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NFL Fantasy Playoff Challenge: A beginner's guide

What if I told you that fantasy football wasn't completely over, and there was a way you could play fantasy football for one more month with a shot at a Super Bowl-themed grand prize? Is that something you might be interested in?

Well, then let me introduce you to NFL Fantasy Playoff Challenge. If you're frustrated by your fantasy results in a weird season riddled with injuries or are just a fantasy degenerate not quite ready to close the doors on your favorite part of the year, this is the game for you.

Here's how it works: Players earn points in the playoffs via standard fantasy scoring for, 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 in your lineup, 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 LII on Sunday, February 4, 2018. You can swap players out each week based on the matchups, but the multipliers reset with every change, so take that into consideration.

As with our weekly Perfect Challenge game, you build a lineup that features one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one defense/special teams. Standard fantasy scoring rules (non-PPR) apply for this game.

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 LIII, scheduled to take place in February 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. More details can be found here, but suffice to say it's a pretty good score.

Now, let's get to some strategies:

Ride a hot Wild Card team

This is a riskier strategy to employ as these teams have to play more games (many of them likely on the road) en route to the Super Bowl and thus, have more chances to be knocked out. However, with that risk comes a potentially big reward. By having teams from this round in your lineup to start, you set yourself up for maximum point accumulation if those teams make the Super Bowl. For instance, if you choose Tom Brady as your quarterback, you get the multiplier each week he advances, but you take 0 points during the Wild Card round because he's not playing. But if Todd Gurley is your running back and the Rams go all the way, you get all of the same multipliers plus those wonderful Wild Card points. So, which Wild Card teams are worth targeting this year? Let's take a look ...

New Orleans Saints: Not only do the Saints have a veteran quarterback with playoff and Super Bowl experience in Drew Brees, but they have the look of one of the most dangerous and complete teams in the NFC. The combo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara carried countless fantasy teams to regular season glory, and there's no reason to think they can't do the same in the postseason. It's great to get both running backs for your playoff challenge lineup from the same team, especially if they can make it all the way to the Super Bowl. Michael Thomas is a strong No. 1 wide receiver who owns nearly 30 percent of the team targets over the last month. It'd make sense to add in a few players from the AFC side as well for the WR2/TE, as Ted Ginn is pretty volatile and the Saints haven't featured a TE all year in their offense.

Los Angeles Rams: Believe it or not, it's a good idea to roster fantasy players from the highest scoring offense in the NFL (through Week 16). Sean McVay has done wonders on this group, and the Rams have a little bit of everything for Playoff Challenge purposes. Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins/Cooper Kupp would make for a nice group to stack out of the gates. The Aaron Donald-led defense is a strong group for fantasy as well, and Wade Phillips is a battle-tested playoff coordinator with a Super Bowl ring, too. Weaknesses with loading up on Rams come at the kicker position (Greg Zuerlein landed on IR a few weeks ago), RB2, and tight end. However, as the No. 3 seed the Rams get one, maybe two home playoff games if they make it to the NFC championship.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The AFC Wild Card teams leave a little something to be desired, but Jacksonville's defense is a reason to believe in this squad. Defense travels in the NFL, which means the Jags should be able to hold their own against AFC playoff stalwarts like the Patriots and Steelers (who the Jaguars beat earlier this year). Blake Bortles, the butt of countless internet memes and jokes, was actually the highest scoring fantasy quarterback over the final stretch of the season. Leonard Fournette is a workhorse running back, and the team boasts a surprisingly deep and versatile cast of unheralded wide receivers who can be fantasy difference makers, including Marqise Lee (who should be back from injury), Keelan Cole, and Dede Westbrook. Marcedes Lewis is an ageless wonder at tight end, though his role in this offense isn't too consistent. Oh, and the Jaguars defense? Yeah, they finished as the highest scoring fantasy unit, a full 18 points ahead of the next closest squad.

Full list of NFL Wild Card teams:Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams
Full list of AFC Wild Card teams:Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars

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 while still receiving the 2x multiplier in the Divisional Round since these players are in your lineup from the get-go. But which teams to choose? For me, there are really only three options (sorry, Eagles fans).

In the NFC, the loss of Carson Wentz pretty much throws the Eagles out of contention for Playoff Challenge. I'm not ruling them out of the playoffs entirely, but for the sake of this game, I'd avoid rostering the Eagles. However, the Vikings are in a great position to play at home all the way through the playoffs, including the Super Bowl (it's in Minnesota). Adding to their appeal in Playoff Challenge is the fact that the Vikings had dynamic duos at running back (Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon) and wide receiver (Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs), meaning you can basically create your entire team from Vikings. Their defense is among the league's best and will get the benefit of home-field advantage for most of, if not all, of the postseason. Case Keenum has been playing out of his mind and staying in the comfy confines of U.S. Bank Stadium all playoffs would serve him well for fantasy purposes.

Obviously, the Patriots are a strong team to target for this game. They're battle tested and like a few of the NFL teams feature a backfield tandem that can be a true fantasy difference maker in Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead (who should be back from injury for the playoffs). The Patriots have solid wide receivers in Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks, though they are a bit more volatile as the Patriots offense excels at spreading the ball around. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are among the best players at their respective positions and make for enticing targets. Brady has struggled down the stretch, though, throwing six touchdowns and five interceptions since Week 13.

As for AFC teams with byes, the Steelers feel like the more attractive fantasy option. They should have all three "Killer B's" ready for action in Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown, and rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster has been a fantastic addition to this squad as well. Tight end leaves something to be desired, as Jesse James and Vance McDonald form a pseudo-committee. Chris Boswell is basically a member of the "Killer B's" at this point too and has been kicking great in Heinz Field (a notoriously difficult place to kick due to swirling winds). The Steelers defense will have time to get healthy thanks to the bye, but injuries may have taken too much from this unit for them to be relied upon as a fantasy force in Playoff Challenge.

Full list of NFL first-round bye teams:Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles
Full list of AFC first-round bye teams:Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots

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.

*-- Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar or "Like" his page on Facebook for more NFL and fantasy analysis. *

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