By: Tyler Jesih @ffbreakroom
The Complete Guide to the 2018 NFL Playoffs
You may have thrown some money into one of the “Playoff Fantasy” leagues at work, with a neighbor, a friend of a friend, or even our own @ChxckenAlfredo is running one of them. (Fredo, if you’re reading this: stop now. You do not deserve my secrets). The point is, you may pay the $20 and pick a few players from teams favored to win the Superbowl, without putting too much thought into it. Here’s why you’re doing it all wrong: With minimal research, you could dominate these leagues, and I already did all of that slaving over the computer for you.
I’ll break this down into various parts: a breakdown of each team in the playoffs (including which teams to target and which to stay away from), a list of players who I will be rostering in nearly every league, a list of players to stay away from, and I’ll top this guide off with a few players that go against the grain, and these picks may just help you win your league.
There are various types of these playoff fantasy leagues, and all involve some sort of player selection. These player selections may be a draft or just picking any players. This will lead to several players being on multiple teams, and depending on the size of the league, some players may be 100% owned. It is very similar to DFS, except you may have these players for the entire postseason. Some leagues may go week to week in a Draftkings-esque player selection style. You can use this guide to help you in either style of league, and I hope for any reading this to succeed in their playoff pool. Let’s get to it, and win some money. (Ron from accounting is not taking it this year… he doesn’t even watch football…it’s your time to shine, reader.)
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Now let’s get to it…
1) The Playoff Team Guide
On this side we see very little potential for the “wild-card”-factor (WCF) to come into play. This refers to the possibility of a team playing in all 4 games, and the favorites for this are the Bortles-lead Jaguars, and the Hot and Cold Chiefs. Either way, it looks like a risk putting too many eggs into 1 basket in the AFC. The easy favorites to play 3 games look to be the Jaguars, Steelers, and Patriots here. If there is an upset in the Jags-Bills game, the Chiefs have to defeat a Pittsburgh team they lost to previously, or face a Patriots team that, although they did beat in Week 1, has only lost 3 times this year. The Patriots never lost their identity all year, like the Chiefs did earlier, so I really don’t see them reaching the AFC Championship.
New England Patriots:
With the best Vegas odds to win the big game, the Patriots only real obstacle may be if they play the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. They are a team to target in these playoff fantasy leagues every year, and recently, without a terrible loss to Miami, they have looked unstoppable. A tough run game to judge when trying to pinpoint which to select. Dion Lewis has shown flashes of becoming a lead back, but the health of James White and TD machine Rex Burkhead remains a point of concern for playoff fantasy players. Burkhead is returning to practice, so I would monitor injury reports before selecting Dion Lewis as your “be all end all” playoff fantasy back. Cooks / Gronk are clearly players to target in your leagues, but the health of Chris Hogan is something that seriously peaks my interest. Sidelined since Week 8 (with a brief return in Week 14), he is aiming for a return in the divisional round of the playoffs and may go under many players radars. Brady is Brady – he will be nearly 100% owned in player pick’ems and if you draft for the playoffs he is taken near #1 at all times. This is a team to heavily lean on, and before you submit those lineups make sure to check the injury report.
Either the Steelers or the Patriots look to be the clear-cut teams to win the AFC, but it seems the Steelers have a tough 2 games ahead of them before the big game. Barring an upset, they will go against the Jaguars with an easy matchup against the banged up Bills. The Jags D really break down fantasy studs, especially any WR1s they come in contact with. I would monitor the health of Antonio Brown going into the playoffs, but he really is one of those set it and forget it players. The same goes for Bell and Roethlisberger. These players will make it into your playoff fantasy lineups, and they will produce some high numbers in any games they play. I just worry if they will only play 1-2 games. They have 2 potential revenge games, and would have to play in New England in a tough road game. It looks like one of the toughest roads in the playoffs, but I have faith in the Black and Yellow.
With a game against a Bills team that barely squeaked into the playoffs, it seems to be a shoe-in that the Jags will travel to Pittsburgh in the divisional round. I actually see some value in this Jags team, as after beating Pittsburgh earlier in the year it seems they know how to get under Big Ben’s skin. With the best WCF on the AFC side, and a solid potential for 2+ games of fantasy production, depending on the amount of roster spots your league allows, I can feasibly see Fournette being rostered, even with his struggles as of late. If Fournette continues to struggle, as much as I hate to say it, Bortles is an option at QB. Now this is if the league offers enough roster spots, because I cannot, in good conscience, put him above Brady, Ben, Brees, or Goff. If your league does offer deep WR options, I would seriously consider Dede Westbrook or Keelan Cole. As Marqise Lee remains sidelined, Bortles has leaned heavily on the young receivers to get it done. If Lee returns I would not roster Cole or Westbrook, so closely monitor these options.
