Before we begin the rankings, the most important strategy tip is to take strong positions on a group of 1-2 teams on each side of the bracket. Spreading your top 10 picks out on six or seven teams is a losing strategy. At the end of your playoff fantasy draft, you want to see two or three potential matchups in the Super Bowl that should equal a high chance of winning for you. You might not be able to pick the exact teams that you want, but it is important to roll with the flow of the draft. If you wanted Mahomes, but had to settle for Allen, then you are going to favor Bills over Chiefs for the rest of your draft. Much more than a typical fantasy draft, your early picks should dictate the mid and late parts of your draft.
A Note on Playoff Picks
Take a stand on the outcome of the playoff brackets with your picks. Some of these calls are 52/48 and the way they break can greatly affect projecting the next round in the bracket, but relying on small margins to make selections is the essence of what we do in fantasy football.
Wild Card picks in order of confidence
New Orleans over Chicago: The Saints had an early exit last season and the Bears took them to overtime this season, but it’s impossible to pick a Mitchell Trubisky-led team that backed into the playoffs.
Tampa Bay over Washington: Washington’s defense would need a truly heroic effort to contain the Bucs offense (even possibly without Mike Evans) enough for their meager offense to outscore them.
Buffalo over Indianapolis: The Bills are a buzzsaw right now. The Colts have some playmakers on defense, but every bounce would have to go right for them. Indianapolis collapsed in the second half against a Steelers team in Week 16 that the Bills easily handled in Week 14.
Pittsburgh over Cleveland: The Browns remain the little brother until they prove otherwise. The Steelers sent them packing the last two times the Browns made the playoffs, and they barely beat a Steelers team resting key starters in Week 17.
Seattle over Los Angeles Rams: It’s easy to pick the Seahawks with John Wolford likely in at quarterback for the Rams, but games between these teams have a way of turning into street fights and the Rams always play the Seahawks tough.
Tennessee over Baltimore: The Ravens led the Titans for most of the game in their Week 11 overtime loss and had chances to win at the end of regulation and beginning of overtime and lost anyway. They’ll be better prepared mentally and strategically than they were in last year’s divisional-round upset, but the Titans are more battle-tested at this point and they’ll get the benefit of the doubt from me in the toughest matchup to pick this weekend.
Divisional Round picks in order of confidence
Kansas City over Tennessee: The Chiefs may come out of the gate slow like they did against Houston in the divisional round last year, but it’s difficult to picture the Titans feeble defense stopping Patrick Mahomes II enough to win this game.
Buffalo over Pittsburgh: We just saw this matchup in Week 14. Josh Allen took the Steelers defense’s best shot and adjusted well in the second half, while the Steelers offense was mediocre, predictable, and eminently stoppable.
Green Bay over Tampa Bay: The Packers would love to see anyone but the Bucs, who thumped them 38-10 in a thorough beatdown back in Week 6. Has this Packers team evolved since then? Aaron Rodgers is playing so good right now that I can’t pick against him, but the Bucs will have a mental edge coming into this game. Unless the Rams, Bears, or Washington wins in the wild card round, the Packers do come with a high one and done risk.
New Orleans over Seattle: These teams have a ton of collective playoff experience, but the Jamal Adams shoulder injury changed the projection of what kind of team the Seahawks can get away with being in the playoffs. Russell Wilson can absolutely win a quarterback duel with Drew Brees, but the Saints defense is far superior to the Seahawks. Wilson would have been difficult to pick against two months ago, but this Seahawks offense isn’t that scary right now and the Saints have the urgency of an impending Brees retirement to drive them.
Conference Championship picks in order of confidence
Kansas City over Buffalo: This one will hinge on any number of things, but two stand out to me - will the Chiefs be less hungry now that they have won a Super Bowl, and will the Bills shrink from the moment if they can make their first AFC title game in 27 years. My heart wants to pick the Bills here, but I think this is the year that they get this close but fall short like the Chiefs did in the 2018 season.
