For some of you, the playoffs start this week. For most of you, they start next week. For the select few who earned a bye, your path to the championship game likely begins in two weeks. The rest of you who didn't make the playoffs, it probably had something to do with bad luck or injuries (or both). Your chances for hitting pay dirt may have been derailed, but there are details to be learned so you can cash in next year. Hopefully, you have other leagues that fared better. For those of you with your eye on the prize, here are a few factors that reveal what it takes to win in the playoffs.
HOW TO WIN IN THE PLAYOFFS
10 KEY FACTORS FOR ADVANCING IN THE PLAYOFFS AND WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP
1. Balance - Have a balanced team where multiple players provide a consistent double-digit point total every single week. Most teams in the playoffs have three or more of these players who consistently provide these numbers. Consistency is the key for the stretch run. The big game point performances are important, but it's the steady barrage of points from multiple players that will keep you alive each week.
2. Talent - Almost equally important as balance is having talented players who will give you that big point total that puts you over the top, even if you suffer a down week from one or two other players. A 30- or 35-point game from any given player is sometimes all that is needed to advance. Those performances tend to come from players ranked in the Top 5 at their position. Players like Adam Thielen, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, Patrick Mahomes II, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, etc can win a week for you by themselves. If your lineup includes two or more of these stud players, your chances improve dramatically.
3. Opportunity - You may not have one of the highest scoring running backs or wide receivers in the game, but you can still get ample production from players who are thrust into action, due to an injury, recent success, or both. Players like Lamar Jackson, Colt McCoy, Austin Ekeler, Gus Edwards, Josh Adams, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Dede Westbrook, Bruce Ellington, Tre'Quan Smith, Anthony Miller etc come to mind here. I can potentially see Rex Burkhead being more of a factor in the coming weeks after he has returned from injured reserve. The concussion to Marlon Mack opens the door for Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins to get more action. The loss of Jack Doyle really improves the outcome for Eric Ebron. These players mentioned above are primed for success simply because they are the right man for the job at the opportune time.
4. Game Script - There is a degree of luck involved with game script because it's difficult to accurately predict how a game will go from quarter to quarter. Will there be garbage yards in the second half of a blowout? Will the game be a back and forth battle involving two strong offenses or perhaps two teams who are known for having defenses that give up a lot of yards and points, like the Buccaneers and Bengals? There have been several high scoring games this year where both team's quarterback finished in the Top 8. The Rams, Chiefs, Steelers, Saints, and Colts come to mind as teams that fit into this category. As the league continues to evolve and offense becomes king, favorable game scripts are becoming more and more common. The highlight game of course being the Chiefs vs Rams Monday Night point-fest That's a perfect example of a favorable game script. It's difficult to have multiple players on your roster who have pristine matchups, so those that do, better come through when you need them.
5. Lineup decisions - Play your studs, but also play matchups. Often times, your third wide receiver will be the one who saves your team, thanks to a big game that likely was the result of a game script in his favor. Take a recent game from Week 8 for example where Tampa Bay visited a struggling Bengals defense, especially in the secondary. The sharp move was to exploit that weakness and consider starting a guy like Adam Humphries, along with DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans. They all finished with 16 combined catches and over 300 yards. The decision to play Humphries over someone else who had more fantasy points, but had a poor matchup, ultimately put you in the catbird seat. It's also good to take note of which wide receivers will be faced up against an opponent's second cover corner. Or if the top corner is injured making WR1 matchup against a backup that more enticing. Some teams to target that have injuries that you can exploit include Minnesota (Xavier Rhodes) Philadelphia (entire secondary), San Francisco (Jimmy Ward), Tennessee (Malcolm Butler), Carolina (Donte Jackson). Keep an eye on injury reports, but if these players are out gameday, these are the matchups that you want to exploit. Injuries in the secondary have definitely played a part in the success of opposing team's receivers. Take advantage of them.
6. Exploit weak match ups - Knowing who to play and which teams to exploit is a big advantage. Players who are matched up against teams like the Bengals, Raiders, 49ers, Buccaneers, Falcons, etc are the ones you want to target. Do your homework and play the right matchups. Our own Aaron Rudnicki writes an article every week on specific receiver/cornerback matchups to exploit. He highlights the favorable and unfavorable matchups with information why a particular matchup is good or bad for this week's slate of games. It's a must read to learn which receivers have a higher chance of being successful each week.
7. Target players at home, especially running backs - Running backs at home tend to score more fantasy points than on the road, especially backs on winning teams. Winning teams often have a point cushion later in games where they will tend to lean on their back to control the clock. Winning teams at home also have a tendency to have an advantage on the snap count and therefore the offensive line is quicker to control the line of scrimmage. This all benefits the running back as well as the quarterback. The matchup I like best for a quarterback is a home game against a team with a similarly effective quarterback. You want that back and forth battle of offenses where the majority of each team's possessions result in a score.
8. Follow Vegas lines, especially over/under point totals - Many sportsbook sites like VegasInsider.com have NFL lines and over/under totals. The games with higher point totals tend to lead to higher fantasy production games. Usually games forecasted to exceed 48 points or more are the ones you want to target for making lineup decisions. Most weeks there's at least one matchup with 50+ expected points. Exploit those games. Our John Lee writes an article every week in our DFS section showing which matchups will yield the most expected points.
9. Luck - There's a certain degree of luck involved in a successful championship run that can swing both ways for or against you or your opponent. You may advance because your opponent's quarterback gets hurt in the first quarter and it was enough of a deciding factor that propels you to a victory. Your opponent's receiver might miss a touchdown by a yard and therefore miss out on six points that kept him from winning. You may have scored a touchdown but it's called back due to a costly penalty leaving you with less points. You may have picked the right player as your last decision for your lineup. Conversely, your opponent picks the wrong player while someone on their bench scores big. Talent can only take you so far. Sometimes, we need that little extra push that puts us over the top. Call it what you want, but in my book, it's luck.
10. Consistency and Momentum - It is definitely good to have momentum on your side. A winning streak is what you need when it counts. Entering the playoffs on a streak is definitely in your best interest. Even if you hit on all of the aforementioned factors above, you still have to do it again at least two weeks in a row, if not three. Having a winning streak means your lineup has had consistent success in consecutive weeks. Your roster probably possesses some studs and those who have risen to the occasion as a result of opportunity. You probably had at least one or two players exceed expectations and it's safe to say your opponents couldn't compete. Teams with a recent winning streak tend to excel in the playoffs. The team who led the league in points, who recently suffered a big injury to one of their studs is limping into the playoffs and isn't as big of a threat as they once were. Ride your streak and momentum to a championship.
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