It’s playoff time

For most of us, the fantasy football playoffs start this week. If Christmas is a magical time of the year, with wide-eyed children, decorated trees, eggnog and mistletoes, the fantasy playoffs is no less magical. And if you’ve been good, Santa Claus might even bring a belated gift – a league championship – and put it in your stocking on the morning of December 29th.

For some of you, there are no playoffs in 2020. Perhaps, you have a chance to play in the consolation bracket in your league, but it’s just not the same. Frankly, I have never had to play in a consolation bracket in fantasy football, but I suspect it’s similar to playing in a YMCA league. When he was ten, my son received a participation trophy for playing YMCA football and tossed it his trash can.   

If you want to play in the consolation bracket, I’m not judging you. But I will judge any commissioner who allows consolation bracket teams to have waiver wire priority over teams in the championship bracket. Two years ago, my brother-in-law complained when a consolation bracket team manager’s claim for Derrick Henry was processed ahead of his claim. He lost in the championship game. 

If you’re in the playoffs, you need to know how fantasy football playoffs work. Generally, the teams with the best records will make the playoffs. In some leagues with divisions, they work similar to the NFL in determining which teams make the playoffs. The team with the best record in the division will advance, even if it doesn’t have one of the best overall records. This doesn’t seem fair to me.

In leagues with divisions, there will usually be two wild-card teams that will earn their positions from win/loss records among the rest of the non-division winners. Division winners always have a higher seed than wild-card teams. The team with the best record will be the first seed in the playoffs. A divisional winner with the next best record will be the second seed, and then wild-card teams.

Tiebreakers are important in determining who makes the playoffs and seeding. In my very  competitive home league, my 7-6 record was good for a third seed. Two other teams with an identical record were seeded lower because they had less overall points scored for the season. That’s the first tiebreaker. The sixth-seeded team in our league finished 6-7 but had the highest point total.

While our league has six playoff teams, four teams make the playoffs in many leagues. Typically, the first seed will play the fourth seed, and the second seed will play the third seed. The winners of these two matchups will advance to the league championship, while the losers will play for third place. In my ESPN league, the semifinals and finals last for two weeks each, going through Week 17.

In my home league, the six-playoff team format necessitates a need for bye weeks. Bye weeks are similar to the NFL playoff bye weeks. The first- and second-seeded teams will not have to play in the first round. Instead, they advance to the second round and will play the winners of the first-round matchups. This is an advantage because teams with a bye only have to win twice to win a title.  

I have found most leagues omit week 17 to prevent unfair play from NFL teams resting players as they prepare for the real playoffs. The fantasy manager playing in the 17th week can have his playoffs ruined by NFL teams resting players. For example, if Patrick Mahomes is on your team, your fantasy football championship can be decided by having to scramble for a backup quarterback.

It’s fine to have the fantasy playoffs continue to Week 17 – as long as everyone knows the rules when the season begins. This is a commission decision. My son, who has been the commission in my home league since I joined in 2017, has always had the season end in Week 16. But I have no problem with playing in Week 17 in the ESPN league because I will prepare for the possibility of resting players.

FANTASY FOOTBALL PLAYOFF STRATEGY

If you have made the playoffs, you need to continue to monitor and adjust your lineup weekly if you hope to win your league’s championship. Weekly matchups, weather, and players on teams fighting for playoff spots should be factored into your planning and setting your lineup. This is where having a deep team is an advantage. You can sit good players because of bad matchups, or bad weather. 

I won my Week 12 matchup with the No. 1 team in my home league to clinch the playoffs. I clinched last week, partly because my opponent left Julio Jones in his starting lineup. Jones was scratched less than an hour before the noon kickoff. He didn’t notice this had happened until after lineups were locked for the early games. I had Jones in my ESPN league and had anticipated him being benched.  

NFL injuries impact fantasy football on a weekly basis, and timely information is critical. You must have the latest news on your players or you could wind up with the dreaded zero points for a player you thought would contribute fifteen or twenty points for your team.  Updated injury reports are easy to find, but you have to search out the information. This assumes you actually want to win.

But injury reports are only one piece of the puzzle. For instance, the Steelers activated James Conner from the reserve/COVID-19 list prior for the Week 14 game against the Bills. That should be good news for me and anyone who owners Conner. But I won’t start him. The Steelers have relied heavily on the passing game for the last several weeks, and Conner’s fantasy numbers have been lousy.

Raheem Mostert looked like a top-five running back in the first two games of the season. But the talented 49er was injured in the second game and has missed six games this season. Since his return in Week 12, he has looked nothing like the explosive back we have seen in the past. Yet, a manager in my home league is starting him against a tough Washington defense. He may regret that.

Playing his second game since returning from injured reserve, Mostert got off to a good start early but ended up splitting carries with Jeff Wilson (seven rush attempts) almost evenly while also becoming a victim of game script. The 49ers were forced to turn to the pass in the second half due to a multi-possession deficit, helping lead to Mostert’s second-lowest rushing workload of the year.

On the other hand, Giovani Bernard hasn’t been very effective since Joe Burrow’s injury. But prior to that injury, he scored more than 20 fantasy points two weeks in a row. Burrow isn’t returning, but the Cowboys are coming to Paul Brown Stadium. Did you see Gus Edwards looking like an elite running back against Dallas? The matchup makes Bernard worthy of consideration as a flex starter.  

Memo to all managers. The fantasy football playoffs start this week. If you want to make your name, step up the game. Step up your game and success will step up to you. Wake up with determination and go to bed with satisfaction. Find a way to win, don’t find an excuse for losing. Don’t hate on another person’s success like you don’t have the same 24 hours in your day. So just do it, player. 

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

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