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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 6-7 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:
San Francisco over Seattle
The two regular-season matchups were close, but this 49ers roster has a lot more playoff experience.
Buffalo over Miami
Tua Tagovailoa isn’t walking through the door.
Cincinnati over Baltimore
Lamar Jackson isn’t walking through that door.
Jacksonville over LA Chargers
How many teams have lost to another team by 28 points in the regular season only to beat them in the playoffs? The game was actually closer than the 38-10 score indicated, and that's the game when Joey Bosa went down. In the end, I’ll take Doug Pederson over Brandon Staley to make a call here, but it’s a low-confidence call.
Minnesota over NY Giants
How do you make a confident call in this game? The matchup three weeks ago went down to the wire, and the Vikings offensive line lost one of their best players since then. This should come down to the last possession again and Kirk Cousins is actually underrated in those situations.
Tampa Bay over Dallas
The Cowboys have never beaten Tom Brady, and they have to overcome Mike McCarthy’s negative postseason influence. If we’re basing this on the quality of the teams in the regular season, the Cowboys should win easily, and the 19-3 loss in the season opener when Dak Prescott went down is small in the rearview mirror, but my stance remains “believe it when I see it” when it comes to Dallas and playoff success.
Divisional Round picks in order of confidence:
Kansas City over Jacksonville
Our choice in the LAC/JAX Wild Card looms large here, as if this was a matchup with the Chargers, we would have to rate it as Chiefs medium or even low confidence because of the familiarity between the two teams and how close the matchups were this season. So Bills fans should be Jaguars fans during Wild Card weekend.
San Francisco over Minnesota
The 49ers defense is the strongest force in this game, and their offense has been reloaded. If the Vikings lose to the Giants, the 49ers will get the winner of the DAL/TB game, which is probably a tougher matchup, but still one we should have at least a medium level of confidence in San Francisco winning.
Philadelphia over Tampa Bay
The Eagles will be more vulnerable in a matchup with the Bucs or Cowboys than a Giants team that just won in Minnesota, and this Eagles team got smoked by the Bucs in the Wild Card last year. The Cowboys might be more confident in a matchup against Philadelphia than they will be against the Bucs. So the Eagles fans should be rooting for the Giants to be their divisional opponent even though there is familiarity there, and the backups played the Eagles somewhat close last week.
Buffalo over Cincinnati
It’s inevitable that these two will meet again, isn’t it? It’s probably a coinflip on the field, but the Bills will be at home, which is not the case in alternate universes where the Bengals beat the Bills on Monday night in Week 17. It’s also entirely possible that the winner of this game hosts the Chargers in the AFC championship game.
Conference Championship picks in order of confidence:
Buffalo over Kansas City
It’s almost impossible to have anything but low confidence in the outcome of this game but high confidence in the entertainment value. I’ll take the Bills on hope more than anything else, but the Chiefs have proven more often that they will limit mistakes in the playoffs.
San Francisco over Philadelphia
This Eagles team is good and complete, but few of them have experienced playoff success. I’ll cop to thinking the 49ers' Super Bowl chances were over when Garoppolo went down, but now it appears they can make it without him - although they could get him back for this game or the Super Bowl.
Tiered Team Ranking By Range of Outcomes/Fantasy Offensive Potential
First Tier - Cornerstones
- Kansas City - One and done vs. the Chargers is possible, but their playoff track record is tough to ignore
- Buffalo - Two games are almost assured, and they are the most likely team to play four
- Cincinnati - Two games are almost assured, and they just played four last year
- San Francisco - Two games are almost assured, and we know this coaching staff and roster can go deep in the playoffs
Second Tier - Potential League Winners with Risk
- Philadelphia - A Wild Card matchup with Tampa or Dallas would be dangerous. 1-3 games possible
- Tampa Bay - The Bucs almost beat the Rams last year and might have been rope-a-doping the NFC
- Dallas - The first game might be the toughest
- LA Chargers - They can be this year’s Bengals
Third Tier - Multiple Games Possible, but a Super Bowl run?
- Jacksonville - They already crushed the Chargers this year, but getting back Buffalo or Kansas City is a much taller order.
- Minnesota - How can you have confidence in this team to beat San Francisco?
- NY Giants - They can beat the Vikings, but the Eagles are another story
Fourth Tier - Likely One and Done
- Baltimore - No Lamar, No Chance
- Miami - No Tua, No Chance
- Seattle - They have a better chance of winning than Miami or Baltimore, but not much
Strategy Cliff’s Notes
- With 14 playoff teams and six Wild Card games, it is less important than ever to get Wild Card weekend scoring with your early picks.
- Quarterback is deep enough this year to go CMC/Kelce/WR1 from your Super Bowl favorite instead of a quarterback in the first round
- Running Back committees and somewhat open brackets on both sides make running back a lower priority early unless McCaffrey falls to you.
- Wide Receiver production on Wild Card weekend will be cheap. If you take a wide receiver early, there should be high confidence that their team will be playing 3+ games
- Tight End is also surprisingly deep. With the best ball nature of playoff fantasy football roster and scoring, don’t feel like Kelce has to be the pick in the early first unless you are really confident in the Chiefs to win the AFC.
