For some of you, the playoffs start this week. For most of you, they start next week. For the select few who earned a bye, your path to the championship game likely begins in two weeks. The rest of you who didn't make the playoffs, probably had something to do with bad luck or injuries (or both). Your chances for hitting pay dirt may have been derailed, but there are details to be learned so you can cash in next year. Hopefully, you have other leagues that fared better. For those of you with your eye on the prize, here are a few factors that reveal what it takes to win in the playoffs.
HOW TO WIN IN THE PLAYOFFS
10 KEY FACTORS FOR ADVANCING IN THE PLAYOFFS AND WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP
1. Balance - Have a balanced team where multiple players provide a consistent 20+ point total every single week. Most teams in the playoffs have three or more of these players who consistently provide these numbers. Consistency is the key for the stretch run. The big-game point performances are important, but it's the steady barrage of points from multiple players that will keep you alive each week.
2. Talent - Almost equally important as balance is having talented players who will give you that big point total that puts you over the top, even if you suffer a down week from one or two other players. A 30 or 35-point game from any given player is sometimes all that is needed to advance. Those performances tend to come from players ranked in the Top 5 at their position. Players like Tom Brady, Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler, Joe Mixon, Cordarrelle Patterson, Leonard Fournette, Cooper Kupp, Justin Jefferson, Davante Adams, Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, etc can win a week for you by themselves. If your lineup includes two or more of these stud players, your chances improve dramatically.
3. Opportunity - You may not have one of the highest-scoring running backs or wide receivers in the game, but you can still get ample production from players who are thrust into action, due to an injury, recent success, or both. Players like Javonte Williams, Rhamondre Stevenson, Alexander Mattison, Chuba Hubbard, Jamaal Williams, Van Jefferson, Elijah Moore, K.J. Osborn, John Bates/Ricky Seals-Jones, etc come to mind here. There are also players returning from injury who will be factors in the coming weeks. Jalen Hurts, Damien Harris, DeAndre Hopkins, Deebo Samuel, Allen Robinson, Keenan Allen, etc. One player on the verge who could have a surprisingly productive playoff stretch is Elijah Moore. The Jets have a favorable schedule coming up with three home games in the next four, vs New Orleans, at Miami, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay. Moore is the WR2 in PPR format since Week 9 with 28-392-5 in those five games. The loss of Corey Davis for the rest of the year makes Moore an even bigger target for the Jets going forward. All of these players mentioned above are primed for success simply because they are the right man for the job at the opportune time.
4. Game Script - There is a degree of luck involved with the game script because it's difficult to accurately predict how a game will go from quarter to quarter. Will there be garbage yards in the second half of a blowout? Will the game be a back and forth battle involving two strong offenses or perhaps teams who are known for having defenses that give up a lot of yards and points, like the New York Jets, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Houston? There have been several high-scoring games this year where both team's quarterbacks finished in the Top 8. The Cowboys vs the Raiders in Week 12 come to mind as teams that fit into this category. Dak Prescott and Derek Carr finished 4th and 6th respectively that week. Week 11 also produced a tight, back and forth battle with Pittsburgh at Los Angeles (Chargers) in a 41-37 win for Los Angeles. As the league continues to evolve and stronger offenses become king, favorable game scripts are becoming more and more common. It's good to keep tabs on Vegas lines, particularly over/unders, as well as team totals. If an O/u is 46 points, but one team is slated to score 28 points and the other 18, it may not be a favorable game script for the offense on both sides. I'll touch on this a bit later in the article. It's difficult to have multiple players on your roster who have pristine matchups, so those that do, better come through for you when you need them.
