If you're still fighting for a spot in the fantasy playoffs, now is the time to start concentrating on roster moves that will set you up for as much success as possible once the postseason arrives in Weeks 14 to 16.
With the fantasy trade deadline looming this week (in most leagues), it is important to focus on acquiring players who have the best chance to produce during the most important weeks of the season.
If you have read the weekly "Fantasy Number Crunch" series here on NFL.com, you are already familiar with the one-of-a-kind algorithm used to assign Player Ratings, Defense Ratings and Matchup Ratings that can help you determine the true value of players on a week to week basis.
Of course, not every player is "capable" of taking advantage of a good matchup, that's why it's critical to measure each player's ability to rise up to these matchups using the Player Rating system.
In this article, I am going to use the same algorithm to look ahead at the fantasy football playoffs to help you find the players with the best and worst matchups.
Let's take a look at the highest rated players with the best matchups during Weeks 14 to 16.
Here's an easy breakdown of how each player module works. When these terms are mentioned in the text (i.e. "best") they are corresponding to these ratings and colors:
Best fantasy playoff QB matchups
Tony Romo should be coming into the fantasy playoffs well-rested after a late season bye. He also could be on a bit of a roll with easier matchups against the Giants and Eagles prior to the fantasy postseason. Two of Romo's fantasy playoff games are on the road and it should be noted that Romo scores only one less point on the road than at home.
Matthew Stafford will come in hot after a big Week 13 game against the Bears and then face the Buccaneers, Vikings and Bears again in the fantasy playoffs. Stafford and Calvin Johnson will be in the playoff hunt and will go against Tampa Bay in Week 14. This matchup should almost guarantee you a first round win. The Vikings are actually pretty tough against fantasy quarterbacks, but if you can survive that game then it is back to the Bears' top-three easiest rated defense for your championship game.
Shaun Hill could serve as a safer QB2 option or as backup depth in a two-quarterback league for the playoffs. Hill against the Redskins secondary in Week 14 is the best matchup a fantasy quarterback can get. Hill is only a deep-league QB2 but could take advantage of his matchups in two of the three weeks of the fantasy postseason.
Worst fantasy playoff QB matchups
Josh McCown is not big fantasy news now, but he may be by the fantasy playoffs. The desperate Buccaneers will be playing from behind for the rest of the season and they have two great matchups against the Bears and the Redskins to finish the fantasy regular season. If you find yourself considering McCown as a backup or even a QB2 for the playoffs, look elsewhere. McCown is not capable of outplaying his matchups and in the playoffs he faces two of the top-five worst rated defenses for quarterbacks. The Lions in Week 14 will likely yield nothing more than single digit fantasy production.
Andy Dalton rebounded from his horrible Week 10 game with a big Week 11 performance. He has been a starter for many fantasy teams all season and a great Week 13 matchup against the Buccaneers to end the season may actually get a few fantasy teams in the playoffs. Yet, once he gets there he should not be started. Dalton gets three straight bottom twelve fantasy matchups including the same Browns defense that tore him apart in Week 10.
Teddy Bridgewater has not been in many starting lineups this season but some savvy owners may be eying the Week 14 matchup against the Jets as a good spot start for two-quarterback formats. The Jets have been trending toward the middle of the ratings against fantasy quarterback and will not be an attractive matchup by the time Bridgewater sees them. The Lions and Dolphins balance out Teddy's postseason and should have fantasy owners looking elsewhere.
Best fantasy playoff RB matchups
Mark Ingram should continue his membership in the RB1 top tier between now and the fantasy playoffs. Once the fantasy postseason starts, he will enjoy the best fantasy playoff schedule of any running back. He should be a steady RB1 anchor for your team and if you are lucky enough to have another RB1 already on your roster, then you could end up with an unstoppable one-two punch for a championship run.
