Playoff Fantasy Rankings and Strategy

A rundown of playoff fantasy rankings and some strategy tips for drafts.

Before we begin the rankings, the most important strategy tip is to take strong positions on a group of 1-2 teams on each side of the bracket. Spreading your top 10 picks out on 6-7 teams is a losing strategy. At the end of your playoff fantasy draft, you want to see two or three potential matchups in the Super Bowl that should equal a high chance of winning for you. You might not be able to pick the exact teams that you want, but it is important to roll with the flow of the draft. If you wanted Brady, but had to settle for Roethlisberger, then you are going to favor Steelers over Patriots for the rest of your draft. Much more than a typical fantasy draft, your early picks should dictate the mid and late parts of your draft.

A Note on my Picks

Wild Card picks in order of confidence:

1. Seattle over Minnesota because Seattle

2. Pittsburgh over Cincinnati as most trends between these two teams favor Pittsburgh.

3. Houston over Kansas City because JJ Watt

4. Green Bay over Washington because Aaron Rodgers

Divisional picks in order of confidence:

1. Arizona over Green Bay because Did you see the game last week?

2. Seattle over Carolina because Seattle

3. New England over Houston because Belichick/Brady

4. Pittsburgh over Denver because of the way PIT O matches up with DEN D

Conference Championship picks in order of confidence:

1. New England over Pittsburgh because PIT vs NE playoff history

2. Seattle over Arizona because Flip a Coin

A Note on Your Instincts

Of course, you should adjust these rankings based on your beliefs of the outcome of the playoffs. The art of balancing individual expected fantasy value per game and expected number of games is not well understood and you should rely on your own instincts when it comes to questions about weighing potential one-off studs against mid-level players with a good shot at a Super Bowl berth.

Quarterbacks

This is where you plant your flag on the teams you think will make playoff runs, and mostly behind quarterback play. Your first round is going to be a quarterback or a first/second round level fantasy performer on a team you think will go deep.

1. Russell Wilson, SEA

2. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT

These two could easily play four games and put up big numbers along the way.

3. Tom Brady, NE

Brady is hobbling into the playoffs, but his track record speaks for itself.

4. Carson Palmer, ARI

Palmer seems like a good bet for two games, if not the Super Bowl.

5. Cam Newton, CAR

Newton could be one and done with Seattle possibly up in the playoff opener.

6. Aaron Rodgers, GB

History makes you want Rodgers, but recent history doesn't. Possible one and done.

7. Peyton Manning, DEN

No sure thing he'll start or be effective, but Denver could still drag him to a win or two and give you QB points later in the game.

8. Kirk Cousins, WAS

Big Wild Card start, but will he give more than one game?

9. Brian Hoyer, HOU

Decent bet for two games, and weekly ceiling is good. Value pick.

10. Teddy Bridgewater, MIN

Tough draw.

11. A.J. McCarron, CIN

Could have good first game, but Dalton looms.

12. Alex Smith, KC

Draw isn't great and conservative offense.

13. Brock Osweiler, DEN

14. Andy Dalton, CIN

running backs

Running back is even more brutal than it was during the season. Committees and injuries make this group very unlikely to provide consistent production. Use your running back picks to get stakes in teams more than individual backs.

1. David Johnson, ARI

The cream of the crop. Healthy, featured, and on a team that has a real shot to win it all.

2. Adrian Peterson, MIN

Banged up, and likely on a one-off team, but his wild card points could eclipse the total points most backs on this list score for the postseason.

3. Marshawn Lynch, SEA

Shrug. He could be a league winner or a wasted pick. The running back ranks are so rough that he merits a pick this high.

4. DeAngelo Williams, PIT

The Steelers are a candidate to play four games, and if they do, Williams could be very productive for at least two of them. He probably won't play this weekend, but a healthy Williams would easily be #1 and you can handcuff him with Toussaint and/or Todman later.

