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Full-Length Playoff Leagues - Fantasy Football Strategy & Picks

The regular season is over, but that doesn't mean the fantasy fun stops there. While certainly inferior to full season leagues, playoff fantasy football is still a great way to carry on playing this game that we love and providing us all with a vested interest in each of these playoff games, no matter how unexciting some of them may appear to be.

Playoff leagues come in many shapes and sizes. You can have an actual snake style draft where you set your best roster each week and the most points wins. You can have a team where you select one player from every team and the most points wins. You can have a team where you choose a new lineup for each round of the playoffs, but can only use each player once and the most points wins. Today's discussion will concern one particular format and my preferred format - pick a 16 player roster with the entire player pool at your disposal before the start of the playoffs and accumulate as many points as possible over the four rounds.

Each round, you must start a QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, TE, FLEX, and DEF. Well, that is, for as long as you can. If you're able to submit a full lineup each week, you're probably going to win. Which brings us to the first step in drafting your team. I debuted this article last year and the overall strategy is the same; the difference is the players. For those of you with great memories, this may be a bit repetitive. For the newcomers, welcome! I hope this helps you dominate your playoff league.

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Select Players That Will Play Multiple Games

Obviously, this is easier said than done. Football is very much a game with randomness and if we knew who would win these games, this would be too easy. In this format, under no circumstances should you not be fielding a full lineup for at least the first two rounds. That is something you can guarantee due to the nature of the first round byes. The biggest challenge is ensuring you can get close to a full lineup when we're down to just four teams in the conference championships and then just two in the Super Bowl.

The odds of any team playing round one advancing to the Super Bowl will almost always be lower than the teams with the byes. You need at least eight players on your roster playing in the first round. Make sure all of those players (yes, every single one) is on a team you think will also be playing next week.


Predict The Outcome Of The Games

In order to optimize your chances of winning, you need to have conviction. You are not going to win your playoff league by playing it safe and taking players on just about every team. There are 12 teams in the playoffs, which means eight of them will be gone after the first two rounds. You need to have as many players as possible on those final four and ultimately, final two teams.

To do that, you have to trust your analysis on how the actual games will play out. This is the fundamental difference between playoff fantasy (specifically, this format) and regular season fantasy. We don't care who wins the regular season games as long as our players produce because, absent injury, our players all play the same 15 games. In playoff fantasy, the outcome of the games is immensely important. Once your player's team loses, that's it for that player. Your roster literally just shrinks. You cannot replace him.


Pick The Best Players...On The Teams You Think Will Win

Now we're at the point where we can discuss actual players. This is a very strange first round because the best players are on teams with little to no chance of winning more than one game and, in some cases, are on teams with bad matchups. Derrick Henry has been a stud all season. The way to beat the Patriots is on the ground. However, it's unlikely the Titans will have much positive game script and, for as bad as they've looked, the Patriots are always capable of running over teams until they prove they're not. Henry is also probably playing just one game. Ryan Tannehill has been on fire as well, but you can't start him at New England. Same goes for A.J. Brown. Those are three strong fantasy options you have to leave off your roster.

On the other side of that game, Julian Edelman is the second best option at wide receiver and that, combined with the likelihood you will get two games out of him, makes him a must start. You can consider James White as well, but he hasn't displayed much of a ceiling and I really don't think the Patriots get past the Chiefs.

The other AFC game is where the value likely lies. That game is a true toss up and the Texans have two great fantasy options in Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins while the Bills have the premier matchup against a subpar Texans' defense. Josh Allen will likely have a good game and if you think the Bills are winning, Devin Singletary is absolutely in play. Cole Beasley and John Brown could be sneaky contrarian plays, but they'd likely come at the expense of Hopkins, which is a tough pill to swallow. It could give you a leg up on the competition if it works out, though.

In the NFC, let's start with the easy. The Saints are going to win. Since you are basically guaranteed at least two games from the Saints, you want at least the big three of Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas on your roster. I would include Jared Cook as well, but that's because the Saints are my pick to win the Super Bowl, which makes their players the most valuable in this format because you would be getting four games.

Dalvin Cook is a hard pass for me due to the lingering shoulder concerns and the certainty he is only playing one game against a good defense. The latter logic applies to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen as well.

Closing out the first round matchups, we have the Seahawks and Eagles. Going with Eagles would be a nice contrarian move if you think they win, but Brees is the clear and obvious choice at quarterback (and the rest of your quarterbacks should come from bye teams). That rules out Carson Wentz. Unfortunately, his receivers are all hurt and you're not putting Greg Ward on your roster. It seems doubtful that Zach Ertz plays, which makes Dallas Goedert a good one week play, but you might as well go with Jared Cook for one week. If you want to gamble on a big game from Russell Wilson, you will get no objection from me. Tyler Lockett is also in play. The running backs in this game are not, though, because the Seahawks' backfield is an undesirable timeshare between rookie Travis Homer and fat Marshawn Lynch.

My picks to win wild card weekend are the Saints with the highest confidence possible, followed by the Patriots, with the Bills and Seahawks with the lowest confidence possible. Based on that logic, I want to load up on Saints and Patriots and then round out my wild card eight with the two players I believe will score the most points this week.

