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 begins. 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 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.
Between injuries and poor performances, the tight end has seemed like a position where effective streaming could have been a winning strategy this season more than in years past. The Giants have been historically atrocious against tight ends this season giving up 10 touchdowns on 59 receptions. Aside from the Giants, Denver and Washington have fared poorly against opposing tight ends all season long and the Browns have been among the worst at defending the tight end for years. A few players with one good matchup during the playoffs are Chicago’s Adam Shaheen(week 16), Baltimore’s Benjamin Watson(week 15) and the Jets’ Austin Seferian-Jenkins(week 14).
My biggest recommendation in this entire article is Jermaine Gresham of the Arizona Cardinals. Gresham is the only tight end with two games against bottom four teams defending tight ends. He faces Washington (who gives up the most yards to TEs) in week 15 and in week 16 he gets the awful Giants. Odds are, you’re already weak at the position and Gresham should be available in all but the deepest leagues full of degenerates. Yes, Ricky Seals-Jones had a big game against Houston a few weeks ago, but that’s an outlier as he’s seen 6 targets all year as of this writing and before that game he only played 1 snap in the NFL. And, just in case you were wondering who else gets to play the Giants in the playoffs, it’s Jason Witten and Zach Ertz in weeks 14 and 15, respectively. I predict Jermaine Gresham is going to win people some fantasy titles this year.
(Editor’s Note: You may want to pick up Ricky Seals-Jones if he’s not already on your roster, regardless if you have Gresham rostered as well. Seals-Jones had 4 receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown Sunday against the Jags. Just note, he did this while only playing 24.7% of offensive snaps and on a total of 12 routes ran. If Seals-Jones produces again this Sunday against the Rams you’ll need to seriously consider plugging him into your week 1 playoff starting lineups)
Who might let you down at the tight end position come playoff time? Four teams have separated themselves from the rest of the NFL when defending tight ends for fantasy. The Buccaneers, Chiefs, Chargers, and Packers have all given up less than 10 fantasy points per game, with the Packers leading the pack giving up a mere 7.5 points per game and still not allowing a single tight end touchdown. By comparison, the Giants have allowed over 19 fantasy points per game to tight ends- 19! Only one player faces two of these defenses, the Panthers’ Greg Olsen. Despite that, and Olsen having a safe floor in PPR leagues due to Cam Newton leaning on him heavily, I think his ceiling is dramatically lower in his week 15 and 16 matchups with Green Bay and Tampa Bay.
Other players with a single rough matchup include David Njoku, Kyle Rudolph, Travis Kelce and Jared Cook. Interestingly, more than any other position a few tight ends have one great and one bad matchup. I mentioned ASJ above as having a single good matchup, but he also has a rough week 16 matchup. The Washington combo of Vernon Davis and the oft-injured Jordan Reed have a tough week 14 but a great week 16. Another duo, the Chargers Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry are looking at an easy week 14 matchup but a difficult week 15 matchup, so be careful leaning on the same guys each week at tight end come playoff time. You may need to mix and match and possibly scour waivers each week of the playoffs.
Admittedly, this mainly covered the extremes, and there are lots of solid plays in the middle, but hopefully, this will give you an idea if you need to shore up a few of your position groupings heading into the playoffs. Nothing is a guaranteed week to week, but all you can do is be the most prepared you can be when the playoffs roll around. The results may not always be there, but that doesn’t always mean that your process was wrong. For example, Travis Kelce was the first tight end not to score against the Giants, but nobody in the right mind wouldn’t have projected him as the TE1 that week (or at least top 5). Hopefully, this will give you a few names to try to grab off of waivers before the playoff hit and maybe help you build your depth a bit if your current players are facing tough matchups when it matters: in the playoffs.