Basic Training Part 12 - Your Playoff Push
Posted 7/1 by Marc Levin, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
You have received sufficient advice in other sections regarding how to improve
your team at different positions through waiver-wire work and through getting
the best you can in trades. So, this section assumes you can already evaluate
players and their worth to your team. When evaluating what to do with your team
during your push for the playoffs, there are three major issues to consider:
- Is my team's personnel ready to make a push?
- If I am fairly certain I am making the playoffs, do I have the right players
to make a run for the championship?
- Does my league have roster move deadlines that will force me to add depth
in case of catastrophic injury?
Part 1: Is my team's personnel ready to
make the push?
It is past the fantasy mid-season and you are seriously worried about whether
you will make the playoffs. What you need to do is evaluate your personnel to
see if tinkering is required. If your team is strong but has had bad luck, or
has players returning from injury, or is about to hit some favorable matchups
for your key players, doing nothing may be the best advice you can give yourself.
But, to make an evaluation, you must take a hard look at your team's strength
and weaknesses. You need to devalue players who have upside but are not reaching
it and you need to be extraordinarily active in seeking a trade or two that
will improve your weekly starting lineup over the last half of the season. Of
course, don't ignore the waiver wire (WW), either.
First, identify your core players and your basic weaknesses. If you have been
winning on the strength of starting three RBs in a flex league, consider that
strength untouchable. If you have been getting stud QB and solid WR play, along
with Tony Gonzalez at the TE spot, to compensate for weak RB play, those are
the players that are untouchable. At this point, it is not recommended that
you patch a weakness by sacrificing a strength. Amplify your strength by lifting
the weak areas of your starting lineup and be prepared to sacrifice some depth.
To use a colloquialism, don't change horses in the middle of the stream.
Second, identify the position(s) not pulling their weight. No position is minimal
when you are making a playoff push. At this point, adding 2 to 4 extra points
per week from your "off" positions could be the deciding factor in
winning a game here or there or in accumulating enough points to win tiebreakers
that get you into the playoffs. Just as in the NFL playoff pushes, the fantasy
push requires increased production from unexpected places. A defense or a kicker
with a hot stretch of games could be your edge into the playoffs.
Third, if you are deep in a couple of key areas, especially in areas of your
core strengths, it is definitely time to work a trade for a quality player.
Players on your bench will not help you get into the playoffs, and if you don't
get into the playoffs, "nice depth" on your squad is meaningless.
While it is unlikely you will be able to pry a top notch RB away from your opponents,
you may be able to trade one of your starting RBs, plus a backup player from
a deep position of strength, for an overall improvement to your weak starting
RBs. Unless you have a weekly stud at QB, you can try to trade for one who has
a favorable stretch of games upcoming. And don't overlook trading depth at a
skill position, or even a starter who can be nearly matched by one of your backups,
for a topnotch kicker or defense. It is not necessarily a good idea to value
those position in your draft, but during the year, and especially during your
push, those positions score well and can make the difference in winning each
For a concrete example, if your starting flex RB is getting you 8 pts a game
while your backup is getting you 6, and your D is getting you 9 points a game,
trading your starting RB2 for a defense that is getting 14 points a game is
a net improvement to your starting lineup of 3 points a game. You now start
a squad that is that much closer to having an edge in head to head scoring.
Fourth, it is also probably about time to give up on those sleepers and flyers
that did not pan out. Players need to contribute immediately, and last time
I checked, "potential" points are worth nothing. These players also
may hold sufficient name value in trade to someone else to help improve your
squad with players ready for the push - at the least, they are taking up space
for WW additions ready to contribute now. While it always hurts to trade a player
who blows up, you have to decide at this point whether you are going to ride
the potential on your bench, or put more potential points into your starting
lineup. You might even be able to work a two for one RB trade of your starting
RB2 and a bench RB with upside for a more solid starting RB2.
Fifth, on the waiver wire, look for players who have temporarily high value.