New Orleans over Green Bay: These two teams played an epic back-and-forth game in Week 3 that turned on a Taysom Hill fumble that doesn’t give us much guidance on who to pick in this one. Neither team’s recent playoff performance instills a lot of confidence, so again I’ll make the close call based on the superior defense, but the reality is that all of Green Bay, New Orleans, Seattle, and Tampa Bay have at least a 5-10% chance of being the Super Bowl representative and none have a better than 50% chance of making it
Tiered Team Ranking By Range of Outcomes/Fantasy Offensive Potential
First Tier - Cornerstones
Kansas City - They scored 39 points a game in the playoffs last year
Buffalo - They averaged over 40 points a game in the last five regular-season games. Buffalo has to be considered the most likely team to beat the Chiefs, if there is going to be one.
Second Tier - Potential League Winners with Risk
Green Bay - The #1 seed is almost as likely to be one-and-done as they are to go to the Super Bowl, but Aaron Rodgers is peaking and they only need to win two home games to go to the big one.
New Orleans - Another startling one and done is possible, but this team also has balance, depth, and experience and they aren’t just built for the dome as they have been in the past.
Tampa Bay - No one would be surprised if the Bucs make the Super Bowl. They and the Saints are the most likely to play four games on the NFC side.
Third Tier - Multiple Games Possible, Even Likely, But a Super Bowl run?
Pittsburgh - They are probably the easiest team to peg as likely to play more than one game, but not likely to play more than two (barring an upset of the Bills by the Colts in the Wild Card round).
Tennessee - The Titans offensive output should be immense, even if it is just one game, and we already know that this team has a ton of fight no matter the circumstances.
Baltimore - If Lamar Jackson has really found his game over the last month, they could be dangerous, but the Ravens haven’t really competed with the Chiefs in two matchups over the last two seasons.
Fourth Tier - Likely One and Done
Los Angeles Rams - The Rams can win a low-scoring game at Seattle, but this should be a limited output offense with Jared Goff out for at least this week and they are unlikely to make a run in the playoffs.
Cleveland - The Browns have a puncher’s chance against the Steelers because of the superior playcalling and Steelers offensive woes, but that is the likely extent of their possible wins and Baker Mayfield has zero playoff experience.
Indianapolis - The Colts offense is far from anemic and they are a balanced team, but beating a Bills team that is this hot is a tough ask in the wild card round.
Washington - The least inspiring offense in the playoffs. There aren’t many scenarios where they could beat the Bucs, and almost none where they win multiple games.
Strategy Cliff’s Notes
- With 14 playoff teams it is less important than ever to get wild card weekend scoring with your early picks
- Commit to one of GB/NO/TB/SEA depending on who falls to you
- If you believe in the Bills, your roster should reflect it, otherwise make sure you get at least a piece of two of the Chiefs
- Don’t stress about wild card weekend RB/WR scoring, both positions are deep with options
- The first three picks should be Mahomes, Kelce, Hill
- If you don’t get Kelce or Andrews, don’t worry too much about tight end scoring, most teams will be anemic at the position
10. Taysom Hill, NO
Notes: Mahomes, Allen, and Rodgers should all be first round picks. If you don’t get one of them, then take your best shot with an NFC quarterback that will play on wild card weekend with a chance to play in the Super Bowl. Getting Mahomes or Rodgers in the first round is an advantage because quarterbacks that should score well on wild card weekend will be cheap. Hill is a good later pick to give you a shot at a quarterback that will play in the Super Bowl and he comes with Drew Brees injury upside. It doesn’t look like Goff will play in the wild card round, but that doesn’t mean that Wolford lacks fantasy value or the potential to play multiple games.
