falcons will face offer a cushy finishing kick. Leading into their Week 12 bye, Atlanta gets the Broncos. Then, the rested Falcons wrap with indoor home contests against the Chargers, Giants, and Panthers — in addition to road contests against the Vikings (dome), Raiders (dome), and the Commanders. Minnesota, Vegas, and New York — all climate-controlled games — look to be one of the softer pass-defense paths through the fantasy playoffs. Pairing your Falcons — in particular, Kirk Cousins — with players who project for dicey late-season matchups is a potential solution for bumpy fantasy playoff weeks. Jared Goff and the Lions, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, and Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins all pop off the page in this regard.


3. Some notes on bye weeks

The NFL again distributed byes in a seemingly random manner, instead of an even distribution. Three weeks are particularly frustrating for fantasy:

    • Week 6 includes the Chiefs, Rams, Dolphins, and Vikings. Pairing players from those high-scoring offenses with inexpensive Saints can ease the bye-week pain, as New Orleans gets the Bucs at home. Patrick Mahomes drafters should rarely need a replacement, but a late-round dart on Derek Carr also covers Chiefs matchups at San Francisco (Saints vs. Broncos) and in Cleveland (Saints vs. Commanders).
    • Week 12 has a whopping six teams on bye, including some heavy-hitting fantasy offenses. The Falcons, Bills, Bengals, Jaguars, Saints, and Jets have a week off. Their absence can be mitigated by pairings with Raiders (home vs. Broncos), Seahawks (home vs. Cardinals), and Bucs (at Giants) — or if we want to pay more, the Cowboys (at Commanders). Joe Burrow drafters can look to Geno Smith, who also covers for rough Bengals matchups at Cleveland (Seahawks at Falcons), at Dallas (Seahawks at Cardinals), and vs. Cleveland (Seahawks vs. Vikings).
    • Week 14 is our biggest bye-based worry, with six teams off and fantasy playoff implications in certain formats. The Ravens, Broncos, Texans, Colts, Patriots, and Commanders can be covered by pairings with the Vikings (home vs Falcons), Saints (at Giants), and Seahawks (indoors at the Cardinals). Jayden Daniels drafters can also use some Geno Smith, who covers for challenging Commanders games vs. Cleveland (Seahawks vs. Giants), vs. Dallas (Seahawks vs. Cardinals), and at Dallas (Seahawks at Rams).

4. Tampa Bay and Detroit passing offenses have good September schedules

The Bucs and Lions project for accommodative opening-month pass defense slates. Tampa Bay and new OC Liam Coen face the Commanders, Broncos, and Falcons within the first five weeks — with the Lions’ new-look secondary nestled in Week 2. Detroit’s offense should also get off to a blazing start with home games against the Rams and Bucs before heading to a third straight indoor game in Arizona. The Lions close the month back at home against the Seahawks before heading for what will likely feel like a too-early bye. Jaguars drafters may want to take note and pair Trevor Lawrence and Co. with Bucs and Lions. Jacksonville begins at Miami, home against Cleveland, at Buffalo, and at Houston before things lighten up. That’s a recipe for an early fantasy hole without some help over the schedule hump.


5. Vikes’ QB1 faces gauntlet before Week 6 bye. When will J.J. McCarthy play?

If Vikings rookie J.J. McCarthy does not convincingly supplant Sam Darnold in training camp, it could be a while before we see him.

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