2024 NFL Schedule: Everything fantasy football managers need to know

The NFL released its schedule in full Wednesday and the first thing I wanted to know about was when teams didn't play.

When fantasy football is your thing, the bye weeks are essential.

Let's establish some bye week rules up front. I think it's a folly to draft with a heavy lean into bye weeks. The future is unwritten and unknowable. The roster you draft today (or even in August or September) can and will often look radically different by the time bye weeks step into your life. Bye weeks can be a draft-day tiebreaker, but it's generally a mistake to take it past that.

Still, we need to do a little planning. So, let's first examine the eight weeks with byes for 2024, and after that, we'll try to discern which teams might have harder or easier schedules to open the year (September) or to close the year (in Weeks 15-17, the fantasy playoffs).

Okay, the byes shake out this way:

I'll never quite understand why every NFL bye week isn't a standard four teams, but you'll notice (as usual) that some of these bye weeks aren't like the others. Only two teams are sitting in Weeks 7 and 9, while a whopping six teams are on holiday for Weeks 12 and 14.

I've been playing fantasy football for a while (when I first got into the game, Brett Favre was a new, somewhat unknown player). I've heard all sorts of bye-week strategies. Some managers like to draft late bye weeks, kick the can down the road, figure their roster will turn over significantly before they ever have to face a roster deficit (or they can do some roster massaging later in the year, when the decisions are made off a greater understanding of the player pool and team needs). Some managers stack their byes together, figure they can punt one week but do great in the other weeks. Plenty of managers draft with little or zero consideration to bye weeks, and I don't think that's unreasonable, in the right league. You know your context better than outsiders do.

One thing I'm open to considering — and please understand this is a low-end tiebreak, nothing else — is trying to land a few players on the "skinny byes"; that is, players tied to teams that share a bye with just one other NFL club. The idea is that when you roster those players, you won't miss them that much when they're off (30 NFL teams play that week) and they'll offer utility when the heavier byes kick in. But you know the NFL is a snow-globe league, and how quickly injuries and chaos take over. I'd never aggressively steer into this idea, it's just a way to break a tie after several more important factors have produced a stalemate.

The Bears and Cowboys share a skinny bye in Week 7. That doesn't mean DJ Moore will score 13 touchdowns or Ezekiel Elliott will find the fountain of youth back in Dallas. It's just a small tiebreaker. The Steelers and Niners share a skinny bye in Week 9.

One of my primary fantasy goals is to get off to a good start, acquire some leverage. I like to play fantasy football with a microscope (focus on what's in front of me) and not necessarily a telescope (focus on things far away from me).

Let's be clear on one thing — right now we're looking at all of this stuff with a telescope — September is almost four months away. We have no idea what teams will be injury-ravaged before the first kickoff. But it's fun to imagine who might come out hot in September, so let's examine the schedules as such.

I ran the math on which teams had the easiest and hardest schedules based on the sum of their opponent projected win totals (the team over/unders). This is a back-of-envelope way to do it, and it doesn't incorporate weather, schedule flow, coaching, home and road dates, the perceived strength of a team's offense versus defense, etc. It just asks "How good are your September opponents collectively expected to be, right this second?" (Props to Warren Sharp, who I'm pretty sure came up with this novel concept.)

  • Bengals: Patriots, at Chiefs, Commanders, at Panthers

  • Jets: at Niners, at Titans, Patriots, Broncos

  • Lions: Rams, Buccaneers, at Cardinals, Seahawks

  • Niners: Jets, at Vikings, at Rams, Patriots

  • Chargers: Raiders, at Panthers, at Steelers, Chiefs

  • Commanders: at Buccaneers, Giants, at Bengals, at Cardinals

  • Seahawks: Broncos, at Patriots, Dolphins, at Lions

The Lions have three home games bunch in here, which is nice. Washington's start is mitigated some by three road games. After the Niners, the Jets take aim at three inexperienced quarterbacks.

  • Chiefs: Ravens, Bengals, at Falcons, at Chargers

  • Ravens: at Chiefs, Raiders, at Cowboys, Bills

  • Patriots: at Bengals. Seahawks at Jets, at Niners

  • Jaguars: at Dolphins, Browns, at Bills, at Texans

  • Falcons: Steelers, at Eagles, Chiefs, Saints

  • Vikings: at Giants, Niners, Texans, at Packers

  • Titans: at Bears, Jets, Packers, at Dolphins

  • Rams: at Lions, at Cardinals, Niners, at Bears

The Patriots will probably be major underdogs in their three road games. The Jaguars and Rams also take to the road three times in September. At least the Chiefs can appreciate drawing Baltimore and Cincinnati at home.

I am not someone who puts a lot of stock into "easy" and "hard" fantasy playoff schedules. So much will change before we get to Week 17. Again, it's a snow-globe league. But if looking ahead to the holidays is your thing, I have some schedule ranks for you. This is all in pencil, gamers.

  • Chargers: Buccaneers, Broncos, at Patriots

  • Colts: at Broncos, Titans, at Giants

  • Cardinals: Patriots, at Panthers, at Rams

  • Falcons: at Raiders, Giants, at Commanders

  • Bengals: at Titans, Browns, Broncos

  • Packers: Rams, at Dolphins, Lions

  • Cowboys: at Panthers, Buccaneers, at Eagles

  • Saints: Commanders, at Packers, Raiders

  • Jaguars: Jets, at Raiders, Titans

The Falcons have the easiest overall schedule per the over-under math (see below) and that also comes into play in December. We're all dying to see what this offense might become now that Arthur Smith has left and a legitimate quarterback (Kirk Cousins) is taking over.

  • Steelers: at Eagles, at Ravens, Chiefs

  • Texans: Dolphins, at Chiefs, Ravens

  • Browns: Chiefs, at Bengals, Dolphins

  • Lions: Bills, at Bears, at Niners

  • Dolphins: at Texans, Niners, at Browns

  • Giants: Ravens, at Falcons, Colts

  • Niners: Rams, at Dolphins, Lions

Barring some wild twists, the Steelers are going to be underdogs in all of these games. Maybe some knuckleball weather can even things up a bit.

Perhaps you want the whole enchilada, how a team's schedule cumulatively grades from Weeks 1-17, based on those team over-unders. There's a ton of noise baked into this, but I'll give you the data if you want it (a low total is a weak schedule; a high total equals a harder schedule). For logical fantasy purposes, this cuts off Week 18. And this list will look comically askew once the season kicks in; that's how the NFL is. Again a nod to Warren Sharp, who first introduced this keen concept to the public.

  • Falcons 122

  • Chargers 126

  • Bears 127

  • Jets 128

  • Saints 128

  • Bengals 130

  • Colts 130

  • Panthers 131

  • Commanders 133

  • Dolphins 133

  • Cardinals 133

  • Giants 134

  • Broncos 134

  • Eagles 134

  • Chiefs 134

  • Buccaneers 135

  • Seahawks 136

  • Raiders 136

  • Jaguars 136

  • Packers 137

  • Lions 138

  • Niners 138

  • Rams 138

  • Ravens 138

  • Browns 139

  • Cowboys 139

  • Titans 139

  • Vikings 139

  • Patriots 143

  • Steelers 144

  • Texans 144

  • Bills 144

For whatever that all means. The future remains unwritten. Go draft like a champion today.