Rarely does a fantasy football league champion resemble its roster from Week 1. Its almost a necessity that successful teams be assembled as the season progresses, through trades and savvy waver wire pickups. Three of the top four scoring RBs in the last five weeks (Jerome Harrison, Jamaal Charles and Jonathan Stewart) were some combination of a.) undrafted b.) backups that were c.) picked from the waiver wire at midseason.
To the extent that draft prep is but a piece of the pie, the same is true when drafting players based their projected success in weeks 13-16, when most league playoffs take place.
That being said, here are three strategies to guide your long-term draft plan:
1.) Avoid QBs, WRs and TEs on the Road
Offensive game plans for visiting teams are generally more conservative than at home, so the home/away dynamic is always something to consider when choosing who to start. But it’s even more true in November and December, when weather creates difficult conditions for passing attacks.
Not coincidentally, QBs and WRs score significantly fewer points in away games in November and December than at home. In week 13-16 last season, 65% of top 10 scoring WRs each week (26/40), and 60% of top-10 scoring QBs (24/40) played at home.
With that in mind, here are eight teams playing AWAY in 3 out of 4 games during the fantasy playoffs: Redskins, Falcons, Saints, 49ers, Jets, Browns, Texans, Broncos
Conversely, these nine teams: are HOME in 3 out of 4 games during the fantasy playoffs: Lions, Vikings, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Dolphins, Bengals, Steelers, Titans, Chargers
Consider this when it’s your turn to pick and you’re deciding between, say, Matt Schaub and Philip Rivers.
2.) Worry About Schedule, But Don’t Live and Die By It
Projected strength of schedule is an oft-cited strategy for predicting which players will perform late in the season. Generally speaking, it’s a good basic tool, but certainly not a guarantee. Last season Minnesota Vikings, the #1 defense for most of the season, became an ideal opponent for fantasy players to feast on in the playoffs. They surrendered eight top-10 fantasy performances during these four games.
Similarly, the New York Giants, traditionally a team to avoid in fantasy matchups, allowed over 1500 yards and 122 points during the same span.
Conversely, the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Bucs and Cleveland Browns, weak defenses for most of the year, closed out the season strong, allowing just 11 players to produce top-ten scoring games for this playoff stretch.
Here are the 10 weakest defenses from last season between weeks 13-16 (based on points allowed):
Point is, you can’t draft entirely based on the preseason projection of weak defenses that will face individual players, but it’s not wholly disconnected from fantasy performance. The Lions, Chiefs, Rams, Jaguars and Saints were perceived as weak in the 2009 preseason.
This year, the consensus worst projected defenses are familiar faces. In order, from worst:
So which teams have favorable schedules? Here are the teams that face a combination of at least two of these teams in weeks 13-16:
Atlanta Falcons (Bucs, Panters, Seahawks, Saints)
San Diego (Raiders, Chiefs)
Indianapolis Colts (Jaguars, Raiders)
Denver Broncos (Chiefs, Cardinals, Raiders, Texans)
Carolina Panthers (Seahawks, Falcons, Cardinals)
Seattle Seahawks (Panthers, Falcons, Bucs)
Arizona Cardinals (Rams, Panthers)
Which teams to Avoid?
In addition to the teams playing road games, CBSSports’ Dave Richard broke down the strengths and weaknesses of every team schedule and declared these teams to have the worst late-season lineup: Bears, Bengals, Eagles, Giants, Lions.
Giants in particular probably have the most challenging playoff stretch ahead. They are facing top defenses each of those weeks, in Washington, Minnesota, Philadelphia. The last game, during Fantasy Super Bowl Week, is at Lambeau Field against the Packers, the top ranked fantasy defense last year.
3. Find the next Jerome Harrison and Jamaal Charles
This year’s Jerome Harrison or Jamaal Charles either won’t be drafted or will be available in later rounds of most drafts, meaning they’ll be available for an incredible value. It might come at the expense of early season success, but there always seems to be a couple of these guys who emerge at just the right time to help your team. Here are few possibilities for this season
Bernard Scott, CIN: In his rookie year last year Scott filled in admirably for Cedric Benson. In two games as the starter he gained 206 yard in 39 carries. Scott is small and speedy in the Charles mold and has big play potential.
Brandon Jackson,GB: Jackson will be in on 3rd down because of his blocking and receiving skills, so he’ll see touches. In three years, his action has been limited but he has good size and was drafted to be a workhorse back. Ryan Grant has a mild injury history and is in the last year of his contract. If he begins to struggle Jackson might get an opportunity to take over that role to transition him into a starting role for next season. .
Chris Ogbonnaya, STL: Ogbonnaya just passed Kenneth Darby on the RB depth chart and now backs up Steven Jackson. Jackson has carried the ball an average of 280 times over the last 5 seasons and had offseason back surgery. No one would be shocked if Jackson missed time due to an injury.