If you disagree with my predictions, good! You're probably right! Go with what you think will happen and build your team accordingly. If you've got the Eagles and Texans advancing, it makes sense to take DHop. If you think the Seahawks make a run, load up on Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett. If you see a Titans' upset, maybe consider Derrick Henry, but bear in mind it's a bad matchup against the Ravens if they advance.


Try To Be Different

You can always go straight chalk on everything. Mathematically, the teams with byes are more likely to reach the Super Bowl. But as anyone who fills out a March Madness bracket knows, putting all four #1 seeds in your Final Four is not going to win you any pools. Maybe you think Russell Wilson has a magical run in him? Maybe you think the Titans are hot at the right time? Try and predict what your fellow owners will do and compose a roster that gives you a chance to win if the obvious doesn't happen.

I do believe that the four Saints will be the chalk because the consensus seems to be that the Packers are bad. I agree with this, but it also presents an opportunity to take Davante Adams and Aaron Jones, both whom I project for lower ownership than you would expect.

Expect to see a lot of rosters with four Saints and Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, Mark Andrews, and Hollywood Brown. If you want to fade the Ravens, go heavy on Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Damien Williams are all excellent fantasy assets.

The way you are going to win is by successfully managing the bye week teams. If you stack up on Ravens, Chiefs, and Saints, you are ignoring the 49ers, who have a very good chance of making the Super Bowl. If you believe in a 49ers Super Bowl run, and I do think it's a toss up between them and the Saints, you need at least George Kittle, Raheem Mostert, and Deebo Samuel. Mostert and Samuel stand out as players that should have low ownership because they are not household names.

Also consider lineup management in advance. When drafting your fantasy team back in August, you know so much will change in player values. Entering the NFL playoffs, we know who all of these players are. Look ahead to the divisional round, assume you get everything correct in the wild card round, and figure out who you will be starting. Use this information to determine if it's worth it to take the road less traveled on particular players.


My Roster And Reasoning

Now that we've spent plenty of time discussing how and why to construct a roster a particular way, I will share with you my team and explain my choices. I split my roster evenly with eight players (a full lineup) playing this week and eight players on bye.

QB: Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Drew Brees

RB: Alvin Kamara, Raheem Mostert, Devin Singletary, Damien Williams

WR: Tyreek Hill, Michael Thomas, Julian Edelman, DeAndre Hopkins

TE: Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Jared Cook

DEF: Baltimore, New England

The first thing I did was predict how I believe the playoffs will pan out. I am extremely confident that the Super Bowl will be either the Ravens or Chiefs against either the Saints or 49ers. My official Super Bowl prediction is Chiefs vs Saints. With that in mind, I immediately loaded up on all four Chiefs and all four Saints. Whatever you think the Super Bowl will be, you should have at least seven players on those two teams.

It's fair to assume that my competitors will not be perfect. Even if I am wrong on one team, I can still contend if I have a piece of the alternative option. For that reason, I included Kittle and Mostert, but also because Kittle is the best tight end in football and I'd love to be able to start him twice. Even if you're confident in a 49ers' Super Bowl appearance, I still wouldn't select Jimmy Garoppolo because no matter who the AFC representative is, that team's quarterback will be the preferred option.

On the other side of the bracket, I pretty much just faded the Ravens. I did this for multiple reasons. The Ravens are the favorite and the chalk so most people will load up on Ravens. If I am correct about the Chiefs upsetting the Ravens in the AFC title game, I've gained an advantage on the competition. If I'm wrong, I still have Jackson and their defense. I will likely suffer from not having Andrews, but the Ravens really don't have a ton to offer outside of Jackson and Andrews. That's because I really don't think Mark Ingram is healthy and I'm not going to risk having a nothing from him without adequate information. If Ingram is a full go and the Ravens make the Super Bowl, I will lose, but if they do fall to the Chiefs, I will almost certainly have a chance to win even if I get the NFC wrong (assuming wrong means 49ers instead of Saints; if it's the Packers, I just lose).

The biggest risk I am taking is clearly the lack of Packers. Adams and Jones are elite fantasy options that I am flat out ignoring because I only think they play one game. People are going to take them so if the Packers do beat the Saints, that's it for me.

I did break my own rule a bit in taking a 100% one and done player. Either Hopkins or Singletary must lose. The reason I felt comfortable doing this is because my success rests on getting either the Saints or Chiefs correct, if not both. I still want to score the most points I can in wild card weekend and I believe Hopkins and Singletary allow me to do that. However, I am toying with the idea of going James White or John Brown instead.

I've also avoided Patriots because they just haven't been a good offense and outside of Edelman and to a lesser extent, White, there's not much here that's desirable. I'd have to be very confident in yet another run from them to load up on Patriots and I really do think this is the end of the road, but they've proven me wrong before.

Finally, I'll briefly address the defense. The strategy for selecting defenses is pretty straightforward. You take the best defense playing opening round, which is clearly the Patriots, and then you take the defense on the team most likely to make it to the Super Bowl. I will not roster three defenses, especially if the other ones aren't very good because I'd rather hedge my bets at RB and WR than improve my chances of maybe getting eight points from a defense. I am fine with the Ravens and Patriots. I can start the Patriots this week and then the Ravens twice and I don't mind not having a defense in the Super Bowl.

In finalizing your roster, predict your final four teams and the Super Bowl and maximize your potential player pool accordingly. This turned out to be way longer than I expected, but hey, I love football. Good luck and above all else, just enjoy the games!

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