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With the NFL releasing its regular-season schedule on Wednesday night, we can begin to infuse that data into our 2019 fantasy projections.
Injuries can have a major impact on the latter stages of the campaign, but focusing on the first few weeks can give you an advantage, opening the door for you to draft players set up for hot starts or to avoid those destined to struggle against an unusually tough streak of opponents. Players with difficult schedules in the early going are prime trade targets after the first few weeks when owners begin to question their value.
After the NFL draft, we'll be publishing a detailed fantasy strength-of-schedule matrix for the entire season, but for now, let's take a quick look at the teams with the best and worst early-season slates.
If recent best-ball drafts are any indication, investing in the Buffalo's offense won't be an expensive endeavor since LeSean McCoy is the only Bill being drafted in the first 10 rounds. Fantasy owners might want to give extra thought to selecting upside players like Josh Allen, John Brown, or Robert Foster, especially since all four of the Bills' September opponents finished in the bottom third of the league in passing yards allowed in 2018.
It's tough for a team to make the "best" list when they have a defense as strong as the Saints' coming up in Week 4. That just goes to show you how easy the Cowboys' first three games appear. Ezekiel Elliott is going to run through the Giants, Redskins, and Dolphins, who were amongst the worst clubs in Football Outsiders' run defense DVOA last year. Any improvements the Redskins make with the additions of Reuben Foster and Landon Collins will be offset by the loses the Giants suffered, including Collins.
The Patriots have feasted on their floundering rivals in the AFC East for years and they'll have a chance to begin their season with divisional matchups in three of their first four outings. With New England's lack of receiving weapons behind Julian Edelman, a big season is on the way for sophomore running back Sony Michel.
The Packers get the luxury of three straight home games over this stretch; however, the defenses they'll face in the opening month are some of the most feared units in the league. Divisional battles with the Bears and Vikings are followed by a dangerous pass-rushing attack in the Broncos and a restocked Eagles squad. This doesn't mean you should shy away from Aaron Rodgers and Co., but their first few games under Matt LaFleur might be more challenging than some expect. Green Bay's skill position players will be high on the list of buy-low candidates after slogging through these four battles.
In general, the AFC East teams have some of the easiest 16-game slates in the league, but that didn't prevent the Dolphins from being lined up against four playoff teams to open the year. The Ravens, Cowboys, and Chargers were among the top 10 in defensive DVOA for 2018 and Bill Belichick always gets the most out of his Patriots' defenders, who improved as the year went on to come in 16th. Fitzmagic can't save the Dolphins from this one.
This a less-than-ideal way to kick things off for a Texans team boasting the talent to contend for a Super Bowl. The bigger worry needs to be the health of Deshaun Watson, my second-ranked fantasy quarterback for 2019, who will be forced to play behind a very weak offensive line that wasn't upgraded in free agency. Hopefully, Houston's front office can find help in the draft before it's too late. If not, Watson may drop a few spots in my next update with this early-season gauntlet looming.