Going Deep: Roster Strategy in the Fantasy Playoffs

Erik Smith runs down roster strategies to implement during the fantasy playoffs to improve your chances of winning a championship.

If you’re reading this article you’ve most likely made the fantasy playoffs, so congratulations to you! You’ve maneuvered your way through one of the craziest years on record, and just making the playoffs this year is an accomplishment. After managing your roster more or less the same way throughout the first 13 weeks of the fantasy regular season, be prepared to quickly shift gears and make decisions that would seem insane just a few short weeks ago.

All fantasy football leagues are unique, and you know your specific league way better than I do. But the following strategies will improve your odds of advancing to the next round of the playoffs, and ultimately taking home a championship.


One Game At A Time


The number one priority for all fantasy managers in the playoffs is to win the current week (or next week for teams with a playoff bye). You may not believe this, but you can’t win a fantasy championship if you lose in the first round of the playoffs. If there is a player on waivers that would be an upgrade over one of your starters, you have to get them in your lineup, even if it costs you important depth on your bench or leaves you with a worse matchup at a position in upcoming weeks. More options may present themselves later, solving whatever roster problem you have waiting for you in the next round. While considering the strategies listed below, always make sure you are prioritizing the current week over the upcoming weeks.


Blocking Your Opponent


One part of doing everything you can to win this week includes blocking your opponent from improving their team through waivers. Most playoff teams are going to be full of stars and have depth on their bench, but that isn’t always the case. Maybe your opponent just had D.J. Moore hit the COVID-IR or recently lost Will Fuller V to suspension. In this case, make sure to check the waiver options, and if there’s a standout replacement like Cole Beasley or Jamison Crowder available, add them to your team by any means necessary. The fact that you might never start them yourself is irrelevant if it lowers your opponent’s projected score this week.

If you are sitting on a high waiver priority or a lot of FAAB dollars, it probably makes sense to use them to block your opponent, since you can’t take them with you if you lose this week. Blocking can be very successful against teams that stream defenses, as they may be stuck with a defense from last week that is unplayable this week. This strategy is only viable when there are one or two options available that stand out from the alternatives; if waivers are full of five or six similar options for your opponent to add, then you won’t be able to block all of them and this strategy is unnecessary. And remember that players you drop can be used against you by your opponent, so make sure not to drop anyone that helps them this week.


Matchups Matter


Once your starters are set to give you the best chance to win this week, and you’ve blocked your opponent whenever possible, it’s time to look ahead to future weeks. You may need to cut some players in the playoffs that you would never consider cutting during the regular season to make room on your roster. Here are some offenses with especially tough schedules during the fantasy playoffs (weeks 14-16):


Tough Playoff Schedules


Someone like D.J. Chark, who leads his team most weeks in targets and has tantalizing upside, may not have a spot on your roster after Week 14 against Tennessee. Do you really want to start Chark against Baltimore or Chicago with your season on the line? If you don’t plan to play him this week, it may be time to move on and use that roster spot on a handcuff, second defense, or second quarterback. Make sure to check the upcoming schedules of your fringe players, and if they have a tough schedule, there may be better uses of your roster spots.


Doubling Up On Defense


During the regular season, I would never advise rostering two defenses, except in rare circumstances. In the playoffs, it’s almost mandatory. Look ahead to weeks 15 and 16 to see if there’s a defense available that projects to be better than your current defense. If there’s a top-end defense in week 15 available and you don’t grab them this week, you will competing with the remaining teams next week and may need to rely on waiver priority or FAAB. It’s usually much easier to grab them a week ahead of time when no one else is looking. Here are the defenses with more than one startable week (projected in the top 12) from weeks 14-16:


Two-Start Defenses


We all know that targeting a defense playing against the Jets or Bengals is a wise move, I don’t need to point those out to you. You should continue to prioritise the best weekly option for your matchups. But stashing a defense on your bench with multiple startable weeks is a smart move this time of the year.


Watch Your League’s Transactions


As we get closer to the end of the year, priorities change, and startable players may get dropped that wouldn’t during the year. Maybe you’re in a keeper league and a team out of contention is adding players to stash for next year. Maybe a team in the other playoff matchup is employing the blocking strategy from above and drops a player that is a starter for you. Keep an eye on the transactions mid-week, make sure you know when players clear waivers, and add anyone who helps your team or blocks your opponent. Knowing your league’s waiver and free agency rules are especially important this time of the year.


Handcuff Season


Now is the time of the year where handcuffs start to make more sense, especially in our COVID-19 world. There aren’t many bench stashes that still have the possibility to breakout, it would have happened by now if it was ever going to happen. If a starting running back hits IR (or is suspended), however, his backup gets a massive boost depending on the situation. Handcuffs are a good way to fill out the end of your roster even if you don’t roster the player that they are handcuffed to. Top-end handcuff options include players like Alexander Mattison, Tony Pollard, Jamaal Williams, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Phillip Lindsay, Devontae Booker, Jordan Wilkins, Duke Johnson, Carlos Hyde, and Sony Michel. You want to target players on productive rushing offenses, don’t waste your time stashing backups on the Bengals, for example.


(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire)

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