This may be coming a little late for you. Sorry, but I had another whirlwind week that just kept me from getting anything done.
I have to be to work in another two hours, so this will be today’s only post. However, I’ll have projections for this week’s playoff games coming Friday. And I’ll probably be able to get the matchup posts done as well.
Before we get knee deep in this, I’m going to give a nod to footballguys.com. Their free weekly email newsletter, compiled and written by Joe Bryant (@Football_Guys on Twitter), helps me wake up every morning. They also regularly giveaway a column or two from their paid site. Today they provided an excellent piece on playoff leagues by Sigmund Bloom (@sigmundbloom). [This is completely unsolicited, but highly recommended — sign up for that newsletter.]
I’m not going to reveal all of the secrets provided by Bloom in his piece, but he brought up two excellent points that I hadn’t really thought of while doing playoff rankings in the past. I will reference his work in a few paragraphs.
First, we start with the new core of the boom-or-bust fantasy projections — Las Vegas odds.
Vegas is all about making money. They have number-crunchers trying to put together the most realistic odds so they only lose money when something completely absurd happens. In the Internet age there’s no longer a reason for them to set a line that will affect betting. There are too many sharp bettors out there now and they would clean out the sports books if that happened. This isn’t quoted or even paraphrased from him, but Jonathan Bales’ (@BalesFootball) fingerprints are all over this paragraph.
We start with Vegas because they will help us determine which teams will be playing in February and which teams will be going home this week.
In postseason-long playoff leagues you want players who will perform well, sure, but the wrinkle here is that we want players who will play for more than one week. Three 10-point games is worth more than one 20-point game.
Seattle and New England are the favorites to make the championship game, followed by the two other teams with first-round byes, Denver and Green Bay. Thanks to a week off and guaranteed home games in the second-round, they are all likely to play at least two games. Seattle and New England play at home until the Super Bowl. They’re my favorites to play in February.
Dallas, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Carolina are favored to win this week in the wild card round, making them the next most likely teams to play in two contests. But there are two interesting lines.
The Colts, who haven’t been themselves offensively of late, are going up against a stout pass defense. The Bengals are seventh in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average statistic. They are the No. 1 defense against WR1s, No. 3 against WR2s and No. 2 against other (WR3/4/5) wide receivers. Las Vegas has the home Colts as 3.5-point favorites in what is projected to be the highest scoring game of the week — with an over/under of 49.5. They have 28-1 odds to win the Super Bowl. The Bengals have 40-1 odds. If Las Vegas expects a shootout, it’s hard to pick against the Colts regardless of those passing matchups.
The other interesting line comes out of Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are also favored by 3.5 against the Ravens. A lot of this line is certainly based on Le’Veon Bell’s injury. If the back can’t go, recently signed Josh Harris may start. That means the Steelers will have to rely on their passing game — where Bell had a huge role as well. Pittsburgh’s defensive backfield has been a pass-catcher’s paradise. They rank 30th in DVOA. Baltimore is 15th, putting them squarely in the middle of the pack, but the Ravens rankings against individual pass-catchers are mostly in the lower third. They’re also fifth against the run (Pittsburgh is 17th).
So, Bell might not have had much room to run anyway. Committing more passes to Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller might be the key. This game comes in with the third-highest (of four) over/unders of the week, but at 46.5 points it is well above the last place game (ARI-CAR, 38). Las Vegas doesn’t expect this one to shoot out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.
Most-likely four-game teams
You may be asking, why is EP spending so much time talking about the first round games for this postseason-long rankings post? Well, any team that wins this week and doesn’t stop until it’s February will play in four games.
Dallas (against Detroit) and Carolina (against Arizona) are favored by almost a touchdown (6.5 points) and should be able to win their games. Dallas has been stellar this season and has the fifth-best odds (17-2) of winning the Super Bowl. They are the best odds of any non-bye team.
That means they are the most likely team to get four games (Wild Card, Divisional, NFC Championship, Super Bowl) if they keep winning. Pittsburgh, at 14-1 odds, is the next most likely team to get four games, but they’ll have to get past that tough first-round matchup first.
How to draft
This was the interesting stuff I was talking about from Sigmund Bloom. It is a look at the meta-game part of fantasy football, which I just love.
Bloom suggests stacking a team — putting a lot of eggs in the basket of the team you expect to make the Super Bowl — like picking both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski if you think the Patriots are a lock to make the Super Bowl.
There are a lot of other angles to this. I don’t want to reveal them all, but you can probably figure some out on your own. Here’s a for instance: If you fail to get the Brady/Gronk combo above (or say, Russell Wilson/Marshawn Lynch), come back and grab Brandon Lafell and the Patriots defense (or Doug Baldwin and the Seahawks defense) in the mid-to-late rounds.
Here’s one last piece of advice from Bloom: Your first two picks should be from your Super Bowl favorite and you should have a few other picks from that team throughout the draft (think Tim Wright for the Patriots or Paul Richardson from the Seahawks).
