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Schedule analysis

The release of the NFL schedule is one of the most important events of the offseason, but it can be overlooked in the world of fantasy football. After all, it doesn't matter who is on the other side of the line from Peyton Manning, LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson or Steve Smith, because these studs will remain prominent starters across the board nonetheless. But in the case of most players, the schedule can be an important part of determining their draft value.

Unlike normal schedule breakdowns, which are based on records from the previous season, our in-depth look is 100 percent statistical and examines how teams did versus the pass and the run and is based on the defensive rank of their opponents. For example, the Colts finished second versus the pass and 32nd versus the run last season, so a team that will face them this season received a total of 34 points -- two for the pass and 32 for the run. In this formulation, the teams that finished with the most total points from the pass and run categories have the most attractive schedules.

Much like the offensive line rank list that also appears in our fantasy football draft kit, this schedule breakdown is also a very useful draft tool when it comes time to make a final and educated decision between players with similar value.

1. Carolina Panthers (577 points): The Panthers have the 10th easiest pass schedule and the fourth easiest run schedule, which is terrific news for Jake Delhomme, DeAngelo Williams and Steve Smith. Games against weak run defenses like Indianapolis, St. Louis, Tennessee and Houston should make Williams an even better sleeper candidate.

2. Arizona Cardinals (576 points): Matt Leinart, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald should all do well, as the Cardinals have the 12th easiest pass schedule. Edgerrin James will also see a slight increase in value as he faces the third easiest run slate, which includes matchups against defenses like St. Louis (2), Cleveland, New Orleans and Detroit.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (569 points): The Buccaneers face the 16th easiest pass schedule, and that's a positive for Jeff Garcia. Where this team could thrive is on the ground, as it has the second easiest run schedule. That should add to the value of Cadillac Williams, who faces teams like Indianapolis, St. Louis, Tennessee, Washington and Houston.

4. San Francisco 49ers (557 points): The departure of former offensive coordinator Norv Turner was significant, but the fact that the Niners face the fourth easiest pass schedule is a serious positive for Alex Smith. Contests against St. Louis (2), Cleveland, New Orleans and Seattle (2) also bode well for Frank Gore, who faces the 15th easiest run slate.

5. St. Louis Rams (556 points): The Rams face the 10th hardest run schedule, but that won't hurt the value of Steven Jackson. Where the Rams will make some real noise is through the air, as it faces the NFL's easiest pass slate. Marc Bulger, Torry Holt and the offensive attack should produce well vs. Cincinnati, Atlanta, San Francisco (2) and Dallas.

T-6. Chicago Bears (554 points): Cedric Benson has seen a serious increase in value after the trade of Thomas Jones, but he will have to compete against the 10th hardest run schedule. The news is better for Rex Grossman, Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, who have the third easiest pass schedule and face Minnesota (2) and the N.Y. Giants.

T-6. Jacksonville Jaguars (554 points): The Jaguars face the fifth most difficult pass schedule, so it could be hard for Byron Leftwich to produce on a consistent basis. However, the backfield duo of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew should find success vs. Indianapolis (2), Tennessee (2), Buffalo, Oakland, Houston (2) and the NFL's easiest run slate.

8. Baltimore Ravens (551 points): Steve McNair, Mark Clayton and Todd Heap face the 15th easiest pass slate, but it's the newest member of the offense that should produce as a result of the schedule. Willis McGahee faces the seventh easiest run schedule and will be a solid starter against Indianapolis, St. Louis, Cleveland (2), Buffalo and the N.Y. Jets.

T-9. New York Giants (548 points): The backfield of Brandon Jacobs and Reuben Droughns faces the 16th hardest run slate, but Jacobs remains a viable sleeper candidate. The player to watch could be Eli Manning, who faces the eighth easiest pass slate and should produce well against the likes of Minnesota, Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas (2) and Washington (2).

T-9. Seattle Seahawks (548 points): The Seahawks were riddled with injuries last season, but Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander should be back to 100 percent in 2007. This valuable duo should produce some solid stats based on the level of their opposition, as the offense faces the 11th easiest pass schedule and 12th easiest run slate on our scale.

T-11. Atlanta Falcons (544 points): New head coach Bobby Petrino will look to utilize more three-receiver sets next season, but his Falcons will have to be more consistent vs. the 14th hardest pass slate. The team has the sixth easiest run slate, so Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood should roll vs. Indianapolis, St. Louis, Tennessee and New Orleans (2).

T-11. New Orleans Saints (544 points): The Saints face the 14th easiest pass schedule, so Drew Brees and Marques Colston will have their share of monster stat lines. The skilled duo of Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister should also thrive versus the 11th easiest run schedule, which includes Indianapolis, St. Louis, Tennessee, Philadelphia and Houston.

13. Philadelphia Eagles (543 points): Donovan McNabb should produce some monster stat lines against Minnesota, the N.Y. Giants (2), Dallas (2), Washington (2) and the seventh easiest pass schedule. The Eagles do face the 12th most difficult schedule against the run, but versatile runner Brian Westbrook still remains a lock first-round choice in drafts.

14. Minnesota Vikings (541 points): The Vikings don't have much value in their pass attack, but Tarvaris Jackson and Troy Williamson do face the sixth easiest pass schedule this season. Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson have a much more difficult task, however, as it faces Chicago (2), San Diego, Atlanta, Dallas, Denver and the 11th hardest run slate.

15. Dallas Cowboys (535 points):Tony Romo will remain a No. 1 fantasy quarterback because of his own skills and the talent around him, but he could have some bad weeks vs. the 12th hardest pass slate. However, Julius Jones and Marion Barber should do well vs. St. Louis, Buffalo, Washington (2), Philadelphia (2) and the 10th easiest run schedule.

