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Strength of schedule: NFL fantasy football running backs

Other positions: Quarterbacks | Wide receivers | Tight ends

 

The NFL.com FPA ratings are based on the strength of a player's schedule using the average fantasy points their opponents allowed against the six major fantasy positions the previous season. For example, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers allowed an average of 26.66 fantasy points per game to running backs in 2011. As a result, any runner that faces them this season is rewarded 26.66 points. Since Michael Turner faces them twice as an NFC South opponent, he receives 53.32 points. The bigger the point total, the easier the schedule. While these ratings are not the be all, end all in determining a player's stock, they can still be useful when picking between players with similar value and looking for those ever-elusive sleepers.

Did FPA work for running backs in 2011?: Exactly half of the 32 NFL teams saw a 2.5-point decrease or increase in FPA from 2010-2011, so the theory's effectiveness was a push for all intents and purposes. The biggest change came in Denver, where the Broncos allowed 9.10 fewer fantasy points per game to running backs and were one of five teams to allow fewer fantasy points to the position compared to 2010. On the flip side, the biggest increase in points allowed came in Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers gave up 6.42 more per game. In all, just three teams surrendered 4.68 or more points compared to the previous season. Furthermore, 56.2 percent of defenses allowed more fantasy points to backs at some level.

Note: Favorable opponents allowed an average of 20 or more fantasy points in 2011. Unfavorable opponents allowed an average of fewer than 17 fantasy points.

1. Michael Turner, Falcons (321.64 points)
Favorable opponents - Buccaneers (2), Panthers (2), Saints (2), Eagles, Giants, Chiefs, Raiders.
Unfavorable opponents - Cowboys, Chargers, Lions.
2012 Outlook: Turner will be a risk at the age of 30, but the schedule helps his overall draft value.

2. Darren Sproles, Saints (309.61 points)
Favorable opponents - Buccaneers (2), Panthers (2), Eagles, Giants, Chiefs, Raiders.
Unfavorable opponents - Falcons (2), Cowboys, Chargers, 49ers.
2012 Outlook: Sproles, one of the top draft bargains of 2011, will be a high-end No. 2 running back.

3. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs (306.60 points)
Favorable opponents - Raiders (2), Browns, Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints, Colts, Bills.
Unfavorable opponents - Chargers (2), Ravens, Steelers, Falcons.
2012 Outlook: Charles is coming off ACL reconstruction, but at least the favorable slate bodes well.

4. Ryan Mathews, Chargers (305.29 points)
Favorable opponents - Chiefs (2), Raiders (2), Browns, Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints, Titans.
Unfavorable opponents - Ravens, Steelers, Falcons.
2012 Outlook: Mathews (if healthy) could be in for a solid season for fantasy owners -- and the schedule helps.

5. Doug Martin, Buccaneers (304.27 points)
Favorable opponents - Panthers (2), Saints (2), Eagles, Giants, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams.
Unfavorable opponents - Falcons (2), Cowboys, Chargers.
2012 Outlook: The schedule is very favorable, making Martin a solid sleeper in his rookie campaign.

6. Ray Rice, Ravens (302.49 points)
Favorable opponents - Browns (2), Chiefs, Raiders, Eagles, Giants.
Unfavorable opponents - Steelers (2), Chargers, Cowboys, Texans.
2012 Outlook: Rice will be a top-five pick in all drafts, so a nice schedule just adds to his value.

7. Evan Royster, Redskins (301.46 points)
Favorable opponents - Eagles (2), Giants (2), Browns, Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints, Rams.
Unfavorable opponents - Cowboys (2), Ravens, Steelers, Falcons.
2012 Outlook: If Mike Shanahan uses Royster as a featured back, the schedule improves his overall stock.

8. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (300.61 points)
Favorable opponents - Buccaneers (2), Saints (2), Eagles, Giants, Chiefs, Raiders.
Unfavorable opponents - Falcons (2), Cowboys, Chargers, Bears.
2012 Outlook: The slate helps Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, but the presence of Mike Tolbert doesn't.

9. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys (298.73 points)
Favorable opponents - Eagles (2), Giants (2), Browns, Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints.
Unfavorable opponents - Ravens, Steelers, Falcons, Bears.
2012 Outlook: Murray has a ton of breakout potential, and the schedule looks like a positive for value.

10. Willis McGahee, Broncos (297.59 points):
Favorable opponents - Chiefs (2), Raiders (2), Browns, Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints.
Unfavorable opponents - Chargers (2), Ravens, Steelers, Falcons, Texans.
2012 Outlook: The slate is favorable, but the return of Knowshon Moreno could mean an imminent committee.

11. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (291.84 points):
Favorable opponents - Giants (2), Browns, Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints.
Unfavorable opponents - Cowboys (2), Ravens, Steelers, Falcons, Lions.
2012 Outlook: McCoy is destined to be a top-five pick in drafts, regardless of the strength of schedule.

12. Darren McFadden, Raiders (291.75 points)
Favorable opponents - Chiefs (2), Browns, Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints.
Unfavorable opponents - Chargers (2), Ravens, Steelers, Falcons, Jaguars, Dolphins.
2012 Outlook: McFadden is a risk due to his proneness to injuries, but a favorable slate does help.

13. Reggie Bush, Dolphins (290.34 points)
Favorable opponents - Bills (2), Colts, Titans, Rams, Raiders.
Unfavorable opponents - Jaguars, Texans, 49ers.
2012 Outlook: Bush's schedule will help his value, but can he remain free of injuries two seasons in a row?

14. Frank Gore, 49ers (290.22 points)
Favorable opponents - Rams (2), Bills, Giants, Saints.
Unfavorable opponents - Dolphins, Bears, Lions.
2012 Outlook: Gore will have third- or fourth-round value, but he still does come with some risk on draft day.

15. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants (289.85 points)
Favorable opponents - Eagles (2), Browns, Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints.
Unfavorable opponents - Cowboys (2), Ravens, Steelers, Falcons, 49ers.
2012 Outlook: Bradshaw should be better this season, but the schedule doesn't help or hurt his appeal in drafts.

16. Isaac Redman, Steelers (289.70 points)
Favorable opponents - Browns (2), Chiefs, Raiders, Eagles, Giants, Titans.
Unfavorable opponents - Ravens (2), Chargers, Cowboys.
2012 Outlook: The schedule won't help or hurt Redman, who has increased value with Rashard Mendenhall's status in question.

17. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (287.87 points)
Favorable opponents - Colts (2), Titans (2), Bills, Raiders.
Unfavorable opponents - Texans (2), Dolphins, Bears, Lions.
2012 Outlook: Jones-Drew could struggle to repeat his 2011 rushing totals, and his schedule is middle of the road.

18. Arian Foster, Texans: (287.29 points):
Favorable opponents - Colts (2), Titans (2), Bills.
Unfavorable opponents - Jaguars (2), Dolphins, Bears, Lions, Ravens.
2012 Outlook: Foster's schedule isn't favorable, but he remains the top fantasy player on my board regardless.

19. Trent Richardson, Browns (285.27 points):
Favorable opponents - Chiefs, Raiders, Eagles, Giants, Bills, Colts.
Unfavorable opponents - Ravens (2), Steelers (2), Chargers, Cowboys.
2012 Outlook: A potential No. 2 fantasy runner as a rookie, Richardson's schedule is middle of the road.

20. Matt Forte, Bears (283.61 points)
Favorable opponents - Colts, Titans, Rams, Panthers.
Unfavorable opponents - Lions (2), Texans, 49ers, Cowboys.
2012 Outlook: Forte is a No. 1 back, but the addition of Michael Bush has his value falling just a bit.

