News & Analysis

The Bracket: Which divisions would win their first-round matchups?

Oct 1, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates a touchdown with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) during the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

We set the stage for our own March Bracket to figure out which NFL division could create the best fantasy roster. Check out the primer here.

The stage has been set. Now it’s team for these super-fake teams to go to battle.

I created a formula based on fantasy PPG from 2017 (or 2016 if the player was injured in 2017) and early 2018 ranks to give each player a “score.” We’ll now pit the teams head-to-head for the tournament to see which fantasy team comes out on top.

A few players are pending free agents, but they were considered a part of their 2017 team for this exercise.

Round 1 matchups

AFC East vs. AFC South

It’s the old man (Brady) versus the new blood (Watson) for the first matchup of the tournament.

Yeah, I know, Jarvis Landry is now on the Browns. But these teams were set early Friday, and he wasn’t traded to Cleveland until that afternoon. So he’s sticking with the AFC East for this.

AFC East vs. AFC South
QB Tom Brady QB Deshaun Watson
RB1 LeSean McCoy RB1 Leonard Fournette
RB2 Kenyan Drake RB2 Derrick Henry
WR1 Brandin Cooks WR1 DeAndre Hopkins
WR2 Jarvis Landry WR2 T.Y. Hilton
TE Rob Gronkowski TE Delanie Walker
FLEX Dion Lewis FLEX Allen Robinson
K Stephen Gostkowski K Ryan Succop
DST Patriots DST Jaguars

Quarterbacks: Tom Brady vs. Deshaun Watson
Advantage: Brady by +0.48 points.
This one is close. Brady is the No. 3-ranked quarterback, but Watsons is No. 7. Additionally, Watson scored an absurd 25 fantasy PPG last year, which buoyed his production for this make-believe game of make believe.

Running backs: LeSean McCoy and Kenyan Drake vs. Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry
Advantage: Fournette and Henry by +6.60 points.
Fournette is a few ranks ahead of McCoy, and Henry is a few spots ahead of Drake.

Wide receivers: Brandin Cooks and Jarvis Landry vs. DeAndre Hopkins and T.Y. Hilton
Advantage: Hopkins and Hilton by +12.8 points.
Hopkins is the No. 2-ranked wideout heading into 2017, giving the AFC South tandem a big lead in this category.

Tight ends: Rob Gronkowski vs. Delanie Walker
Advantage: Gronkowski by +8.64 points
Walker is good, but Gronk is the best.

Flex: Dion Lewis vs. Allen Robinson
Advantage: Lewis by +3.24 points
Oddly enough, both “Flex” players for these teams might not even be on these teams in 2018.

K: Stephen Gostkowski vs. Ryan Succop
Advantage: Gostkowski by +6.69 points

DST: Patriots vs. Jaguars
Advantage: Jaguars by +16.38 points

Final result: AFC South advances

The AFC South beat the AFC East by 16.74 points. (We can’t tell you the actual total points scored by each team, otherwise you’ll know the winner of the whole tournament already…)

Much like in real life, the Jaguars defense carried the team here.

AFC North vs. AFC West
AFC North vs. AFC West
QB Ben Roethlisberger QB Philip Rivers
RB1 Le'Veon Bell RB1 Kareem Hunt
RB2 Joe Mixon RB2 Melvin Gordon
WR1 Antonio Brown WR1 Keenan Allen
WR2 A.J. Green WR2 Tyreek Hill
TE Tyler Eifert TE Travis Kelce
FLEX Josh Gordon FLEX Amari Cooper
K Justin Tucker K Harrison Butker
DST Ravens DST Chargers

Quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Philip Rivers
Advantage: Roethlisberger by +3.34
Both quarterbacks rank outside the top 10 leading into 2018, but Big Ben sneaks ahead.

Running backs: Le’Veon Bell and Joe Mixon vs. Kareem Hunt and Melvin Gordon
Advantage: Hunt and Gordon by +6.06
Bell is the best, but Mixon brings down the average hard when compared to Hunt and Gordon, who are both top-10 fantasy running backs.

Wide receivers: Antonio Brown and A.J. Green vs. Keenan Allen and Tyreek Hill
Advantage: Brown and Green by +8.60
It’s going to be hard to beat the combo of Brown and Green.

Tight Ends: Tyler Eifert vs. Travis Kelce
Advantage: Kelce by +16.63
This one is a blowout.

Flex: Josh Gordon vs. Amari Cooper
Advantage: Cooper by +0.82
In the Flex slot for this matchup, we have two wideouts who have never quite lived up to expectations. Cooper gets the slight nod.

K: Justin Tucker vs. Harrison Butker
Advantage: Butker by +3.62
This one might come as a surprise given Tucker’s long track record as a great fantasy kicker, but when mixing 2017 production with 2018 outlook, Butker gets the win.

DST: Ravens vs. Chargers
Advantage: Ravens by +3.33
Both defenses were top-five units last year, but the Ravens win this head-to-head battle.

Final result: AFC West advances

The AFC West beat the AFC North by 11.86 points. Travis Kelce set the AFC West up for success in this battle with a huge positional advantage.

