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Best, worst 2017 fantasy football playoff schedules

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The NFL schedule is here, and the annual freakout is officially underway. It's always a bit shocking to me, since we've known for awhile every team's opponents, just not the order. Plus, we're months away from the season starting and supposedly "tough" schedules can suddenly become a lot more favorable based on injuries, coaching changes, cosmic alignments, and so on. All that being said, let's take a look at the best and worst fantasy playoff schedules (*hides under desk to avoid scrutiny*)!

Look, below is a ranking of the five best and worst fantasy playoff schedules by position based on fantasy points against (FPA). I know, I know, FPA is a rudimentary and hardly predictive way to approach the game of fantasy football. We're in a golden age of fantasy analysis with new voices, metrics, and ways to analyze the game emerging almost every day. This is why I try to provide some context beneath each set of rankings, for players who actually have matchups or situations they could exploit. Also, when you work for the Shield sometimes you need to create content to support tentpole events in your company's successful pursuit of making sure its sport is front and center in the world's eye 24/7/365. So, on to the schedules!

Quarterbacks

Easiest
1) Drew Brees, Saints - at ATL, NYJ, ATL (18.4 FPA avg.)
2) Jameis Winston, Buccaneers - DET, ATL, at CAR (18.2 FPA avg.)
3) Mike Glennon, Bears - at CIN, at DET, CLE (18.1 FPA avg.)
4) Matt Ryan, Falcons - NO, at TB, at NO (17.6 FPA avg.)
5) Alex Smith, Chiefs - OAK, LAC, MIA (17.4 FPA avg.)

Drew Brees and Matt Ryan both land in the top five largely because they face each other twice during the fantasy playoffs. Last season the Falcons and Saints combined for 140 offensive points in their two matchups, with both quarterbacks finishing as a top-10 option in each of those weeks (Ryan - QB8, QB2; Brees - QB4, QB9). Ryan rounds out his schedule against the Buccaneers, while Brees gets the rebuilding Jets in the Superdome. Giddy up.

Jameis Winston is already gaining steam as a late-round option thanks to the arrival of DeSean Jackson, and a favorable fantasy postseason schedule certainly won't hurt his cause. He gets the Lions and Falcons at home but has to travel to face the Panthers in Week 16.

No one should bump Alex Smith or Mike Glennon up their draft board because of their ranking here.

Toughest
1) Andrew Luck, Colts - at BUF, DEN, at BAL (14.8 FPA avg.)
2) Kirk Cousins, Redskins - at LAC, ARI, DEN (14.7 FPA avg.)
3) Dak Prescott, Cowboys - at NYG, at OAK, SEA (14.8 FPA avg.)
4) Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers - BAL, NE, at HOU (15.0 FPA avg.)
5) Blake Bortles, Jaguars - SEA, HOU, at SF (15.3 FPA avg.)

If Andrew Luck does make his way back from offseason shoulder surgery (still a mystery at this point), he'll have a tough slate in the fantasy playoffs. The Bills offense might be a mess but their defense still looks fierce, while the Broncos and Ravens could contend for the best defense in the league. As for Ben Roethlisberger, though the biggest win for him in the fantasy playoffs is that he gets two of the three games at home. His home-away splits have been widely documented and scrutinized.

While Dak Prescott looks ready to build upon his stellar rookie season, his Week 14 matchup on the road against the Giants should give owners pause. His two lowest fantasy point totals in 2016 both came against the Giants. Perhaps streaming will be the way to go for his owners when that matchup arrives.

Kirk Cousins faces an abysmal lineup of talented secondaries during fantasy's most critical stretch. He travels to face the Chargers, then returns for home dates against the Cardinals and Broncos. We're ages away from actually knowing how these teams will look in Weeks 14-16, but this is the type of schedule that merits consideration for carrying a second quarterback or streaming the position.

It'd probably be unwise to test Bortles against Seahawks or Texans defenses in Weeks 14 and 15, but that Week 16 date with the 49ers could present an excellent championship streaming option.

Running backs

Easiest
1) Terrance West, Ravens - at PIT, at CLE, IND (22.0 FPA avg.)
2) Lamar Miller, Texans - SF, at JAC, PIT (21.8 FPA avg.)
3) Devonta Freeman, Falcons - NO, at TB, at NO (21.6 FPA avg.)
4) C.J. Anderson, Broncos - NYJ, at IND, at WAS (20.4 FPA avg.)
5) Rex Burkhead, Patriots - at MIA, at PIT, BUF (20.2 FPA avg.)

Given Kenneth Dixon's season-ending kneee injury, if Terrance West holds onto the lead back duties in Baltimore he'll be set up nicely for a late-season scoring outburst. Danny Woodhead also gets a small bump thanks to favorable matchups against the Browns and Colts late.

It's always good to see workhorses like Devonta Freeman and Lamar Miller with easy playoff schedules. Let's just hope a new quarterback in Houston creates more opportunities for Miller and company.

Whether it's Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, or some other back, the Patriots schedule looks pretty appealing. As long as C.J. Anderson can hold Devontae Booker and Jamaal Charles at bay, he'll also be in good shape down the stretch.

