News & Analysis

Playoff fantasy football: A quick strategy rundown

Jan 22, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) shake hands after the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Just when you thought you were out of the fantasy football season, we’re going to pull you back in. It’s time for the NFL playoffs, which means another month of fantasy before the offseason.

Fantasy leagues during the NFL playoffs are not a new idea, but they have been increasing in popularity over the last few years. At only a quarter of the length of the regular season, these leagues are a great way for those who are jonesing to get one more fix of fantasy or a chance for redemption to rid that bad aftertaste of a losing season.

There are a variety of formats you can use in the NFL playoffs, but the three most common are salary cap, one-and-done, and traditional draft. Regardless of which your league uses, the idea remains the same – pick the players who are going to score the most points.

In draft-style leagues, this is a much easier task in the regular season. Barring any injuries or suspensions, all players play the same amount of games. But in the playoffs, as teams are eliminated, you lose their players. The key here is to draft not just quality players, but quality players on teams that have the best chance to play multiple games and hopefully advance to the Super Bowl.

To determine which teams you think will advance, I suggest drawing up a bracket and make your picks just as you would for the NCAA tournament. When mapping out your picks, remember that Vegas is your friend. Here are the current odds to win the Super Bowl:

New England Patriots 2/1
Minnesota Vikings 9/2
Pittsburgh Steelers 6/1
Philadelphia Eagles 10/1
New Orleans Saints 10/1
Los Angeles Rams 10/1
Kansas City Chiefs 16/1
Jacksonville Jaguars 20/1
Atlanta Falcons 20/1
Carolina Panthers 25/1
Tennessee Titans 100/1
Buffalo Bills 100/1

Two things should be quite obvious right away – 1) The Patriots are the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl with Minnesota just edging the Steelers as the second choice, and 2) The Titans and Bills are massive longshots. From there, however, the picture gets very cloudy. You have a lot of teams jumbled up between 10/1 and 25/1.

It can be difficult to use the Super Bowl odds to our advantage here, but we can use the odds to win the AFC and NFC to help us out. Here’s the AFC:

New England Patriots 10/13
Pittsburgh Steelers 5/2
Kansas City Chiefs 8/1
Jacksonville Jaguars 10/1
Tennessee Titans 40/1
Buffalo Bills 40/1

Again, the Patriots are the favorite, with the second-seed Steelers as the clear second choice. From there, the Chiefs and Jags are reasonable long shots, but the Titans and Bills aren’t getting any love from the odds makers. It’s tough to advocate picking players from either of these two teams in traditional draft formats since there’s a strong chance you only get one game from them.

In the NFC, the odds are little bit more challenging.

Minnesota Vikings 9/5
Philadelphia Eagles 3/1
New Orleans Saints 5/1
Los Angeles Rams 5/1
Atlanta Falcons 10/1
Carolina Panthers 12/1

The No. 1 seed Eagles and No. 2 seed Vikings were installed as the two favorites, though in reverse order. At the other end of the spectrum, the Panthers are the biggest underdogs. Given the odds, the Saints and Rams are the best bets to give you at least two games and both have the potential to deliver four games of fantasy production. Getting four games from your players is one of the biggest factors in winning fantasy playoff leagues.

With all of this information, you can now draw out your playoff brackets. Of course, the Vegas odds are typically very chalky, but you don’t need to follow them 100 percent of the time. Remember, it’s your draft, so draw up the brackets based on who you think will win.

Now that you’re armed with your playoff predictions, you need to start evaluating players at each position. Remember, we want good players on teams that we envision playing multiple games. To help you in the process, be sure to check out our playoff projections along with our weekly playoff rankings. Use this information along with your playoff brackets to construct a draft board just like you would for a regular season league.

But remember, unlike a regular season league, you’d don’t want the best players. You want good players who are likely to play the most games. Likewise, a late-round quarterback approach is suboptimal in playoff leagues. You don’t want to end up with Marcus Mariota and Tyrod Taylor. Instead, try to prioritize quarterbacks early. Last year, Matt Ryan was the No. 1 scoring in playoff fantasy football. Expect Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees to go early followed quickly by Jared Goff and maybe even Case Keenum, and Alex Smith.

After quarterbacks, it’s essentially a tossup between the other three skill positions in terms of value. Last year, Julio Jones finished as the top non-quarterback scorer with Julian Edelman, Randall Cobb, Chris Hogan, Antonio Brown, and Devonta Freeman right behind him. Wide receivers and running backs in terms of value. Ideally, you should look to get some form of receiver stack for your quarterbacks. It isn’t always possible, but it’s a great way to double-dip on yardage and touchdown points.

Check back later in the week, as we’ll have a mock draft, weekly rankings, and detailed game previews for the Wild Card Round. But to get you started on your draft board, here are my top 60 overall rankings for the playoffs (injury situations to monitor are indicated with an asterisk):

Rk Player Tm Pos Gms
1 Tom Brady NE QB 3
2 Rob Gronkowski NE TE 3
3 Dion Lewis NE RB 3
4 Todd Gurley LAR RB 2
5 Brandin Cooks NE WR 3
6 Michael Thomas NO WR 3
7 Alvin Kamara NO RB 3
8 Drew Brees NO QB 3
9 Antonio Brown* PIT WR 2
10 Le'Veon Bell PIT RB 2
11 Mark Ingram NO RB 3
12 Tyreek Hill KC WR 2
13 Travis Kelce KC TE 2
14 Adam Thielen MIN WR 3
15 Kareem Hunt KC RB 2
16 Leonard Fournette JAX RB 2
17 Stefon Diggs MIN WR 3
18 Ben Roethlisberger PIT QB 2
19 Case Keenum MIN QB 3
20 Julio Jones ATL WR 1
21 Latavius Murray MIN RB 3
22 Chris Hogan NE WR 3
23 Jared Goff LAR QB 2
24 Robert Woods LAR WR 2
25 JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT WR 2
26 Alex Smith KC QB 2
27 Blake Bortles JAX QB 2
28 Zach Ertz PHI TE 1
29 Jay Ajayi PHI RB 1
30 Devonta Freeman ATL RB 1
31 Jerick McKinnon MIN RB 3
32 Kyle Rudolph MIN TE 3
33 Ted Ginn Jr. NO WR 3
34 Alshon Jeffery PHI WR 1
35 Cooper Kupp LAR WR 2
36 Danny Amendola NE WR 3
37 Martavis Bryant PIT WR 2
38 Cam Newton CAR QB 1
39 Nick Foles PHI QB 1
40 Sammy Watkins LAR WR 2
41 Keelan Cole JAX WR 2
42 Dede Westbrook JAX WR 2
43 Nelson Agholor PHI WR 1
44 Matt Ryan ATL QB 1
45 Christian McCaffrey CAR RB 1
46 Derrick Henry TEN RB 1
47 LeSean McCoy* BUF RB 1
48 Delanie Walker TEN TE 1
49 Marcus Mariota TEN QB 1
50 Tyrod Taylor BUF QB 1
51 James White* NE RB 3
52 Greg Olsen CAR TE 1
53 Devin Funchess CAR WR 1
54 Mohamed Sanu ATL WR 1
55 Tevin Coleman ATL RB 1
56 Rishard Matthews TEN WR 1
57 Charles Clay BUF TE 1
58 Corey Davis TEN WR 1
59 LeGarrette Blount PHI RB 2
60 Mike Gillislee* NE RB 3


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