16. Washington Redskins (531 points): The Redskins face the fourth hardest run schedule, but Clinton Portis is still worth a second-round selection if he's 100 percent. Where the offense could thrive is through the air, as it faces the fifth easiest pass slate. That's terrific news for Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and sleeper candidate Jason Campbell.

17. Miami Dolphins (530 points): The first season under new head coach Cam Cameron will be a challenge, as Trent Green and the Dolphins face the ninth hardest pass slate. Ronnie Brown and Lorenzo Booker should be able to help against Cleveland, Buffalo (2), Washington, Philadelphia, Oakland, the N.Y. Jets (2) and the ninth easiest run slate.

18. Green Bay Packers (522 points): Brett Favre should have a nice statistical season for the Packers, who face the N.Y. Giants, Minnesota (2), Detroit (2), Dallas and the ninth easiest pass slate. The same can't be said for Vernand Morency and rookie Brandon Jackson, as the team faces Chicago (2), Minnesota (2) and the third hardest run schedule.

T-19. Cincinnati Bengals (514 points): The Bengals face a difficult pass schedule (8th), but that won't affect the value of Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Rudi Johnson should continue to find success out of the backfield, as he'll face St. Louis, Tennessee, Cleveland (2), Buffalo, the N.Y. Jets and the 14th easiest run schedule.

T-19. Detroit Lions (514 points): Whether it's Kevin Jones or Tatum Bell, the Lions could have problems on the ground against the NFL's hardest run slate. The one positive is the team's second easiest pass slate, which will thrill offensive coordinator Mike Martz and should add to the value of Jon Kitna Roy Williams and rookie Calvin Johnson.

T-19. Pittsburgh Steelers (514 points): The Steelers won't have an advantage through the air or on the ground based on their opponents. Willie Parker should continue to find success against St. Louis, Cleveland (2), Buffalo and Seattle and the 16th easiest run schedule, but Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward face the 13th hardest pass schedule.

22. New England Patriots (508 points):Tom Brady will remain one of the most valuable quarterbacks in fantasy football, but he faces Indianapolis, Miami (2), Baltimore, Buffalo (2) and the third hardest pass schedule. The opposition is less formidable against the run (8th), and that will make Laurence Maroney well worth a first- or second-round choice.

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23. New York Jets (507 points): The addition of Thomas Jones should improve a Jets offense that ranked 20th on the ground last season, but he'll have to face the 14th hardest run slate. The opposition is even harder on Chad Pennington, who will face Miami (2), Baltimore, Buffalo (2), Philadelphia, New England (2) and the 10th most difficult pass schedule.

24. Oakland Raiders (506 points): The Raiders will look to throw the football more often under new head coach Lane Kiffin, and it's a real positive that the offense faces Minnesota, Tennessee, Detroit, Houston and the 13th easiest pass slate. It could be harder to run, as LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes face the seventh most difficult run schedule.

25. Houston Texans (505 points): Ahman Green's status as a viable No. 2 fantasy back remains stable based on the opposition, which combined is the fifth easiest run slate. The schedule isn't as attractive for Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, who face Indianapolis (2), New Orleans, Carolina, Miami, Jacksonville (2) and the NFL's hardest pass schedule.

26. Kansas City Chiefs (503 points): Whether it's Brodie Croyle or Damon Huard at the helm of the offense, the Chiefs will face the 16th hardest pass schedule. The task will be even tougher for Larry Johnson against Minnesota, Jacksonville, Chicago, San Diego (2) and the ninth hardest run schedule, but he'll remain a top five overall choice.

27. Tennessee Titans (494 points): There's a lot of excitement around Vince Young, but the versatile quarterback will have his hands full against Oakland, Indianapolis (2), New Orleans, Carolina, Jacksonville (2) and the second hardest pass slate. The trio of Chris Brown, LenDale White and Chris Henry will face the 13th easiest run schedule based on out scale.

T-28. Cleveland Browns (493 points): The Browns don't have much value at the quarterback position, so it matters little that the offense faces the 15th hardest pass schedule. What does matter is that Jamal Lewis must battle Baltimore (2), Pittsburgh (2), New England, Miami and the sixth hardest run schedule, so he's a candidate to be a disappointment.

T-28. Denver Broncos (493 points):Jay Cutler has a ton of potential in the offense of head coach Mike Shanahan, but his value is hurt a bit as he faces Oakland (2), Indianapolis, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Chicago and the fourth hardest pass slate. The Broncos also face the 15th hardest run slate, but it's hard to reduce the value of featured back Travis Henry.

30. San Diego Chargers (486 points): Nothing short of an appearance of the cover of Madden 2008 would have hurt the value of LaDainian Tomlinson, but he does face Minnesota, Baltimore, New England, Chicago, Jacksonville and the eighth hardest run schedule. It's not much easier for Philip Rivers, who will have to battle the sixth hardest pass schedule.

31. Indianapolis Colts (481 points): Not even the best defenses could stop Peyton Manning last season, so the fact that he will face Oakland, New Orleans, Carolina, Baltimore, Jacksonville (2), New England and the seventh hardest pass slate won't hurt his value. The Colts also have the fifth hardest run slate, but Joseph Addai will remain a first rounder.

32. Buffalo Bills (465 points): J.P. Losman has some potential and Lee Evans is a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy wideout, but this duo will have a difficult road against the 11th hardest pass schedule. It's even worse for Marshawn Lynch, as the Bills face Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New England (2), Miami, Dallas and the NFL's second hardest run schedule.

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