Kansas City Chiefs:
I see a 2 game playoff run for this team, as Pittsburgh has had their number for a few years. Now, the Chiefs clearly have some playoff upside with Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, and Travis Kelce, depending on how many roster spots are allowed in your league. I see minimal WCF with this team, as the teams they have to play in the AFC divisional round are rolling. Kelce is clearly one of the more talented TEs in the league, but given the chance I take Gronk based on their upside of making it to the big game. The slump in the middle of the season really puts this team as a flyer for the AFC Championship game, but they have been doing much better lately and seem to have found their identity yet again.
Mariota’s struggles have been no secret, and this team is a serious question mark as to how if they can overcome any sort of opponent the AFC throws at them in the playoffs. They somehow beat the Jags twice this season, with these being their only victories of note next to a victory against Carolina, I have serious doubt in their ability. I just cannot see a team missing their RB1 with a 9-7 record beat these Chiefs in the Wild Card round, and there really are not any players I see worth taking in Tennessee. With only 1-2 games max for the Titans, stay away from them in your playoff fantasy endeavors.
Even more of a question mark than the Titans, this team may be without LeSean McCoy on Sunday against a fierce Jacksonville defense. McCoy is a game time decision, and even if he plays I will stay away. I just do not see Tyrod Taylor leading this team to a victory against this team, as the Bills were 2-6 against teams that made the playoffs this year. Taylor has not passed for over 300 yards once this year, and rather than say more bad things about a team that does not deserve to be in the playoffs, I’ll just tell you to avoid them in any playoff fantasy football drafts / pick’ems.
Now, on this side of the league, I see a lot more potential for variation in lineups, potential for upsets, and more fun involved. Plenty of WCF on this side, and fantasy value is readily available with every team. Let’s take a look at a which teams to target.
The team that had everything, then suddenly lost it all with an injury to their star QB. Sadly, the Eagles SB odds have dipped significantly since the injury to Carson Wentz, and their fantasy relevancy has took a serious hit as well. Although, this injury has created a lot of WCF in the NFC, but don’t count these Eagles out yet. I do not hate someone taking a flyer on Zach Ertz, as he has some chemistry with Nick Foles, but he really only has the potential to play 1-2 games. The Eagles defense will have to carry this team to the AFC championship for there to be some solid production from Ertz, but there is minimal upside for playoff fantasy football elsewhere here.
I really like the way this team has performed this year. I love the defense and they are have the highest odds to win the SB in the NFC. Case Keenum has really taken this team to new heights as well, and has created plenty of fantasy relevancy to like in your leagues. Now, the potential to play many games seems to be limited as the Vikings have to play their first game against the Rams, Saints, or Panthers. They are some of the toughest teams that are in the playoffs, yet I think the Vikings can stop these teams. Case Keenum actually holds a bit of fantasy relevancy with the amount of games he could play, but the real targets here are Adam Thielen and Latavius Murray. Thielen is known for his big game potential and Murray has been given RB1 duties as well as goal line carries. Jerick McKinnon should not be considered a threat to Murray’s workload as he really only gets passing down work. The Vikings have serious SB potential here, but they are not the team I am targeting the most in the NFC.
Los Angeles Rams:
Oh, the WCF potential with this team is practically jumping off the page. Gurley is unstoppable lately, and will most likely be rostered in nearly 100% of pick’ems. How could you not roster the guy? The Rams have potential to make a SB run, and that leaves plenty of fantasy value resting in the Rams offense. I love Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, and if Cooper Kupp plays I like the potential for some big games from him. Monitor Kupp’s injury, and other than that the Rams are one team I will be targeting highly, even with a matchup in Minnesota in the Divisional Round. We are not even close to done with the NFC, folks.
New Orleans Saints:
Remember how I was practically drooling over the Rams WCF potential? Take that and double it for the Saints, because if they beat the Panthers in the Wild Card round, they have a surefire trip to the NFC championship (as long as the Rams overcome the Falcons, as this would allow the Saints to play the Wentz-less Eagles). The Saints have defeated the Panthers twice this year, and are the team I will be targeting the most in all of the fantasy playoffs. Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Drew Brees, and Michael Thomas all are players that must make your fantasy rosters in the postseason. To me, Kamara should be nearly 100% owned in pick’em with his big play ability. If you don’t have him, I’m sure you’re on the Panthers playoff train.
This is where two clear avenues for pick’ems appear. You could load up on either Panthers or Saints players as both teams have WCF potential, but I cannot pass on this Saints team. I understand if you wish to be contrarian in a work league and play the strategy where you load up on Panthers, but truly take the Saints playmakers. Take the max amount of them that your league allows. and you might as well put any leftover money on the Saints making the SB, because anyone reading this guide will cash out with that outcome in more ways than one.
