With the fantasy football regular season rapidly coming to a close, it’s time for teams to start preparing for their run in the playoffs. Many owners factor in fantasy playoff matchups as early as a draft day, long before the season even begin. I am not one of those people. Although I do support the concept as a tiebreaker if you just can’t decide between two players during your draft, November and December matchups are not very important in July and August. So much changes throughout the NFL season due to injuries and coaching changes without even mentioning players who just flat out under (or over) perform. This makes it’s nearly impossible to predict with any level of confidence what players and teams are going to look like at the season’s end with any degree of certainty.
With 10+ weeks in the books, we have a pretty good idea of what teams are good and bad, and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. We can use this information now to see what players we might want to target or fade as the playoff picture comes into focus. One of my favorite tools to use when I start preparing my weekly rankings and setting my lineups is ESPN’s fantasy points against data.
Using that information, I looked at the matchups of all NFL teams during the traditional fantasy football playoffs of weeks 14, 15 and 16 (if you play in a league that uses week 17, your commissioner is a monster, and I’m sorry for you). I didn’t bother messing with teams in the middle of the pack or what I viewed as neutral matchups; focusing on the handful of teams that were either strong or weak against each positional grouping regarding fantasy points allowed. Hopefully, you find this useful and wish you success in the fantasy playoffs, unless of course, we’re in a league together, in which case I wish only bad things for your fantasy team.
Using the fantasy points against data, six teams were noticeably worse than the rest: Texans, Patriots, Giants, 49ers, Raiders, and Cardinals. The Patriots, however, opened the year in atrocious form defensively and have looked significantly better since their week 9 bye- and started righting the ship in week 7. I only include them because they are (once again) one of the league’s best offenses and to keep up with them, opposing teams will need to score.
Five quarterbacks get to play these six teams twice. One is Carson Wentz, who you’ll be rolling with regardless of whatever I say here. Ben Roethlisberger faces both the Patriots and Houston in weeks 15 and 16, but the Houston game is on the road, and Ben’s road struggles are common knowledge at this point. In addition to that, his week 14 game is against one of the best defenses versus QBs and division rival Baltimore, so despite how good the matchups might seem on paper, no thanks to Big Ben for me. With the loss of Tyron Smith and Zeke Elliott, Dak Prescott has hit a skid, but he has two favorable matchups in the playoffs facing the Giants and the Raiders in weeks 14 and 15 and gets an injury-decimated Seattle secondary in week 16.
Marcus Mariota has underperformed all year, but he might redeem himself in the fantasy playoffs with games against the Cardinals and Niners, although he faces a stiffer contest in week 16 at home against the Rams. Now here is where things get interesting. If you’re looking for a lower owned option or a player you might be able to acquire on the cheap, Jacksonville faces soft defenses for fantasy quarterbacks in 2 of 3 games. Blake Bortles is definitely in play to close out the season with games against Houston and San Francisco in weeks 15 and 16. Bortles might be the key to playoff success this season. You can also feel confident going into the playoffs with Mariota and obviously Wentz and possibly even Prescott as well.
On the other hand, we have a few quarterbacks that face stiff competition come playoff time. The top fantasy defense against opposing QBs are Jacksonville, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, L.A. Rams, Carolina, and Chicago. Sometimes the poor get poorer, as both the Browns and Texans have two games against these six opponents. If you made it this far with Kizer or Savage as your QB, you’re an incredible fantasy tactician. Obviously, they’re bums and are even bummier now. Honestly, before I get to the only other quarterback with two tough matchups, we as fans and fantasy owners have gotten pretty lucky to close the year, as most of the the “tough” defenses face poor quarterbacks and these matchups should have little negative effect on the fantasy playoffs.
Tom Brady, Matt Stafford, Wentz, Roethlisberger, and Mariota are the only QB “studs” to play solid fantasy defenses once. This brings me to Russell Wilson. Danger Russ is the only elite fantasy quarterback with two poor matchups in the fantasy playoffs facing the Jaguars and the Rams in weeks 14 and 15. In an ideal world, I hope you get a top-2 seed in your league and get a week 14 playoff bye; then you can skip over the Jags matchup and move on. That aside, the one positive you can hang onto with Wilson is that he’s been matchup proof this season. He’s the Seahawks’ leading rusher, and if you’ve watched any Seattle games, he’s the entire offense, so although on paper he’s looking at a rough schedule, I think his floor is high enough that he shouldn’t be a liability come playoff time.