Winning Strategy for NFL.com Fantasy Playoff Challenge

Ryan McKee provides analysis on different tactics for NFL.com's Fantasy Playoff Challenge

| 2 years ago
Russell Wilson

Winning Strategy for NFL.com Fantasy Playoff Challenge


wilson49ersplaybookDespite the main fantasy season reaching its conclusion, there are still fantasy playoff pools around to satiate your need for one last bit of bragging rights. NFL.com’s Fantasy Playoff Challenge boasts itself as the No.1 playoff fantasy game, so the following analysis looks at this specific format to arm you with the best strategy to emerge victorious.

You can learn more about the rules on their site, but here is a brief overview:

  • The scoring system is standard
  • Your roster consists of 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 K and 1 DEF. There are no bench spots
  • You create the best roster you can before the start of each round and your points accumulate each round (so no head-to-head). You can change your entire roster each week if you want, but as you’ll see below, it may not be wise to do so
  • There is a multiplier effect that awards you more points the longer you have a player on your roster. So if you pick Tony Romo before this weekend and he takes the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, you’ll receive his points this week, 2-times his points next week, 3-times the following and 4-times in the Super Bowl. Likewise, if you’ve neglected to pick up Brandon LaFell until the AFC Championship and he goes on to the Super Bowl, you’ll get 1-time his points in the AFC title game and 2-time in the Super Bowl. Clearly, it pays to pick players that can make multi-round runs
  • For the teams on bye this week – if you select any of their players before this weekend’s games commence, they will begin next week on your roster at a 2-times multiplier

That last point is a critical one and a major aspect of the research below. If you choose a player on a bye this week– Aaron Rodgers, for example – you won’t get any points from him this week, but double the points next week. Alternatively, if you pick a QB playing this week – say, Andy Dalton – and he advances, you’ll get 1x his points this week and 2-times his points next week (assuming you choose to keep him on your roster). If you dropped him for Brady, you’d have Brady at only a 1-time multiplier for next week.

Now, the basic strategy is to pick which teams you think will advance to the Super Bowl (or at least the conference championships) and load up on their players. Most pundits and sports books favor a Seattle-New England Super Bowl, so you could simply fill up on them and be done with it. But things don’t always go according to form: last year the favorites met in the big game but the previous three Super Bowl winners consisted of two No. 4 seeds (2013 Ravens and 2012 Giants) and a No. 6 seed (2011 Packers).

I don’t know which lower seed – if any – will make a magical run over the coming weeks. But what I aim to do is put together a model that will show you what ought to happen, based on season averages and current probabilities of success. We’ll then revisit the model each week with a fresh set of probabilities and determine whether to keep or swap.

Remember that this type of fantasy game has a fairly limited number of outcomes which means you are likely to have many of the same players as your opponents. So every edge counts.

I am using the players 2014 fppg as well as Betfair’s odds of appearing in the Super Bowl for each team. This percentage gives me a robust and unbiased probability to weigh against their expected point output. I will then look at both their total expected points as well as the probability of attaining those points to see what options we have.

Finally, I’m not showing you every possible QB, RB, WR or TE. I’ve only taken the top performers on the season and compared them against the player(s) with the highest likelihood of advancing. If there is a player not detailed below, you can be sure that they have a lower fantasy ppg average and/or a lower probability of making their Conference Championships.

Alright, enough preamble, let’s see it in action

 

QUARTERBACK

Player Season Avg Round Total Probability

Weighted
Value

Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (2x) Conf Final (3x) Super Bowl (4x)
Rodgers 22.17 0 44.34 66.51 88.68 199.53 .455 90.79
Luck 22.05 22.05 44.1 66.15 88.2 220.5 .071 15.66
Wilson 20.51 0 41.02 61.53 82.04 184.59 .727 134.2
Manning 19.61 0 39.22 58.83 78.44 176.49 .5 88.25
Roethlisberger 19.14 19.14 38.28 57.42 76.56 191.4 .125 23.93
Romo 17.79 17.79 35.58 53.37 71.16 177.9 .167 29.71
Brady 17.41 0 34.82 52.23 69.64 156.69 .833 130.52

Last year, Peyton Manning had such a higher fppg than his counterparts plus a high likelihood of reaching the Super Bowl, that he was the obvious selection. This year the numbers are a lot closer. Andrew Luck would be the highest risk/reward choice – if you knew he’d make the Super Bowl, you’d gain a significant advantage over your opponents by riding the Colt all the way. Tom Brady is the safest pick and that security boosts his weighted value despite a lower fppg. But Russell Wilson is the smarter play with both the fantasy point potential and team advancement likelihood.