You’ll have to pay for their service if you want to read the rest of his excellent advice. They’re running an early bird special on their Insider Pro accounts, $24.95 ($5 off) gets you 15 months, so all of this year’s playoffs and all of next season. [Again, this is totally unsolicited, but I can’t recommend it enough. I subscribed to them for years, only stepping away this season to make sure I keep a fresh perspective on the best minds in the industry.]
I’ll have more about the site I signed up for this season, 4for4.com, as we roll through the postseason and offseason. They are also one of the top fantasy football sources in the industry.
1. Russell Wilson
2. Tom Brady
These are the quarterbacks of the teams I think make the Super Bowl. I have Wilson at the top because he’s a threat to run the ball into the end zone, opening up his ceiling.
3. Aaron Rodgers
4. Peyton Manning
5. Tony Romo
Rodgers and Manning probably deserve their own tier, but as the quarterback most likely to get four games I almost have to put Romo on here. It doesn’t hurt that he’s throwing to Dez Bryant. I’m a little concerned Manning may put up a couple stinkers as the Broncos continue to lean on C.J. Anderson in the postseason.
6. Ben Roethlisberger
7. Andrew Luck
I thought about putting Roethlisberger in his own tier. He had a couple monster games this season and is set up for another one in the first week of the season. If he threw for 400 and 3 TDs in the opening round and posted 200 and two in the second, that would give you a big advantage at the quarterback position. The Colts struggles have me a little concerned about Luck, but T.Y. Hilton and, potentially, Donte Moncrief, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are game-changing players.
8. Cam Newton
If you had the Panthers as a dark horse candidate to win it all, I wouldn’t laugh at you. They have 40-1 odds, but their defense ended the season better than it started — four wins in a row and only 43 total points allowed — and they do have Superman at quarterback.
9. Joe Flacco
10. Andy Dalton
It’s unlikely but both of these quarterbacks could orchestrate upsets in the first-round, giving them two-game postseason slates.
11. Matthew Stafford
12. Ryan Lindley/Drew Stanton
I feel like Stafford deserves a higher ranking. I’m not going to move him, but I feel like he could be in that dark-horse category with Newton. I wouldn’t draft Lindley or Stanton.
It wouldn’t hurt to pick your quarterback’s backup late, especially for quarterbacks who have been dinged, like Brandon Weeden for Romo, or backups that have shown potential for success in the past, like Matt Flynn for Rodgers.
1. Marshawn Lynch
Beast mode stands alone, especially on the team with the best odds of winning the Super Bowl.
2. C.J. Anderson
3. Eddie Lacy
4. DeMarco Murray
If Anderson wasn’t getting three touchdowns each game we’d call this 2a and 2b. Lacy’s been getting a huge volume of carries each week. Murray is also a 150-yards-and-two-touchdowns back. I wouldn’t be surprised if Detroit upset the Cowboys this week. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. There’s some risk involved with the Murray pick.
5. Le’Veon Bell
6. LeGarrette Blount
You’ve been following along so you know Bell is on a team with the potential to play in four games this postseason. He is a huge risk because he could either play this week at 100%, play this week and re-injure his knee, not play this week and be healthy next week or play this week and re-injury his knee next week if the Steelers win. There are a lot of bad scenarios in that group, but if he was healthy, he’d be in the next tier up — even if the Steelers played only one game. Blount is a Patriots playoff beast. But post-Jonas Gray Week 11 I have forsaken all Patriots running backs this season. Draft at your own risk.
7. Jeremy Hill
8. Shane Vereen
9. Justin Forsett
This is an interesting group. I considered putting Forsett at the top. The Ravens could beat the Steelers on the ground. They also match up well with New England if all the cards fall right. They are 2-1 in the postseason against New England and have outscored them 81-50. Vereen is another one of those Patriots runners I want no part of. But I will admit I’ve started him with poor results in some daily leagues since Week 11. His presence in the passing game makes him the running back I’m more likely to consider. Like Forsett, Hill is a big sleeper. The Bengals are only 3.5-point dogs at Pittsburgh and the Steelers are middle-of-the-pack against the run.
10. Joique Bell
11. Jonathan Stewart
Both of these players are on teams that I could see pulling off an upset in the first round. Stewart has a tougher road to travel against Arizona this week then likely Seattle next week. But he should get at least two games. The Lions are the second-least likely team to get two games, but Bell can beast and Dallas’ run defense is in the bottom third.
12. Robert Turbin
13. James Starks
14. Jonas Gray
15. Ronnie Hillman
16. Daniel Herron
Turbin has averaged 8.6 carries and 41.3 yards per game the last three. If he does that for three games, he might be worth more than some of the starters listed in previous tiers. Starks, like Turbin, gets some work just about every game. He has at least two catches in seven games this season. Gray is hurt, but could provide big numbers if he returns to full health. He’s too risky for me, but some people might take that risk. Hillman rushed for 56 yards last week in his first game back from injury. He could be the No. 2 in a three-pronged rushing attack that carries the Broncos to the Super Bowl. While Herron is filling the Ahmad Bradshaw role in Indianapolis, he hasn’t been effective as I keep telling myself. He only has one twouchdown in the role and hasn’t accumulated 100 all-purpose yards once.
