For so many of you, 2016 was a bad year fantasy-wise. There were devastating disappointments in your first round picks (Adrian Peterson, Todd Gurley, DeAndre Hopkins anyone?), there were heartbreakingly bad performances at the wrong times (-1 points for Dez Bryant in the playoffs), and guys going off on your bench while you tore your hair out. But that’s all behind us now. Another fantasy season is in the books, for better or for worse. Now we have the actual NFL playoffs, and the challenging extension of your own fantasy season with the NFL.com Playoff Challenge!
Quickly, for those of you not familiar with the playoff challenge (which I will be doing on NFL.com for the fourth time this year), it’s a simple system where you can pick a quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker, and a defense. I know, it sounds like a regular fantasy lineup, doesn’t it? But each round is a separate entity, and you can re-pick your entire roster, if you’d like to, in the second round, in the third round, and even in the Super Bowl round. The key, though, is to pick the players who end up with the most points during that week to set you up for the following week with the most points in your league.
Throw in the multipliers that NFL.com mixes in, and it complicates matters even more, turning the whole thing into a chess match. A multiplier is a bonus given to players who go deeper into the playoffs. For example, if I pick Le’Veon Bell in the wild card round he gets me standard points for that round. But if the Steelers win and I keep Bell in my lineup for next week’s divisional round he will get me double the points he earns next week. If they win that contest he will get me three times the points he earns in the conference round, on up to a possible four times bonus in the Super Bowl.
The key to a win in the Playoff Challenge is to guess right from the start. Here is the “most picked” lineup on NFL.com right now…
As you can see, most playoff challenge participants are sold on the Steelers and Packers making a long run from out of the wild card round, counting on Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown to get them some serious multipliers. For good measure they’ve also thrown in three Patriots in Bennett, Gostkowski, and the NE defense. Oh, and Ezekiel Elliott for good measure.
You can pick players from teams not playing during the Wild Card round as well (as shown with the NE and DAL players above), and they will get their bonus multipliers next week, so if you’re dying to put Elliott in your lineup this week he will get you no points, but next week he will get you double. You might do that if you’re not sold on any of the running backs not named Bell playing this week, or if you want to get a jumpstart on the big points you think Elliott will get you next week and going forward. It’s about betting on the team to advance past next week’s divisional round.
So, what should you do when trying to set your lineup for Wild Card week? Play the odds, but remember the statistics as well. For example, only two teams will actually get to the Super Bowl and be able to reward you with the four times multiplier at that time. If you can hit on those two teams from the start and you load your Playoff Challenge entry with them you have a more than legitimate shot to take home the top prize.
Here’s my Wild Card lineup:
Odds are for the Patriots making the Super Bowl, so most of the players from New England have pretty high starting percentages on the Playoff Challenge board. While I think those odds are pretty accurate, I think there are some red flags for the favorites that we shouldn’t ignore. One is the missing Gronk, and Bennett has been anything but a reliable option for Tom Brady. Another is the defense that has picked it up lately, but is also not reliable. So I’m counting on Tom Brady to put up points, but I’m less sure of the rest of the team.
The one team I could see beating the Patriots at Gillette Stadium is the second seeded Chiefs, and I’ve loaded up on them, with Kelce, Santos, and their defense, which could limit Brady’s options if the two teams meet as expected in the Championship Round. It doesn’t hurt to think ahead when setting your lineup. Then I put my sights on the NFC, and I just don’t trust either the Cowboys or the Packers (the best record and the hottest team). That Falcons run game has been otherworldly, so I’m all in on them, with Freeman and Coleman taking over my backfield.
Last but certainly not least, I needed another wide receiver to complement Edelman, so I stuck with the best one on the NFC side (in my opinion) in Julio Jones. This means my entire lineup will score absolutely no points in the Wild Card round but I will get double points for every single one of them next week in the Divisional round. It is my first time trying this strategy, and we’ll see if it pays dividends. If the Chiefs, Patriots, and Falcons each win their Divisional round games it will get me triple points for every single one of my chosen players in the Championship round, which might be the difference between winning and losing.
But you need to do your own evaluations, to pick the teams you think most likely to advance, and then stick with the most consistent performers from those teams to round out your Wild Card lineup. Good luck. This week always gives us at least one surprise. Hopefully it isn’t your team losing.