NFL fantasy: Best/worst fantasy playoff schedules

With the release of the 2013 NFL schedule, fantasy football owners now have a much better look at how the level of opposition will affect the value of their players heading into 2013 drafts. An important part of the schedule, of course, comes in Weeks 14-16 -- that's the traditional fantasy postseason in most leagues and the time when championships are won and lost. In an effort to make your own preparations simple, here's a look at the best and worst schedules (based on 2012 home and road fantasy points allowed per position) when your league championships are on the line.

Top five quarterbacks

1. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets (18.13 points):
Opponents: vs. Raiders, at Panthers, vs. Browns
2013 Outlook: It would take a small miracle for anyone to trust Sanchez -- or any Jets quarterback for that matter -- during the fantasy postseason, but the numbers are the numbers. The Raiders and Browns both allowed an average of over 18 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks on the road last season. Sanchez or rookie Geno Smith aren't worth targeting in most 2013 drafts.

2. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens (17.75 points):
Opponents: vs. Vikings, at Lions (Mon.), vs. Patriots
2013 Outlook: Flacco has a difficult schedule overall, but he does have some nice matchups in the fantasy postseason. In fact, all three of his opponents allowed an average of more than 16 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks in 2012. That doesn't make Flacco more than a No. 2 fantasy field general from a draft perspective, but it will make him a viable starter late in the 2013 season.

3. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (17.59 points):
Opponents: at Saints, vs. Jets, vs. Saints
2013 Outlook: The Saints fielded one of the most fantasy-friendly defenses in the league last season, so it's no surprise that Newton has one of the best schedules among quarterbacks -- he faces New Orleans twice in the three fantasy postseason weeks. So, if you need another reason to make Newton one of the first four signal-callers picked, this clearly puts him over the edge.

4. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (17.56 points):
Opponents: vs. Bills, vs. 49ers, at Rams
2013 Outlook: You might think Freeman's schedule is unfavorable on the surface, but look at the numbers. The Bills allowed an average of almost 19 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks on the road in 2012, and the Niners (17.36 PPG) weren't as formidable away from home as one might think. Even the Rams gave up almost 17 points per game to the position on their home field last year.

5. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (17.46 points):
Opponents: at Cardinals, vs. Saints, vs. Buccaneers
2013 Outlook: The Cardinals were tough against quarterbacks on the road last season, but the Saints and Buccaneers were vulnerable to the position away from home. In fact, both teams surrendered over 19 fantasy points per game to opposing signal-callers while off their home turf. That makes Bradford at least slightly more attractive an option as a No. 2 fantasy quarterback in 2013.

Top quarterbacks (6-10): 6. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars (16.93 points); 7. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers (16.91 points); 8. Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (16.58 points); 9. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (16.49 points); 10. E.J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills (16.35 points).

Bottom five quarterbacks

1. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans (12.44 points):
Opponents: at Broncos, vs. Cardinals, at Jaguars
2013 Outlook: If you think Locker is on the verge of a breakout season, think again. He has one of the six toughest schedules based on fantasy points at his position, and games against the Broncos, Cardinals and Jaguars are anything but favorable in the playoffs. In fact, none of those three teams allowed an average of more than 13.72 fantasy points to signal-callers during last season.

2. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (12.49 points):
Opponents: at 49ers, at Giants, vs. Cardinals
2013 Outlook: Wilson is coming off a terrific rookie season and will be a surefire No. 1 quarterback in 2013. His fantasy playoff schedule is tough, though, as the Niners and Cardinals both allowed an average of fewer than 12 points per game to his position last season. Wilson became a bit matchup-proof at the end of 2012, though, so don't let this keep you from taking him in drafts.

3. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns (13.36 points):
Opponents: at Patriots, vs. Bears, at Jets
2013 Outlook: Weeden should benefit from the presence of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, but he's not going to be much of an impact-maker in fantasy land. He has the second-toughest schedule among quarterbacks overall, and his playoff matchups include tough games against the Bears and Jets. The second-year field general won't even be worth selecting in most drafts.

4. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals (13.48 points):
Opponents: vs. Rams, at Titans, at Seahawks
2013 Outlook: Palmer has the 12th-easiest schedule for quarterbacks based on points, but his postseason matchups are tough. The Rams allowed an average of fewer than 15 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks on the road last season, and Seattle was plain brutal against the position on their home field. Field generals barely averaged 12 points against them at CenturyLink Field.

5. Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (13.73 points):
Opponents: vs. Chiefs, at Falcons, vs. Cowboys
2013 Outlook: Griffin III's schedule is among the easiest in the NFL for quarterbacks overall, but this three-week stretch (on average) is considered less than favorable. A big part of that is a matchup against the Falcons, who gave up an average of fewer than 11 fantasy points to the position on their home field. His return from an ACL procedure is far more important than his schedule.

