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Fantasy: Which teams have the easiest, hardest early-season schedules?


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With the release of the NFL's regular-season schedule Thursday, we can begin to adjust our 2023 fantasy projections.

While injuries can have a major impact on the campaign's latter stages, you can gain an advantage by focusing on the first few weeks to draft players set for hot starts or avoiding 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 managers begin to question their value.

We'll also publish a detailed fantasy strength-of-schedule matrix for the entire year soon. For now, let's take a quick look at the teams with the easiest and hardest early-season slates.


Denver Broncos

Week Opponent
1 vs. Raiders
2 vs. Commanders
3 at Dolphins
4 at Bears

The Sean Payton era in Denver will have every opportunity to start off on the right foot thanks to one of the easiest schedules during the opening month.

In addition to kicking the season off with back-to-back home games, three of the Broncos' opening four opponents (Raiders, Dolphins, Bears) finished in the bottom eight of Football Outsiders' pass defense DVOA for 2022.

That's great news for Russell Wilson, who's hoping to rebound after the worst season of his career (both in fantasy and real life).

The passing attack will also likely need to carry the load for Denver in the early part of the campaign, since star back Javonte Williams (Grade 3 ACL and LCL tears) isn't expected to be ready for Week 1.

This remains an offense to buy low on. Wilson, Jerry Jeudy, Samaje Perine, and Greg Dulcich are particularly intriguing at their current ADPs.

Los Angeles Chargers

Week Opponent
1 vs. Dolphins
2 at Titans
3 at Vikings
4 vs. Raiders

The Chargers continue to stockpile talent around franchise quarterback Justin Herbert - and they'll need it for an enticing offensive shootout with the Dolphins in the season opener.

But all four of their opponents in the first month struggled to stop the pass a year ago. The Dolphins, Titans, Vikings, and Raiders were sixth, first, second, and fourth in passing yards allowed in 2022.

With a receiving corps that just added first-rounder Quentin Johnston to its two established stars in Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, a backfield powered by Austin Ekeler (who led the league in touchdowns last season), a solid pass-catching tight end in Gerald Everett, and a quality offensive line that's getting stud left tackle Rashawn Slater back, the Chargers should field one of the most talented units in the NFL.

When you top it off with one of softer schedules to start the year, fantasy managers should be going out of their way to invest in this attack, especially with the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.

Honorable mentions

  • Green Bay Packers
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Seattle Seahawks


New England Patriots

Week Opponent
1 vs. Eagles
2 vs. Dolphins
3 at Jets
4 at Cowboys

For the second straight year, the Patriots face a challenging gauntlet to begin the season, and unfortunately, it doesn't let up much after that.

New offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien brings hope to an offense that desperately needs it after an embarrassing campaign under Matt Patricia and Joe Judge.

However, O'Brien will need to overcome three of last year's top 10 defenses (Eagles, Jets, Cowboys) in the opening month, including a Week 1 date with last year's NFC champs, who may have actually improved their roster in the offseason.

Aside from running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who should dominate touches and has a nice floor courtesy of his receiving stats, it's hard to get excited about anyone's fantasy outlook in the Patriots' offense for 2023.

New York Jets

Week Opponent
1 vs. Bills
2 at Cowboys
3 vs. Patriots
4 vs. Chiefs

All four AFC East teams will be dealing with difficult schedules this season, so it's no surprise three of them are mentioned in this section.

Aaron Rodgers will undergo a trial by fire in his first month as a Jet, with outings against the Bills (fourth in overall defensive DVOA in 2022), Cowboys (second), and Patriots (third). If that weren't bad enough, Week 4 features the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

Even though Rodgers is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest QBs to ever play, there'll still be growing pains as he gets comfortable in a new offense and builds chemistry with players and coaches around him.

The result could be a slower start from some of the Jets' fantasy stars - especially if Breece Hall (torn ACL) isn't 100% to start the year.

If they do struggle out of the gate, fantasy managers should keep them in mind as buy-low candidates in early October, since the offense might not hit full stride until midway through the season.

Honorable mentions

  • Miami Dolphins
  • Tennessee Titans
  • Las Vegas Raiders

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