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Full-Length Playoff Leagues - Fantasy Football Strategy

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 love LeSean McCoy. I think Cam Newton is a great play in round one. Julio Jones is liable to pop off a huge game at any moment. And the Titans also are a team in the playoffs. The problem with these players is they're all on teams that are supposed to lose. If Newton puts up 30 points this weekend in a loss, that's excellent, but you'll already be down a QB after just one round. 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 Titans are taking out the Chiefs, then Rishard Matthews is a better selection than Tyreek Hill. If you, like me, think the Rams are going to the Super Bowl, then you can't even consider taking Julio Jones over Robert Woods even though Jones is obviously the better player.


Try To Be Different

You can always go straight chalk on everything. Mathematically, the Patriots, Steelers, and Vikings are the three 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 the Eagles can prove the world wrong and win with Nick Foles? Fire up some Alshon Jeffery. Maybe you think the Jaguars have a shot to make a run? Fire up some Leonard Fournette. 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.


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: Tom Brady, Jared Goff

RB: Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, Dion Lewis, Alvin Kamara, Leonard Fournette

WR: Antonio Brown, Brandin Cooks, Tyreek Hill, Adam Thielen, Michael Thomas

TE: Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce

DEF: Jacksonville, New England

As you can see, I have loaded up on Patriots. I am more confident in the Patriots making the Super Bowl than any other prediction I have about this year's playoffs. As a result, I've selected a Patriot at every position. I won't be able to field a full lineup in the Super Bowl no matter what, but I highly doubt anyone else will be in that position either. I am most confident in a Rams vs. Patriots Super Bowl and second most confident in a Saints vs. Patriots Super Bowl. I do realize that I am actually in better shape if the Saints make it out of the NFC as I can start both Kamara and Thomas while I can't start Goff and Brady if it is Rams vs. Patriots, but I don't anticipate other owners having many Rams besides Goff and Gurley, who I also have. There will be some Robert Woods out there, but I chose not to select him because I don't think he is good enough to warrant selecting over the five WRs I have chosen. This may appear to be contradictory to my claim about having conviction, but I do believe that three games of the five I've chosen could very well be better than four of Woods.

If the Patriots don't reach the Super Bowl, I am still in a good position as long as it's the Steelers that beat them. With Bell and Brown, I can still score points, but I will be at a disadvantage against the owners that are all in on the Steelers who will likely roster Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster as well. If I get the Patriots wrong, I will need to get the Rams correct to have a chance as not having a QB in the Super Bowl is very detrimental.

Every player I've taken that is playing round one is on a team I think will win. Leonard Fournette is the only round one player on the Jaguars. I think he is an excellent round one play, will be viable in round two, and on the off chance the Jaguars pull off the second round upset, I don't anticipate other owners having any other Jaguars. Fournette is a strong pick because he is an elite player in an excellent situation likely to play two games and the only viable player from his team.

I only selected one Viking because I honestly believe the Rams are going to beat the Vikings next week. Adam Thielen is clearly the best fantasy option on the Vikings and my selection of him is a minor hedge against me being wrong, but also due to the lack of certainty on the other options. Stefon Diggs has been inconsistent and unreliable all season. Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray split snaps and don't have a high enough ceiling to justify choosing especially given that I only think they're playing one game. Kyle Rudolph is not Gronk or Kelce and the reality is everyone should be taking Gronk and Kelce as their only two TEs because no one else is worth it. Case Keenum is a viable choice only if you think the Vikings are making the Super Bowl. I do not think it is smart to take a QB that is not playing round one on a team that you do not think is making the Super Bowl.

I did not select any Bills or Titans and would not recommend any of them to anyone else. While it wouldn't totally shock me if the Titans pulled off an upset, there just aren't any elite fantasy options on the team. Marcus Mariota has disappointed all season. Rishard Matthews is good, not great. DeMarco Murray is hurt and he's also done. Derrick Henry has relied heavily on splash plays to generate fantasy points and otherwise looked pedestrian, at best. Corey Davis is not ready and Eric Decker is more done than Murray. As for the Bills, I don't give them any realistic chance to win, but even if they did, they don't have fantasy options. Tyrod Taylor at Jacksonville is not what you want. Kelvin Benjamin against A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey is not what you want. Deonte Thompson and Zay Jones aren't fantasy option. Charles Clay's ceiling is too low and you will never be able to justify starting him over Kelce or Gronk. LeSean McCoy is still excellent, but he has a bad matchup and although I think he tries to play, his effectiveness will be in serious question with his ankle injury. The Bills have no appealing options even if they were to somehow earn a second game.

I also did not select any Falcons or Panthers even though both teams have plenty of appealing fantasy options. Both are certainly capable of pulling off the upset and if either or both of them do, I'll be in a bit of trouble. If you think one of these teams will win, then you should certainly be selecting players from that team. I could, in theory, go with players on teams facing off in round one, guaranteeing that I have some round one players that advance to next week. That's certainly a viable strategy. It's just not the most optimal one. Remember, you have to score more points than everyone else in your league. Even though playing it safe in round one might seem smart now, there will almost certainly be a few teams in your league that gamble on getting everything correct and do. Those are the teams you have to compete against. Guaranteeing yourself four or five players in the conference title games is not going to cut it.

The most likely conference championship games are Vikings vs. Saints and Patriots vs. Steelers. I am predicting Rams vs. Saints and Patriots vs. Steelers. If that happens, my teams will be an a strong position to win. 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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