As I enter my 10th year of writing this postseason column, I hope
I have helped some of you along the way supplement your regular-season
fantasy prize winnings.
The layout of this column will remain
unchanged from last season. While I will continue to play the
Playoff Challenge and in Fuzzy's
Fantasy Football's postseason money leagues, I recognize there
are plenty of other formats out there. The first part of this
week's column will be devoted to those owners who participate
in the Playoff Challenge or any other format in which it is best
or required to keep the players you draft for the duration of
the postseason. The second half of the column is for owners who
play in leagues in which you reset your lineup each week, such
as a pick-your-studs league like Fuzzy's or a salary cap setup
like DFS. Regardless of which format(s) you choose to play in,
my goal over the next four articles will be to help each of you
through your decision-making process as you attempt to boost your
NFL.com Playoff Challenge/Multi-Week
For a complete rundown of how players will score fantasy points
for your team, click on the “Rules & Prizing”
link on the NFL.com
entry page. Some of the content immediately below is included
on the “How to Play” page, although the information
I provide below should be more than enough to follow along easily.
The requirements: one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one TE, one K
and one D/ST. You will earn fantasy points based on their on-field
performance during their game, and if your player's team wins,
you will have the option to carry that player over to the next
round, where he will earn a bonus point modifier to his score
(which will be referred to as 2x, 3x and 4x from here on out).
For example, if you pick Andrew Luck in the Wild Card round
and the Colts win, you can carry him over to the Divisional Round,
and earn two times (2x) the points he earns in his divisional
round game. If Indianapolis wins again, you can carry Luck into
the Conference Championship round for 3x the points and, if the
Colts make the Super Bowl, you can earn 4x the points. In addition,
a user can select a player/defense in the Wild Card round even
if their team has a bye into the Divisional Round. In this case,
the user would not earn any points for the Wild Card round, but
be eligible to earn 2x points in the Divisional round, since the
player was on the team’s roster for two weekly scoring periods.
Further bonus point modifiers would also apply as long as that
player’s team continues to advance in the NFL Playoffs.
Before we get into the picks, let’s briefly review the
rules and how we may use them to our advantage: 1) passing TDs
are worth four points, so passing yards are valued more highly
here than in the Fuzzy’s leagues I’ll discuss later
but the same as DraftKings; 2) all field goals under 50 yards
are worth three points, which means we are more concerned about
volume of field goals than distance – unless we can find
a kicker who regularly converts from 50-plus (DraftKings does
not use kickers); 3) this is a non-PPR format, which obviously
favors the big-play threats (both Fuzzy's and DraftKings are PPR);
and 4) team wins are worth five points, so picking a “winning”
defense is worth almost a touchdown prior to factoring in the
Let's get the No. 1 rule of this game out of the way right now:
if you have a good feeling about which two teams will
meet in the Super Bowl, build your lineup exclusively with players
from those two teams. Most previous playoff challenge
champions' lineups are made up entirely of 4x Super Bowl participants.
(In other words, it is important to project the Super Bowl entrants
first and figure out what players from those teams to use second.)
The multipliers are everything in this contest, so playing the
week-to-week matchups are nearly meaningless. Think about it this
way: if I told you that your regular-season fantasy team's scoring
would double in Week 2, triple in Week 3 and quadruple in Week
4 if you simply left it the same, would it affect your draft strategy?
Of course it would. The big week your team might post in the first
week of this challenge - in the somewhat unlikely event you played
the matchups perfectly - is going to seem rather insignificant
in early February when every passing touchdown is worth 16 points,
every other TD is worth 24 and the top teams in this competition
are scoring 200-300 (or perhaps more) points per week.
