NFL.com Playoff Challenge Start’em Sit’em
The key to the NFL.com Playoff Challenge is to pick the two teams you expect to make the Super Bowl and ride or die with them. The double, triple and quadruple point multipliers are worth the zero point efforts in Week 1. In 2013, I got a piece of all the Wild Card action, quickly realizing it cost me big points in multipliers. I correctly anticipated a Ravens/Niners Super Bowl from that point on and was able to finish very strong down the stretch. In 2014, I recognized the benefit of taking a chance on my Super Bowl gut and littered my lineup with Broncos and Seahawks, finishing with one of the highest point totals, but still falling just short. From my experience, the champion is typically the person who has a lineup almost completely full of the Super Bowl matchup, with 1 or 2 hot players from the other 2-3 weeks mixed in.
The way I see it, there’s 3 teams in the AFC that could make a Super Bowl run (Patriots, Broncos, Steelers) and 3 in the NFC as well (Panthers, Cardinals, Seahawks). For that matter, the gamble with the highest ceiling would be going all in on the Steelers and Seahawks. Both teams possess a ton of fantasy firepower and both teams have the best shot of playing in all four weeks. The safest play would be loading up on the Patriots and Cardinals. Fully healthy, with all their experience, it is hard to imagine Tom Brady and the Patriots don’t find a way to survive the AFC once again. As for Arizona (Week 17 collapse to the Seahawks aside), there doesn’t seem to be a more complete team in the NFL. They have a ton of fantasy weapons and the best combination of offense and defense in the league. We also don’t know how healthy Ted Ginn and Jonathan Stewart will be for the playoff run, so riding the Panthers carries a little bit of risk.
If you really want to win the playoff challenge and outperform thousands of the contestants, you need to take a chance on the high ceiling. With that in mind the play has got to be Steelers and Seahawks. If you’re in a smaller contest with friends, pick the two teams you expect to make the Super Bowl (one of the six I mentioned) and ride the talent there. You can mix in the top performers on the teams you think could make a run from the Wild Card round to the conference championship as well. Guys that make the most sense for those spots would be Marshawn Lynch, Doug Baldwin, Charcandrick West, Antonio Brown, A.J. Green.
The Seahawks carry more experience than any other team in the NFC. Carson Palmer & Cam Newton might be having MVP performances, but they come with limited playoff experience. Aaron Rodgers is considered the G.O.A.T. to many, but with an offensive line leaving much to be desired and receivers that can’t seem to get open, he’s a “stay away” in my opinion.
Highest Ceiling: Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger
High Ceiling: Carson Palmer, Cam Newton, Tom Brady
Middle Ground: Kirk Cousins, Peyton Manning/Brock Osweiler
Low Ceiling: Aaron Rodgers (Ya, you heard me!), Alex Smith, Teddy Bridgewater
Marshawn Lynch might have the highest ceiling, but he’s also the biggest gamble. We haven’t seen “Beast Mode” in seven weeks. The offense is firing on all cylinders through the air. This may be a high ceiling hopeful worth avoiding. Expect David Johnson to be a true workhorse in January. He’s the best option to ride in the challenge.
Highest Ceiling: Marshawn Lynch
High Ceiling: David Johnson, Deangelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Charcandrick West
Middle Ground: C.J. Anderson, James White, Jeremy Hill/Giovani Bernard
Low Ceiling: Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy, Ronnie Hillman, Alfred Morris/Matt Jones
Highest Ceiling: Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin
High Ceiling: Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald, Ted Ginn, Jr., Martavis Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Julian Edelman, A.J. Green, Emmanuel Sanders, Jeremy Maclin
Middle Ground: Danny Amendola, John Brown, Desean Jackson, Jermaine Kearse
Low Ceiling: Deandre Hopkins, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Stefon Diggs, Pierre Garcon
It goes without saying that Rob Gronkowski has the highest ceiling. He’s the mismatch of all mismatches and on a team with a very high probability of making an extended playoff run. Greg Olsen can’t be overlooked either for similar reasons. Outside of these two, if its not Tyler Eifert, Jordan Reed or Travis Kelce in your lineup instead, you’re making a big mistake.
Highest Ceiling: Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen
High Ceiling: Tyler Eifert, Jordan Reed, Travis Kelce
Middle Ground: Heath Miller
Low Ceiling: Richard Rodgers, Luke Willson, Owen Daniels, Kyle Rudolph
In summary, its hard to call any lineup perfect when trying to predict the most unpredictable sport. But if you use the strategies detailed within, whether head-to-head, in small pools or the big tournament, you’re going to give yourself the best odds to emerge victorious.