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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. Today's discussion will concern one particular format and my preferred format - pick a 16 player roster 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.

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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 16 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. I absolutely love Tarik Cohen's opening round matchup. Ezekiel Elliott is by far the best RB play in round 1. Lamar Jackson's rushing floor makes him an excellent fantasy QB. The problem with these players is they're all on teams that I think will lose. I do think that typically, in the first round, there are at least one or two games where you're pretty confident in the outcome. I don't feel that way about this year's matchups at all.

In fact, I think all four road teams are going to win (that almost certainly won't happen, but it speaks to the uncertainty of this year's games). Ideally, you don't want to lose a single player this weekend. If you can head into round two with all 16 of your players, you're in a great position to ensure you have more players as the pool shrinks.

My predictions on how the NFL playoffs will play out are just that - my predictions. You can and should have your own and select your players accordingly. If you think the Colts are going on a run behind the arm of Andrew Luck, then you can and should leave Chiefs off your roster, banking on the Colts taking out the Chiefs and Luck and T.Y. Hilton playing at least three games. If you, like me, think the Saints are going to the Super Bowl, then load up on Michael Thomas, Drew Brees, and Alvin Kamara.

In the AFC specifically, I think there's a reasonably good chance we see a first-round team make it to the Super Bowl. I can see all four teams going on a run if things break right. The Chiefs are a vulnerable #1 seed due to their leaky defense and the Patriots, in all likelihood, would have been a fringe playoff team had they played in any other division - this is the weakest they've ever looked. I am going to select my players based on the belief that the Chargers and Colts are both winning this weekend. And I think the Chargers can knock off the Patriots. The Ravens are obviously a bad matchup for all Chargers, but that's a small price to pay if I believe I am getting three or possibly four games out of Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, and Keenan Allen.


Try To Be Different

You can always go straight chalk on everything. Mathematically, the Saints, Chiefs, Rams, and Patriots are the four teams most likely to win 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 Nick Foles can do it again?  Fire up some Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz. Maybe you think the Seahawks have a shot to make a run? Fire up some Russell Wilson and Chris Carson. 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.

This year is a particularly good year to try and capitalize on fading conventional wisdom as you can project the vast majority of your league mates to select Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Damien Williams. If you even go partially in on a Colts run and get it correct, you can enter Conference Championship week with a QB and WR that very few have. I'm not saying to ignore the best offense in football. I am merely offering an alternative path to victory.


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, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees

RB: Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott, Tarik Cohen, Damien Williams

WR: Tyreek Hill, Michael Thomas, Amari Cooper, T.Y. Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins

TE: Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz

DEF: Chicago, New Orleans

The first thing I did was predict how I believe the playoffs will pan out. The only thing I am reasonably confident in is the Saints representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. With that in mind, I took the three most fantasy relevant Saints (sorry Mark Ingram). If the Saints don't reach the Super Bowl, I don't think there's a clear "well then it will be this team."

I've been a huge Rams guy all season, but I don't think they can beat the Bears. That position combined with the necessity of fielding a full lineup this weekend led to me having no exposure to the Rams. It goes without saying, but if you think the Rams are going the distance (like I did up until about Week 12), you should not only select their top three skill position players, but Jared Goff as well.

It wouldn't totally shock me if Nick Foles did it again, but as the biggest round 1 underdogs, I am betting against the Eagles and leaving them completely off my roster, save for Zach Ertz because I need a TE to start this week. And let's quickly get this out of the way - literally, everyone is going to have Ertz and Travis Kelce. So there's no edge in having or not having either. In fact, my league is actually replacing the TE position with a second Flex for this exact reason, but I am doing this preview based upon the standard roster construction as that will benefit the most people.

If not the Saints, I actually like the Bears because their defense is so far and away the best in the NFC. The problem is that outside of Tarik Cohen, there isn't a Bear I really like for fantasy. Inasmuch as I'd like to be contrarian and gamble on the Bears, I'm not so sure that the potential of four games of Allen Robinson is worth it over the superior receivers. I took Cohen because I need a second RB to play this weekend, I don't think he'll be highly owned, and if the Bears do make a bit of a run, I have their best offensive weapon.

On the other side of the bracket, I took a very interesting approach. I've decided the Colts can make a run here and knock off the Chiefs. I took both Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton with the hopes of getting three or potentially four games. I also hedged with DeAndre Hopkins so at least I have someone elite should my prediction be wrong. I don't love the idea of 100% losing a player this weekend, but if the matchup is Colts-Chiefs, I'm guaranteed at least a QB and WR in the conference championships. If the matchup is Chiefs-Chargers/Ravens, I just don't really see either of those teams knocking off the Chiefs, thus guaranteeing me at least two games out of my Chiefs.

While I am not overly confident in a Chiefs Super Bowl appearance, they are still the #1 seed with the best fantasy QB and best fantasy WR. I am in good shape if the Chiefs or Colts make the Super Bowl. I think it's fair to say that the Texans and Ravens don't have enough to reach the final game of the season. So my biggest points of risk are the Chargers and Patriots. I do think the Chargers have it in them to knock off the Patriots and we've seen them beat the Chiefs (although I am quite confident that wouldn't happen a second time). My reasoning for avoiding Chargers is two-fold. First, there's a better than 50% chance they only play one game. Second, unlike with someone like DHop or Zeke, I don't know for sure that I'm even getting worthwhile productivity out of Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, or Melvin Gordon in the one game they are definitely playing given the matchup against the Ravens and how well the Ravens contained the Chargers offense when these teams played last, which, by the way, was in Los Angeles; this game is in Baltimore. As for avoiding Ravens, that's just easy - other than Lamar Jackson, they don't have any appealing fantasy assets. Their WRs are useless and Gus Edwards/Kenneth Dixon just aren't players you want to target in this format.

The biggest risk I am taking is obviously my avoidance of any Patriots. Last year, I loaded up on Patriots and it sort of worked out (Brandin Cooks' early exit with a concussion didn't do me any favors). This year, I am taking zero Patriots. I don't think anyone would be surprised if Angry Tom Brady reemerged from the ashes and carried Julian Edelman and a vintage Rob Gronkowski performance to the Super Bowl once again. I am simply betting against it. Brady was not a good fantasy asset all season. Gronk looks done. Edelman is fine, but he's really only someone you want if you think he's playing three games. He's a floor player. And the running backs are just a nightmare. I have no clue which one of them will perform and neither do you. It's been mostly Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead, but playoff James White is a thing. If the Patriots do it again, then I will likely lose my league. This is a game and there will always be pathways that lead to failure. The cool part about this playoff format is that you get to choose which outcomes benefit you.

I believe I have two one and done players in Ertz and Hopkins. If that works out, then I have 14 players remaining heading into the divisional round. If we get a Saints vs. Chiefs Super Bowl, I am going to be in great shape, but so will everyone else. It's a chalky play, but I'm aware of it, which makes the round one selections all the more important. If most people have Saints and Chiefs, then the players you start this weekend are going to make more of a difference. If we get a Saints vs. Colts Super Bowl, I imagine that won't be too bad although some people will have Marlon Mack. My problem with selecting Mack is that he splits too much time with Nyheim Hines and even Jordan Wilkins. If I am taking any player that may not play more than one game, I want to know I'm at least getting heavy work in that lone game.

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 Bears 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.

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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