As noted earlier, the main challenges are (in order): 1) correctly
predicting the two conference winners and 2) forecasting the best
fantasy players in that hypothetical Super Bowl matchup. This
will be the only Playoff Challenge write-up I do this postseason,
as I have reached the conclusion that any alterations I make to
my lineup in the third and fourth weeks would be in response to
a wrong pick on my part, and my analysis of a 1x or 2x player
isn't going to matter very much. Much like in daily fantasy, the
chalk plays probably aren’t going to win. (Of the hundreds
of thousands of entries NFL.com receives, how many do you think
are going to line up their fantasy squads exclusively with Patrick
Mahomes or Drew Brees just because they are the "best"
fantasy quarterbacks?) In other words, be bold whenever
possible! It's a free contest after all, so crashing
and burning - even if it is in front of an audience like what
I'm doing - isn't such a bad thing when you consider the reward
is much greater than the risk involved.
Below you will find the 12 playoff teams ranked in order of the
(percentage) odds I believe they have of making the Super Bowl.
I'll spend a bit of time after that attempting to nail the bracket
before talking a little DFS.
1. New Orleans (40%)
2. LA Rams (30%)
3. Kansas City (25%)
4. New England (20%)
5. LA Chargers (20%)
6. Baltimore (20%)
7. Houston (10%)
8. Indianapolis (10%)
9. Chicago (10%)
10. Philadelphia (10%)
11. Dallas (5%)
12. Seattle (5%)
With that out of the way, let's next focus on my week-to-week
playoff projections and then the players I feel are realistic
alternatives for this four-week sprint to the finish:
AFC - Wildcard: Colts over Texans,
Ravens over Chargers NFC - Wildcard: Seahawks over Cowboys,
Bears over Eagles
AFC - Divisional: Chiefs over Colts,
Ravens over Patriots NFC - Divisional: Saints over Seahawks,
Rams over Bears
AFC - Conference Championship:
Chiefs over Ravens NFC - Conference Championship: Saints
Super Bowl: Chiefs vs. Saints
The rankings below are for those readers in similar leagues that
require you to draft players this week and keep them for the duration
of the postseason. The number inside the parentheses refers to how
many games I expect that player/unit to play.
As one would suspect with a quarterback who is guaranteed to
play at home for as long as his team stays alive and just finished
a regular season in which he passed for over 5,000 yards AND 50
touchdowns, Mahomes is a no-brainer pick. Similarly, Brees will
play in a dome throughout the remainder of the playoffs as long
as his team keeps winning. The soon-to-be 40-year-old has long
been a dominant fantasy option at home and his 2018 splits back
that up (76.3 percent completion rate, 21:1 TD-to-INT ratio, 133.3
QB rating). His dome splits are obviously not much different (74.9,
26:3, 123.3). As the leader of one of the most balanced offenses
and teams in the league, Brees is arguably a safer bet than Mahomes
since the latter is a playoff neophyte whose team cannot afford
for him to feel the pressure of the moment.
Luck is easily good enough to be included in the first group,
but concerns about T.Y. Hilton's ability to play anything close
to a full game is going to catch up to the Colts at some point,
perhaps as soon as this weekend. Jackson comes with obvious upside,
but Baltimore's insistence on running the ball and milking the
clock limits that upside in the passing game. The Ravens also
don't pass the eye test in my opinion, which makes me wonder if
an opponent that gets a second look at them within a short amount
of time (like the Chargers) isn't going to be able to beat them
at their game. Wilson safely established himself as a QB1 a long
time ago, but this edition of the Seahawks is a flawed team unlikely
to beat a team like the Saints or Rams on the road. I'm willing
to trust Goff at home, but I don't think the Rams - or probably
any team, for that matter - will beat New Orleans in the Superdome.
Watson would be ranked third on this list if I thought Houston
was going to win this weekend. I find myself going back and forth
on which team I will advance, and I think Hilton's ability to
draw attention will be a key factor in determining the winner.
It's gotten easier to bet against Brady this postseason given
how he played - or how New England backed away from him as the
focal point of the offense - for most of the second half of the
season. Obviously, this ranking will backfire if the Patriots
play the Texans (and not the Ravens) in the Divisional Round because
Brady would likely face two of the more forgiving secondaries
in the AFC (Texans and Chiefs).
