Going Deep: Roster Strategy in the Fantasy Playoffs

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

(Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire)

If you’re reading this article you’ve most likely made the fantasy playoffs, so congratulations! 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 owners 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, solving whatever roster problem you may 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 lost WR A.J. Green for the year and has someone like WR Sammy Watkins on the bench who they’re stashing as an injury return. In this case, make sure to check the waiver options, and if there’s a standout replacement like WR Adam Humphries or WR Courtland Sutton 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 that 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):

Team Week 14 Week 15 Week 16

Someone like RB Peyton Barber, who has served as valuable bench depth during the regular season, may be expendable if you wouldn’t start him in any of those matchups. Don’t be afraid to move on from players that are no longer useful due to schedule or situation. Just double check that cutting them won’t help a playoff opponent desperate at a certain position.


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:

Team Week 14 Week 15 Week 16


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 above and drops a player that is a starter for you. Keep an eye on the transactions, 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 make more sense; 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 is injured (or 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 own the player they are handcuffed to. Top-end handcuff options include RB Malcolm Brown (though if his injury is serious, RB John Kelly likely becomes next man up), RB Rex Burkhead (his versatility allows him to potentially replace either RB Sony Michel or RB James White), RB Damien Williams (new handcuff to former handcuff RB Spencer Ware), RB Rashaad Penny, RB Rod Smith, and RB Jaylen Samuels. The common thread among these names is to target handcuffs in productive running games and offenses.

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