For contending dynasty teams, it is time to start looking at playoff matchups. While Week 17 is the title week for fantasy football, I like to look at Week 16 more as a high-level team. Most prize structures are built where even getting to the championship game is worth 2-3x the entry fee, where teams losing in Week 16 are relegated to playing for third place where many get their entry fee back and maybe a little more. The loser of the third-place game may get nothing at all. In short, Week 16 is the high-leverage week of the season. Also, strong teams are angling for the bye week, which excludes Week 15 from their slate of matchups. For other playoff teams, Week 15 is the most important week and a central point of analysis.
For all skill positions, the following categories and weighting were created for the rest of the fantasy season for analysis:
Elite Teams: Highest weighting for Week 16 (semi-finals) as a bye week is likely for these teams, second-highest is Week 17, then lower weighting for the rest of the remaining games.
Playoff Teams: Possible bye week, but likely finish somewhere in the Seeds 3-6 range of the playoffs. Highest weighting for Week 15, next is Week 16, then more flat for the rest of the season's weeks.
Possible Playoff: Fighting for a playoff spot, making the upcoming weeks more important as losses may eliminate these teams from contention. More weighting for Weeks 10-11, slightly less for Weeks 12-14, then Week 15 is higher than the rest of the fantasy playoffs.
Use these sections for each position to guide which applies most to individual team direction and needs.
The Footballguys Adjusted Strength of Schedule tool (SOS) is a must-use feature on the site. I deplore raw SOS tools merely stating the points allowed by defenses to each position. More context is needed, and Footballguys looks at the adjusted points allowed based on how the positions scored in other games compared to the defense in question.
The clear best aSOS with the weighting outlined in the introduction. Washington twice over the closing four weeks, including Week 16 (the most important week for these teams), plus a quality regular-season finish to likely ensure the bye week. Cooper Rush is a quality Superflex stash as well as Dak Prescott being the main fantasy play here.
- Best of the rest: Panthers, Eagles, Titans, Rams
Ryan Tannehill is one of the intriguing names here, especially if A.J. Brown and Julio Jones are healthy in the critical weeks. In weeks 14-17, Tennessee has all neutral or better matchups for quarterbacks on their current schedule.
Clearly the top option, Jalen Hurts has Washington in the most important Week 15 for these teams in the opening round of the fantasy playoffs. Washington is also on the schedule in Week 17.
- Best of the rest: 49ers, Cowboys, Dolphins, Rams
- Best of the rest: Raiders, Eagles, Jaguars, 49ers
Derek Carr (Marcus Mariota as a Superflex stash) and Trevor Lawrence are new names here. Laviska Shenault Jr has been a disappointment, but he and Marvin Jones Jr (plus Jamal Agnew) are key players if Lawrence does elevate with the quality closing stretch for the Jaguars with their lone tough matchups left are the Rams (Week 13, might be declared in or out of playoffs by then) and the Patriots (Week 17, do not worry about the title week as a fringe or fighting-for-a-spot team many weeks away).
Notable Poor Schedules
- Colts: 30th or worse in all three weighting categories. Hopefully 'bad Carson Wentz' does not align with the schedule difficulty in the closing weeks.
- Ravens: No quality matchups remaining in the aSOS. Packers and Rams are poor matchups occurring in the playoffs.
- Broncos: Poor rankings regardless of the weighting, no strong matchups remaining.
- Vikings: Three straight subpar matchups in the playoffs (Bears, Rams, Packers)
- Jaguars, Broncos, Bears
- Best of the rest: Texans, Eagles, Falcons
The Texans are a mess with a big committee approach to the position, the Eagles have only recently (and without Miles Sanders) rediscovered their run game, and Mike Davis has lost plenty of fantasy appeal with Cordarrelle Patterson's breakout. If Houston's depth chart clarifies with an injury or two, there is fantasy playoff impact potential. Miles Sanders healthy in the closing weeks could also qualify for impact. Mike Davis is one to hold in case Patterson misses time (biggest workload by far in his career in 2021).
Clearly the top option, the Jets are a crown jewel aSOS matchup awaiting Miami in Week 15, the first round of most fantasy playoffs for non-bye teams. They also have the Jets in Week 11 upcoming. Salvon Ahmed is an underrated injury-away option at least until Malcolm Brown is back and healthy.
- Best of the rest: Broncos, Rams, 49ers
The Broncos are included again here. The upside is massive for Melvin Gordon III or Javonte Williams if the other misses time. Darrell Henderson has Seattle and Baltimore as quality matchups in the playoffs, and the 49ers' hodge-podge of backs have impact potential with the Seahawks, Bengals, and Falcons down the stretch.
See above, the Jets are THE aSOS matchups for opposing running backs with a glorious +13.7 PPG through nine weeks.