Bottom quarterbacks (6-10): 6. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans (13.94 points); 7. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (14.79 points); 8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (14.89 points); 9. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings (14.91 points); 10. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles (14.95 points).

Top five running backs

1. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers (22.46 points):
Opponents: at Saints, vs. Jets, vs. Saints
2013 Outlook: Much like his quarterback Newton, Williams and Jonathan Stewart will both benefit from a fantasy postseason slate that features two games against the Saints -- including one in Carolina during fantasy championship week. The Jets were also porous against the run on the road, allowing an average of close to 20 fantasy points per game to opposing runners in 2012.

2. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (20.62 points):
Opponents: at Broncos, vs. Cardinals, at Jaguars
2013 Outlook: Johnson's matchup against the Broncos isn't at all favorable, but games against the Cardinals and Jaguars are quite attractive. In fact, both teams surrendered an average of more than 20 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs in 2012. CJ2K might not be a No. 1 fantasy runner anymore, but he could make some noise in the final weeks of the postseason.

3. Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis Colts (20.23 points):
Opponents: at Bengals, vs. Texans, at Chiefs
2013 Outlook: The Texans make for a tough matchup, but Bradshaw does have two favorable road contests against the Bengals and Chiefs. In fact, both of those teams allowed an average of more than 20 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs last season. Bradshaw, the favorite to start for coach Chuck Pagano, should be drafted as a potential No. 2 or 3 starter in most formats.

4. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs (19.91 points):
Opponents: at Redskins, at Raiders, vs. Colts
2013 Outlook: As if you needed another reason to target Charles, who is coming off a solid 2012 campaign, his fantasy postseason schedule is solid. Both the Raiders and Colts surrendered an average of over 18 fantasy points per game to running backs on the road last year, making Charles that much more of an option in drafts. He's certain to come off the board in the first round.

5. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins (19.83 points):
Opponents: vs. Chiefs, at Falcons, vs. Cowboys
2013 Outlook: Morris, who broke out as a rookie, has the sixth-toughest schedule among runners overall but should shine in the fantasy playoffs. The Chiefs and Falcons allowed an average of over 19 fantasy points per game to the position in 2012, so those contests are favorable. What's more, Morris had 313 rushing yards and four touchdowns in two games against the Cowboys in 2012.

Top running backs (6-10): 6. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (19.62 points); 7. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders (19.37 points); 8. Darren Sproles/Pierre Thomas/Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints (19.30 points); 9. Daryl Richardson/Isaiah Pead, St. Louis Rams (19.21 points); 10. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears (19.16 points).

Bottom five running backs

1. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles (14.87 points):
Opponents: vs. Lions, at Vikings, vs. Bears
2013 Outlook: McCoy should re-emerge into a solid No. 1 running back in the offense of new coach Chip Kelly, but he does have a difficult slate in the playoffs. The Vikings allowed an average of just 15.00 fantasy points per game to runners at home last season, while the Bears gave up fewer than 14 on the road. That makes for formidable consecutive matchups in Weeks 15 and 16.

2. Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons (15.28 points):
Opponents: at Packers, vs. Redskins, at 49ers (Mon.)
2013 Outlook: Jackson's value is on the rise as a member of the Falcons, and his schedule is the fourth-most favorable among running backs overall. He does face some formidable foes in the fantasy postseason, though, none more than the Niners in championship week. San Francisco's defense allowed an average of just 13 fantasy points to running backs on their home field in 2012.

3. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (15.35 points):
Opponents: vs. Vikings, at Lions (Mon.), vs. Patriots
2013 Outlook: Rice is going to be one of the first five running backs taken in all 2013 fantasy drafts regardless of the schedule (or the presence of teammate Bernard Pierce). He does face a tough matchup against the Vikings in the first week of the fantasy postseason, though, and games against the Lions and Patriots are middle-of-the-road based on the 2012 fantasy football numbers.

4. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers (15.50 points):
Opponents: vs. Giants, at Broncos (Thurs.), vs. Raiders
2013 Outlook: A fantasy disappointment to this point in his career, Mathews has tough matchups against the Giants and Broncos in the first two weeks of the postseason. Sure, a Week 16 contest against the Raiders is quite favorable, but Mathews has yet to prove he can produce even against some of the league's weaker run defenses. Don't target him as more than a flex option.

5. Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins (15.52 points):
Opponents: at Steelers, vs. Patriots, at Bills
2013 Outlook: Miller is a major sleeper candidate with the best schedule among running backs for 2013. Unfortunately, two of his tougher opponents come in the fantasy postseason -- he faces a road game against the Steelers and a home contest against the Patriots. Miller does face the Bills in fantasy title week, though, so he could be a star in the final contest of the fantasy year.

Bottom running backs (6-10): 6. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (15.65 points); 7. David Wilson, New York Giants (15.74 points); 8. Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions (15.81 points); 9. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys (15.93 points); 10. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (16.42 points).