The Bears and Chargers did not get a favorable draw to say the
least. While Trubisky wasn't likely to be a sought-after quarterback
in playoff leagues to begin with, Rivers had a chance. The Chargers
may very well be the most complete team in the AFC, but they have
been susceptible to teams who can pound the rock all season long
(Rams, Titans, Seahawks and Ravens in Week 16). Baltimore limits
possessions and defends about as well as any team in the playoff
field, so owners gambling on Rivers must hope he can not only
overcome the matchup but hope the defense plays at a level against
the run we haven't seen yet this season. I'm not going to pretend
as if I have a good feel on Seahawks-Cowboys or Bears-Eagles.
I will say it's hard to see either game being fantasy-friendly
for the quarterbacks. Foles is sure to be a popular pick for those
owners who believe the Eagles are destined for great things again,
but road games against the Bears and Saints are unlikely to lead
to high-scoring efforts.
Kamara may have to share more of his touches than Gurley does,
but it's hard to argue the former isn't the most appealing fantasy
option in playoff leagues this year. The Saints are arguably the
best team in the league and will play every game at home or in
a dome so long as they keep winning. It also wouldn't be terribly
surprising if Kamara isn't used in more of a workhorse role, similar
to the increase in work he received in the playoffs last season
(when compared to his regular season). Gurley's ranking obviously
assumes he is good to go 1 1/2 weeks from now. Even only two games
from Gurley trumps what owners often get in three games from other
backs. With that said, there's only one other back I think warrants
consideration for the No. 2 spot other than him. Damien Williams
is a risky pick only because nothing is guaranteed when it comes
to his lead-dog status over Spencer Ware. I think owners can feel
good about building a multi-week fantasy playoff team around him,
but doing so takes a leap of faith.
We already begin to see some falloff in Tier 2. Ingram may be
limited to 10 touches per game unless the Saints are able to blow
out an opponent along the way. Elliott rivals Gurley when it comes
to talent and potential workload, but Dallas could easily be one-and-done.
Carson should be a good bet for at least one heavy workload, but
he's less involved in his offense than Elliott and is also a one-and-done
candidate. Mack faces a brutal matchup in the Texans right out
of the gate, isn't heavily involved in the passing game and could
be done this weekend. White figures to be heavily involved in
at least one game if I'm right about the Patriots falling short
of the Super Bowl, but owners are betting on a touchdown every
time he takes the field now since Rex Burkhead has absorbed some
of the touches that made him an RB1 earlier this season. I'm not
a big fan of Edwards and don't think Gordon is going to be anywhere
close to 100 percent this weekend. Cohen is similar to White in
that he should have at least one huge game if the Bears are in
negative game script, but the fear here is that owners are only
going to get one game from him in a lesser offense. Michel's first
game could easily come against the Ravens or the Texans - both
of whom are pretty stout against running backs, especially those
who don't see a lot of usage in the passing game.
It wouldn't surprise me in the least if Dixon becomes a postseason
star, but Baltimore needs to cooperate. Although I think there's
no question he's the most talented back on his team, the Ravens
seem committed to starting Edwards and letting Dixon share the
load. Considering he probably falls third in line behind Lamar
Jackson and Edwards at the goal line, Dixon will need to either
break a big play or rush for 100 yards every game in order to
perform like a Tier 2 back.
As much as I dislike going chalk with my prediction (as far as
who makes the Super Bowl), Hill and Thomas might actually be Tier
1 picks even without the third game. Hill still isn't healthy,
but try telling that to the defensive backs he keeps making look
silly. Thomas' worst potential matchup in the Divisional Round
would be the Cowboys, but there's also a solid chance he'll see
the Eagles' injury-ravaged secondary two weeks from now. If things
play out like most expect, Thomas will stay home to face the Rams.
While he would not be expected to repeat his 12-211-1 from Week
9 versus Los Angeles, he would be a central figure in what would
likely be another shootout between the two teams.