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21. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (280.78 points)
Favorable opponents - Colts, Titans, Rams, Buccaneers.
Unfavorable opponents - Bears (2), Lions (2), Texans, 49ers.
2012 Outlook: The concern over Peterson isn't his schedule, it's how fast he can come back from knee surgery.

22. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks (280.24 points)
Favorable opponents - Rams (2), Bills, Panthers.
Unfavorable opponents - 49ers (2), Dolphins, Bears, Lions, Cowboys.
2012 Outlook: Lynch will be worth a second-round pick, but the schedule won't be part of his total draft appeal.

23. Shonn Greene, Jets (278.46 points)
Favorable opponents - Bills (2), Colts, Titans, Rams.
Unfavorable opponents - Dolphins (2), Texans, 49ers, Chargers, Steelers.
2012 Outlook: Greene had his first 1,000-yard season in 2011, but the schedule won't help him reach that mark again.

24. Stevan Ridley, Patriots (277.64 points)
Favorable opponents - Bills (2), Colts, Titans, Rams.
Unfavorable opponents - Dolphins (2), Texans, 49ers, Ravens.
2012 Outlook: Ridley could end up in a major committee in 2012, but he's still a viable sleeper in fantasy land.

25. Donald Brown, Colts (277.61 points)
Favorable opponents - Titans (2), Bills, Browns, Chiefs.
Unfavorable opponents - Jaguars (2), Texans (2), Dolphins, Bears, Lions.
2012 Outlook: Whether it's Brown or another back, the Colts' No. 1 running back will face a tough slate of games.

26. Fred Jackson, Bills (277.42 points):
Favorable opponents - Colts, Titans, Rams, Chiefs, Browns.
Unfavorable opponents - Dolphins (2), Jaguars, Texans, 49ers.
2012 Outlook: Jackson will be drafted as a No. 2 back, but a tough schedule and the presence of C.J. Spiller are concerns.

27. Steven Jackson, Rams (276.67 points)
Favorable opponents - Bills, Buccaneers.
Unfavorable opponents - 49ers (2), Dolphins, Bears, Lions.
2012 Outlook: Based on our parameters, Jackson has just two very favorable matchups in 2012. That doesn't help his appeal.

T-28. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals (276.40 points):
Favorable opponents - Browns (2), Chiefs, Raiders, Eagles, Giants.
Unfavorable opponents - Ravens (2), Steelers (2), Chargers, Cowboys, Dolphins, Jaguars.
2012 Outlook: The Law Firm has value as a No. 2 or 3 fantasy back, but he'll face a difficult slate of games in 2012.

T-28. Beanie Wells, Cardinals (276.40 points)
Favorable opponents - Rams (2), Bills, Eagles.
Unfavorable opponents - 49ers (2), Dolphins, Bears, Lions, Falcons.
2012 Outlook: Wells will have to overcome a tough slate, the return of Ryan Williams, and knee problems to succeed.

30. Cedric Benson, Packers (273.51 points)
Favorable opponents - Colts, Titans, Rams, Saints, Giants.
Unfavorable opponents - Bears (2), Lions (2), Jaguars, Texans, 49ers.
2012 Outlook: Benson and James Starks both face tough schedules in an offense that doesn't run the football much at all.

31. Kevin Smith, Lions (273.31 points)
Favorable opponents - Colts, Titans, Rams, Eagles.
Unfavorable opponents - Bears (2), Jaguars, Texans, 49ers, Falcons.
2012 Outlook: Smith has durability issues, a difficult slate and must contend with Mikel Leshoure after Week 2.

32. Chris Johnson, Titans (272.91 points)
Favorable opponents - Colts (2), Bills.
Unfavorable opponents - Jaguars (2), Texans (2), Dolphins, Bears, Lions, Steelers, Chargers.
2012 Outlook: There isn't much to like about CJ2K's schedule, but he's still a legit No. 1 fantasy running back.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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