Do Not Cut Strategy for Playoffs - Endgame Special

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Entering our last week of byes, and with the fantasy regular season dying down, we have a much better handle on player values than we did in the first couple of months of the NFL calendar. Before Mother Nature interfered, the plan was to have one more significant round of byes in Week 11, with Tampa Bay and Miami joining Carolina, the New York Jets, Indianapolis, and San Francisco in enjoying the final open date on the NFL schedule.

As it stands, there are only four teams missing from our Week 11 slate, and then we enter the late phase of the season where we once again have 32 teams worth of players to deploy in our lineups. We’ve mostly weathered the storm of the bye-related roster crunches that forced us into difficult decisions. We figured out who to cut for that streaming tight end, which stashes we couldn’t afford to hold, and hopefully we didn't make too many big mistakes. We’ve now entered the phase where our roster construction needs to narrow its focus on the endgame.

I scoured Yahoo’s transaction trends following this weekend’s action looking for my usual handful of players being dangerously purged en masse that I felt still presented significant upside, and for the first time in 2017, I couldn’t find anyone I was compelled to defend.

Editor's note: Purchase any NFL Lineup Optimizer pass (including daily DFS cheat sheets), and you also get access to NBA and NHL Optimizers and DFS cheat sheets.

 

The Fantasy Football Home Stretch

This column is built for the early part of the season, when we can tell ourselves a story about a running back who, despite limited opportunities in September, might just be able to feast come fantasy playoff time, if everything breaks right. For every Alvin Kamara, there’s at least one CJ Prosise, but sometimes we have to hold on for a week or two despite a couple of down games to wait for a clearer picture.

This column is built for the bye week crunch, when we almost don’t have room for anyone besides our starting lineup and our regulars who are off in any given week, during which time we have to take a hard look at our handcuffs, stashes, and upside plays to determine who can be considered truly essential personnel.

We have collected enough data to have a pretty good idea whether that running back on the end of our bench has any legitimate chance of cracking our starting lineups during the stretch run. To that end, it’s time to concede that this column is not built for the stretch run and fantasy playoffs. Hence, barring some wildly unexpected scenarios, this week’s column will be Do Not Cut’s final iteration in 2017. What follows are a couple of important points of strategy, specifically associated with fantasy football endgame that I hope can sustain you through to the end of the season.

 

Stretch Run Strategies

Be flexible in your roster and bench construction

If you’re anything like the average experienced fantasy owner, you probably have a particular way that you like to build your fantasy roster. One prime example of this is a disdain for holding more than one player at a ‘onesie’ position like quarterback, tight end, or defense. It’s generally more profitable to horde running backs and wide receivers than to carry that backup QB, TE, or Defense, but after the bye weeks, our benches are functionally deeper than they were before.

If you don’t have players at QB, TE, or Defense that you absolutely trust going forward, or that qualify as that slam-dunk, must-start, like Tom Brady, Travis Kelce, or Jacksonville, it’s okay to roster an extra player at one or more of these positions.

For example, maybe you’re currently carrying Jared Goff as your only QB. Then you notice that Ben Roethlisberger is sitting out there on the waiver wire due to his uncharacteristically slow start to the season. Jared Goff has a road date with Seattle in Week 15, whereas Big Ben gets a home contest with the New England Patriots. I concede, it’s very difficult to predict how these players will be ranked heading into what is likely the fantasy semifinals in your league, but if I’m deep at running back, I’m probably giving up on Matt Breida for Big Ben (assuming I don’t own Carlos Hyde). I'm shoring up what might be my starting quarterback position in the fantasy playoffs. There’s simply a better chance that Big Ben is going to start for me in Week 15 than Matt Breida.

On defense, maybe you love what you’ve been getting out of the Seahawks to this point of the season. On the other hand, looking at their fantasy playoff schedule, the matchups don’t look ideal. It’s ok to grab Detroit who have vs CHI and @ CIN in Weeks 15 and 16 to give yourself another option as, when the time comes, Seattle’s opponents are vs LAR, @ DAL over that same window.

Of course, when we fast forward to the fantasy playoffs, a lot may have changed. You may hold tight with Goff and Seattle, and that might very well be the play, but don’t shy away from giving yourself options because you’re stuck on the fantasy dogma that you never carry backups at these positions. When we hit the end of the season, different rules apply.

 

Don’t hand your opponent an asset

Perhaps you have streamlined your roster perfectly. You know who you’re going to start if everybody stays healthy. You know who you’re going to start even if you encounter a few unlucky injuries. You’ve identified a player or two on your roster who, though somewhat valuable, just isn’t going to crack your lineup. You don’t need him. Why hold him? Slow your roll for one moment.

Which teams from your league are you playing over the next couple of weeks? Maybe you have Tom Brady and will never start Derek Carr. Good for you. You know who doesn’t have Tom Brady? Your opponent. Our main focus is always going to be fielding the best roster we can, but our opponent’s roster matters too.

Do not cut any player that might immediately slide into your opponent’s starting lineup. This is easy to forget, but it can be just as important as any other decision you make as you approach the fantasy playoffs. Your opponent might be stuck with Case Keenum for his matchup against you in Week 12. Don’t hand him the quarterback that’s going to light it up against you.

Wait until Saturday or Sunday to make that drop

Expanding on the above, be aware of your leagues waiver settings. Know what day that you can drop a player that will ensure that he will remain unavailable to your opponents through the weekend. For most leagues, if you wait until Saturday, you can drop that player that might upgrade your opponent’s roster, and he will remain on waivers through the weekend.

If you can afford to wait to grab a kicker replacement for a bad weather game, or a handcuff or bench stash at running back, it’s definitely worth considering waiting until Saturday or Sunday to do so. It’s okay to drop a player that you don’t need as long as your opponent can’t claim him in time to use him against you.

 

What are you doing with all that FAAB?

Samaje Perine, in a vacuum, just isn’t worth 40% of your FAAB budget in most leagues. You never know what the future holds for a player and I don’t mean to begrudge Perine specifically, but my point is this: Every season, I’m astounded by how many teams in the thick of the playoff hunt are still sitting on 80% or more of their FAAB budget. I don’t know whether it’s a product of laziness, or just an irrational hope that a deus ex machina, season-savior is going to emerge in the final two weeks of the NFL calendar. Hey, it technically could happen, but if you’re still sitting on a wealth of FAAB money, or a high waiver priority, now is probably the time to be a bit more aggressive on the waiver wire.

As before, it’s not just about your own roster. Your FAAB-poor opponent might not know just what the heck he’s going to do at QB with Jacoby Brissett on bye and Marcus Mariota banged up heading into Week 11. If he’s got $10 of FAAB and Derek Carr is sitting out there, bid $11. And if you have needs of your own, don’t hesitate to break the bank. In most leagues, you can’t take that FAAB money with you. $40 on Samaje Perine might just be the move for you, even if it’s not what the generic expert advice says.

 

If you’ve made it this far, and you’re still reading fantasy football content, chances are you’re doing pretty well for yourself. You’ve weathered the bye week storm and you’re putting the finishing touches on the roster that you hope can carry you through to a league championship. It has been extremely enjoyable to write this column for you in 2017. Good luck and we’ll see you next year, when we reprise the Do Not Cut column in Week 1 of 2018.

 

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