Note that you can play around with these numbers to suit your own predictions. For example, Brady’s season average is skewed a little low due to his early season struggles, so you could use his average from week 5 onward (20.07) and he nearly matches Wilson’s total and surpasses him in weighted value. Or you may be a diehard Cheesehead and want to bump the Packers chances of making the Super Bowl to 40%. But we need a standardized and unbiased set of numbers, so I’ll stick with what’s here. The math is pretty simple though, so tinker with it as you wish.

Of course, the game doesn’t require you to simply pick a QB and stick with them the whole way. So what if we grabbed Luck for this weekend and then made the switch if/when he loses either this week or next?

Player Round Total
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (1x) Conf Final (2x) Super Bowl (3x)
Luck wk 1 / Wilson wk 2, 3, 4 22.05 20.51 41.02 61.53 145.11
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (2x) Conf Final (1x) Super Bowl (2x)
Luck wk 1, 2 / Wilson wk 3, 4 22.05 44.1 20.51 41.02 127.68

In both scenarios, you’re better off just rolling with Russell.

RUNNING BACK

Player Season Avg Round Total Probability Weighted Value
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (2x) Conf Final (3x) Super Bowl (4x)
Murray 18.44 18.44 36.88 55.32 73.76 184.4 .167 30.79
Bell 18.06 18.06 36.12 54.18 72.24 180.6 .125 22.58
Lynch 16.58 0 33.16 49.74 66.32 149.22 .727 108.48
Lacy 14.44 0 28.88 43.32 57.76 129.96 .455 59.13
Forsett 12.74 12.74 25.48 38.22 50.96 127.4 .063 8.03
Anderson 12.7 0 25.4 38.1 50.8 114.3 .5 57.2
Anderson wk 10+ 20.78 0 41.56 62.34 83.12 187.02 .5 93.51
Hill 11.68 11.68 23.36 35.04 46.72 116.8 .063 7.36

At the running back position, Marshawn Lynch falls into the same ‘set it and forget it’ mode as his QB. But that second RB slot is a little closer to call. Complicating matters somewhat is CJ Anderson’s second half surge. Considering that he was only a bit player in the first half of the season, it makes more sense to calculate the numbers from week 10 onward since that is when he became Denver’s primary ball carrier. Substituting in this average puts him ahead of even DeMarco Murray in total points and comfortably in second in weighted value.

You could also make the same argument for Jeremy Hill, since he assumed the lead role in Cincy midway through the year. But his emergence isn’t as cut and dry and both his average and probability are considerably lower than Anderson’s, so he’s not worth consideration.

But let’s look at using Murray for a week or two and then switching to either Lynch or Anderson (I’m going to use his numbers from week 10 – despite the smaller sample size, it’s a better indication of his role).

Player Round Total
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (1x) Conf Final (2x) Super Bowl (3x)
Murray wk 1 / Lynch wk 2, 3, 4 18.44 16.58 33.16 49.74 117.92
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (2x) Conf Final (1x) Super Bowl (2x)
Murray wk 1, 2 / Lynch wk 3, 4 18.44 36.88 16.58 33.16 105.06
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (1x) Conf Final (2x) Super Bowl (3x)
Murray wk 1 / Anderson wk 2, 3, 4 18.44 20.78 41.56 62.34 143.12
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (2x) Conf Final (1x) Super Bowl (2x)
Murray wk 1, 2 / Anderson wk 3, 4 18.44 36.88 20.78 41.56 117.66

You’re better off to run with Beast Mode and CJ than to try a hybrid approach. However, the caveat to this is it depends on how confident you feel in Anderson and the Broncos. Seattle is the favorite in the NFC and Lynch is one of the most consistent backs over the last few years. But we’re using an awfully small sample size on Anderson, an undrafted player with only 186 career carries to his name. The Broncos could face both Baltimore and New England, two of the top six run stopping units according to PFF rating. And Denver isn’t the offensive juggernaut they were last year and in the early part of this season. So if you think Denver won’t make the Super Bowl and that Anderson will regress, you might rather start with Murray and ride him until the Cowboys are out. If Dallas made the NFC Championship game, he’d be expected to accumulate about 110 points, or seven points more than Anderson.