In many ways, they are the Saints part 2. With plenty of fantasy relevance, and a potential to make the NFC Championship game with a victory they are also a team to target in the fantasy playoffs. But, I will stay away from them in my leagues. I am more of a “target one outcome” playoff fantasy guy, even though some playoff fantasy players like to roster players from opposing WC teams. This puts me in a situation where if the team I target loses, it’s over, but if they win I’ve got a chance for gold. The Saints are my playoff ride or die, so I’m steering clear of the Panthers. If you wish to go against me, go with Newton, McCaffrey, Olsen, and Funchess. I’ve liked how Funchess has looked over the previous weeks, so if you take the Panthers strategy I think he is a must roster,
Something is just off about the Falcons previously high-flying offense. It is not the same offense we saw Matt Ryan receive NFL MVP honors under. They are another team I may steer clear from. The Falcons face the Rams that have been tough to stop, and to beat them they need Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones to step up in a big way. But, I just do not see the Falcons returning to 2016-17 form, and I think the Rams, under Sean McVay, roll over Atlanta. Some will target Julio Jones, but I think a smart move is to stay away and allow Julio’s 1 game stat line to be outweighed by players with many more playoff games played.
Teams to target:
Teams to stay away from:
— Just a list for those skimming the guide.
*The bottom 3 of the “Teams to stay away from” list actually have a few viable fantasy players, read their team section above, or view the players guide below for more.
2) The Fantasy Playoff Players Guide
Similar to a “Love – Hate” / “Start – Sit” list, the following players are my guys I will be targeting in every format, just like rankins with a few descriptions with them.
Fantasy Playoff Rankings:
Brees behind Brady because there is a significant risk in the Brees pick, and Brady is always one to count on in any aspect of football.
Slight edge over Roethlisberger because of WCF. I actually think the QBs may be interchangeable, but Goff has the potential for more games.
All of these top 3 will most likely be 100% owned in pick ‘ems.
Replace this with whoever the Patriots dub to be starting, if your league allows. But, rolle with Lewis if you aren’t confident in the health of James White.
A lot of fantasy relevancy rests with this rookie if the Jags can grab a few wins in the playoffs. A solid play, but I would not reach for him.
Sorry, McCaffrey. But, I’ve got the Saints winning the rivalry game or he would be much higher on the list. Generally aim for one outcome for highest positioning, and the Saints are that outcome.
If healthy, it does not matter how many games AB plays to me. Even if he is limited to 2 games, he puts up numbers that match some players 4 game stat lines. Take him before all else.
“Again with the Saints WCF pick!?”… yes, it is a recurring theme through the guide.
The two vikings receivers are ranked with Thielen given the slight edge based on season performance, but in the playoffs the hot hand of these two may win you your league. I could reason with taking both.
Again with the health asterisk. Hogan’s health must be monitored because if he plays he could fly under the radar and allow you to have a leg up on your competition.
#1 Consensus TE in the playoffs without question, the guy is an animal.
Even with a possible 2 games played this guy will be the 2nd or 3rd TE gone. He finished as the #1 TE in fantasy scoring this year.
The potential SB run gives Rudolph a significant boost.
Even if he only plays one game, it’s slim pickings at this TE position.
Wouldn’t suggest taking him, but he is worth the #5 spot in the ranks based off of the team he is on and it’s ability for a SB run.
Those are solely ranks based on the consensus thoughts for each position, plus my personal opinion on each player may have given them a boost or brought them down.
All 5 may be selected based on name value alone by your competitors, but we’re smarter than that. We’ve been through an insane amount of words and analysis to know that these guys will not bring you as much value.
Finally, with my last column I have a few sleeper picks for everyone who has stuck around… or just skipped here. These players are all ranked in the order I would take them
— The rookie exploded to WR20 this year. Both Brown’s injury and his emergence as the team’s WR2 put him here.
— Plenty of big play potential, and during Woods absence he became one of Goff’s favorite targets.
— Both Hogan and Lee are coming back from injury. This could cause people to forget about them. Hogan with the slight boost due to the the Pats SB run.
–Decided to put 1 sneaky QB play on here. Bortles has quietly had himself a nice season.
Ted Ginn Jr.
–A lot of big play potential for a possible 3-4 games makes me love Ted Ginn as a sleeper.
— Monitor the injury, because they may rely on him for goal line work down the stretch.
— Starting in their Wild Card game because of an injury to Murray, Henry has more appeal in DFS or week-long leagues than playoff-long leagues.
There you have it. My complete guide to NFL Playoff Fantasy Football. Many hours went into this, so any sort of sharing with your friends would be appreciated (obviously do not share with the competition. That money is yours, friend.). Hope you enjoyed my content this year, but I still will be covering teams throughout the playoffs, so more to come!
If you liked the guide, or it helped you in any way, make sure to give me a follow @ffbreakroom on Twitter! I would greatly appreciate it!
Hope this guide helps you in some way! Thanks for reading!