The results of the fantasy football playoffs have seemed more random and surprising in the last 5 to 10 years. In my local leagues, I have noticed that lower-seeded teams have been winning leagues at a high rate.
Part of the randomness is the addition of Thursday Night Football in 2006. Tired teams produce erratic results. The unpredictability of TNF has led to some odd playoff results, such as Peyton Manning’s first year with the Broncos, when the Chargers lackluster defense shut him down in a late-season Thursday game.
Sometimes, it’s just the opposite: the results are predictably awful. I remember fielding a 12-2 team against a team led by Peyton Manning and Joseph Addai one year. They were playing the bad Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday Night Football. Coming out of that game, I was down 81-0 before the Sunday games even started. What made it worse was that I knew that would happen all week. I lost to that team, though my squad would have beaten his squad 14 of the other 15 weeks that season.
More Wide Recivers Options
Thursday games are not the only reason. The rise of the passing game since the rules change of 2004 also adds to the confusion. More receivers are viable starters, giving lesser teams more of a puncher’s chance. And since the ball is spread around more, often based on situations and matchups, slot receivers are more likely to have breakout games.
Running Backs Are Less Consistent
The shift in the passing game stats means that fewer running backs are total studs on a week-to-week basis. Every week, running backs have a huge impact on games. They are not as predictable in the kind of impact they’ll have, though. That’s one of the reasons NFL teams don’t draft as many RBs high anymore. Many of them employ the running back by committee approach, where they have a 1st-&-2nd down back who is bigger and a 3rd down back who catches the ball out of the backfield. Either one of these backs could be the key contributor that week.
Another reason for the splintering of RB stats is the high attrition rate. Injuries happen to NFL running backs at a higher rate than other positions. And with a big back and a scatback as the #1 and #2 options, the 3rd-string runner takes on a much greater importance. The reason is the third running back often is slated to be the replacement, if the starter goes down. The 2nd runner is a specialist, often too small to fill the role of an every down guy. The coach doesn’t want to put new duties on him, so he often plans to have an RB who is more like the starter to fill that role, if something should happen. That makes it harder to handcuff runners, leaving more potential starters in the free agent pool. If those wild card teams hit on the right running back in free agency near the end of the regular season, they suddenly become a much better team than their record indicates. See what happened with C.J. Anderson in 2014.
Tipping the Odds in Your Favor
All of that means it’s harder to predict how the fantasy football playoffs are going to develop. If you want to predict the results, the best you can do is look at the key matchups and see whether they favor you. When it comes to the fantasy playoffs, the best you can hope to do is weight the odds as much in your favor, then hope for the best.
With that in mind, I’ve taken the trouble of locating the best matchups for the 2015 fantasy football playoffs. In this article, I break down Week 14, Week 15, and Week 16. This should help you in figuring out which players to start and which to sit in the playoffs. It might help add a late free agent addition. To determine the best matchups, I look at the Team Defenses players will be playing those weeks.
Easiest Team Defenses Based on Scoring
These are the easiest defense to play, based purely on points-per-game. Fantasy playoff games often come down to a couple of players who score several touchdowns.
Starting players against the worst scoring defenses increase your odds of having the breakout game.
This list actually has the Top 13, because Miami and Baltimore are tied for 12th in scoring defense.
1. New Orleans – 31.5
2. San Diego – 28.2
3. Cleveland – 27.7
4. Jacksonville – 26.8
5. Detroit – 26.2
6. Oakland – 25.9
7. Tampa Bay – 25.4
8. NY Giants – 25.3
Washington – 25.3
10. San Francisco – 25.2
11. Philadelphia – 24.9
12. Miami – 24.9
Baltimore – 24.9
The Saints are the worst defense of all. I saw a comparison between the aggregated quarterback rating for all the QBs who started against the Saints this year (including 2 rookies and Brandon Wheedan) and their numbers compared favorably with Tom Brady’s numbers this year. Essentially, if you start a quarterback (any quarterback) against the New Orleans Defense, he’s got a pretty good chance of matching Tom Brady that week.
Easiest Team Defenses Based on Yardage
Below is the Top 12 for defenses, based on the amount of yardage they give up. Once again, the New Orleans Saints top the list, which gives a good indication why they’re such a good opponent.
They give up a lot of everything.
For the high performance leagues, racking up the yards is also important. While you’ll need touchdowns to win your league, collecting a heap of yardage stats is also essential. These are the best teams in your local league, so you are likely to need elite totals to win the championship. I’ve seen low-scoring finals before, but it’s uncommon.