Top five wide receivers

1. Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams (27.64 points):
Opponents: at Cardinals, vs. Saints, vs. Buccaneers
2013 Outlook: A deep fantasy sleeper, Austin and teammate Chris Givens will have late-round draft appeal. While their overall schedule is difficult, these wideouts face the Saints and Buccaneers in the final two weeks of the fantasy postseason -- those defenses both allowed an average of more than 28 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers during the 2012 campaign.

2. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers (25.53 points):
Opponents: at Saints, vs. Jets, vs. Saints
2013 Outlook: First it was Newton, then Stewart and Williams -- now it's Smith. See what playing the Saints twice in a three-week stretch will do for your value? New Orleans gave up an average of more than 33 fantasy points per game to wideouts on the road last season. That's good news for Smith in Week 16. So despite facing the Jets the previous week, his schedule works well.

3. Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens (24.48 points):
Opponents: vs. Vikings, at Lions (Mon.), vs. Patriots
2013 Outlook: Smith, a third-year wide receiver out of Maryland, has a tough schedule overall based on 2012 fantasy points. However, his final two games of the fantasy postseason are against the Lions and Patriots. Both defenses allowed an average of more than 26 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers last season. Consider Smith a No. 3 fantasy option.

4. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos (24.47 points):
Opponents: vs. Titans, vs. Chargers (Thurs.), at Texans
2013 Outlook: Thomas is the best fantasy receiver on a team that now has three prominent wideouts including Eric Decker and Wes Welker. The schedule will do nothing but accentuate their value, as the Broncos face three games against teams that allowed 23-plus fantasy points to the position in Weeks 14-16. Thomas will be worth a second- or third-round pick in 2013 drafts.

5. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs (24.22 points):
Opponents: at Redskins, at Raiders, vs. Colts
2013 Outlook: Bowe is going to be in a great position to rebound in 2013. He'll be in a pass-laden offense under new coach Andy Reid with an upgraded quarterback in Alex Smith. Bowe also has a great schedule overall that includes good matchups against the Redskins, Raiders and Colts during the fantasy postseason. Draft him as a No. 3 option with the potential for more.

Top wide receivers (6-10): 6. Danny Amendola, New England Patriots (24.15 points); 7. Santonio Holmes/Stephen Hill, New York Jets (24.08 points); 8. Dez Bryant/Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (23.61 points); 9. Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills (23.51 points); 10. Cecil Shorts/Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville Jaguars (23.17 points).

Bottom five wide receivers

1. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals (18.25 points):
Opponents: vs. Rams, at Titans, at Seahawks
2013 Outlook: Fitzgerald's fantasy value is back on the rise with the addition of new coach Bruce Arians and Palmer under center. Just keep in mind that his schedule in the fantasy playoffs is tough -- the Rams allowed an average of 18.10 fantasy points to wideouts on the road last season, while the Seahawks gave up just 13.05 points to the position on their home field.

2. Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints (18.81 points):
Opponents: vs. Panthers, at Rams, at Panthers
2013 Outlook: Drew Brees is the perfect elixir for any wideout's bad matchup, so Colston's stock won't decrease because of a tough schedule. Two games against the Panthers, who allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to wideouts combined last season, is a major part of the reason. Regardless, Colston should be targeted as a high-end No. 2 fantasy wideout in 2013.

3. Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans (18.98 points):
Opponents: at Broncos, vs. Cardinals, at Jaguars
2013 Outlook: Britt could turn into a decent draft bargain in what is a contract year, but he does have the third-toughest overall schedule among wideouts. That includes fantasy postseason matchups against the Broncos and Cardinals. Even the Jags were tough on wideouts in 2012, allowed an average of 19.39 points to the position on their home field this past season.

4. Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns (19.03 points):
Opponents: at Patriots, vs. Bears, at Jets
2013 Outlook: Gordon has some deep sleeper appeal heading into his second NFL season, but the schedule is not going to be his friend. In fact, both the Bears and Jets allowed an average of fewer than 20 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers during the course of last season. Overall, Gordon should be considered in the late rounds as a No. 4 or 5 wideout.

5. Denarius Moore, Oakland Raiders (19.35 points):
Opponents: at Jets, vs. Chiefs, at Chargers
2013 Outlook: A third-year wideout from Tennessee, Moore will be a clear sleeper in most 2013 fantasy drafts. The postseason schedule won't do him any favors, though, as Moore will face the Jets and Chargers. Both of those teams gave up an average of less than 20 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers last season. Consider Moore in the late rounds.

Bottom wide receivers (6-10): 6. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans (19.77 points); 7. Randall Cobb/Jordy Nelson/James Jones, Green Bay Packers (20.17 points); 8. Vincent Jackson/Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (20.23 points); 9. Antonio Brown/Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers (20.42 points); 10. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals (21.13 points).

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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