5. Lineup decisions - Play your studs, but also play matchups. Often, your third or fourth wide receiver will be the one who saves your team thanks to a big game that likely was the result of a game script in his favor. Keep tabs on which teams are allowing the most passing yards, especially recently, and exploit them with a wide receiver that you may not usually start. If you can narrow that down further by targeting teams who tend to allow a lot of receptions to wide receivers, that's even better. All of this information can be found using tools or pages here on Footballguys.com. Defensive Game logs and fantasy points allowed are great for this information. Most of the time your lineup decisions are down to one spot in your roster. Play the percentages and lean towards a player with a favorable matchup. It's also good to take note of which wide receivers will be faced up against an opponent's second cover corner, or if the top corner is injured, making a WR1 matchup against a backup that is more enticing. Some teams to target that have injuries in the secondary or general weaknesses that you can exploit include Baltimore (Marlon Humphrey injury hurts), Tampa Bay with Jamel Dean nursing a concussion and Carlton Davis is uncertain returning from a quad injury. Other teams are plain struggling against the pass, specifically wide receivers. Green Bay has allowed five touchdowns to wide receivers in the last two games. Minnesota is another to exploit. Keep an eye on injury reports, but if the players mentioned above are inactive on game day, these are the matchups that you want to exploit. Injuries in the secondary have definitely played a part in the success of the opposing team's receivers. Take advantage of them. Be aware and be ready to make the call. Projections aren't always right - we know this. Above all, go with your gut. One of the best feelings as a fantasy owner is taking a chance on a particular lineup decision and coming through with flying colors when others weren't as bold. Gather your intel and play your hunch. Be bold. When in doubt, ask others you admire and look up to. There is no shame in getting someone else's thoughts. Share your thoughts and your bold inklings. Most people love to help with lineup decisions.
6. Exploit weak matchups - Building on what was mentioned above, knowing who to play and which teams to exploit is a big advantage. Players who are matched up against teams like the Vikings, Falcons, Jets, Raiders, and most recently, Green Bay are the ones you want to target for quarterbacks and wide receivers. Do your homework and play the right matchups. Our own Sean Settle writes an article every week about specific receiver/cornerback matchups to exploit. He highlights the favorable and unfavorable matchups with information about why a particular matchup is good or bad for this week's slate of games. It's a must-read to learn which receivers have a higher chance of being successful each week.
7. Target players at home, especially running backs - Running backs at home tend to score more fantasy points than on the road, especially backs on winning teams. Winning teams often have a point cushion later in games where they will tend to lean on their back to control the clock. Winning teams at home also tend to have an advantage on the snap count and therefore the offensive line is quicker to control the line of scrimmage. This all benefits the running back as well as the quarterback. The matchup I like best for a quarterback is a home game against a team with a similarly effective quarterback. You want that back and forth battle of offenses where the majority of each team's possessions result in a score. If both teams tend to give up a high percentage of third-down conversions, even better. Washington, Los Angeles (Chargers), Atlanta, Denver, and Miami have the worst third-down conversion percentage allowed. Washington and Miami have improved in this category of late, but they are still vulnerable. Recent teams to exploit (last three games) include the Chargers, Steelers, Falcons, Packers, Jets, Browns, and Saints.
8. Follow Vegas lines, especially over/under point totals - Many sportsbook sites like VegasInsider.com have NFL lines and over/under totals. The games with higher point totals tend to lead to higher fantasy production games. Usually, games forecasted to exceed 50 points or more are the ones you want to target for making lineup decisions. Most weeks include at least one matchup with 50+ expected points. Exploit those games. Our John Lee writes an article every week in our DFS section showing which matchups will yield the most expected points.
9. Luck - There's a certain degree of luck involved in a successful championship run that can swing both ways for or against you or your opponent. You may advance because your opponent's quarterback gets hurt in the first quarter and it was enough of a deciding factor that propels you to a victory. Your opponent's receiver might miss a touchdown by one yard and therefore miss out on six points that kept him from winning. A player in your lineup may have scored a touchdown but it's called back due to a costly penalty leaving you with fewer points. You may have picked the right player as your last decision for your lineup. Conversely, your opponent picks the wrong player while someone on their bench scores big. Talent can only take you so far. Sometimes, we need that little extra push that puts us over the top. Call it what you want, but in my book, it's luck.
10. Consistency and Momentum - It is good to have momentum on your side. A winning streak is what you need when it counts. Entering the playoffs on a streak is definitely in your best interest. Even if you hit on all of the aforementioned factors above, you still have to do it again at least two weeks in a row, if not three. Having a winning streak means your lineup has had consistent success in consecutive weeks. Your roster probably possesses some studs and those who have risen to the occasion as a result of opportunity. You probably had at least one or two players exceed expectations and it's safe to say your opponents couldn't compete. Teams with a recent winning streak tend to excel in the playoffs. The team who led the league in points, who recently suffered a big injury to one of their studs is limping into the playoffs and isn't as big of a threat as they once were. Ride your streak and momentum to a championship.
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