5. Christine Michael, SEA

The variable of how Marshawn Lynch will look when he returns and how much he'll do is affecting Michael's stock here, but he is hot going into the playoffs and could be a playoff league winning pick if Lynch doesn't get close to 100%.

6. James White, NE

The best part of the backfield of a Super Bowl favorite.

7. Jonathan Stewart, CAR

Stewart's injury is a bit of a mystery, but he should be good to go in two weeks. One and done is a real possibility though.

8. Steven Jackson, NE

Raise your hand if you thought you'd be taking Jackson in playoff drafts a month ago.

9. Brandon Bolden, NE

Bolden might not be the primary receiving or between the tackles back for New England, but he'll get touches in every game.

10. Ronnie Hillman, DEN

11. C.J. Anderson, DEN

If Pittsburgh beats Cincinnati, I think they'll go into Denver and make this pair meager producers. If Denver faces Kansas City of Houston, they will be good values and maybe even go to the Super Bowl. It's all about what you think of Denver.

12. Alfred Blue, HOU

I like Houston to win a game and that could mean 20 carries for Blue. It gets thin quick in these ranks.

13. Spencer Ware, KC

14. Charcandrick West, KC

If you like Kansas City over Houston, push this pair up the board. Kansas City has beaten Denver in Denver, so a Cincinnati win over Pittsburgh could make this duo good for three games. 

15. Eddie Lacy, GB

Green Bay could win a game, but Lacy has been an uneven producer and might not add anything of consequence to your point total.

16. Fitzgerald Toussaint, PIT

Obviously a bigger priority if you draft Williams early. Big opportunity both in offense and games played terms, but unknown ability.

17. James Starks, GB

Starks has been better than Lacy for stretches and he could fit better if the wild

18. Alfred Morris, WAS

Washington could easily play two games, but Morris' contribution in those games has a low floor and low ceiling.

19. Jeremy Hill, CIN

20. Giovani Bernard, CIN

I don't see Cincinnati beating Pittsburgh, but if you do this pair should be higher. There's an outside four-game Super Bowl shot here too.

21. Andre Ellington, ARI

Arians is over Ellington, but he still has big play and injury upside.

22. Jordan Todman, PIT

The lesser part of the RBBC replacing DeAngelo Williams.

23. Cameron Artis-Payne, CAR

Stewart's condition is a variable, but I'm projecting Carolina as one and done, so it might not be worth fretting over.

24. Bryce Brown, SEA

The second back, soon to become the third, but if Seattle plays four games he'll have a chance to contribute to your bottom line.

25. Mike Tolbert, CAR

26. John Kuhn, GB

27. Darrel Young, WAS

Cheap touchdowns?

28. Kerwynn Williams, ARI

Might be more valuable than Ellington if David Johnson goes down

29. Jonathan Grimes, HOU

A solid role playing back with a shot at two games.

30. Matt Jones, WAS

Condition unknown, but Washington's offense is high scoring and could give him chances to put up points.

31. Jerick McKinnon, MIN

Still a shot at a big play or two even if one and done seems likely.

32. Akeem Hunt, HOU

Big play upside in his small role, and a shot at multiple games.

33. Juwan Thompson, DEN

Injuries happen.

34. Chris Thompson, WAS

Role is getting smaller, but Washington offense is fertile soil.

35. Will Tukuafa, SEA

36. Will Johnson, PIT

37. Derrick Coleman, SEA

38. Stepfan Taylor, ARI

39. Chris Polk, HOU 

40. Matt Asiata, MIN

41. Knile Davis, KC

42. Rex Burkhead, CIN

43. Cedric Peerman, CIN

44. John Crockett, GB

45. Zach Line, MIN 

wide receivers

A deep group. Probably the bulk of your second-sixth round picks. This group will make or break you. Some players that have only one or two games played will still be difference makers because of the talent level in the top tier.

1. Antonio Brown, PIT

Duh.

2. Doug Baldwin, SEA

No one is hotter entering the playoffs.

3. Tyler Lockett, SEA

I'm really high on Seattle's chances of playing four games. Adjust accordingly if you're not.

