Against The Run
The Ravens have the luxury of playing half their games against defenses that were in the bottom 10 against the run. After opening the season against Pittsburgh’s top-ranked run defense, five of the next seven teams that Jamal Lewis will face ranked 22nd or worse against the run.
You might have to sit Corey Dillon for the first three weeks of the season as he faces three of the top-four 2002 run defenses, but after that, it’s all downhill. His next seven games are against run defenses that ranked: 27th, 29th, 13th, 32nd, 30th, 28th, and 24th. Historically, Dillon has dominated bad defenses.
Clinton Portis will only face four top-10 run defenses. Three of those four games occur in the first seven weeks, and then his schedule gets very easy with six games of his remaining games coming against teams that ranked 20th or worse against the run.
After beating up on the punchless NFC North last year, Ricky Williams’ gets another break with just two (!) games against top-10 run defenses. He won’t face a run defense ranked higher than 16th until October 27th.
If you don’t mind Pittsburgh’s tough playoff run, consider drafting the combo platter of Amos Zereoue and Jerome Bettis. Through the first three months of the season, the Steelers will play eight teams ranked 22nd or worse against the run. If you’re inclined to let the running back position slide in the draft, handcuffing these two is a legit strategy.
By virtue of playing six games against its own hapless division, Minnesota will play just three top-10 run defenses. Combine that with an improved offensive line, and you’re looking at a lot of yards for Michael Bennett and a lot of scores for Moe Williams.
The Niners will see just four top-10 run defenses this year, and don’t face a legitimately tough defense until their October 19th meeting with Tampa Bay. Unfortunately for fantasy players, that doesn’t solve their running back-by-committee headache.
You already know that Shawn Alexander is all about scoring touchdowns. You’ll be delighted to know that the Seahawks schedule is filled with defenses that have little regard for defending the goal line. The Seahawks will play an astounding 14 of their 16 games against defenses that ranked in the bottom-half of points allowed. Would it really surprise you if Alexander led the league in touchdowns this year?
Against The Pass
Three teams have ridiculously easy schedules against the pass: Oakland, Denver, and Pittsburgh. With opposition this tepid, you’ll want to push their quarterbacks and receivers up your cheat sheets.
The Steelers will not play a single game against a pass defense ranked higher than 12th. That’s just wrong. If you were worried that Tommy Maddox might have been a one-year wonder, you can probably rest easy. Anyone want Hines Ward or Plaxico Burress?
The Raiders will play just one team that ranked higher than 13th against the pass last year. Unreal. Unless an injury finally catches up with him, Rich Gannon the table has been set for the octogenarian to dominate again.
Jake Plummer must be happy with his very accommodating entry into a new offense. Unbelievably, Denver won’t face a top-10 pass defense until the final two weeks of the season. Of Plummer’s first 15 opponents, 13 ranked 20th or worse.
In the mid-rounds of your draft, consider wide receiver Travis Taylor. He finished last year impressively, scoring in six of the final eight games, and he’ll face just one top-10 pass defense this year.
Speaking of strong finishes, Cincinnati’s Chad Johnson and Jon Kitna found a groove down the stretch last year, and they’ll face just two top-10 pass defenses all year.
Cleveland faces Indy’s improved secondary in week one, and then won’t play another pass defense ranked higher than 11th. At this point, you’re on your own to sort out who’ll be under center, and which of their many young talented receivers is the best play.
With just two games against top-10 pass defenses, Jeff Blake will be tormented by his lack of receivers.
Kordell Stewart won’t have to rely on his legs to beat up a whopping 10 different bottom-third pass defenses.
Planning For The Playoffs
During the fantasy playoffs, no ground game has it easier than Minnesota. In the final four games of the regular season, they’ll face the 32nd, 26th, 24th, and 30th-ranked run defenses.
You can get Antowain Smith for a steal at your draft, and you might want to stash him until the playoffs when the Patriots schedule gets easy. Over the final six weeks of the season, he’ll face five run defenses ranked 18th or worse.
Weeks 13-17 should be a snap for Trent Green and Tony Gonzalez. During your fantasy playoffs, they’ll face pass defenses that rank 32nd, 17th, 30th, 29th, and 24th.
Brett Favre will bookend a very easy start to the season with strong performances in the fantasy playoffs. In weeks 13-17, he plays pass defenses ranked 30th, 24th, 32nd, 23rd, and 17th.
In addition to playing nine games against bottom-10 pass defenses, Daunte Culpepper has an easy end-of-season run, finishing the year against the 18th, 24th, 31st, and 28th pass defenses.
The good thing about this info is it doesnt get out of date, only a player injury or trade can affect what it says here.
I suggest you keep a copy of this in a folder for your 03 draft party.