Stretch-run schedule preview

Matchups are a critical part of fantasy football success.

They're not the most critical part, but they're a critical part, and as such, it's important to prepare your team for the stretch run. With 10 weeks in the books, seven left to play and the trade deadline in standard ESPN leagues approaching on Wednesday, Nov. 24, at noon EST, now's a prime time to examine teams' strength of schedules for the remainder of 2010.

In order to do that, the charts below rank -- by position -- teams' schedules from Weeks 11-17, in order of most to least favorable.

Here's the methodology: Defenses are projected to allow exactly their average fantasy points per game to the listed position in each remaining game, then those numbers are totaled to project the number of points an average team's players at that position should score facing that schedule.

For example, let's say that Team A faces Teams B, C and D, and those opponents are averaging 13.4, 15.1 and 16.6 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. Team A's quarterbacks would be projected for 45.1 total points (13.4 plus 15.1 plus 16.6) for that three-game span, meaning if they perform like an average team has against those three opponents, that should be their result.

Obviously, this eliminates individual players' talent from the equation, so in no way is this a be-all, end-all list. Consider it instead a helpful guide when evaluating trades, deciding between two similarly valued players or examining your team's depth heading into the fantasy playoffs. If you want rankings that account for these factors and individual player talents, among several other important factors, check my year-to-end rankings, published every Tuesday.

Each chart projects points, then ranks a team's schedule, for three time periods: Weeks 1-10 (strength of schedule so far), Weeks 14-16 (many leagues' fantasy playoffs) and Weeks 11-17 (the remainder of the 2010 season).

Quick click by position, for easy reference:
Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends | Defense/special teams


Notable: Josh Freeman has 130 fantasy points despite a Weeks 1-10 schedule that would have had an average quarterback expected for 113.4, and only twice all season did he have a weekly point total beneath his opponent's points-per-game allowed average, in Weeks 3 (versus Pittsburgh Steelers, 6 for him, 13.3 them) and 9 (at Atlanta Falcons, 13 him, 14.1 them). Brett Favre has the worst fantasy-playoffs (Weeks 14-16) schedule, including games against the New York Giants (Week 14), who have knocked five quarterbacks out of games already this season, and the Chicago Bears (Week 15), tops against the position in fantasy.

Running Backs

Notable: Peyton Hillis has 135 fantasy points, or six more than an average team's running backs combined -- meaning the starter and his backups -- should have had facing his Weeks 1-10 schedule (129.0). Remember, too, that he wasn't "the guy," not with Jerome Harrison considered the team's lead back, in Weeks 1-2, and was also struggling with a thigh injury from Weeks 5-7. It's those Weeks 16-17 matchups that are depressing his team's ranking in the study, but keep this in mind: Hillis had his second-highest fantasy point total (23) against Week 16 opponent Baltimore Ravens in their last meeting, and many leagues don't even include Week 17 (versus Pittsburgh Steelers) in their schedules.

Wide Receivers

Notable: The No. 1 wide receiver on the bottom-ranked team on this list, Roddy White of the Falcons, has a position-best 131 fantasy points through 10 weeks. That's only 42.9 points beneath the number Falcons opponents should have allowed to an average opponent's entire wide receiver corps. It helps when you're second in the NFL in overall targets (105) and third in red zone targets (12), and it's why that poor remaining schedule should be no worry.

Tight Ends

Notable: Only the Buffalo Bills (11) have fewer catches by tight ends than the No. 1-ranked Denver Broncos (18). Again, this isn't to be used as a literal ranking; it's merely an analysis tool. To that point, note that the primary pass-catching tight ends for four of the top-10 ranked teams, Daniel Graham (Broncos), Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati Bengals), Bo Scaife (Tennessee Titans) and Kevin Boss (Giants) are scarcely even owned in ESPN leagues.

Defense/Special Teams

Notable: If you've been wondering why I'm as pro-Philadelphia Eagles defense as I've been in my Tuesday year-to-end rankings, their schedule has a lot to do with it. Those are big-name offensive opponents, yes, but they're also chock-full of turnover potential. The rest of the argument: They have the 10th-most fantasy points to date, despite facing a not-so-easy schedule, and it hasn't been fueled by a lot of fluky touchdowns; their 59 points earned excluding their two touchdowns is the sixth-best total (excluding all teams' touchdowns) in the league.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.