Woods and Cooks might as well be 3a and 3b. There is a good chance
they see at least two games (and possibly three) in a great offense
with no clear alpha dog, although Woods appears to be a slight
favorite more often than not. Hopkins gets a high ranking due
because he will almost certainly be highly productive against
the Colts and has a realistic shot to play at least one more game
after that. Edelman could easily play three games or be kept in
check in a loss to the Ravens if things play out as I have predicted.
Perhaps he should be higher, but I don't have a ton of faith in
New England. Lockett isn't a great bet versus the Cowboys, but
his touchdown upside and the possibility of two games makes him
worth the risk. Allen is in a similar boat to Edelman, only with
a more daunting matchup and the real possibility he is one-and-done.
Reynolds is a bit too hit-or-miss to rank with his teammates,
yet his two-game upside in a great offense is too much to ignore.
Of the receivers in Tier 3 and Tier 4, Baldwin and Jeffery are
the most likely to outperform their ranking. Then again, it's
become a pure guessing game when Seattle needs to target Baldwin
10 times and when it will be content having Russell Wilson throw
it 25 or fewer times. As for Jeffrey, he's probably no worse than
sixth on this list if the Eagles beat the Bears. (The same could
probably be said for Cooper if the Cowboys knock off the Seahawks.)
Hilton told reporters recently his ankle injury is the worst injury
he's ever played through, so his ranking is more of a reflection
he probably shouldn't be playing. He is a complete wild-card.
Players such as Watkins and Allen Robinson are ranked much lower
than other potential multi-game receivers because I have no idea
whether or not they will be able to play, although it's looking
good for Robinson as of press time.
In playoff league snake drafts, it could be argued Kelce could
be the first player taken given his combination of potential games
and the degree to which his production could dwarf the rest of
the players at his position. Even if he only plays two games,
I feel as if he belongs in his own tier. Ebron and Ertz could
easily be switched around based on how strong your belief is the
Eagles will beat the Bears. In five games with Nick Foles as the
starter, Ertz has produced the following PPR fantasy totals: 9.8,
20.4, 5.2, 35.0 and 4.5. In other words, he hasn't been near the
slam-dunk he was with Carson Wentz. Ebron gets the nod in these
rankings because he has one guaranteed game against the leaky
tight end defense of the Texans and the likelihood he assumes
a fairly heavy target share if Hilton struggles to stay on the
It will be interesting to see if Gronkowski chooses to comment
in the offseason about how injured he has been in 2018 because
he has appeared to be a shell of himself in all but maybe three
games. While a guarantee of three games might allow him to move
into the second tier, I'm not sure his ranking would change. Andrews
has consistently been the Ravens' best fantasy tight end all season
long and the one pass-catcher mostly unaffected by the transition
from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson. Chicago may have its full complement
of receivers this weekend, which makes Burton a borderline start.
Of the remaining tight ends, Henry is obviously the most intriguing.
He will almost certainly be limited to third downs and red zone
plays if he goes this weekend and may not play more than one game.
It's also within the realm of possibility that he pushes himself
too hard in an effort to make up for missing the regular season
and suffers a soft-tissue injury. If the Chargers make a bit of
a run and he plays within himself, however, he belongs in Tier
Since the pick-your-studs competition with Fuzzy's and the salary
cap game of DraftKings essentially use the same PPR scoring (six
points for passing touchdowns with Fuzzy's versus four fantasy
points with DraftKings; three bonus points for 300 yards passing
or 100 yards rushing/receiving versus no such bonus with Fuzzy's
being the biggest differences), I'm going to essentially combine
the two again this postseason.
Below you will find my position-by-position projections. Please
note I have included DraftKings' dollar value for each player,
followed by their projected point total in that format (DraftKings
and then Fuzzy's). Because I went into some detail above, I won't
spend a great deal of time explaining each projection here - only
some of the more notable ones. Each position is sorted by my DraftKings'
projected point total.
Key for quarterbacks, running backs, receivers
and tight ends: P Yds - Passing Yards P TD - Passing Touchdowns INT - Interceptions Ru Yds - Rushing Yards Ru TD - Rushing Touchdowns Rec Yds - Receiving Yards Rec TD - Receiving Touchdowns Rec - Receptions
Owners looking for fantasy points from the quarterback position
should be dialed into the first game of the playoffs (Colts-Texans).
