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Fantasy Football: Planning Ahead to the Playoffs With Quarterbacks

Do you trust Joe Flacco in the first round of the fantasy playoffs? No? Well, let’s put it this way. Do you trust that the Indianapolis Colts will give up a fair amount of points, as they have done to Drew Brees and Matt Ryan recently? Because that’s who Flacco will draw in week 14, which, depending on your league, could be the first week of the playoffs.

I used to be the Marty Schottenheimer of Fantasy Football playoffs. I often had very good regular seasons, with teams that had good depth and top starters. When the playoffs came around, I often “danced with the ones who brung me” and ended up getting pipped in the playoffs by some guy who went off in a game. Over the last five years, I’ve adapted and started winning in the playoffs more because I am willing to play matchups, find stars that have good ones, and then fill in with favorable matchups elsewhere.

Nothing is guaranteed, and this is all just probability, but at this point in the year, we are getting a pretty good idea of who is good or bad defensively, and can better plan ahead.

The first step, though, is looking back. Chase Stuart does a great “rearview quarterback” thing at Footballguys each preseason where he adjusts the previous year by the difficulty of the opponents, to get a baseline to look forward. If you want to accurately assess a QB’s value, you need to know how much is tied to the difficulty (or lack thereof) of the schedule. For example, Eli Manning is ranked pretty highly right now. He has also played the easiest passing schedule to date. Matt Hasselbeck and Joe Flacco, meanwhile, have played difficult passing schedules so far, and when we adjust for opponent, those 3 have similar fantasy points over average.

So I went through each QB’s past schedule and average fantasy points, and adjusted for the average points given up by that defense. Once I was able to “schedule adjust” the past performance, I put the players in tiers. For players that have not started all year, I used the production of the other QB in the same offense, if I thought it was appropriate, and then guesstimated off that. For example, Tebow is more valuable than Orton because of the rushing numbers, so I bumped Tebow up and used both his numbers plus an increase over what Orton averaged.

Here are the eight different tiers of fantasy quarterbacks, and I will emphasize fantasy there. These are not estimates of who is better. Some guys get more chances because the offense throws more and trails more, while others play in systems that limit their chances. Winning in fantasy is all about the total production, regardless of whether it is good or not.

TIER 1: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady

TIER 2: Drew Brees, Cam Newton

TIER 3: Michael Vick, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger

TIER 4: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Hasselbeck, Tim Tebow, Matt Schaub, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Matt Ryan

TIER 5: Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez, Kevin Kolb, Colt McCoy, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer

TIER 6: Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, Sam Bradford, Tarvaris Jackson

TIER 7: Matt Moore, John Beck

TIER 8: Matt Cassel, Curtis Painter, Blaine Gabbert

Now that we’ve adjusted the past schedules and grouped players in tiers, we can look to the future. We may not want Matt Cassel starting no matter the matchup, but we have plenty of matchups to take advantage of. Here are my suggested playoff strategies at quarterback.

1. Acquire Rodgers or Brady. Brady is a top 4 start each week from weeks 13 to 16, because of the matchups plus how good he is, and the top start in two of those weeks. Rodgers is a top 2 start each of the four weeks because of how dominant he is, so the asking price will likely be phenomenal. If you have either of these guys, hold unless you get an insane offer.

2. Go with a Joe Flacco +  Ryan Fitzpatrick combo: If you go this route, weeks 13 and 15 are reasonable matchups for either Flacco or Fitzpatrick (Baltimore plays Cleveland and San Diego; Buffalo plays Tennessee and Miami), while you would likely start Flacco in week 14 (Indianapolis) and Fitzpatrick in week 16 (Denver). Think of this like a scramble, and you’ve got two guys here with complementary matchup schedules and can use the shot you want. I project the “best ball” from this group to outscore pretty much everyone not named Rodgers, Brady and Brees, and be on par with having Cam Newton.

3. If you are a little more daring, go Joe Flacco or Ryan Fitzpatrick + Tim Tebow: Tebow is a little riskier because he’s not guaranteed to remain the starter if his actual play (as opposed to his fantasy value) plummets, but I think he’s a decent risk. These two complement each other well. Flacco and Tebow checks in just below a Flacco/Fitz pairing, and you would probably start Flacco weeks 13 and 14, and Tebow weeks 15 and 16.

4. If you are really desperate or daring and can hold 3 quarterbacks, go with Matt Hasselbeck, Carson Palmer (or John Beck/Rex Grossman, gulp), plus Matt Moore. This one is all about setting matchups and playing against the worst pass defenses for fantasy football. Week 13 gives you Hasslebeck vs. Buffalo or Palmer vs. Miami. Week 14, Palmer plays Green Bay while the Redskins play the Patriots’ pass defense. Week 15, Hasselbeck goes to play indoors at Indianapolis, and in week 16, Matt Moore might give you the spot start of the century against those Patriots. I wouldn’t go this route if I had one of the Big 3, but if I had Matt Schaub or Eli Manning (who have below average schedules), and one of these guys on my roster already, I might try to swing some trades to improve my running backs or receivers.

Here are my projected best starts for weeks 13-16, based on the QB’s current fantasy production adjusted for opponent, and the future opponents. You can find where your starter is listed each week, and perhaps deal for a good complementary backup or platoon starter on weeks he is not ranked as highly because of the matchup.

WEEK 13

  1. Tom Brady
  2. Aaron Rodgers
  3. Tony Romo
  4. Eli Manning
  5. Cam Newton
  6. Drew Brees
  7. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  8. Michael Vick
  9. Matt Hasselbeck
  10. Matt Stafford
  11. Ben Roethlisberger
  12. Joe Flacco
  13. Curtis Painter
  14. Tim Tebow
  15. Jay Cutler
  16. Christian Ponder

WEEK 14

  1. Aaron Rodgers
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Joe Flacco
  4. Tom Brady
  5. Michael Vick
  6. Matt Stafford
  7. Cam Newton
  8. Phillip Rivers
  9. Tony Romo
  10. Ben Roethlisberger
  11. Carson Palmer
  12. John Beck
  13. Alex Smith
  14. Mark Sanchez
  15. Jay Cutler
  16. Eli Manning

WEEK 15

  1. Aaron Rodgers
  2. Tom Brady
  3. Drew Brees
  4. Tim Tebow
  5. Matt Stafford
  6. Matt Hasselbeck
  7. Tony Romo
  8. Ben Roethlisberger
  9. Cam Newton
  10. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  11. Colt McCoy
  12. Joe Flacco
  13. Mark Sanchez
  14. Josh Freeman
  15. Matt Cassel
  16. Jay Cutler

WEEK 16

  1. Tom Brady
  2. Aaron Rodgers
  3. Cam Newton
  4. Drew Brees
  5. Matt Schaub
  6. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  7. Tony Romo
  8. Ben Roethlisberger
  9. Michael Vick
  10. Tim Tebow
  11. Matt Moore
  12. Jay Cutler
  13. Matt Stafford
  14. Joe Flacco
  15. Andy Dalton
  16. Carson Palmer

[photo via Getty]

 

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