You need a few weeks of high quality efforts from your team. A player who had
a run like Marcel Shipp had in 2002, or like Rudi Johnson had in 2003, really
pushed their owners over the top in their playoff pushes. Examples from last
season include both Larry Johnson and Derrick Blaylock of the Chiefs having
several weeks of decent RB2 play, Reuben Droughns, and Mewelde Moore of the
Vikings. These players were temporary fixes due to injuries ahead of them, but
they were helpful in their owners' playoff pushes - and some of them were available
on the waiver wire at the right time of the year.
Sixth, a strategy exists in leagues that allow unlimited roster moves of working
the WW each week for your kicker and defense based on the most favorable matchups
offered that week from among what is available. That strategy can work, but
it can be a really difficult thing to manage properly and you end up every other
week forced to make a move because you have only added WW quality players to
When trading and making WW decisions during your push, target players with
favorable schedules over the next several weeks and into the playoffs rather
than looking purely at weekly average scoring. If you are looking at those factors
and others are not, you can make some very wise trades without sacrificing as
much as the player is worth to you Keep in mind that quarterbacks are the position
most susceptible to matchups It might be a good idea to look for that QB with
a favorable schedule down the stretch and trade away your solid starting QB
who has the better "name." The overriding concern is making the playoffs
and hoping for a "run" that takes you to the championship - but getting
in is the goal right now. Always remember that the push requires a starting
lineup that is strong for the rest of the season. Sacrificing some valuable
WR/RB depth may be necessary to create that lineup.
Part 2: If I am fairly certain I am going
to make the playoffs, do I have the right players to make a run for the championship?
Maybe you have decided that major tinkering with your team is not the right
thing to do, that your team is strong enough along the starting lineup to make
the playoffs, and that the first line of backup depth is too good to sacrifice.
Your focus now is squarely on performance once you are in the playoffs - examine
your backup players' matchups during the playoff run and see if any minor moves
could be made for comparable players with a more favorable schedule during the
fantasy playoffs. Your studs and starters should perform regardless, but worry
about your normally reliable backups being pressed into action during a month
that happens to be their toughest part of the schedule - and your most important
part of the year.
Getting "hot" during the playoffs is how many championships are won,
but you can manipulate that heat with a little oven work on your backups. You
do not want to alter the starting lineup that you are happy with. But, for instance,
make sure that if your backup RB is pressed into action during your playoff
run, that he isn't facing Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Baltimore, and New England
in succession over weeks 14-16. Even a solid starting RB would have a tough
go in the playoffs facing those teams. Maybe trade that backup RB and another
player for a comparable RB who has a more favorable schedule plus a kicker or
defense that improves your squad or has a more favorable playoff schedule than
Many of the principles from part one are obviously applicable to part two.
If making moves, focus on what teams that player faces in the playoffs as much
as how many points a game he is scoring.
Very important to keep in mind is the "NFL reality" you will be facing
in December. This includes things like whether a losing NFL team will be looking
to play its younger players more, whether a warm weather/indoor team with players
you have been riding (read: Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Houston, Miami, Minnesota,
or Detroit) have an inordinate number of December games outdoors in bad weather
cities, and whether the team is likely to be playoff bound or eliminated. Also
project whether your players are going to be playing away games in stadiums
where the home team needs to win to get in. You simply hate playing your Cleveland
players in Baltimore in December if the Ravens need to win to get in the playoffs.
Keep in mind that with this incredible crop of rookie receivers in 2004, some
might get significantly more looks in the passing game during the last few games
of the year. They will have passed the learning curve for first year players
and, as their teams are eliminated from contention, they will send more looks
the rooks' way. "NFL reality" also includes the "give up"
factor - some veterans simply stop working as hard, and stop getting as much
offensive attention after their teams are facing a losing season. A veteran
like TE Freddie Jones from the Arizona Cardinals, for instance, is not likely
to have a lot to play for in December, especially since the team will probably
be looking to turn the spotlight on Marcel Shipp, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.
