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Playoff Matchup Magic?


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Over the years, I have seen many arguments over whether to take into consideration playoff schedule when drafting players. I’ve heard the arguments for and against. I’ve heard the arguments about how defenses vary from year to year. I’ve heard about how you can’t predict how good they will be, and therefore that it is an effort in futility to try to set your team up by drafting players with favorable playoff schedules. And, after extensive study and a lot of success and trophies, I have found that to be absolute bologna!

Look, is there some truth and validity to those arguments? Absolutely. But you also have to remember that some of that is predictable. Coaching changes, free agents and high draft picks can change defenses from year to year and also help enthusiasts like ourselves predict these improvements. For example, the Houston Texans had one of the worst defenses and pass defenses in history two years ago. But after signing Jonathan Joseph, adding a fantastic defensive coordinator in Wade Phillips, adding a bunch of pass rush and other cornerback talent throughout the draft and maturation of young players, myself and many other savvy football fanatics could easily have told you there would be vast improvement from that defense. There’s a recent example for those of us with short memory spans.

Here’s the deal. Not accounting for playoff schedules is the biggest mistake that fantasy players make. Start paying more attention to it, and planning ahead as best you can, and I promise you will start reaping the rewards. All of those playoff berths you earn will start turning to trophies and championships. After all, I don’t know how you feel but anything worse than first is a loss in my book. Making this change is the difference between a really good player and a great player.

Not convinced yet? OK, how about I come at it from a different angle? Have you ever noticed that not nearly as many of the one or two seeds win as they should in fantasy football? Think about it. Not only did they have the best record (and a good amount of time also the most points), but in the leagues I play in they also have a first-round playoff bye and only need to win two games in a row to win the championship. They comprise half of the teams left when it’s down to the final four and are supposedly the superior teams. It sounds like they should win at least 70, maybe 75 percent of the time if you really think about it. But I would guarantee if you look at the numbers that this isn’t the case. And it certainly hasn’t been the case throughout the history of the leagues in which I’ve played.

As us fantasy football faithful know, there is some luck involved. But when I went back and studied why they didn’t win, I found that the reason for this discrepancy is that many times these first-place teams aren’t always the best teams. Many times it’s because they have had many of their players hit the easy part of their schedules in the earlier part of the season. They have cashed in on all of those good matchups, and it’s no coincidence when they “cool down,” or, in reality, hit a lot of the tougher matchups on their schedules. Now sometimes there are just better teams in leagues. But many times overall points and records are very close in fantasy football, and good early schedules can be the difference between a No. 1 or a No. 3 or No. 4 seed.

The truth is, you need to target some of the players that have favorable playoff matchups. In this article, I am going to focus on running back matchups, as they are really the most predictable and the best ones to target. When Week 15 rolls around, do you want to be the guy who has Arian Foster at home against Indianapolis or the guy who has to face that man? Because if you are the one facing him, you already know you have a huge deficit to make up. Now I know that is tough, because unless you have the first pick, you’re not getting Arian Foster (unless you are in an auction of which I’m a big proponent). But I digress.

You want to be looking for running backs against certain teams in those precious playoff weeks. Of course, you always want them at home if possible, but if they have a good matchup away it’s better than nothing. You are looking for players against the likes of Oakland, Indianapolis, Cleveland (Phil Taylor probably out for the year), Denver (bad run defense, all top picks were offensive and the Broncos lost Brodrick Bunkley, their best run defense player), Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Buffalo. Those last three defenses may improve a little bit, but should still be at least a decent matchup. You can say what you want about defenses fluctuating, but if I have good running backs with those matchups come Weeks 14-16, I know I’m in fantastic shape for a playoff run to a trophy.

The fact is that once the draft is over these players are taken, and if they are not on your team, it may be difficult to trade for them. So enough theory, let’s look at some running backs to target. Arian Foster has good matchups, but get him regardless. Here is a big one to go after, target Kansas City’s backs, Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis. Not only do these two have great schedules for the whole year, but check out Weeks 12-17. The schedule - vs. Denver, vs. Carolina, at Cleveland, at Oakland, vs. Indianapolis. This is the proverbial goldmine of late-season schedule, and will help you make a playoff push and raise that trophy.

Oakland’s end-of-year schedule isn’t bad either, with Weeks 13-16 - vs. Cleveland, vs. Denver, vs. Kansas City, and at Carolina, although I believe the last two will improve from last year. Still, this is another to target, and make sure to watch the backup competition between Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones. With Darren McFadden’s injury history, you want the backup for that late-season playoff run on your team and ready to go if his injury problems persist. Denver has nice Week 14 and 16 matchups at Oakland and vs. Cleveland, even though at Baltimore doesn’t look so hot in Week 15 (although the defense is aging, showing signs of dropoff and has probably lost linebacker Terrell Suggs for the year).

Regardless, I don’t have time to run through every player. But the point I am making is that it is important to target several of these players to give yourself at least a plus matchup or two for the playoffs. It will go a long way towards bringing you home a championship. However, I must note, that this is not the only criteria to use for players. Yes, it’s incredibly important to target a few of the right guys but you still need to pick the best players at the same time. It should always be a balancing act. Remember, you still have to get into the playoffs first for this to work. And you still need great players to win.

Also, the other important thing is that it does not end at the draft. Every injury to a significant player, be it offense or defense, should prompt another look into how it affects players and schedules, etc. (or maybe if I win you could just let me do the work and you just spend a few minutes reading). A key time to do this is a few weeks before the playoffs. Running backs especially get injured a lot, and there are a lot of late-season backup playoff heroes. I shouldn’t need to remind you, but I will. Even in the last few years think about how Donald Brown, Jamaal Charles, Jerome Harrison and many others won championships for people. You need to be the one preparing and the one picking up these players in anticipation of the playoffs.

Also, the earlier you look like a lock for the playoffs, the earlier you should start planning for them and start using those roster spots for the playoffs and not for the present. Just like how when you see what defenses are doing against the Caleb Hanie-led Chicago Bears, you should pick up good defenses facing him in the playoffs.

Looking ahead and planning are how you get ahead of the competition and give yourself an edge. The discussion on defenses we will leave for another day.