Fantasy Football Playoffs: Are you In or Out?

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The fantasy football playoffs are here! Week 13 or 14 of the NFL season is generally the last week of the fantasy football regular season (depending on league settings). This means fantasy playoffs have, or are about to, start in your league. Hopefully for you, you’re still in the hunt for the championship.

Unlike most professional sports, each NFL team plays just 16 games over a 17 week regular season to decide who’s in and who’s out of the playoffs. A limited number of games results in playoff races almost always being decided in the final week of the regular season. In fantasy football, the regular season and playoffs are squeezed into the short NFL regular season. This makes the difference between making the playoffs and missing the playoffs in fantasy football, even smaller than it is in the NFL. One injury, one waiver pick up, one trade, or one late TD on a Monday night could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

Each season of fantasy football, you get to pick a brand new team, a clean slate. Your success (or lack thereof) in the previous season is irrelevant (unless you play in a keeper league). It is solely up to you to pick the player who in your mind has the best value at that place in the draft for your team. This is a combination of skill and luck in predicting a player’s season long performance. Who knew Pro-Bowl Calvin Johnson (WR – DET) would be injury plagued this year? or that injury prone DeMarco Murray (RB – DAL) would be having one of the best seasons a running back has ever had?

A big factor in fantasy football success is injuries, or what many people refer to as luck. Bad luck is when your first round draft pick is placed on season ending IR in Week 3. Good luck is when all of your players stay healthy during the entire, grueling NFL season. Bad luck can often be overcome by having good awareness of the free agents available and utilizing waivers. Not only should you add players on waivers if there’s an injury, but some unforeseen talent always arises in the free agent pool. Having the awareness to pick up players early on in the season that were unheard-of prior to the draft can go a long way into making the playoffs. Unfortunately, waivers can only help so much; multiple key injuries will likely destroy any chance you had of making the playoffs.

When looking at graphs of fantasy points vs. average draft position (ADP) for all of the positions in standard fantasy football leagues and rosters of teams that made or missed the playoffs a few players seemed to make or break a team’s chance of earning a playoff spot. Let’s see if the position by position breakdown holds true in your league:

Note: In the two charts below any player who was (on average) undrafted was assigned an average draft position of 200. The 3 lines are the best fit line and +/- 20% of the best fit.

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At the quarterback position, Andrew Luck (QB – IND) is a player that had great value in the draft, his data point is the furthest point above and Robert Griffin III (QB – WAS) is the furthest below the QB trend. If you look at the rosters in your league, I bet Andrew Luck is playing on a playoff roster, and whoever drafted RGIII is done for the year. None of the undrafted quarterbacks had break out seasons so waivers at the QB position only came into play if your QB got hurt like Nick Foles (QB – PHI).

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At the running back position, like usual there were a few fantasy busts and one in particular fantasy standout. Owners that drafted Reggie Bush (RB – DET), Doug Martin (RB – TB), Zac Stacy (RB – STL), or Montee Ball (RB – DEN) are more than likely on the outside looking in. DeMarco Murray is having a career year is almost certainly on a playoff roster in your league. The surprise of the season is Justin Forsett (RB – BAL), a backup at the beginning of the season was a popular player on waivers this season. Any team owner that was able to scoop him up certainly increased his/her chance of reaching the playoffs.

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At wide receiver, Antonio Brown (WR – PIT), Mike Evans (WR – TB), Emmanuel Sanders (WR – DEN), and Golden Tate (WR – DET) had great value at their average draft position and are all likely to appear on playoff rosters. Victor Cruz (WR – NYG) is a player that missed a good portion of the season with injuries (or bad luck) and may have caused an owner to miss the playoffs.

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At tight end Rob Gronkowski (TE – NE) and Antonio Gates (TE – SD) sit the highest above the trend line. Jordan Cameron (TE – CLE) in hind’s sight was not a great pick, but a poor choice at TE is unlikely to be the sole cause of missing the playoffs.

The remaining two positions (in most leagues) are kicker and team defense/special teams. There is always debate whether or not to draft these roster spots “early” and get the best defense or kicker or to wait until the end and take what’s available. I’m going to recommend you wait until the last 2 picks of the draft to select your kicker and defense.

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This box plot displays the difference between a drafted and undrafted kicker and team defense. Statistically speaking, with 99.9% confidence, I can tell you that there is no difference between the means of the drafted and undrafted kickers and team defense/special teams. In your next fantasy football draft, I recommend waiting until the last possible picks to select your kicker and team defense. This will allow you to potentially draft a player like Justin Forsett and get above average value late in the draft.

Good luck in the playoffs and in your future fantasy football leagues!

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