- Best of the rest: Broncos, Browns, Texans, 49ers
Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and D'Ernest Johnson with the Browns are the new names here. Every week through Week 15 is an above-average aSOS matchup for the Browns run game. Unless Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are fully healthy, do not drop Johnson.
NOTABLE POOR SCHEDULES
- Chargers: Poor across the board, they have been rotating and searching for their RB2 throughout the season as well. Do not lock on to a non-Austin Ekeler option with a roster spot unless there is unquestioned clarity leading into the playoffs as the schedule is not conducive for 'just a guy' to vault to high-level fantasy impact.
- Ravens: Brutal closing schedule with only one above-average matchup remaining (Week 16, Bengals). Plus, their committee has been jumbled this season to sour their appeal.
- Panthers: Christian McCaffrey is an auto-start player, but the schedule includes tough Buffalo and New Orleans matchups in the playoffs, and Tampa Bay as the third postseason matchup is not ideal either.
The clear best aSOS with the weighting outlined in the introduction. WR2 and beyond has been a major question mark - plus quarterback - but D.J. Moore will have every opportunity to shine late in the fantasy season. Only Buffalo over their final six games is a tough matchup and Tampa Bay and New Orleans are two of the best matchups, which cover the semifinal and title fantasy weeks for Carolina. Robby Anderson (poor production) and Terrace Marshall Jr (hurt) are possible options if they show more productive signs leading up to the playoffs for consideration.
- Best of the rest: Cowboys, Dolphins, Eagles, Jets
Quarterback questions abound here beyond the Cowboys, but if there is clarity of targets specifically for the Jets (Corey Dave, Elijah Moore, Jamison Crowder) or Dolphins (DeVante Parker in and out of lineup, Jaylen Waddle) auto-start status could be coming down in the pipeline with a quality schedule in the playoffs. Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson are names to remember if Amari Cooper and/or CeeDee Lamb were to miss time down the stretch.
Clearly the top option, Jalen Hurts is the wildcard at quarterback. Devonta Smith has been promising in his opening weeks in the NFL. Jalen Reagor has struggled in Year 2 in the WR2 role after flashes in 2020.
- Best of the rest: Buccaneers, Titans
There is plenty of fantasy firepower at wide receiver among these teams. Health will be the biggest factor with Antonio Brown working back from injury and Julio Jones and A.J. Brown tough to trust with their health at points this season. The perfect storm of availability added to their optimal schedules can fuel title game appearances.
Again mentioned here, the schedule luxury is getting Washington twice over the three weeks of the fantasy playoffs, plus the Saints and Jets over the next month as quality matchups.
- Best of the rest: Buccaneers, Cowboys
Both teams are universally coveted for fantasy purposes and the schedules match the same universal appeal in the closing weeks of the season.
NOTABLE POOR SCHEDULES
- Broncos: Only one good matchup left in aSOS and it is a marginal Cincinnati matchup in Week 15. They are bottom-three across the board by weighting.
- Bengals: Ja'Marr Chase has been a fantasy darling, but the schedule is poor in the playoffs and with multiple other difficult matchups over the next month.
- Browns: Only Pittsburgh is a decent matchup left and they are out in Week 17.
- Colts: Light on fantasy options outside of Michael Pittman Jr, T.Y. Hilton might be a cut in shallow formats if waiting on his health to improve. The playoff schedule is brutal for Indianapolis wide receivers with the Patriots, Cardinals, and Raiders.
- Washington, Bengals, Broncos
The sneaky name is C.J. Uzomah here. Their Week 15 is tough with Denver, but if looking like a bye week team, Baltimore and Kansas City are saucy for the two remaining playoff matchups. If light at tight end, monitor Ricky Seals-Jones in Washington closely down the stretch if another team cuts him. Washington has a consistently good schedule for tight ends and Logan Thomas is currently working back from injury. Noah Fant or Albert Okwuegbunam is capable of exploiting a soft schedule for impact as well.
- Best of the rest: Cardinals, Jets
- Best of the rest: Texans, Browns
Brevin Jordan is a possible name for Houston as Jordan Akins has shown little this season. If there were greatly clarity with an injury to at least one of Cleveland's trio of tight ends, a high-level fantasy outcome in the playoffs would be far more likely. Only the Patriots in Week 10 are a stay-away aSOS matchup remaining for the Browns' tight ends.
See above as Washington has the go-to schedule to target for the playoffs at tight end plus the ramp-up to close the regular season.
- Best of the rest: Texans, Jaguars, Giants
NOTABLE POOR SCHEDULES
- Lions: T.J. Hockenson's best matchups (and lone good ones) are buried in Weeks 16-17. The regular-season closing stretch is brutal.
- Bills: Dawson Knox (or Tommy Sweeney) have a tough Carolina-New England combination in Weeks 15-16, plus the Patriots and Saints in the closing weeks of the regular season.