As trade deadlines approach in fantasy leagues, it’s time to look ahead to playoff schedules. We know enough about defenses to project the best matchups, although injuries, adjustments, weather, and momentum can still make us get something different from what we expect. Which schedules give us a chance to get the drop on the competition? Although playoff weeks vary across fantasy leagues, for this exercise we will be looking at Weeks 14-16.
Baltimore: @KC TB @LAC
This one is a dream for the passing game, although it’s not 100% that Joe Flacco will be the quarterback. Lamar Jackson might be a major difference maker in the fantasy playoffs if the Ravens are eliminated and turn the page to him to get a glimpse of their future. The Chiefs and Buccaneers have major weaknesses at cornerback and the Chargers have given up multiple passing scores to every good quarterback they have face. John Brown is at a temporary downturn in production, but he should be a pick to click in Weeks 14 and 15. Did I mention that the Ravens also get the Bengals, Raiders, and Falcons the next three weeks?
Denver: @SF CLE @OAK
The Broncos are clearly headed for a new head coach and quarterback in the near future, but for now they have a team that will rely more on their defense and a more conservative offense as long as the game script allows. It certainly appears that the playoff schedule will keep the Broncos in close games and allow the Denver offense to stay on schedule.
Houston: IND @NYJ @PHI
Now that the Texans have Demaryius Thomas and should get Keke Coutee back soon, the Colts and Eagles matchups have the look of shootouts. The first matchup with the Colts was a 37-34 game and Philadelphia will become a more pass-heavy offense with the addition of Golden Tate.
Action Items: Consider a lateral move at quarterback to a healthy Deshaun Watson during his bye in redraft leagues, make a lowball offer for Demaryius Thomas as a trade deadline acquisition in dynasty leagues if he’s on a team going nowhere, and add Coutee in PPR redraft leagues if he’s on the waiver wire.
Indianapolis: @HOU DAL NYG
All of these games will be indoors, which in and of itself is a bump for this offense. The Texans game should be high-scoring, and the Cowboys and Giants could be looking to next year by the time these games roll around. Andrew Luck and the Colts offense is surging and should be a well-oiled machine under the direction of Frank Reich if the line can stay healthy.
Action Items: Luck is an elite fantasy quarterback but might not be valued as such. TY Hilton could make the leap back to WR1 value after the Jaguars matchups and his hamstring is rested and healed now. Nyheim Hines is an excellent back to stash in redraft leagues with the Colts running game on track and Marlon Mack still not 100%. Jack Doyle is one of the few safe tight ends but could be undervalued. Try to buy into this offense.
Jacksonville: @TEN WAS @MIA
On the surface these all look like winnable games, games that could feature Leonard Fournette getting 20+ touches and goal line opportunities. That would require a resurgence of the defense and Blake Bortles not sabotaging the team’s chances of winning. There’s risk here, but if the Jaguars turn it around, Fournette can provide RB1 numbers at a discount.
Action Items: Make a lowball offer for Fournette in redraft leagues. He’s probably still too pricey to get in dynasty leagues.
Los Angeles Chargers: CIN @KC BAL
That Ravens matchup in Week 16 looked foreboding a few weeks ago, but the Panthers ran the Ravens ragged and showed their weaknesses. The Chargers certainly have the runners, receivers, and quarterback play to put the Ravens in a similar bind, and the Ravens might be in the unfamiliar position of playing out the string by that point. The Week 14 and 15 matchups against the Bengals and Chiefs are ideal. The Chargers will also avoid cold weather in at least two of those games.
Action Items: Rivers is a bargain basement QB1 for teams that are unsure of their quarterback situation going into the playoffs. Keenan Allen hasn’t quite yet taken off like he did in the second half of 2017 and could be available. The Chargers offense should be one of the best in the league as they try to turn around their bad playoff luck during the Rivers era.
New England: @MIA @PIT BUF
Week 14 at Miami looks like a cakewalk and Week 15 at Pittsburgh will be a high-scoring game with playoff implications in a matchup that Tom Brady usually owns. The offense should function well, with plenty of scoring chances for James White and Sony Michel. Week 16 could be an issue with a Bills defense that limited the Patriots offense in the first matchup, but we’ll worry about that when we get there.
Pittsburgh: @OAK NE @NO
The Raiders defense might be the worst in the league and Weeks 15 and 16 project as track meets. Ben Roethlisberger had his best game in Baltimore in years last week, so perhaps we shouldn’t worry about starting road Ben in the playoffs. With talk that Le'Veon Bell might hold out for the entire season, James Conner should still be leading this offense, and Juju Smith-Schuster should get the better corner matchup in the semis and finals and dodge Stephon Gilmore and Marshon Lattimore.
Action Items: Make a buy low offer for Smith-Schuster in redraft leagues and back up the truck for Antonio Brown in dynasty leagues if his team is out of the playoffs. Roethlisberger could be the best of the non-Mahomes options at quarterback and is worth inquiring about in dynasty leagues. Try one more time to get James Conner in redraft leagues where his team might fear the return of Bell.