14. Tyler Huntley, BAL **Monitor Status**
15. Teddy Bridgewater, MIA **Monitor Status**
16. Skylar Thompson, MIA **Monitor Status**
17. Lamar Jackson, BAL **Monitor Status**
18. Anthony Brown, BAL **Monitor Status**
19. Gardner Minshew, PHI
20. Chad Henne, KC
Notes: You can punt quarterback in the early rounds and still get two assured games with a chance at more with a Brady/Prescott, Cousins/Jones, or Purdy/Smith conversation… Justin Herbert has a good chance of finishing in the top four quarterbacks if he and the Chargers can beat the Jaguars in the Wild Card round… Consider Garoppolo in the later rounds even if you didn’t take Purdy, especially if you don’t take a top-four quarterback… Hurts pairs well with Brady or Prescott to hedge against a Divisional Round upset… You can get cheap Wild Card week production by being on top of the Miami/Baltimore quarterback situations, which pairs well with Mahomes or Hurts as an early pick.
36. Chris Evans, CIN
37. Trayveon Williams, CIN
38. Trey Sermon, PHI
39. Kene Nwangwu, MIN
40. KeShawn Vaughn, TB
41. Isaiah Spiller, LAC
42. Salvon Ahmed, MIA
43. Matt Breida, NYG
44. Gary Brightwell, NYG
45. Snoop Conner, JAX
46. Justice Hill, BAL
47. Ty Chandler, MIN
48. Giovani Bernard, TB
49. Godwin Igwebuike, SEA
Notes: McCaffrey is a justifiable #1 overall pick, and Ekeler #2 if you’re confident the Chargers will beat the Jaguars… with Dallas, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, and Kansas City employing committees, it’s not difficult to get reasonable running back production without spending a first- or second-round pick on the position. Most teams will have low running back scoring… Consider filling more of your bench than usual on backups and third-string backs from teams you think will go far in the playoff. With fewer running back points to go around this year, stealing 5-10 points in one of the last two playoff rounds takes on increased importance… Going Zero RB in playoff drafts may be advisable this year, with Jeff Wilson and J.K. Dobbins (and maybe even Ken Walker) available as cheap Wild Card producers after the top players from all of the teams more likely to win at least one game are gone.
8. Justin Jefferson, MIN
9. CeeDee Lamb, DAL
10. Keenan Allen, LAC
11. Mike Evans, TB
12. Chris Godwin, TB
13. Mike Williams, LAC **Monitor Status**
14. Tyreek Hill, MIA
15. DK Metcalf, SEA
16. Tyler Lockett, SEA
17. Jaylen Waddle, MIA
31. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, KC
32. Josh Palmer, LAC
33. Quez Watkins, PHI
34. Jauan Jennings, SF
35. Isaiah McKenzie, BUF
36. Michael Gallup, DAL
37. T.Y. Hilton, DAL
38. Ray-Ray McCloud, SF
39. Skyy Moore, KC
40. Julio Jones, TB **Monitor Status**
41. Trenton Irwin, CIN
42. DeAndre Carter, LAC
43. Khalil Shakir, BUF
44. John Brown, BUF
45. Cole Beasley, BUF
46. Zach Pascal, PHI
47. Justin Watson, KC
48. Demarcus Robinson, BAL
49. Marvin Jones, JAX
50. Jamal Agnew, JAX
51. Kenny Golladay, NYG
52. Noah Brown, DAL
53. Trent Taylor, CIN
54. Sammy Watkins, BAL
55. Trent Sherfield, MIA
56. Cedrick Wilson, MIA
57. Dareke Young, SEA
58. Jalen Nailor, MIN
59. Danny Gray, SF
Notes: Wild Card weekend production will be plentiful and cheap, with Miami and Seattle’s receivers likely taking a draft hit because of a one-and-done outlook, and Jacksonville, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, the Chargers, and the Giants all giving up multiple options, meaning some will come at a discount… Kansas City’s muddled wide receiver depth chart should make their options inexpensive and a good source of points later in the playoffs… Try to get at least two of Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, Isaiah McKenzie, Khalil Shakir, Trenton Irwin, and Quez Watkins on your bench as possible cheap late playoff points… Stacking was a thing in playoff fantasy before we ever heard the term “DFS”. You want to pair your quarterbacks with some of their targets to make your roster a bet on a few teams to go deep in the playoffs… Taking a stand on who you think will win and go deep in the playoffs is easier at wide receiver than it is at other positions.
1. Travis Kelce, KC
2. George Kittle, SF
12. Noah Gray, KC
21. Dan Arnold, JAX
22. Blake Bell, KC
23. Quintin Morris, BUF
24. Durham Smythe, MIA
25. Mitchell Wilcox, CIN
26. Jake Ferguson, DAL
27. Peyton Hendershot, DAL
28. Jack Stoll, PHI
29. Grant Calcaterra, PHI
30. Lawrence Cager, NYG
Notes: Unlike in the regular season, the uncertainties of the playoff bracket, surprising depth at tight end, and best ball nature of playoff fantasy shrink the gap between Travis Kelce and the pack. Don’t feel like you have to force Kelce in the first, even if you like the Chiefs to go to the Super Bowl… There are enough good tight ends for most teams in a classic six-team draft to have two. Consider pairing Daniel Bellinger with T.J. Hockenson and a Chargers tight with Evan Engram to insure two games out of the position… Mark Andrews will probably be overdrafted on name-brand value.
1. San Francisco
5. Kansas City
7. Tampa Bay
8. Los Angeles Chargers
10. New York Giants
Notes: Whether to bolster your strong positions on teams or use kicker/defense to hedge your early-round picks is up to you. Having a kicker and/or D/ST in the Super Bowl can keep you alive if you build an early lead but don’t have main pieces of the Super Bowl offenses, but generally, alignment with early picks will increase your chances of winning since if the teams of your early picks don’t make it to the Super Bowl, you probably aren’t going to win.