The Turf Monster: Fantasy football playoff primer

This week, I wanted to depart a bit from my usual subject of pure pro sports, and focus instead on one “sport” that impacts just about everyone: fantasy football. It has been long documented that fantasy football is on the rise, and just about every football fan or even average Joe you’ll meet is in at least one casual league. So today I wanted to dispense some of my own knowledge and conventional industry wisdom alike to deliver to you the ultimate guide to winning your leagues as we move past the halfway point of the NFL season, into weeks which dictate the playoffs for fantasy leagues.

Know your roster, and prepare accordingly

Understanding where your team stands within your league beyond just the raw records is crucial. What I mean by this specifically is, evaluate what kind of team you are. Are you a lock for the playoffs? A middling roster that needs to fight for a playoff spot? Or a basement dweller? Based on how you view your team, you’ll need to look at individual schedules and prioritize acquiring certain players. 

If you need to win each and every week, trade for or pick up players with soft schedules in the next week or two, and worry about playoff performance when you make it there. Prioritize players past their bye, thus ensuring you get the maximum value from them. On the flipside, if you have a few wins to cushion your playoff chances, look for players with soft schedules from Weeks 14 to 16. If that means trading for players who are injured or on bye, so be it. This is especially applicable when you’re targeting opposing teams who are in need of immediate wins, as they likely cannot afford to clog a roster spot with a player who cannot start for a week or two.

Pick up favorable quarterbacks or defenses now

Having the right defense can often be an afterthought, especially when so many players choose to treat the position as a week-by-week “stream.” But you can apply the same principles as before and get the drop on your league mates by scooping up a defense with a favorable run of crummy offenses. This is especially impactful when the defense is a little more under the radar. The Los Angeles Rams could carry a team through the playoffs with games against the New York Jets and New England Patriots in Weeks 14 and 15 respectively (though you can’t start them against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16). The Cleveland Browns get the two New York teams, the Jets and Giants, for Weeks 15 and 16. If you can afford the bench spot, stashing these defenses for when the playoffs start can amount to a huge advantage.

The same can be applied to quarterback, especially when you’ve been saddled with a struggling player like Matthew Stafford or Lamar Jackson. Last year, I won a league by starting Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of seemingly superior options like Dak Prescott or Aaron Rodgers. Trust the easy matchups over a quarterback’s name value. Jared Goff is a boring option to many, but his Week 16 Seattle matchup could win people titles. Baker Mayfield meanwhile gets the aforementioned New York duo in playoff weeks, who have been hilariously bad on defense.

Swear by the waiver wire

As the trade deadline approaches in many leagues, the waiver wire will soon become the only option for teams to improve or pivot their rosters. Ensuring you make it a habit to scour the waivers each and every week to pick up hidden gems or players with juicy matchups can be the difference between life and death in fantasy. There are all sorts of fun little tricks that can optimize your waiver choices. Players coming back from injury are often overlooked. Picking up backups or “handcuffs” to any of the big-name running backs can win you a title if anyone goes down to injury, which often happens across the position. My personal favorite tactic is to check the waivers for players that have been dropped by opposing teams as they look for their own waiver pickups. You’d be surprised at the quality of players that teams let go as they get more and more desperate for an instant win.

Profit off of trade deadline desperation

Looking at the bottom half of your league for trade partners is a tried and true strategy, as these teams are increasingly on the lookout for that blockbuster trade to make a splash and shift their fortunes. The more desperate an opponent is, the more likely they will be to take massive risks and acquire more high-variance players. Every league is different, but the bottom half of any league is far more inclined to make deals.