After a wildly entertaining regular season, the stage is finally set for the NFL playoffs. 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 LI on Sunday February 5, 2017.
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 four day/three night trip for the winner and one guest to attend Super Bowl LII, scheduled to take place in February 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. More details can be found here, but suffice to say it's a pretty good score.
Now, back to that roster construction. Much like with our weekly Perfect Challenge game, you build a team that features one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one defense/special teams. With that in mind, here are some suggestions on how to build a winning Playoff Challenge team.
Ride a hot Wild Card team
The Steelers boast one of the best sets of "triplets" with Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown all playing at their peaks right now, and are the ideal Wild Card team to target in Playoff Challenge. This trio will be rested (they sat out Week 17) for an opening matchup against a Dolphins defense that has been bleeding points and yards over the last several weeks. They're a battle-tested playoff team with the potential to rip off a couple of wins in a row while racking up fantasy points. I'd steer clear of the offensive players on the Dolphins, Texans and Raiders, however. All three teams have quarterback issues and don't appear to be capable of making a deep run in the playoffs. Of course, crazier things have happened in the NFL postseason, but there's just too much risk in a strategy-based game like this to gamble on one of those teams.
In the NFC, there aren't any teams with quarterback issues, but the only Wild Card team worth rolling the dice on in Playoff Challenge is the Green Bay Packers. The offenses of the Giants, Lions and Seahawks have their own struggles (passing game, running game, offensive line, respectively), and while it wouldn't be a surprise if any of these teams got hot, the odds are against that happening. If they advance to the next round, it'll likely be on the strength of their defenses. Green Bay, on the other hand, is being propelled into the postseason by the right arm of Aaron Rodgers. The Packers are riding a six-game winning streak into the playoffs, during which Rodgers has thrown 18 touchdowns to zero interceptions in an offense averaging 30.8 points per game. Those who think the Packers could roll right through the postseason should start their Playoff Challenge lineups with Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, who became the first wide receiving duo since 1969 to finish first and tied for second in receiving touchdowns in the league (Nelson had 14, Adams had 12). The Packers running game is still a bit of a mess though, so a pure Packers build would be ill-advised.
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 whil still receiving 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. The Chiefs have a fine chance to advance thanks to their defense and special teams, but Playoff Challenge is still a fantasy game so you need offensive playmakers to score points. That puts Tom Brady, LeGarrette Blount and Julian Edelman high on the list of targets. Part of winning a contest like Playoff Challenge requires differentiating your lineup, so selecting (and hitting on) a player like Malcolm Mitchell (if healthy), Chris Hogan, or even Michael Floyd could be the difference-making move. But, with only two wide receiver spots available and no flex, rostering one of those more volatile wideouts comes with a sizeable amount of risk. Martellus Bennett is a strong tight end option, but not quite up to what Rob Gronkowski used to be in this offense. In Gronk's absence, Travis Kelce has emerged as one of the top tight ends in the league. That could make a lineup built around Patriots, Kelce, and possibly the Chiefs defense a strong contender.
As for the NFC, the Cowboys and Falcons both offer up interesting offensive pieces. The Falcons have had the league's best offense all season and Matt Ryan remains white hot as Atlanta heads into its first-round bye. If you believe their defense can play well enough for them to wind up in Houston for Super Bowl LI, Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones should be the pillars of your fantasy lineup. Ezekiel Elliott is the most appealing option from the Dallas offense, while Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant make for solid choices as well. Neither team boasts a dominant fantasy tight end or defense, though, so those constructing their offense on NFC players might want to round out the bottom of their lineups with AFC options like the aforementioned Kelce and the Chiefs/Patriots defenses. My favorite options for potentially under-rostered playmakers to differentiate a lineup would be Tevin Coleman and Cole Beasley.
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.