We’re heading into the final week of the fantasy football regular season, and many of you are looking ahead to the playoffs. Others are still in contention and need to go all out to win in week 14. For those who have already punched tickets to the rounds that matter, you should be looking for any edge you can find. That’s the purpose of this edition of Doubting Thomas.
One of the edges you can utilize in the playoffs is to roster and start players with easy schedules. Of course, you are going to start your studs regardless of the schedule. But others are less obvious, and you are probably going to be agonizing over who to start and who to sit. There’s no worse feeling in the world than to see a benched player explode for a big day.
Consider the case of Jaguars running back James Robinson, who appears to have fallen out of favor in Jacksonville. Last Sunday, he was benched early after a fumble and finished with just eight carries for 24 yards. That amounted to 2.5 FP. Perhaps, you’re considering benching him – especially with a tough matchup this week against a tough Titans run defense.
But if you look ahead, you’ll find out that he has two dream matchups against Houston in Week 15 and the Jets in Week 16. He could be amazing in those two matchups. Week 17 is the Patriots, but if he helps you get to the Championship Game in your league, you’ll be thanking me. Of course, Robinson needs to stay healthy, and the Jags need to give him his touches.
Now, consider the case of DeVonta Smith. After two awful weeks (4.2 and 3.5 FP), you might be considering dropping him in the bye week. But Smith gets Washington twice and the Giants in the fantasy playoffs. As long as the Eagles don’t run the ball on every down, that’s a great setup for Smith. He just needs six or seven targets, and I think he’ll get them.
Okay, let’s take a dive into some of the important stats at each position:
Before you consider strength of schedule, you must evaluate the backfield situation for the respective teams. Most of the backfields are shared backfields. But what is the snap count percentages? Another consideration is whether the team is a run-first team like Cleveland, or Tennessee. Neither Nick Chubb, nor Kareem Hunt are going to be available on your waiver wire, but and Dontrell Hilliard of the Titans are rostered in less than 50 percent of Yahoo and ESPN leagues.
As far as strength of schedule, the team with the easiest schedule for running backs is Pittsburgh. If you drafted Najee Harris, know that the Steelers face the Titans (21st against the run), Chiefs (32) and Browns (28). If you were fortunate enough to add Cordarrelle Patterson off the waiver wire in September, you won’t want to leave him on the bench since Atlanta has the second-best schedule. The Falcons face the 49ers (27th-ranked), Lions (21) and Bills (31).
On the other hand, the team with the hardest schedule for running backs is New York. If you drafted Saquon Barkley you may want to bench him if you have a better option. Not only is his volume down this year but the Giants have the Cowboys (8), Eagles (14) and Bears (2) in weeks 15-17. Assuming he’s cleared to play, it would be hard to bench D’Andre Swift, but know that the Lions face two top-5 teams during those weeks with game also likely to work against them.
The best wide receiver fantasy football playoff strength schedule rating belongs to the Pittsburg Steelers, who face the Titans, Chiefs and Browns in the weeks 15-17. This means you can count on Diontae Johnson, but you already knew that. Johnson has been averaging 13 targets per game if you take out the Denver game. And he still scored 15.2 FP in that game!
While Johnson is an obvious must-start, Chase Claypool is less obvious. Claypool has fallen out of favor after suffering three single-digit performances in his last six games. I was surprised to see him on the waiver wire in my home league, and I gobbled him up. He has the Vikings this weekend, but then he gets the Titans, Chiefs and Browns the following three weeks.
Unfortunately, I also have Terry McLaurin rostered on that same team. Washington has the worst schedule in the fantasy playoffs. He faces both the Eagles and the Cowboys, who are both top-five teams, allowing just over 19 fantasy points per game to wide receivers. He’s a hard name to bench but has some awful matchups, and I might bench him and start Claypool.
The best-ranked team for QB points weeks 15 through 17 is probably not a QB currently on your radar. The Jets face the Dolphins (30th-ranked), Jaguars (23), and Bucs (25). You didn’t make it to the playoffs on the back of Zach Wilson, but he might be worth stashing on your bench. The Steeler quarterback has the second easiest schedule. Facing three of the bottom teams (Titans, Chiefs, and Browns) makes Ben Roethlisberger another sleeper worth adding.
On the other hand, the worst-ranked team for QB projected points weeks 15-17 is Carson Wentz. The Indianapolis quarterback faces the 6th ranked team as far as QB fantasy points is concerned, the Patriots, in Week 15. Then, his weeks 16 and 17 opponents are the Cardinals (No. 2) and the Raiders (No. 17). If you were counting on Wentz, look elsewhere.
Since tight end is such a thin position, it’s unlikely that you will have to make a choice about who you start. You can find running back, wide receiver and quarterback replacements on the waiver wire, but you’re going to have to dance with the one you brought to the playoffs. Hopefully, you have one of the top five or six tight ends. If not, all I can say is “good luck.”
Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.