1. New Orleans – 424.3
2. NY Giants – 420.9
3. Cleveland – 407.3
4. Oakland – 405.2
5. San Francisco – 404.0
6. Indianapolis – 392.3
7. Miami – 389.8
8. Philadelphia – 379.5
9. San Diego – 373.4
10. Pittsburgh – 371.4
11. Washington – 370.1
12. Green Bay – 361.5
Notice that the Saints, Browns, and Raiders are the teams which sit in the Top 6 of both lists. These are the teams you’ll most want to be facing come playoff time. Any of the units you see on these lists are not bad.
Also, owners are going to need to consider in-game matchups, weather conditions, and recent results. For instance, the Detroit Lions are a bad defense this year on the scoring list, but they’ve won 3 in a row and have shown improvement on defense, as their offense has controlled the ball more recently.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers seem to have fallen off a cliff recently, so they might be a better matchup than the #10 in points and #5 in yardage indicates. And the Eagles are just godawful bad, giving up 90 combined points in the last two games alone.
NFL Fantasy Football Rest of Way Report
Week 14 Easiest Opponents
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints
- Buffalo Bills @ Philadelphia Eagles
- San Francisco 49ers @ Cleveland Browns
Jameis Winston set the rookie record with 5 touchdowns in Week 11 against the Eagles. Doug Martin racked up more than 200 yards. The Bucs seem to be figuring things out. In Week 14, they get the New Orleans Saints. Doug Martin and Mike Evans are must-starters. Jameis Winston is going to be hard to bench, though you’re likely to have a more established QB as your starter. If healthy, Vincent Jackson and Austen Seferian-Jenkins will be good plays. Even Charles Sims is a solid option, if you don’t have a stud playing in front of him.
Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins have been disappointing in recent weeks, but they should become viable options in a key Week 14 matchup with the Eagles. LeSean McCoy goes home to Philadelphia to play his ex-team’s reeling defense. Rex Ryan will make him a team captain and feed him the ball, so McCoy is going to post huge totals. Karlos Williams is a viable start most weeks, despite McCoy’s numbers. Against the Eagles, he should be able to chip in nice production, though the McCoy Factor might limit his number in Week 14.
The game between San Francisco and Cleveland could be pivotal in the wild card weekend. These are two teams without many fantasy stars, but one or two could emerge in Week 14. Travis Benjamin and Gary Barnidge represent fine plays. Carlos Hyde would be a good option if he returned healthy by then. Otherwise, Shaun Droughn could be a sleeper pick in your wild card matchup. I wouldn’t trust the Niners receivers in this game, but they play one of the worst defenses, so you should remember them if you have a spate of injuries. Don’t forget Josh McCown, either, who had good stats early in the season, before injuries set in. Brian Hartline has had good totals of late, so he’s another sleeper. Of course, bad weather in Cleveland might negate all of this advice. Don’t worry too much about snow, but if high winds are involved, beware late season games in Cleveland. Note: Josh McCown has since gone to the IR. Austin Davis is now the starter.
- Seattle Seahawks @ Baltimore Ravens – Russell Wilson, Thomas Rawls, and Jimmy Graham go against a Ravens Defense that is bad anyway. The offense will be missing its #1 QB, #1 RB, and #1 WR, so they should struggle mightily to move the balls. The Ravens get worn down and give up huge points.
- Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars – Matt Hasselbeck, Donte Moncrief, and T.Y. Hilton should be solid plays against the Jags in Week 14. While Jacksonville has improved, they still give up a lot of fantasy points.
- St. Louis Rams v Detroit Lions – Todd Gurley could have a field day at home against the Detroit Lions. He’s the best RB in fantasy football right now and he’ll have a killer matchup.
Week 15 Best Matchups
- Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints
- Cleveland Browns v Seattle Seahawks
- Green Bay Packers @ Oakland Raiders
Lots of fantasy playoffs are going to come down to the Monday Night Football game in Week 15. Two offenses that have begun to roll are going against some of the worst defenses in the league. It should be a shootout in a nice, weather-controlled dome. As always, Lions players should have the biggest advantage: Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Theo Riddick are good starts. Also give a special look to Golden Tate, Eric Ebron, Lance Moore, and Joique Bell. While they have had spotty numbers, this might be a good spot start for any of them. On the other side of the ball, Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Benjamin Watson, Brandin Cooks, and Willie Snead should be must-starts. Even Marques Colston and C.J. Spiller might have value, if you’re backed into a corner. Remember this should have a lot of scoring–and a lot of need to score–so it could inflate numbers for everyone.
