The NFL playoffs are just around the corner, and while your normal fantasy season might be over, the fantasy playoff season has just begun. That's right, just when you thought you had to close the doors on fantasy football for eight long months, we open up the doors to the NFL Fantasy Playoff Challenge, giving you one last shot at fantasy glory.
Here's how it works: Players earn points in the playoffs via standard fantasy scoring for NFL.com, with a little twist. The fantasy points accumulated by each player during one weekly scoring period will be multiplied by the number of consecutive weeks in which the player has been on your roster, assuming his team progresses through the playoffs. A player can earn bonus point multipliers of 2x, 3x or 4x for a given week based on the number of weeks they were on the fantasy team roster. This is why you want to build your lineup around players you think will be on the field in Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, 2016.
So how do you piece together a winning roster to secure that grand prize? Oh, right the prize. Here's what you're playing for: A five day/four night trip for the winner and up to two guests to attend Super Bowl LI, scheduled to take place in February, 2017 in Houston, Texas. More details can be found here, but suffice to say it's a pretty good score. Now, back to that roster construction. The playoff contestants are now set in stone, so let's take a look at some of the ways to maximize your scoring potential.
Ride a hot Wild Card team
The Seattle offense came back to earth a bit in Week 16, but for the most part has been on absolute fire over the last month-plus of the season. With the Vikings winning the battle of the NFC North in Week 17, the Seahawks will travel to Minnesota next. Whilethe Vikings defense is playing well, it'll be hard-pressed to bottle up the explosive Russell Wilson and his corps of speedy wide receivers. Marshawn Lynch returned to practice this week, and could play on Sunday, too. Assuming Seattle wins, they'd then travel to face the Panthers, who have seen to of their top cornerbacks (Bene Benwikere and Charles Tillman) go down with injuries in recent weeks.. The Seahawks would have to go on the road once more in the championship round, but they're a battle-hardened postseason team, and the best bet from the NFC Wild Card contenders to advance out of the conference as a champion.
Pittsburgh got some help from Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills to play spoiler and beat the Jets, his former team, allowing the Steelers to sneak into the playoffs. They've got as good of a chance as any team to make it to Santa Clara from the AFC thanks to the strength of their offense. The Steelers boast one of the most talented groups of skill position players around, all of whome are capable of massive fantasy days any time they set foot on the field. A stack of Big Ben with the likes of Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant/Markus Wheaton could do serious damage as the playoffs roll on. The Denver defense is the most imposing group in the AFC postseason, but the Steelers offense already took them to task in Week 15. Obviously, some might be concerned after the Steelers laid an egg against the Ravens in Week 16, but divisional opponents are always trickier to beat due to the familiarity between the franchises. If you stack a Playoff Challenge lineup with Steelers, you could set yourself up for some MASSIVE point totals if they advance toward the final round.
Stack players on teams with a first-round bye
Now, if you go this route you will (obviously) miss out on fantasy points from Wild Card Weekend. The upside, however, is that you lessen the risk of having your team wiped out early, plus you still get the x2 multiplier in the Divisional Round for having these players in your lineup from the get go.
But which teams to choose? When it comes to the AFC, there's really only one trustworthy option: the Patriots. With Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola getting healthier, the Patriots offense should get back on track in January. A Tom Brady, Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Stephen Gostkowski unit would be a pretty solid start to any Playoff Challenge roster. I'm sure some will be worried about Brady's high ankle sprain, but he's played through worse. The other team with a first-round bye in the AFC, Denver, is in the midst of a quarterback dilemma between Brock Osweiler and Peyton Manning, which makes rostering their offensive playmakers a riskier bet.
In the NFC, lineups should be built around the Cardinals and Panthers, though from a pure fantasy standpoint the desert birds boast a more well-rounded roster to ride with in Playoff Challenge. Carson Palmer leads the best passing attack in the NFL, while David Johnson has emerged as one of the most dynamic rushers in the league over the last month. Toss in a defense that has unearthed a pass rush in recent weeks and this will be a fantasy unit to be reckoned with. As for the Panthers, Cam Newton could very well win the league MVP as well as fantasy MVP awards, and could certainly carry this team on his broad shoulders for a few more games. He and Greg Olsen make sense, but the wide receivers are a bit volatile to trust in this setup. Jonathan Stewart has been on the shelf for a few weeks recovering from injury, and makes for a fine Playoff Challenge pick coming into the postseason with fresh(ish) legs if he can get healthy.
So there you have it. Good luck setting your own Playoff Challenge lineup and chasing that grand prize. We'll post all of our analysts' picks later this week with some insight into our lineup construction as well, so stay tuned!