With Ben Tate gone, this situation is a bit clearer than it has been in recent weeks. It could now be a split backfield between Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West for the rest of the season. Still, the situation remains question mark until one of these backs emerges as the every week starter by Week 14. If either of them does, then they will have the second-easiest fantasy playoff schedule for any fantasy running back. It is worth investing in this situation for the schedule upside, but one of these backs must rise above the other for a few consecutive weeks for him to be valuable enough to take advantage of their playoff schedule.
Le'Veon Bell should really heat up for the fantasy playoffs. Not only will the weather turn in his favor this late in the year, but two of his playoff matchups are "best" rated and he has only had such a good matchup only once thus far this season. This matchup rating is meaningful to Bell because he averages 15 fantasy points against "best" rated defenses. Expect solid, game winning production in Weeks 14 and 15 from your stud back.
Chris Ivory has been the more reliable Jets' running back as he consistently out-touches Chris Johnson. Ivory has had his best games of the season against his easiest matchups this season and the three opponents he faces in the fantasy postseason are three of the best matchups Ivory sees all year. Hang on to Ivory as a solid weekly flex or RB2 during the playoffs.
You shouldn't rely too much on one of the season's most disappointing players in the fantasy playoffs. But if you find yourself in a pinch or need some emergency depth, then Bishop Sankey's Week 14 matchup against the Giants could be his best game of the season. His current best game of the season came against his last "best" rated opponent back on Week 4.
Worst fantasy playoff RB matchups
Marshawn Lynch has averaged 19 fantasy points per game against easy matchups this season and only nine points against "worst" rated matchups. He has faced two "worst" rated matchups already this season and had two of his lowest point totals of the season against them. Feel confident trading away Beast Mode in a blockbuster deal this week and you will come out ahead. Can you say Jordy for Marshawn?
Andre Ellington is used to bad matchups. He averages only two less fantasy points per game against bad matchups that easy ones and has only had three easy ones all season. After all those bad matchups he is still a top-10 rated fantasy running back. If you are looking for RB1 trade candidate, Ellington's matchups should put him on your "trade away" list. He will see the Rams in Week 15 and scored just 10 fantasy points against them in Week 10. Then Ellington will face the Seahawks for the second time in six weeks in Week 16.
Jonas Gray burst onto the scene as a top-25 algorithm-rated running back after his Week 11 breakout game. However, Gray has not yet faced a matchup in his career as tough as the one he has in Week 14 when he plays the Chargers. Both the Dolphins and Jets are trending toward being much more difficult running back matchups in recent games than they were earlier in the season, and he'll face them both in the fantasy postseason. The addition of LeGarrette Blount could limit Gray's value.
Darren McFadden will not be on very many fantasy playoff rosters. He has been a poorly-rated fantasy running back all season and the Raiders are having their worst rushing season in their history. Just in case you are looking at adding McFadden or holding on to him for depth in the fantasy playoffs, you should be aware that he does not have a single matchup rated outside the top-10 toughest from Week 14 through Week 16. Only consider trading him away to desperate owners that you may actually face in the postseason.
This is purely speculative, but if Adrian Peterson makes an appearance, he is matchup-proof. But if he doesn't make it back then Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata should be ignored. McKinnon and Asiata each averaged only five fantasy points per game each against tough matchups during the regular season and shouldn't be trusted on your playoff roster.
Best fantasy playoff WR matchups
Both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will continue to be WR1 stars for rest of the season. Nelson averages two more targets per game, but the upside difference is really how touchdown-dependent Cobb has been. Even though neither player needs good matchups to produce for fantasy, the pair will have the best fantasy playoff schedule for receivers during Weeks 14 to 16. Nelson and Cobb are a great bet to be members of tons of championship rosters this season. Even Davante Adams could have value in deep leagues and could be worth picking up as a handcuff to the two most valuable fantasy playoff receivers.
