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Predicting NFL players to finish strong, based on schedules

Truth be told, luck probably plays a bigger outcome in sporting events than most of us would like to believe. That luck, good or bad, can manifest itself in various ways, from injuries to officiating to the quality of teammates or coaches. One of the most obvious signs of fortune, especially in football, is strength of schedule.

Each team in the NFL plays 13 opponents: Two games against each divisional opponent and one game against 10 other teams. That means there are 18 teams that don't end up on the schedule each season. The fates of both teams and players can be determined by scheduling circumstances over which they have no control. This is especially true before the season is completed; right now, each team has played only about one-fourth of the other teams in the league.

We try to account for this at Football Outsiders by including opponent adjustments in all of our individual statistics. You can get the details on the process here, but in short, we measure the value each player added to his team using a stat called DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement), then add or subtract yardage based on how many plays he had against each opponent. By comparing the difference between these two numbers over the course of the season, we can see which players have faced the most difficult and easiest schedules.

This might be a sign that some players will see their fortunes reverse late in the year. If someone has played a particularly difficult schedule, it's likely to get better, if only because it can't get much worse. Here are players at every offensive skill position who have endured tough schedules or sailed along on easy ones this season.


Quarterbacks