Every game after that features at least one very good defense and/or
an offense built around a solid rushing attack. It's worth noting
that while Watson wasn't exactly struggling prior to Week 8, he
has been phenomenal since. In those nine games, he's completed 73.1
percent of his passing attempts, thrown for 16 passing touchdowns
versus two interceptions (both came in the same game in Week 11)
and averaged 37 yards on the ground to go along with about a rushing
score every other game. (For what it's worth, Watson averaged 57.5
yards rushing and scored three times as a runner over his final
two regular-season games.) This sample of two-plus months works
out to about 26.3 fantasy points in leagues that a word six points
for every touchdown and don't include yardage bonus like DraftKings
does for a quarterback that tops 300 yards passing.
Houston's run defense figures to force Luck into another high-volume
game. The Texans have good enough personnel to limit what Luck
does with T.Y. Hilton hobbled, but it's been rare that Houston
hasn't allowed two solid fantasy performances to a receiver group
in the same week. The Texans also haven't shown the ability to
defend Ebron or tight ends either, so Luck figures to be a good
play regardless of how many snaps Hilton plays.
No one needs me to tell them to put Elliott into their lineup. If
he isn't at least 95 percent owned on DraftKings and Fuzzy's, people
are hoping he gets hurt or really trying to be contrarian. It's
conceivable he scores twice as many fantasy points as any other
running back going this week. Carson is a less obvious pick because
the Cowboys' run defense is reasonably stout, although they have
coughed up 100-yard rushing games in two of the last three weeks.
Even without a touchdown, Carson can still be this week's RB2 and
is a reasonably safe bet for 20 touches, which is more than just
about any other player listed below him can say.
I have six other backs projected to score at least 10 fantasy
points, and I think that's an optimistic number. This figures
to be a low-scoring weekend of football after Colts-Texans wraps
up. Were it not for Gordon getting hurt again in Week 17, I might
have been kinder to him. As it is, there is a reasonably good
chance his ceiling is about 15 touches against a very good defense.
Of the other "double-digit" backs this weekend, the
player I would feel best about counting on is Cohen. Not only
was he the overall RB12 in PPR leagues this year, but I'm still
not getting that vibe that Howard is hitting his pre-2018 form
despite a strong finish. There is also a small chance the Eagles
continue their offensive roll with Foles leading the charge, which
would force the Bears to lean on Cohen in negative game script.
Of the remaining backs, Hines and Sproles probably have the best
chance of exceeding their projection. The two backs play basically
the same role in their respective offenses and could easily take
a 20-yard swing pass into the end zone. There's been very little
middle ground for Mack. It's almost as if the Colts make their
decision after about 10 carries whether or not it will be his
day or not. He was lucky to score a touchdown in the Week 14 meeting
at Houston. The Texans have yet to allow a running back to top
82 yards rushing (Week 3) and kept every runner at or below 60
since Week 6.
Hopkins is to the receiver group what Elliott is to the running
backs. Yes, Carter, Vyncint Smith and Coutee have all had their
moments at various points throughout the season, but Hopkins is
almost a lock for 10-plus targets and does not have a daunting matchup.
Even if it was, he's one of the few receivers in the league who
is open even when he's not. Jeffery has scored at least 16.9 PPR
fantasy points in three of Nick Foles' five starts this season.
While Chicago's top perimeter cornerbacks (6-0 Prince Amukamara
and 5-11 Kyle Fuller) have good size for their position, their size
isn't going to pose a huge obstacle for the 6-3 Jeffery, who has
performed like a high-end WR2/low-end WR1 for four straight weeks.