The Saints' receiving corps have the second easiest fantasy receiver playoff schedule. The pick of the group here is Brandin Cooks because of he leads all Saints receivers with 7.6 looks/touches per game. However, Cooks is reportedly out for the season with a broken thumb. The next most fantasy relevant Saints receiver is Marques Colston. The Saints play two of their playoff games at home where New Orleans' passing game has been much more productive.
Despite a down game in Week 11, DeSean Jackson has been matchup-proof all season, averaging 15 fantasy points per game against bad matchups. He did not take advantage of his excellent Week 11 matchup but should be able to take advantage of his schedule in the postseason. He has history with two of these defenses, having already been shut down by the Giants in Week 4 and having destroyed the Eagles back in Week 3. Jackson should be no match for any of the defenses he faces Week 14 to 16.
Red hot rookie wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., will continue his breakout second half right into the fantasy playoffs. Beckham will have his only bad matchup of the postseason in Week 14 against a Titans defense that has been the toughest rated matchup for receivers over the last five games. Once he gets past the Titans, he should have solid WR2 value against the Redskins and Rams.
Take this to the bank: you will win your Week 14 fantasy playoff matchup if you have Calvin Johnson on your team. Although Calvin is the epitome of "matchup-proof," his Week 14 game against the Buccaneers' corner Alterraun Verner is a matchup that a record breaking performance could be made of. The Lions will be in the hunt for the division title during all three of these games, two of which are at Ford Field. Megatron owners who make it to the fantasy playoffs will be paid back for their regular season patience.
Worst fantasy playoff WR matchups
Cordarrelle Patterson may be on the top of the 2014 fantasy disappointment list. Just in case he has a few decent games to end the regular fantasy season and you consider keeping him on your roster for the fantasy postseason, you should remind yourself that he averages just three fantasy points per game against bad matchups. Patterson has actually had one of the easiest regular season schedules of any fantasy receiver and did nothing with it. He has three bad matchups waiting for him in the postseason. One of his opponents, the Jets, have been trending toward becoming the seventh-toughest matchup for receivers over the last five games. In Week 15 Patterson faces Darius Slay, one of the corners who yields the fewest fantasy points to the receivers he covers.
If you own A.J. Green, you have to start him every week he is active. But you may want to consider him as a trade candidate since he faces no better than the 15th-toughest rated matchup which will drop the Bengals' wideout behind some of the other elite receivers. He will also have to deal with Aqib Talib in Week 16. Start him as you normally would if you hold on to him but, he is a prime candidate to trade away if you need to make a move.
Even after a rough Week 11 outing against a "bad" rated Patriots defense, T.Y. Hilton is an algorithm-rated top-10 rated fantasy receiver. Looking ahead to the postseason, things may regress a bit. Hilton's matchups are not terrible considering he will have already faced seven bad matchups by Week 14 and still had good fantasy games. Hilton has scored well against "bad" rated defenses this year and has shown he can outplay his matchups, but that is a difficult trend to continue.
Percy Harvin has not done much for fantasy purposes all season. The algorithm rates him as the 52nd-best fantasy receiver, but fantasy owners seem to still love him for some reason. Averaging just six fantasy points a game, he has only had two games with double-digit points. If you have a Jets fan or another owner in your league who thinks Harvin is still playing for the Vikings circa 2011, then trade Percy away. Harvin gets two road games in the playoffs and has matchups against the Vikings and Titans who have both been top-five toughest against fantasy receivers in the last five weeks.
If you stashed Gordon all season you might be licking your chops for the chance to use him in the fantasy playoffs. But things might be difficult for Gordon with two straight bottom-five tough defenses in Week 14 and 15. In 2013, Gordon averaged 16 fantasy points per game against "worst" rated matchups so the "old" Gordon was matchup proof. Keep in mind that in Week 14 Gordon faces Colts' shutdown cornerback Vontae Davis in what could be the matchup of the week. In Week 15, Gordon then gets Leon Hall, who gives up less than seven fantasy points a game.