4. DeAndre Hopkins, HOU

Two games of Hopkins could make him the #2 scorer among wide receivers for the entire playoffs. If you don't like Houston this weekend, adjust accordingly.

5. Michael Floyd, ARI

6. Larry Fitzgerald, ARI

7. John Brown, ARI

I'm kind of stumped on how to order these three, but I like their weekly floor/ceiling and chances to play multiple games.

8. Julian Edelman, NE

9. Danny Amendola, NE

This pair this high represents buying into the Patriots going deep and their health putting them in a spot to contribute a lot. I'm reasonably confident of both.

10. Demaryius Thomas, DEN

11. Emmanuel Sanders, DEN

Again your stance on the CIN/PIT game and Denver's prospects should affect this ranking. They could be as high as #2/#3 if you like Denver to go to the big game.

12. A.J. Green, CIN

Worth a top five pick if you think Cincinnati will beat Pittsburgh.

13. Jeremy Maclin, KC

Worth a top five pick if you think Kansas City will beat Houston.

14. Jermaine Kearse, SEA

I might be underrated him because of my expected games played. A mid round priority pick, especially if you miss on early Seahawks picks.

15. Martavis Bryant, PIT

16. Markus Wheaton, PIT

Bryant could win your league for you, but has been fading. Wheaton is coming on and might be the more valuable pick. Good picks to get a piece of the Steelers offense.

17. Randall Cobb, GB

How the mighty have fallen. Weekly ceiling has been low.

18. Ted Ginn Jr, CAR

Big range of outcomes and possible one and done, but huge pick if Carolina makes a run and he's healthy.

19. Brandon LaFell, NE

Low weekly ceiling, but three games very possible.

20. James Jones, GB

Higher weekly ceiling than Cobb, but lower floor.

21. DeSean Jackson, WAS

22. Pierre Garcon, WAS

Cheap picks with decent wild card upside and a shot at two games.

23. Keshawn Martin, NE

Sneaky upside if Amendola/Edelman aren't right. Handcuff if you take them early.

24. Darrius Heyward-Bey, PIT

Big play and injury upside. Handcuff for Wheaton/Bryant.

25. J.J. Nelson, ARI

Big play and injury upside. Handcuff for ARI WRs.

26. Davante Adams, GB

Came alive in playoffs last year, but playing very uneven right now.

27. Marvin Jones Jr, CIN

Good wild card upside, but I don't see more than one game.

28. Devin Funchess, CAR

29. Corey Brown, CAR

30. Jerricho Cotchery, CAR

Chance to score in divisional game and upside of multiple games and Ginn being dinged.

31. Stefon Diggs, MIN

Tough draw and likely one and done, but a #1 you can get late.

32. Cecil Shorts, HOU

33. Nate Washington, HOU

34. Jaelen Strong, HOU

Decent chance for two games and could be in high attempt passing game in at least one.

35. Jared Abbrederis, GB

Rodgers seems to like him and could be big in garbage time

36. Jamison Crowder, WAS

Finished hot and chance at two games.

37. Albert Wilson, KC

Big play upside and chance at two games.

38. Jaron Brown, ARI

A cheap Cardinals share

39. Sammie Coates Jr, PIT

A cheap Steelers share

40. Mike Wallace, MIN

41. Ryan Grant, WAS

42. Mohamed Sanu, CIN

43. Jarius Wright, MIN

44. Cody Latimer, DEN

45. Jordan Norwood, DEN

46. Bennie Fowler, DEN

47. Chris Conley, KC

48. Jeff Janis, GB

49. Rashad Ross, WAS

50. Brenton Bersin, CAR

51. Brandon Tate, CIN

52. Cordarrelle Patterson, MIN

53. Charles Johnson, MIN

tight ends

1. Rob Gronkowski, NE

Duh.

2. Greg Olsen, CAR

3. Jordan Reed, WAS

Maybe one and done, but the one will be big.

4. Heath Miller, PIT

Staying power could propel him past studs on teams that don't play as many games.

