Playoff fantasy football comes in many forms, just like its better-known regular-season counterpart. Some are best ball, others require set lineups. A few, like NFL.com’s Playoff Challenge, use multipliers that double, triple, or quadruple the fantasy point totals for players whose teams advance through the playoffs.
NFL.com allows fantasy football managers to swap players out after every round of the playoffs, a nice wrinkle that offers flexibility for fantasy enthusiasts. Other platforms lock rosters for the duration of the playoffs once the first Saturday game of Wild Card Weekend kicks off.
While players from teams with first-round byes are a bit more valuable in multiplier leagues, our rankings assume a PPR scoring system in a more traditional format, with no round multipliers. Our battle-tested strategy for more generic playoff fantasy football leagues: stockpile players from teams that are most likely to play multiple games. With this in mind, we placed the fourteen playoff teams into tiers to help us identify which teams to target.
Tier 1: Super Bowl Favorites
1. San Francisco 49ers – Vegas lists the San Francisco 49ers as the favorite to win the whole thing, and with a playoff bye week plus a pretty middling NFC playoff field, San Francisco shouldn’t face too much resistance en route to the title game if it’s playing at full strength. They need only win three games to get to the top of the mountain. Plus, the 49ers have boat-raced several NFC playoff contenders, including the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which should add additional confidence for those putting some cheddar on the Niners.
2. Baltimore Ravens – Though the Baltimore Ravens cleaned San Francisco’s clock just a few short weeks ago, the Ravens fall just a tad behind their NFC top-seed counterpart due to the quality of the AFC playoff field. Their path is still quite strong, though a bit murkier than San Francisco’s due to a stronger possibility of an upset from some of the other contenders in the field. Baltimore has also crushed its fair share of AFC and NFC contenders, though it likely won’t be so lucky as to jump out to quite so large of a lead against the stable of excellent AFC quarterbacks and offenses in the playoffs.
Tier 2: Likely to Play Two or More Games
3. Buffalo Bills – The Buffalo Bills ended the season on a hot streak, jumping from “on the outside looking in” for the playoffs to AFC East Champion and home-field advantage against everyone except Baltimore. Buffalo has the pleasure of playing the inept Pittsburgh Steelers offense at home, so a couple of turnovers from a turnover-prone quarterback in Josh Allen won’t necessarily kill the Bills right away. Further aiding the Bills in their opening-round matchup is T.J. Watt‘s Grade 2 MCL injury, which removes some of the bite from a solid Pittsburgh pass rush. If they get past the Steelers, it will take a superhero-esque game from Allen to get them by a legitimate AFC playoff contender, but if there’s anyone who can go supernova for a game or two, it’s Josh Allen.
4. Dallas Cowboys – This Dallas Cowboys team lives for games at AT&T Stadium (or JerryWorld, the Death Star, or whatever you want to call it). The home/road splits for Dak Prescott and the Dallas offense are obnoxious: 37 points per game in Dallas and 23.3 in away games. The good news for Dallas fans: they’ll play at least two home games in Dallas (assuming they win the first) to kick off the playoffs. If they make it to the NFC Championship Game, something they have not done in quite a while, they’ll have to travel to San Francisco, where things haven’t gone their way lately. Matchup-wise, Dallas will get a Green Bay Packers team that barely squeaked into the playoffs and is still young and unproven. In the second round, the Cowboys could draw a Philadelphia Eagles that they crushed a few weeks ago, or a Detroit Lions squad they beat just a couple weeks ago. Perhaps they’ll face even the Rams, whom the Cowboys crushed early this season in Dallas. Regardless of the opponent, the Cowboys have already shown their mettle against virtually any team they’ll face.
Tier 3: Could Potentially Play Two Games
5. Kansas City Chiefs – Well, the defense is looking fine, but the other side of the ball strangely leaves much to be desired. The success of the Chiefs offense hinges pretty heavily on Kansas City’s ability to get the passing game moving, an uninspiring thought considering that the passing game has been spotty in recent weeks. They’ve been middle of the pack in terms of EPA per play (18th) and EPA per dropback (20th). The Chiefs draw a tough start to this playoff run in the form of the Miami Dolphins, but if any team can turn it up a notch in the postseason, it’s the team that has seemingly established a permanent residence in the AFC Championship Game.