While Hopkins should be a start-your-studs staple because his
floor and ceiling are both so high, Inman should be highly owned
in DFS for the value he represents. As with any "low-cost"
receiver, there is a low floor that goes along with a potentially
high ceiling. With Hilton probably closer to 50 percent than 100,
Indianapolis is going to need someone besides Ebron to pick up
the slack. Rogers mans the slot, which is perhaps the one area
the Houston pass defense is capable of defending well. Perhaps
Hilton torches the Texans once again, but I don't think we can
count on that happening given how much he struggled to get through
last week. As readers can tell from my projections, I believe
the "other" receivers will both get in on the fun. Pascal's
best two games of the season came against the Texans, but Inman
didn't play in either one. Perhaps the two share time Saturday,
but Inman seems to have a clear handle on WR2 duties. It would
not be surprising if Inman finishes second in fantasy scoring
among receivers this week.
Cooper has hit a bit of a dry spell since his 10-217-3 demolition
of the Eagles back in Week 14. The Colts - a Cover 2 defense -
may have solved the riddle on slowing down the Cowboys in Week
15 with their heavy use of zones. (There was evidence Dallas struggled
with zone defense even before the matchup.) The Seahawks don't
play as much Cover 3 as they did back in the Legion of Boom days,
but they have the necessary size to battle Cooper to a draw should
the Cowboys be unwilling to use combination routes in order to
give Cooper more space with which to work. Eagles RCB Rasul Douglas
has been a bit of a liability for some time and plays almost exclusively
on the defensive right side. Gabriel runs more of his routes on
that side of the formation than he does anywhere else, making
him a sneaky DFS option.
Of the remaining receivers, Agholor may have the highest upside.
As good as Jeffery has been with Foles as the quarterback, Agholor
has been nearly as good. In four of Foles' five starts, the fourth-year
wideout has scored at least 12.9 PPR fantasy points. In three
of those four, he's topped 20. He is probably going to be owned
in fewer leagues than he deserves based on his early-season production.
Coutee's NFL debut was a memorable 11-catch, 109-yard performance
on 15 targets versus the Colts back in Week 4. If it weren't for
the fact he hasn't played since Week 12 and was a lock to play
a full game this week, I might be willing to put him into some
There are only two real options at tight end this week. Ertz figures
to be owned in more leagues than anyone else since he was the overall
TE2 in PPR this season, but the Houston defense has been unable
to solve the riddle of defending tight ends for most of the season.
If Hilton is going to be is limited as I think he will be, Ebron
could push 100 yards receiving and/or score two touchdowns. Chicago
hasn't faced all that many great tight ends this season, but their
performance against George Kittle (14.4 PPR fantasy points) serves
as a decent barometer for what we should expect for Ertz. The Bears
have the personnel to keep him under control, however, even if they
haven't necessarily been tested all that much by the position. The
expected return of S Eddie Jackson will help in that regard. Owners
looking for a low-cost punt at tight end should probably go with
Andrews. While he has a limited ceiling based on the fact he hasn't
seen more than six targets all year and is sharing time in a run-heavy
offense, he has been able to come reasonably close to scoring 10
PPR fantasy points on a consistent basis.
Key for kickers and defense/special teams
units: XP - Extra point FG - Field goal PA - Points allowed TD - Defensive/return touchdowns TO - Total turnovers Bonus - Points allowed bonus
Based on the Eagles' recent performances, it's probably foolish
to suggest their offense will run into a wall in Chicago. With that
said, the Bears' defense has silenced more powerful offenses than
Philadelphia's in recent weeks and been particularly strong at home.
The Chargers should be expected to fare better against Baltimore
than they did in Week 16 if only because they played each other
so recently. Nevertheless, the Ravens match up well and give their
defense plenty of rest with their Lamar Jackson-led ground game.
If I'm punting the position, the Eagles and Colts make sense. Chicago
is unlikely to air it out and it would be far from surprising if
Mitchell Trubisky imploded. Indianapolis is unlikely to keep Houston
under 20 points, but the Texans allowed seven sacks to the Colts
in the first meeting and five in the second. If they can hit either
mark a third time AND force a turnover, they will have more than
exceeded expectations most owners have for a defense priced at $2,300.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.