Best fantasy playoff TE matchups
Scott Chandler has not been a very serviceable fantasy tight end, but he does rise up to good matchups. His two best games of the season have come against his two "best" rated matchups. He has two more coming in Week 12 against the Jets and Week 13 with the Browns, both are top-five easy matchups for tight ends. He could be coming into the playoffs on a roll and will likely be on waivers for a deep-league add for the playoffs.
Zach Ertz is on this list only because of his fantasy playoff matchups. On the off chance that Ertz actually starts to play up to his preseason potential over the next couple weeks, he could be worth a roster spot. If he can get his targets per game average up closer to eight than his usual five by Week 14, he could be a cheap add to help out owners who may be in a tight end pinch. If not, matchups alone cannot save his value.
Antonio Gates is producing on borrowed time for fantasy. He has been a top-five rated fantasy tight end and everyone wrote him off as done for fantasy coming into the 2014 season. Gates will have two bad games to end the season because of really tough matchups, but have faith because once the playoffs roll around as he gets two top ten matchups and one game against the 49ers. The 49ers appear to be a middle of the pack rated matchup but the loss of Patrick Willis already has them trending toward a top ten easy rated matchup and will be once Gates sees them in Week 16.
Jason Witten certainly has more value for PPR leagues and has been hot and cold during the regular season. However, once he gets to the fantasy playoffs he faces the top-two easiest matchups for tight ends when he plays the Bears and the Colts. He has a very tough matchup with the Eagles in between those two, but his Week 14 and 16 matchups cannot get any easier.
Dwayne Allen is an algorithm rated top-five fantasy tight end and has been a great value for his owners this season. Allen owners will want to wait to see if he is able to get healthy again after his Week 11 injury. In the fantasy playoffs Allen will see two top-10 rated easy matchups against the Browns in Week 14 and the Cowboys in Week 16. His remaining playoff matchup, the Texans, have actually been trending toward a top-five tough matchup over the last five weeks so Allen may take a dip in production that week. Overall, Allen's matchups and player rating make him a fine starter for your playoff run if he comes back healthy in time.
Worst fantasy playoff TE matchups
Jordan Reed has had a disappointing fantasy season with injuries and quarterback inconsistency. Some owners may be looking to add him for depth or in deeper leagues. He had a good Week 13 game against the Colts, but his fantasy playoff schedule is terrible. Reed has to play two of the five worst rated defenses against fantasy tight ends in Week 14 and 16 and then sees a middle of the pack Giants defense in Week 15.
For starters, the Packers do not have a reliable starting tight end option. Many weeks, no tight end emerges at all in their game plan. You may be trying to buy in on what will be a bonanza of fantasy production in the Packers passing game during the fantasy playoffs, but neither of the three rotational options in Green Bay can be relied upon for fantasy. Even though the fantasy matchups for receivers are the best in the league for Green Bay, the tight end matchups are actually all top rated tough defenses.
There have been games this season where Owen Daniels leads the Ravens in targets. He has had two very productive fantasy games and in both those cases he scored a touchdown. In the fantasy playoffs Daniels will have to deal with three defenses all rated in the top five toughest over the last five weeks. Even the Jaguars have been one of the toughest matchups for tight ends in the last month.
Fantasy owners loved Larry Donnell's early season fantasy production and finally saw some fantasy value from him in Week 11. Donnell's fantasy playoff opponents could end up sending Donnell back to poor production. His Week 14 and 16 opponents are two of the toughest rated opponents for fantasy tight ends. The Redskins in Week 15 could actually be a great spot start, but you may need to roster another tight end in order to get there.
Martellus Bennett will go the way of Jay Cutler and the Bears' offense. You can expect the Bears to continue to improve between now and the fantasy playoffs but, Bennett's matchups are some of the worst in the league for tight ends in the postseason. Over the last five weeks, the Saints and Lions have been top three toughest rated against tight ends.