So, if you are looking to turn your team from a playoff bound team into a "hot"
team during the playoffs, analyze what is probably going to be happening for
your players over the last month of the NFL season. NFL concerns dominate how
players are used. Your championship run just happens to coincide with the NFL's
playoff push, so those two events are inextricably aligned. While we all know
how unpredictable the NFL is during its playoff push, you can consider the fact
that some teams collapse each year in December, some teams make a push, and
some players (like Marshal Faulk and Curtis Martin, for instance) get stronger
in December. Use that in deciding whether your fantasy squad is ready to get
"hot" in December.
Part 3: Does my league have roster move
deadlines that will force me to add depth in case of catastrophic injury?
It is week 10 or so of the regular season, and your FF team is just rolling
along. You have either clinched a playoff spot or are fairly close to doing
so. You are stockpiled with solid starters and nice depth behind them. However,
your league rules mandate that roster moves will end after all bye weeks are
completed. Or when the playoffs start. You have dropped those unnecessary backup
tight ends and kickers to give you room for important RB/WR depth, and you have
three QBs because your starter has been dinged up a bit.
If your league allows moves through the playoffs, this section is unnecessary.
However, many leagues end moves a few weeks before the playoffs, or when the
playoffs start. Do not forget an essential part of fantasy depth - Murphy's
Law. Whatever can go wrong, will. If you leave yourself only one kicker after
all roster moves are done, it is almost a guarantee that the first play of your
playoff game, your kicker pulls his groin.
For years, even though I hated watching my ditched talent accumulate points
on the WW or someone else's team, I have made sure that before my roster was
closed, I have a backup TE and a backup K, and that I drop to only one backup
QB and only one defense. I also always try, if possible, to have the backup
RB to my starting RB1. Moreover, I tend to have no more than one backup WR for
each starting WR. If we start 2, I have at most 4 on my roster and if we start
3, I have at most 6. If I have a flex spot, I will use the backup WRs for that
flex spot provided I don't already plug in a RB. If my backup WRs (who sit on
the bench anyway) are too valuable to simply drop, they need to be traded for
improvement elsewhere - even for improvement to my starting kicker or tight
end. Any leftover space goes to RBs for depth at that key position.
In this way, I am prepared for the possibility of a catastrophic injury at
any position. It is a very difficult thing to do if you are restricted by how
many roster moves you can make per week or if you have a very limited roster
size, but it is worth losing solid depth all the way down to WR5 and RB5 in
order to still have a shot at the crown if I lose K1.
You may need to make some tough choices regarding backups. For instance, figuring
out which player is the immediate backup for your starting RB can be tricky,
but that is the individual you keep instead of either that RBBC guy you have
for depth or that rookie you have been hanging onto hoping he'd emerge. You
might err on whom you ditch, but you will be better insured against injury to
your RB1 since you will have your starter's replacement. Of course, you need
confidence that the coaches will use the backup that you kept to the same degree
as the starter was used.
In deciding how to backup the non-skill TE and K positions, any warm body that
gets points each week will do, but look for one that has favorable matchups
during your fantasy playoff. Dump that defense by committee and commit to one
defense with a favorable playoff schedule. Do, as you will in managing your
team's injury risk. Just remember that during the playoffs there is nothing
worse than guaranteeing yourself a zero at the high scoring kicker position,
or even at the low scoring TE position, when you have an otherwise Super Bowl
"Work hard now and commit yourself 100% to preparation to harvest your
rewards later." --Chris Smith
Congratulations on reaching the end of this series and you are well on your
way to becoming a strong owner in your fantasy league. There is a lot of information
to digest in the previous pages but I can promise you that learning the information
above will make you a competitive owner each and every year of your league.
Taking the time to prepare with a commitment to excellence will enable you to
have the perfect draft, post-draft and season on your way to the playoffs. Thanks
for reading, have a wonderful season and I hope to see each and every one of
you on the Footballguys.com site soon.