5. Tyler Eifert, CIN

As high as #2 if you believe in Cincinnati.

6. Travis Kelce, KC

Could be one and done but tore up Texans in first meeting.

7. Richard Rodgers, GB

Aaron Rodgers favorite at times

8. Darren Fells, ARI

Sneaky big play upside + likely multiple games.

9. Kyle Rudolph, MIN

Likely one and done but Seattle struggles to cover TEs.

10. Owen Daniels, DEN

Seems to be the better Broncos TE to draft.

11. Scott Chandler, NE

Cheap touchdowns?

12. Jesse James, PIT

Miller has been banged up and could get cheap touchdowns either way.

13. Cooper Helfet, SEA

14. Luke Willson, SEA

Willson is coming back from a concussion. Could get touchdowns with Wilson hot.

15. Jermaine Gresham, ARI

16. Vernon Davis, DEN

17. Ryan Griffin, HOU

18. Tyler Kroft, CIN

19. Virgil Green, DEN

20. Ed Dickson, CAR

21. MyCole Pruitt, MIN

22. Ryan Hewitt, CIN (FB/TE)

23. Demetrius Harris, KC

kicker

1. Steven Hauschka, SEA

2. Stephen Gostkowski, NE

3. Chris Boswell, PIT

4. Chandler Catanzaro, ARI

5. Graham Gano, CAR

6. Brandon McManus, DEN

7. Nick Novak, HOU

8. Mason Crosby, GB

9. Dustin Hopkins, WAS

10. Cairo Santos, KC

11. Mike Nugent, CIN

12. Blair Walsh, MIN

d/st

1. Seattle

2. New England

3. Arizona

4. Pittsburgh

5. Denver

6. Carolina

7. Houston

8. Kansas City

9. Green Bay

10. Cincinnati

11. Washington

12. Minnesota

tiers 

first round

Wilson, Brady, Roethlisberger, ABrown, Gronkowski, Baldwin

second-fourth round

DJohnson, Palmer, Newton, Olsen, Lockett, Hopkins, ARI WR, Rodgers, NE WR, DEN WR, Reed, Peterson, Green, Maclin, 

fifth-seventh round

Michael, Super Bowl Pick D/K, PManning, HMiller, Eifert, Stewart, White, Kearse, Bryant/Wheaton, Cobb/JamJones, Ginn, LaFell, Kelce, RRodgers

eighth-twelfth round

Remaining starting QBs, SJackson/Bolden, DEN RB, Lynch, Lacy, Blue, KC RB, Toussaint, Starks, CIN RB, Morris, WAS WR, Martin, DHB, Nelson, Adams, CAR WR, Fells, Bye D/K

end game

Fortify positions or try to get small hedges where you're not covered.

A FEW MORE STRATEGY THOUGHTS

1. Your first two picks should be key players from teams that you think will make the Super Bowl. Think of these as "bets" on the team. 

2. Err on the side of spending early picks on players with a first round bye because wild card weekend production can come cheaply later in your draft, with the exception of the Steelers and Seahawks, who have a chance to make it to championship week. Wide receiver is very deep and running back is very thin. Don't worry about covering positions as much as covering weeks.

3. Ideally, you want to end up your draft with two or three Super Bowl combinations that are likely to give you the win because you would have the most players playing in the big game.

4. In the mid rounds, go one of two directions - either try to "corner" the market on a favorite by doubling up on defense and kicker or secondary position players, or hedge one of your key players with players from the team you think will make the Super Bowl if your heavily invested player(s) get stopped short. If you miss out on PIT early and take Patriots instead, try to snag Bryant/Wheaton and the PIT D/ST in the mid rounds. As soon you commit to players in the first 2-3 rounds to be your cornerstones, your mid-round target list should immediately come into focus.

5. Wait at tight end if you don't get Gronkowski. The next five options are pretty close, and reasonable choices like potential Seahawks/Steelers/Patriots touchdown scorers, and a few wild card options are available after that.