6. Cleveland Browns — Cleveland roared into the postseason on the back of a few vintage performances from Joe Flacco, who slung the ball around quite well in his five-game stretch under center. He threw for 368 yards against the very same Houston Texans defense he’ll will face this week. Flacco, however, has not been particularly adept at keeping the ball out of the other team’s hands, as he has thrown 13 touchdowns to 8 interceptions in those five games. The face value numbers show Cleveland’s offense to be on quite the hot streak right now, but looking under the hood, their offense has been fortunate to be playing as well as it has recently. It’s among the worst offenses in terms of both rushing EPA per play and EPA per dropback since Week 10. If we only look at the sample since Flacco took over, it’s still not good; they’re in the neighborhood of the Texans’ offense in terms of efficiency.
Where Cleveland should differentiate itself from Houston is in its defensive play; the Browns boast one of the best defenses in the NFL, especially against the pass. I think the difference in defensive talent will be enough to get Cleveland over the hump against Houston, who I don’t find to be a particularly intimidating first-round opponent for any serious contender, despite the Vegas line, and into the second round.
7. Detroit Lions – The Lions mesh together really well on offense, though their defense could improve against the pass. No one has been able to run on this team, which is among the best in terms of rush EPA per play allowed. However, pretty much everyone can pass against this unit, even when adjusting for a more recent sample size (Weeks 10-18). Funny enough, the ground battle (Lions defense, Rams offense) is shaping up to be a strength-on-strength matchup: the Rams can run the ball down opponents’ throats, with Kyren Williams toting the rock quite well. The advanced metrics back this up; they hold a top-5ish rushing EPA. However, I think the Lions pull this one out at a raucous Ford Field to kick off their playoff run, given their multi-faceted, extremely talented offense. If the chalk seeds win, Detroit would be looking at a rematch in Dallas in Round 2. The Lions dip below the Chiefs and Browns in these rankings due to the fairly even advanced statistical matchup between the two squads; it’s a lot closer than you might think, and the sportsbooks seem to think so, too (DET -3.5 as of this writing).
8. Miami Dolphins — This team, when healthy, would be ranked criminally low at 8th. However, it’s a sad state of affairs in Miami, given that they’ve lost two very strong pass rushers in Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb. They’ll be without two defensive backs (Andrew Van Ginkel and Jerome Baker) for the playoffs, as well. As a result of the tremendous injury onslaught, their normally stout defense is starting to slip a bit overall. it’s still a highly-rated rush defense by EPA/play but the pass defense has been average since Week 10.
Jaylen Waddle missed his second straight game last week due to injury, as did Raheem Mostert. The bright spot is that the Miami Dolphins are starting to get healthy along the offensive line, which should help their running game a bit. However, they’re falling victim to some serious injury attrition at the worst time. De’Von Achane is a strong player on his own, but I’m not sure he’s built for RB1 bellcow status, and the Dolphins don’t seem to trust him as one yet, based on his reduced volume of late, which has slowed down a normally explosive rushing offense. I expect Miami to put up a good fight against Kansas City, but the Chiefs should be able to grind out an ugly one.
9. Philadelphia Eagles — It’s tough to trust much about this Eagles team right now, given that they are in a 1-5 backslide since leaping out to a strong (perhaps a bit lucky) 10-1 start. However, there’s still a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, assuming they’re healthy on offense. They should also be getting a little bit of secondary help if CB Darius Slay returns. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers present an intriguing matchup for the Eagles, as the Bucs have also been fairly inconsistent in recent weeks. Tampa probably won’t be able to gash the Eagles on the ground as much as others have done lately, since Tampa itself has an atrocious run game by EPA per play, and their pass game may be hindered by the rib injury Baker Mayfield is working through. The Eagles could make it to two games, though it’s unlikely that they morph back into the force they were earlier this season.