WIDE RECEIVER

Player Season Avg Round Total Probability Weighted Value
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (2x) Conf Final (3x) Super Bowl (4x)
Brown 16.18 18.44 32.36 48.54 64.72 164.06 .125 20.51
D. Thomas 14.43 0 28.86 43.29 57.72 129.87 .5 64.94
Nelson 14.4 0 28.8 43.2 57.6 129.6 .455 58.97
D. Bryant 14.28 14.28 28.56 42.84 57.12 142.8 .167 23.85
Cobb 12.65 0 25.3 37.95 50.6 113.85 .455 51.8
Sanders 12.58 0 25.16 37.74 50.32 113.22 .5 56.61
C. Johnson 12.05 12.05 24.1 36.15 48.2 120.5 .05 6.03
Hilton 11.93 11.93 23.86 35.79 47.72 119.3 .071 8.47
Green 11.4 11.4 22.8 34.2 45.6 114 .063 7.18
M. Bryant 10.41 10.41 20.82 31.23 41.64 104.1 .125 13.01
G. Tate 10.07 10.07 20.14 30.21 40.28 100.7 .05 5.04
Edelman 9.9 11.68 19.8 29.7 39.6 100.78 .833 83.95

Rostering Demaryius Thomas and Jordy Nelson would appear to be the way to go. They provide the third and fourth best expected return, and their weighted value sits second and third. Julian Edelman has the highest weighted value, but similar to Brady, his overall return isn’t as strong.

Looking at the hybrid approach, we can see below that rostering Thomas and then a hybrid of Antonio Brown and Nelson is not worth it, given the low chance of Pittsburgh advancing beyond this weekend.

Player Round Total
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (1x) Conf Final (2x) Super Bowl (3x)
Brown wk 1 / Nelson wk 2, 3, 4 16.18 14.4 28.8 43.2 102.58
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (2x) Conf Final (1x) Super Bowl (2x)
Brown wk 1, 2 / Nelson wk 3, 4 16.18 32.36 14.4 28.8 91.74

Sticking with Thomas and Nelson appears to be the right call here, but it’s worth pointing out that they are not on the teams favoured to make the Superbowl. Both Seattle and New England are more likely to meet in the final game, and while Seattle just doesn’t have a suitable receiver you’d consider rostering for the next four weeks, Edelman warrants consideration with his yeoman-like 9.9 fppg. So let’s take the assumption that the Pats and Broncos will meet in the AFC Championship and New England will advance. Under that premise, let’s see whether it’s worth rostering Edelman the entire way, a hybrid of Brown and Edelman, or a hybrid of Thomas and Edelman.

Player Round Total
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (1x) Conf Final (2x) Super Bowl (3x)
Brown wk 1 / Edelman wk 2, 3, 4 16.18 9.9 19.8 29.7 75.58
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (2x) Conf Final (1x) Super Bowl (2x)
Brown wk 1, 2 / Edelman wk 3, 4 16.18 32.36 9.9 19.8 78.24
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (2x) Conf Final (3x) Super Bowl (1x)
Thomas wk 2, 3 / Edelman wk 4 0 28.86 43.29 9.9 82.05

Although the totals are close, rostering Thomas from the beginning yields the best result both if he were to advance to the Super Bowl and if he makes it only as far as the AFC Championship. Taking Edelman early gives you a little more security but you lose out on any upside.

Finally, Emmanuel Sanders and Randall Cobb are not far off the numbers of Thomas and Nelson and are more than capable of leading their teams in scoring. I did a quick standard deviation of their weekly scores and both Thomas and Nelson scored higher in variability (9.02 and 8.11, respectively) than Sanders and Cobb (6.77 and 5.5, respectively). So if you’re looking to field a more consistent set of receivers, taking Sanders and Cobb and their slightly lower fppg might be a better strategy. Or perhaps you can take one of each to give you a nice balance of consistency and volatility, while still remaining in the high end of production and probability.

TIGHT END

Player Season Avg Round Total Probability Weighted Value
Wild Card (1x) Conf Semis (2x) Conf Final (3x) Super Bowl (4x)
Gronkowski 12.29 0 24.58 36.87 49.16 110.61 .833 92.14
J. Thomas 10.2 0 20.4 30.6 40.8 91.8 .5 45.9
Olsen 8.58 8.58 17.16 25.74 34.32 85.8 .05 4.29
Fleener 7.9 7.9 15.8 23.7 31.6 79 .071 5.61

I’ve saved the easiest analysis for the end. Unless you’re certain Denver will knock off the Pats and reach the Super Bowl, you’re better off rostering Rob Gronkowski the entire way.

Best of luck in your final fantasy pool for this season

____

A Canadian living in Australia and writing about American football, Ryan McKee might be the only person on the planet to work in all three forms of football. In addition to writing fantasy football articles for Pro Football Focus Fantasy, Ryan works for the Aussie Rules football club Essendon FC in Melbourne and previously worked for Vancouver Whitecaps FC of Major League Soccer. He is the author of Trade Wins: The Final Untapped Advantage in Fantasy Football. He cannot understand why he’s still a Cowboys fan after all these years and can be followed on Twitter @ryanmckee.

  • Dorg

    Awesome article Ryan, keep up the good work.

  • Chachi Fitzgerald

    Great data. I’m running with it.