NFC South vs. NFC West
NFC South vs. NFC West
QB Cam Newton QB Russell Wilson
RB1 Alvin Kamara RB1 Todd Gurley II
RB2 Mark Ingram RB2 David Johnson
WR1 Michael Thomas WR1 Doug Baldwin
WR2 Julio Jones WR2 Larry Fitzgerald
TE Greg Olsen TE Jimmy Graham
FLEX Mike Evans FLEX Carlos Hyde
K Matt Bryant K Greg Zuerlein
DST Saints DST Rams

Quarterbacks: Cam Newton vs. Russell Wilson
Advantage: Wilson by +4.72
Both players are fantasy studs, but Wilson’s dominant 2017 gives him a leg up.

Running backs: Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram vs. Todd Gurley and David Johnson
Advantage: Gurley and Johnson by +11.89
Kamara and Ingram are a sweet duo, but they ran into a buzz saw in Round 1 against Gurley and Johnson.

Wide receivers: Michael Thomas and Julio Jones vs. Doug Baldwin and Larry Fitzgerald
Advantage: Thomas and Jones by +23.14
If running back is where the NFC West gets their positional advantage, then wideout is where the NFC South gets theirs. Both Thomas and Jones are top-five fantasy wideouts.

Tight ends: Greg Olsen vs. Jimmy Graham
Advantage: Graham by +1.69
This is a close one, but the nod goes to Graham, who may not even be with Seattle in 2018.

Flex: Mike Evans vs. Carlos Hyde
Advantage: Evans by +10.41
This is a one-sided flex showdown.

K: Matt Bryant vs. Greg Zuerlein
Advantage: Zuerlein by +6.07
Bryant is great. Greg the Leg is arguably the best.

DST: Saints vs. Rams
Advantage: Rams by +2.36
This one is closer than you’d expect, but the Rams defense does give the NFC West a slight edge at this position in this matchup.

Final result: NFC South advances

The NFC South beat the NFC West by 6.80 points. Their dominant wideout duo and flex advantage were enough to seal the win.

NFC East vs. NFC North
NFC East vs. NFC North
QB Carson Wentz QB Aaron Rodgers
RB1 Ezekiel Elliott RB1 Dalvin Cook
RB2 Jay Ajayi RB2 Jordan Howard
WR1 Odell Beckham Jr. WR1 Davante Adams
WR2 Alshon Jeffery WR2 Adam Thielen
TE Zach Ertz TE Kyle Rudolph
FLEX Dez Bryant FLEX Stefon Diggs
K Jake Elliott K Matt Prater
DST Eagles DST Lions

Quarterbacks: Carson Wentz vs. Aaron Rodgers
Advantage: Rodgers by +1.58
Rodgers still gets the nod over the rising Wentz.

Running backs: Ezekiel Elliott and Jay Ajayi vs. Dalvin Cook and Jordan Howard
Advantage: Elliott and Ajayi by +2.74
Elliott’s status as a true elite is enough to carry the squad.

Wide Receivers: Odell Beckham Jr. and Alshon Jeffery vs. Davante Adams and Adam Thielen
Advantage: OBJ and Jeffery by +3.45
The NFC North’s Adam(s) family may be more balanced, but OBJ’s superstardom lifts the NFC East’s unit higher. It’s nearly identical to how Elliott carried the running backs for this team.

Tight ends: Zach Ertz vs. Kyle Rudolph
Advantage: Ertz by +8.73
Ertz emerged as a truly elite fantasy tight end in 2017.

Flex: Dez Bryant vs. Stefon Diggs
Advantage: Diggs by +5.12
People are always a little too high on Bryant. The general feeling is that people are too low on Diggs, too.

K: Jake Elliott vs. Matt Prater
Advantage: Draw!
Neither Prater nor Elliott separated from each other for this project.

DST: Eagles vs. Lions
Advantage: Lions by +2.30
Both DST units are good, but the Lions eek out a narrow head-to-head win.

Final result: NFC East advances

Led by OBJ, Ertz, and Zeke, the NFC East beat the NFC North by 5.92 points.

The Final Four is set

With the first round now in the books, four teams advance and four go home. Here are the final two matchups featuring the “Final 4” teams.

NFC East
Ertz and Co.
vs. NFC South
Ain't No-la ‘Back Girl
QB Carson Wentz QB Cam Newton
RB1 Ezekiel Elliott RB1 Alvin Kamara
RB2 Jay Ajayi RB2 Mark Ingram
WR1 Odell Beckham Jr. WR1 Michael Thomas
WR2 Alshon Jeffery WR2 Julio Jones
TE Zach Ertz TE Greg Olsen
FLEX Dez Bryant FLEX Mike Evans
K Jake Elliott K Matt Bryant
D/ST Eagles D/ST Saints


AFC South
Jalen Ramsey's squad
vs. AFC West
Keenan & Kelce
QB Deshaun Watson QB Philip Rivers
RB1 Leonard Fournette RB1 Kareem Hunt
RB2 Derrick Henry RB2 Melvin Gordon
WR1 DeAndre Hopkins WR1 Keenan Allen
WR2 T.Y. Hilton WR2 Tyreek Hill
TE Delanie Walker TE Travis Kelce
FLEX Allen Robinson FLEX Amari Cooper
K Ryan Succop K Harrison Butker
D/ST Jaguars D/ST Chargers

Check in on Sunday to see how the Final Four — and Championship Game — play out.

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