Tier 4: Unlikely to Play Two Games
10. Los Angeles Rams – This is a tough draw for the Los Angeles Rams, who can go toe-to-toe with some of the best in the NFC on any given day. They can run the ball well and the passing game has turned back into something that, if you squint a bit, resembles a well-oiled machine. The extremely young defense shows its inexperience at times, but the numbers suggest that the defense is fairly middling and won’t kill the Rams; it just won’t save them. Going on the road to Detroit will prove just a bit too much for this team, though the ride to get here has been a ton of fun.
11. Houston Texans – Coach of the Year (if it’s not him, who can it possibly be?) DeMeco Ryans has done an excellent job of stringing this team together and steering them to an AFC South divisional title. Houston’s defense is slightly above average, though its offense has sputtered in recent weeks with C.J. Stroud not looking entirely healthy. The Texans are home underdogs by a mere 2.5 points, so it’s not like they have no hope–especially since they’re playing the team starting octogenarian Joe Flacco–but it feels like this Texans team will need to step up big time in ways they haven’t done previously. Their two marquee wins were a three-point squeaker against the Bengals with Joe Burrow around midseason and a 2-point barn-burning win (39-37) over the Bucs the following week. They’ve also lost some ugly games to ugly opponents, like the Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, and Atlanta Falcons. This Texans team is roughly a year or two too early for real contender status.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — The Bucs come into this one looking fairly decent overall but much of their “momentum” was lost in a pathetic performance against the New Orleans Saints in Week 17. Furthermore, their recent run of success came against some of the NFL’s bottom feeders, as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars. So, it’s tough to say whether the Bucs are really up for the capital-P Playoffs. They still boast two very talented receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who should give Philadelphia’s Swiss cheese secondary fits. However, Tampa can’t run the ball well (somebody free Rachaad White, please?) and Baker Mayfield is still turnover and sack-prone. The Bucs will need to tighten up defensively, as they’re right in the middle of the pack in both rushing and passing defense, and they’ll need to squeeze a bit more juice out of their offense.
13. Green Bay Packers –- The Packers have done some voodoo magic-type stuff to the Cowboys in playoffs past (Dez Bryant incompletion, anyone? Jared Cook toe tap?) but Green Bay would need to have the game of its life and then some to beat this Dallas team in the opening round, given the talent disparity across both sides of the ball. One thing Packers fans can take solace in: a high-end offense by EPA per play since Week 10! Among the best in football! Two big wins against the Lions and Chiefs recently!
14. Pittsburgh Steelers – I’ve changed my mind: Mike Tomlin is Coach of the Year. The team that started Kenny Pickett for weeks on end fell into the playoffs. Talk about a post-fire-the-coach bump: since offensive coordinator Matt Canada was fired, Mason Rudolph has apparently turned into a deep-ball threat and rebalanced the Pittsburgh offense in ways not seen since the end of the Big Ben era. In fact, the Black and Yellow scored 30+ points in two consecutive games (Weeks 16 and 17) for the first time since 2020. As previously mentioned, the Steelers will be without star pass rusher T.J. Watt, as well as defensive linchpins Kwon Alexander and Cole Holcomb, so perhaps Tomlin can find a way to cobble together some tape, cones, and broomsticks into a competent pass rusher or a linebacker before this weekend.
DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS (Drew’s Rankings)
- San Francisco 49ers SF
- Baltimore Ravens BAL
- Buffalo Bills BUF
- Dallas Cowboys DAL
- Cleveland Browns CLE
- Kansas City Chiefs KC
- Detroit Lions DET
- Philadelphia Eagles PHI
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers TB
- Houston Texans HOU
- Miami Dolphins MIA
- Pittsburgh Steelers PIT
- Los Angeles Rams LAR
- Green Bay Packers GB
KICKERS (Adam’s Rankings)
- Justin Tucker BAL
- Tyler Bass BUF
- Brandon Aubrey DAL
- Jake Moody SF
- Harrison Butker KC
- Dustin Hopkins CLE
- Jake Elliott PHI
- Riley Patterson DET
- Jason Sanders MIA
- Brett Maher LAR
- Kai’mi Fairbairn HOU
- Chase McLaughlin TB
- Anders Carlson GB
- Chris Boswell PIT
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@justparadesigns on Twitter/X)