25. Malcolm Brown, LAR
26. Darwin Thompson, KC
27. A.J. Dillon, GB
28. Benny Snell, PIT
29. Rashaad Penny, SEA
30. Carlos Hyde, SEA
31. Mark Ingram II, BAL
32. Peyton Barber, WAS
33. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, TB
34. Ty Montgomery, BAL
35. LeSean McCoy, TB
36. Alex Collins, SEA
37. Anthony McFarland Jr, PIT
38. Jaylen Samuels, PIT
39. Jeremy McNichols, TEN
40. Darrynton Evans, TEN
41. Justice Hill, BAL
42. D'Ernest Johnson, CLE
43. Cordarrelle Patterson, CHI
44. Antonio Williams, BUF
45. Dwayne Washington, NO
Notes: Kamara or Jones are worthy first-round picks if you think their teams are going to the Super Bowl, although Kamara has a small risk of not playing this weekend. Henry has a good chance to be the #1 scoring running back for the entire playoffs if he plays two games, so if you like Tennessee over Baltimore, there’s a case to take him at #1. Chiefs running backs coach Deland McCullough said Edwards-Helaire will be ready in “a couple of weeks” on New Year’s Eve, which sure makes it sound like he’ll play in the divisional round and should be considered the most valuable Chiefs back in playoff fantasy leagues. Carson, Ronald Jones II, and Dobbins could be cheap for #1 backs on teams that could play three or even four games. Darrel Williams is good to pair with Edwards-Helaire or as a standalone Chiefs piece and will be underrated in drafts. There’s no shortage of feature backs playing on wild card weekend, or role-playing backs who could play 3+ games, so be open to minimal running back investment early.
4. Chris Godwin, TB **Monitor Evans Status**
5. Antonio Brown, TB **Monitor Evans Status**
6. Michael Thomas, NO
7. Emmanuel Sanders, NO
8. John Brown, BUF
9. Tyler Lockett, SEA
10. DK Metcalf, SEA
11. Diontae Johnson, PIT
12. JuJu SmithSchuster, PIT
13. Chase Claypool, PIT
14. A.J. Brown, TEN
15. Marquise Brown, BAL
16. Mecole Hardman, KC
19. Mike Evans, TB **Monitor Status**
20. Sammy Watkins, KC **Monitor Status**
21. Demarcus Robinson, KC
22. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, GB
23. Allen Lazard, GB
24. Isaiah McKenzie, BUF
25. Marquez Callaway, NO
26. Gabriel Davis, BUF
41. Willie Snead IV, BAL **Monitor Status**
42. Miles Boykin, BAL
43. Devin Duvernay, BAL
44. Josh Reynolds, LAR **Monitor Kupp Status**
45. Van Jefferson, LAR **Monitor Kupp Status**
46. Gehrig Dieter, KC
47. Equanimeous St. Brown, GB
48. Freddie Swain, SEA
49. Tyler Johnson, TB
50. Donovan Peoples-Jones, CLE **Monitor Status**
51. Steven Sims Jr., WAS
52. Ray-Ray McCloud III, PIT
53. Cameron Batson, TEN
54. Lil'Jordan Humphrey, NO
55. Juwan Johnson, NO
Notes: Hill should be a first-round pick in every draft, and Adams and Diggs are worth taking in the first if you think their team is going to the Super Bowl. It’s easy to put a chip or two on your favorite to go to the Super Bowl in the NFC via their wide receiver groups. John Brown and Mecole Hardman could be underrated in drafts and they are cheap pieces of elite offenses for our purposes. Mike Evans will be a game-time decision at best this week and should be paired with Scott Miller later in drafts. Marquez Callaway is totally under the radar as the #3 receiver for the Saints, with Michael Thomas injury upside, and Isaiah McKenzie could play the Cole Beasley role for the whole postseason. Just as with QB/RB, don’t be afraid of going deep into your draft with wide receiver spots open on wild card weekend with 12 teams in action.
1. Travis Kelce, KC
2. Mark Andrews, BAL
7. Logan Thomas, WAS
12. Austin Hooper, CLE
16. Cole Kmet, CHI
Notes: There’s an argument for Kelce to go #1 overall. Andrews could be the #2 tight end scorer for the whole playoffs in just one game vs. Tennessee. The 3-6 tier will be inconsistent, but all have a shot of playing in the Super Bowl. Logan Thomas is your ace in the hole to get good scoring in wild card weekend at a discount. It’s possible that no tight end after Thomas scores more than 10 PPR points in the playoffs.
1. Harrison Butker, KC
1. Kansas City
3. New Orleans
4. Green Bay
5. Tampa Bay
10. Los Angeles Rams
Notes: No major wrinkles here. New Orleans and Tampa Bay are your most likely wild card weekend stud D/STs with a shot to go deep in the playoffs