Toughest
1) Paul Perkins, NYG - DAL, PHI, at ARI (15.1 FPA avg.)
2) Todd Gurley, LAR - PHI, at SEA, at TEN (15.3 FPA avg.)
3) Le'Veon Bell, PIT - BAL, NE, at HOU (15.9 FPA avg.)
4) Jalen Richard, OAK - at KC, DAL, at PHI (16.3 FPA avg.)
5) Carlos Hyde, SF - at HOU, TEN, JAC (16.3 FPA avg.)

Players already entering 2017 with a lot of question marks like Paul Perkins and Todd Gurley aren't done any favors with brutal matchups in Weeks 14-16. Two road trips into stout front sevens for Gurley look downright disastrous.

Le'Veon Bell is too good of a player to be dismayed by any matchup he'll face. Moving on.

If Marshawn Lynch comes back and looks like Beast Mode of old, this schedule will be of no concern. However, if he shows the same wear and tear we saw two years ago, owners might want to give pause to locking him into starting lineups. Carlos Hyde, the subject of too many offseason stories for April, just can't catch a break with a rough playoff lineup. Don't discount the Jaguars defense either after the addition of Calais Campbell in free agency. They were stout against the run in 2016 and could be even better this year.

Wide receivers

Easiest
1) Eric Decker, Titans - at ARI, at SF, at LAR (25.1 FPA avg.)
2) Sammy Watkins, Rams - PHI, at SEA, at TEN (25.0 FPA avg.)
3) Corey Coleman, Browns - GB, BAL, at CHI (24.9 FPA avg.)
4) Julio Jones, Falcons - NO, at TB, at NO (24.4 FPA avg.)
5) Mike Evans, Buccaneers - DET, ATL, at CAR (24.3 FPA avg.)

Julio Jones is a first-round pick, and Mike Evans is already in that discussion. Eric Decker, Corey Davis, and Rishard Matthews enjoy a nice late-season slate, but good lucking picking which wide receiver to start each week in Tennessee.

If Sammy Watkins and Jared Goff build a nice rapport early in the season, they could be players to target for the stretch, but that's a big IF. With DeShone Kizer winning the starting job in Cleveland, he and the Browns passing game should be on your radar against potentially exploitable matchups versus the Packers and Bears.

Toughest
1) T.Y. Hilton, Colts - at BUF, DEN, at BAL (19.8 FPA avg.)
2) Terrelle Pryor, Redskins - GB, BAL, at CHI (19.9 FPA avg.)
3) Robby Anderson, Jets - at DEN, at NO, LAC (20.0 FPA avg.)
4) DeAndre Hopkins, Texans - SF, at JAC, PIT (21.1 FPA avg.)
5) Golden Tate, Lions - at TB, CHI, at CIN(21.3 FPA avg.)

Fantasy players shouldn't let the matchups for T.Y. Hilton or Terrelle Pryor deter them from drafting either player. Both are attached to high-flying offenses with capable quarterbacks, and neither slate is too intimidating (this, of course, assumes Luck returns to action for Hilton).

If you're playing meaningful fantasy football in Week 14, you aren't starting any Jets. DeAndre Hopkins' outlook will be more tied to his quarterback's play than his schedule, while Golden Tate's FPA average is only about three points off of the fifth-best, so there's little to worry about.

Tight ends

Easiest
1) Zach Miller, Bears - at CIN, at DET, CLE (10.1 FPA avg.)
2) Martellus Bennett, Packers - at CLE, at CAR, MIN (9.8 FPA avg.)
3) Cameron Brate, Buccaneers - DET, ATL, at CAR (9.7 FPA avg.)
4) Kyle Rudolph, Vikings - at CAR, CIN, at GB (9.5 FPA avg.)
5) Benjamin Watson, Ravens - at PIT, at CLE, IND (9.4 FPA avg.)

Martellus Bennett's stock continues to rise with an excellent postseason schedule. Cameron Brate builds up his case as a late-round sleeper here with a favorable schedule - as long as O.J. Howard doesn't eat into his red-zone work too much. Kyle Rudolph saw 32.4 percent of the team's red-zone targets in 2016, so scoring chances should be there for the Notre Dame product.

Toughest
1) Tyler Higbee, Rams - PHI, at SEA, at TEN (5.5 FPA avg.)
2) Delanie Walker, Titans - at ARI, at SF, LAR (5.5 FPA avg.)
3) Vance McDonald, Steelers - BAL, NE, at HOU (5.7 FPA avg.)
4) Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars - SEA, HOU, at SF (5.8 FPA avg.)
5) Evan Engram, Giants - DAL, PHI, at ARI (5.9 FPA avg.)

Some are already pegging Tyler Higbee as a deep sleeper. If the Rams offense finds new life under Sean McVay I'm totally on board, but this playoff lineup might force his owners into streaming the position. Delanie Walker's schedule shouldn't be of any concern. The Steelers just traded for Vance McDonald, but his target share will likely be too small to be a weekly fantasy starter. He could be a streaming option at times, though. The tight ends in Jacksonville and New York haven't been featured too heavily lately, so their tough schedules are rather a moot point for any fantasy analysis.

-- Alex is a fantasy writer/editor for the NFL. To review more of his silly writings and musings, follow him on Twitter @AlexGelhar or at his Facebook page.

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