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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 Lamar Jackson but had to settle for Brock Purdy, then you are going to favor 49ers over Ravens 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
Cleveland over Houston
The C.J. Stroud story is great, and when Cleveland thumped the Texans in Week 16, they didn't have their starting quarterback, so we won't completely rule out the home team here. But the Browns are the more balanced team, and Joe Flacco has energized them. This is the kind of game the young Texans use to learn what it takes to win in the postseason.
Buffalo over Pittsburgh
The Steelers can turn this into a streetfight. The weather is forecast to be cold and extremely windy, nullifying some of the Buffalo quarterback advantage, and the Steelers have the better running game. Still, the Bills are just the better team, and picking Mason Rudolph to win a road playoff game feels like a stretch.
Dallas over Green Bay
The recent resurgence of Aaron Jones and the possible return of Christian Watson make the Packers offense more capable of hanging with Dak Prescott and the league's hottest offense in the second half of the season. But this Cowboys team summarily dismissed the Tom Brady Buccaneers on the road last year in the Wild Card round, and they are one of the best home teams in the league.
LA Rams over Detroit
The Lions have been great at home this year, and they have more than demonstrated that they can perform at a playoff level of play there. They have impact players on both sides of the ball and probably have a better roster than the Rams. The playoff coaching experience and Stafford vs. Goff gaps still make it hard to pick the Lions.
Kansas City over Miami
The weather in Kansas City is forecast to be colder than Buffalo and not as windy, but still enough to affect the downfield passing game. The Chiefs offense is limited, so this is probably going to be a one possession game. The Mike McDaniel Dolphins hung around after falling behind 17-0 in the playoffs last year at Buffalo, losing 34-31 and leading 24-20 in the second half at one point with Skylar Thompson at quarterback. It feels very close to 50-50, but the Dolphins have lost their top two pass rushers, while Xavien Howard is iffy at best. This the toughest AFC game to predict.
Tampa Bay over Philadelphia
The Eagles offense is banged up at multiple positions, and the team couldn't be colder entering the playoffs. The Buccaneers have an injured quarterback and a lesser roster. This game is the closest to a coin flip on the Wild Card slate.
Divisional Round Picks in Order of Confidence
San Francisco over LA Rams
Kyle Shanahan has had the edge over Sean McVay for a while, and the 49ers clearly have the better roster. Christian McCaffrey's calf is an X factor, and the game between these two in Week 2 was a three-point game going into the fourth quarter, so it's not a slam dunk. We would have even more confidence in San Francisco if they play anyone but the Rams in this round.
Dallas over Tampa Bay
If the Cowboys draw the Lions, this will be a low-confidence Cowboys pick. So the outcome of the other Wild Card games is going to have a big effect on the relative ease or difficulty in the path to a rematch with the 49ers or, even better, hosting the NFC Championship game. But if it's Philadelphia or Tampa Bay, neither team seems like they can go into Arlington and win right now.
Baltimore over Cleveland
The Browns and Ravens split the series this year (in fact, Cleveland is the last team Lamar Jackson lost to), and they didn't play after Joe Flacco took over, so maybe this should be low confidence. The Browns have at least a puncher's chance, and the Ravens don't have a history of overachieving in the postseason during the Lamar Jackson era. It's still impossible to ignore how good the Ravens looked on both sides of the ball against the 49ers and Dolphins in Weeks 16 and 17. The fun Flacco story comes to an end here.
Buffalo over Kansas City
Nothing about how the Chiefs have played lately makes you want to pick them, but the Bills were big-time underachievers in the playoffs last year, and they haven't exactly peaked in the last three weeks of the season, despite having must-win games in Weeks 16 and 17. Home-field advantage and the Chiefs' flaws being more to overcome than the Bills give Buffalo the edge.
Conference Championship Picks in Order of Confidence
San Francisco over Dallas
Dallas is mortal away from home, and the 49ers embarrassed them earlier this season. There's no reason to expect a vastly different result this time around.
Baltimore over Buffalo
Three years ago, the Bills beat the Ravens 17-3 in a divisional game in Buffalo. Justin Tucker missed two field goals, and Lamar Jackson threw a pick-six that was returned 101 yards on third and goal. Those Ravens weren't as good on offense or defense as these Ravens. The Bills looked like a team that could go into Dallas and win against the Cowboys, but they barely beat the Easton Stick Chargers the next week. Both of these teams have been perennial underachievers in the playoffs. We have to give Baltimore a decisive edge on the quality of play over the whole season compared to the inconsistency of the Bills.
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