17. Joseph Randle
18. Giovani Bernard
19. Josh Harris
20. Reggie Bush
21. Christine Michael
22. Trent Richardson
23. Juwan Thompson
Randle and Michael Don’t have much value without an injury. Bernard was the Bengals starter to start the season. While he will likely be the backup he also has game-breaking ability. Harris will likely be the lead back if Bell can’t go, giving him some value. I’m not sure of his skill set, but I find it difficult to slot him anywhere near Bell’s production. Bush is a sneaky play because if the Lions get two games he could put up some big PPR numbers. Richardson gets touches every game and is expected to play two games. Thompson, of course, is the third head of the Broncos three-headed rushing attack.
If you drafted a lot of bye week players early you’ll have several options late that could provide some points to get your through the first week: Kerwynn williams, Stepfan Taylor, DeAngelo Williams, Theo Riddick, Bernard Pierce, Dri Archer, Mike Tolbert and Lance Dunbar.
There are quite a few other potential picks — any other Patriots running back, for instance — but I’m not going to go too deep into the Jeremy Stewarts and Rex Burkheads. Check out the rankings over at Fantasy Pros for those end-of-the-line guys.
There are a lot of talented wide receivers in the playoffs this year. Bryant, Nelson and Brown are the receivers with potential to get two or more 3-TD games. I didn’t give them numbers. They’re kind of listed in order, but I could see any one of them being picked as the top WR.
These guys are the next most likely to get multiple 3-TD games. I put this tier in late after doing a quick scan. They don’t feel like as much of a lock as those first three guys.
Wide receivers are difficult to predict, but I could see any player on this list getting a 3-TD game. Unfortunately, many of them will only play in one game. So, while Bryant might post a three-TD game on Sunday, Edelman or LaFell could outscore him without scoring a touchdown this postseason but by getting 5-8 catches in three games. Sanu’s rank is dependent on A.J. Green’s concussion status. But I could see a script where he pops a 3-TD game this week to help the Bengals upset the Colts, then bow to a healthy green in the divisional round.
This is a well-they’re-probably-going-to-play-in-three-games tier. Four catches for forty yards per game times three likely outscores a handful of the players in the tier above who underperform in one game.
Secondary receiving options that aren’t spectacular, but who could play in four games.
This is a best-of-the-rest list with a lot of questions surrounding them. Floyd and Fitzgerald are starters, but their quarterback situation is a mess. They’ll likely only get one game. Jerricho Cotchery has 13 catches, 118 yards and a touchdown in the last three weeks. Wayne is hurt. Nicks could find himself with a big game if Wayne can’t go and Hilton aggravates his hamstring in pregame warmups.
There are a lot of other options at wide receiver and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone like Philly Brown provided an out-of-nowhere playoff performance. For more rankings, check out Fantasy Pros.
1. Rob Gronkowski
The no-brainer top choice, and the rest of the field isn’t close
2. Jason Witten
3. Greg Olsen
4. Julius Thomas
Olsen has better per-game stats, but Witten has a better chance of playing in more games. If Thomas is 100% healthy he has 3-TD-game potential.
5. Heath Miller
6. Coby Fleener
7. Dwayne Allen
Miller could play in four games and has an excellent matchup this week. Fleener could have many bad drops or post a 100-yard game any week. Allen is touchdown dependent, but he could post two-TD games if the Colts play two games.
8. Luke Willson
9. Andrew Quarless
10. Richard Rodgers
11. Tim Wright
12. Tony Moeaki
13. Jack Doyle
These late-round TE picks could get in the end zone at some point this postseason despite not being huge parts of their offenses.
14. Owen Daniels
15. Jermaine Gresham
16. Eric Ebron
I could see Daniels having a decent game this postseason, but the players on this list are likely one-and-done. They make good picks if your main target is a TE with a first-round bye.
1. Stephen Gostkowski
2. Steven Hauschka
3. Mason Crosby
4. Connor Barth
5. Dan Bailey
6. Shaun Suisham
7. Justin Tucker
8. Adam Vinatieri
9. Graham Gano
10. Mike Nugent
11. Chandler Catanzaro
12. Matt Prater
This list is almost straight chalk based on the teams with the best Super Bowl odds. Kickers are always difficult to predict. If you like Dan Bailey better than Barth and Crosby, I’m cool with that. I would avoid Prater and Catanzaro unless your league is super deep and requires that you fill all roster spots each week.
2. New England
3. Green Bay
Again Super Bowl odds affect this list. You’ll probably find SEA, NE, GB as the standard top-3. But I think it gets interesting after that. I moved Carolina way up because of their touchdown potential. I have a bad feeling I have the Bengals defense too low. Luck has thrown nine interceptions on his half of the field this season, increasing the pick-six risk.
Alright, that’ll do it for today. Best of luck during the playoffs and, again, look for boom or bust projections beginning Friday.
Happy New Year.