Arizona: DET @ATL LAR
This schedule points to Larry Fitzgerald, who regained the form he has displayed during his late-career run of 100+ catch seasons. He’ll duck Darius Slay in the slot against Detroit and likely be needed for heavy duty in catch-up game scripts against the Falcons and Rams. This schedule doesn’t hurt David Johnson either, as long as he goes back to being central in the passing game.
Action Items: Be willing to give up a good prospect or even a second-round pick for Fitzgerald if you’re making a championship push. Inquire about Johnson, but expect to be turned down.
Atlanta: @GB ARI @CAR
There are some good outside corners here in Jaire Alexander, Patrick Peterson, and the young duo in Carolina, so this could point to bigger weeks for Calvin Ridley and the running game. The Falcons offense is showing no signs of slowing down, and none of these defenses appear to have it in them to be the ones that stalemate them.
Action Items: Try to get Ridley in redraft leagues while his touchdown binge feels like a distant memory. Make an offer for Tevin Coleman in all formats in what looks like a sell high moment, but might actually be a second-half takeoff moment. Ito Smith should be added in all leagues in light of Coleman’s injury history.
Carolina: @CLE NO ATL
NFC South matchups have averaged over 70 points in the five games played this year, with none coming in under 55. The Panthers have two, at home, in Weeks 15 and 16. Cam Newton has a chance to be more valuable than Patrick Mahomes II and Greg Olsen could be an answer at tight end if his foot holds up. The wide receiver production is split between three good players, but DJ Moore should have good matchups and injuries could always clarify this situation.
Action Items: Try to trade up to Boardwalk/Park Place at quarterback in the form of Newton and make an offer for Olsen in dynasty leagues if you need a tight end and he’s not on a contenders roster.
Chicago: LAR GB @SF
On one hand, you have the Rams and Packers offense on the schedule, which should force the Bears to come out of their shell on offense. On the other hand, you have cold weather games that could alter the game plan. That shouldn’t happen in Week 16 against the 49ers, and the San Francisco offense is still functioning well on quarterback #3. Mitchell Trubisky will have a high ceiling during the playoffs, weather permitting.
Action Items: Keep Trubisky on your streamer list and err on the side of keeping Taylor Gabriel, Tarik Cohen, and Anthony Miller on your bench while we wait to see if the conditions are amenable to high-scoring games.
Dallas: PHI @IND TB
This schedule rivals the Ravens for the most inviting against the pass, but can Dak Prescott take advantage of it? It’s not a great schedule for Ezekiel Elliott and his hoped-for passing game explosion hasn’t been realized. The best player to target here is Amari Cooper, who immediately took a central role in the passing game and should face underwhelming competition in all three matchups.
Action Items: Make an offer for Cooper in redraft and dynasty alike as his arrow is pointing up even though the stain of the Raiders years is still fresh in our minds.
Detroit: @ARI @BUF MIN
This schedule could be very rough on the passing game and offense in general with a contest in Buffalo and a championship week game against a Vikings defense that just smothered the Lions last week. Kerryon Johnson could help in Week 14, but after that it’s looking bleak. Marvin Jones Jr will face the tougher corner matchups and Kenny Golladay is still yet to regain his early season form.
Action Items: Kerryon Johnson will be a fantastic player in the future, but he’s a piece to sell off in a win now push if you are feeling the itch for a title.
New Orleans: @TB @CAR PIT
Two NFC South matchups that should pay off like rigged slot machines and the Steelers coming to the Superdome in Week 16. Cha-ching!
Action Items: Unfortunately, Michael Thomas, Drew Brees, and Alvin Kamara probably aren’t going anywhere. Mark Ingram II could still be a decent buy low candidate, and if Tre’Quan Smith is dropped in redraft, he’s worth the add now that Cameron Meredith has been put on injured reserve. Dez Bryant might be a touchdown specialist, but isn’t worth breaking the bank for on the waiver wire.
Philadelphia: @DAL @LAR HOU
Action Items: In a theme of this week’s buy low sell high, Wentz provides yet another upside quarterback option to angle for if you’re not happy with your options as you head to the playoffs. Alshon Jeffery should be unaffected by the acquisition of Golden Tate and might even benefit. There aren’t any corners on this schedule that can match up with him at the catch point. He’s worth overpaying for in dynasty leagues.
Seattle: MIN @SF KC
Can this offense unveil an aggressive mode in time to save their playoff hopes? We’ll learn that this week against the Rams. If so, Russell Wilson could be a stealth elite fantasy option for Week 16 against the Chiefs, and maybe even if in Week 15 if Kyle Shanahan keeps the 49ers offense viable. Doug Baldwin is a little banged up right now, so Tyler Lockett might assume a central role if this is a sign that Baldwin is going to wear down after his delayed start.