For the second week in a row, the Seahawks draw one of the easiest matchups for their offensive guys. Again, Russell Wilson, Thomas Rawls, and Jimmy Graham should be must-start players. “Angry” Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett also could have big games.
Those who have suffered through the ups-and-downs of the Green Bay Packers offense might be rewarded in Week 15. Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, and the Packers receiving corps play the Oakland Raiders. Once gets the idea Roger Goodell might have Aaron Rodgers on his fantasy team, because this cross-conference game seems set up to offer Packers owners a fantasy playoff advantage.
More Good Matchups:
- Cincinnati Bengals @ San Francisco 49ers – Andy Dalton and A.J. Green get a premium Sunday Night Football drubbing of the 49ers. Jeremy Smith and Giovani Bernard should have great chances to score, too.
- Miami Dolphins @ San Diego Chargers – Lamar Miller, Jarvis Landry, and Richard Matthews should all be good plays this week against a lousy Chargers Defense playing out the string.
- Atlanta Falcons @ Jacksonville Jaguars – Matt Ryan and Julio Jones get a short trip to Jacksonville for a stellar matchup against the Jags. Devonta Freeman should be healthy and ready for a key late-season fantasy total. If he’s not healthy, Tevin Coleman could be a hero.
- New England Patriots @ Tennessee Titans – I simply have to mention Tom Brady in this instance. The Titans aren’t on those lists, but I bet the Patriots post big totals against the Titans.
Week 16 Easiest Matchups
- San Diego Chargers @ Oakland Raiders
- Kansas City Chiefs v Cleveland Browns
- Jacksonville Jaguars @ New Orleans Saints
The Chargers/Raiders game on Thursday Night Football is going to get the fantasy championship week off to a brilliant start. Chargers players like Philip Rivers, Danny Woodhead, and Antonio Gates should have huge totals, this last week notwithstanding. Malcom Floyd could be healthy again by that time (if he’s going to be healthy again this season). Melvin Gordon might even be worth a start. Obviously, Derek Carr, Amani Cooper, and Latavius Murray get excellent matchups versus the Chargers Defense. And remember…this is all on 4 days rest at the end of a long season. Tired defenses usually mean huge point totals. Believe it or not, Chargers/Raiders is going to have a huge effect on the fantasy titles this year.
Whoever is the starting running back for the Chiefs in Week 16 should be a key contributor: Spencer Ware or Charcandrick West. Heck, Knile Davis might be the starter at that point. And while I won’t advise starting Alex Smith, Travis Kelce should be healthy and holding a good matchup by then. Jeremy Maclin, who is a marginal starter with Smith throwing the ball, could be startworthy in the championship week.
Believe it or not, Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, and Allen Hurns might be the key to fantasy championships in 2015. The Jags improving offense gets the best possible matchup in Week 16. Julius Thomas could reward owners who have stayed patient all year.
Other Solid Plays in Week 16:
- Detroit Lions v San Francisco 49ers – The Lions play host to the Niners in Week 16. For the second week in a row, Matthew Stafford and Megatron are going to have nice matchups. While Golden Tate and Eric Ebron may not be a certain as starters this week, I bet a lot of owners start them, coming off a big game against the Saints.
- Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles – The Skins-Eagles Saturday night game is going to be intriguing. Kirk Cousins and Jordan Reed should have good championship week games. Alfred Morris and Matt Jones also might be worth a start, when normally people are likely to leave them on the bench.
- Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens – A rivalry game like the Steelers-Ravens is usually going to be a little too gritty and unpredictable to add to a list like this. But the Steelers are going to be on the cusp of the playoffs at this point, playing for their postseason lives. Ben Roethlisberger is likely to be healthy and gearing up for the playoffs. Facing a wounded Ravens team, this might be a game to power through and rack up big totals. Antonio Brown owners who have made it this far could see their stud receiver come through at the best time. Deangelo Williams should post a good total, too.
Best Playoff Matchups for 2015 Fantasy Football Teams
So there you have it. Most of the best matchups seem to be held by marginal teams, which should keep things interesting for the fantasy football playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions have the most premium matchups in the playoffs this year, so teams with a high number of their players should have good odds. The Buccaneers, Lions, and Jaguars have the best matchup of each weekend. While that isn’t the same as saying the Patriots, Packers, and Panthers are holding those matchups, those three teams have weapons. If you have any of their players starting against the Saints, it could provide you with the key matchup to win your fantasy football playoffs and collect the league trophy.