Last updated 7:15 p.m., January 2, 2013
Welcome to Rotoworld's seventh annual post-season fantasy football ranks. I never understood why standard fantasy football leagues end in Weeks 14-16, leaving diehard fans with nothing at stake during the most important -- and entertaining -- games of the season. It's anti-climactic. Unless you play in a Dynasty league that synchronizes with the NFL playoffs, the best way to stay involved is by redrafting with league mates or friends for the "second season."
The main distinction between regular fantasy football and the lesser played post-season variety is that the latter uses cumulative points. Total games played is the most important factor, which means your primary directive is picking players on winning teams.
By virtue of the eye test, won-loss records, advanced metrics, demonstrated fantasy production, and Super Bowl odds, the Broncos and Patriots dominate this year's fantasy playoff ranks as the class of the AFC. For every point in favor of Denver, there is a counterpoint in favor of New England -- and vice versa. Paring a Von Miller-led disruptive defense with Peyton Manning's high-scoring offense, the Broncos are riding an 11-game winning streak (all by a touchdown or more). The Patriots scored the third-most points in NFL history despite losing their two most dangerous skill-position players for nearly two months apiece.
The NFC, on the other hand, is a pure crapshoot. While the Seahawks are perched atop Football Outsiders' metrics, Las Vegas has relegated Pete Carroll's squad to fourth in the NFC after finishing the season 3-5 on the road. Why is Seattle a 3 point favorite at Washington with a sub-.500 road record? With the possible exception of Denver, no team is hotter. Since Week 13, the Seahawks boast the best scoring offense and defense in the league.
Playing their best ball of the season, the Packers' odds are good as any team in the NFC. The advantage they have over the Falcons and 49ers is that they have a shot to play an extra game -- at home in subfreezing weather against a QB yet to play with the temperature below 40 degrees. It's no surprise that the domed Vikes have lost four in a row when faced with the extreme cold. Vegas has installed Green Bay as 7.5 favorites.
While the Colts enter the playoffs riding the wave of the NFL's feel-good story of the year, metrics and odds are stacked against them. In fact, Football Outsiders has labeled Indy as "the worst 11-5 team in NFL history." If that's not enough, the Ravens are countering with their own drama-infused story. Perhaps the greatest motivator of his generation, Ray Lewis announced that January will be his "last ride." Sunday's game is taking on an "end of an era" feel with fellow future Hall of Famer Ed Reed a candidate to join Lewis in hanging up the spikes. "Wherever it ends," said Lewis, "I didn't come back for it to end in the first round." John Harbaugh is the only coach in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first four seasons. Sporting a 6-2 home record, the Ravens have been installed as 6.5-point favorites.
Whereas I felt strongly last season that the Texans were a far better team than the Bengals, the two are moving in opposite directions this time around. Houston's offense appears to be broken, having reached the end zone just three times in the past 4.5 games. Although Cincinnati's offense hasn't fared any better, Mike Zimmer's "salty" defense finished second to the Broncos in sacks. Can Andy Dalton be trusted on the road to lead the franchise to its first playoff victory in 23 years? Vegas is skeptical, leaving the Texans as 4.5-point favorites.
One omen working against San Francisco? No Super Bowl champion has ever made it through the regular season without a three-game winning streak. The 49ers are also staring at a tough Divisional Round matchup with the surging Packers while the Falcons will likely draw the Seahawks-Redskins winner.
Final team efficiency ratings via @fboutsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system:
Final ratings in @fboutsiders’ weighted DVOA, which is adjusted to diminish the importance of early-season games:
Football Outsiders’ Playoff Odds Report based on chances of winning the Super Bowl after playing out the season 50,000 times:
1. Broncos - 26.2%
2. Patriots - 24.3%
3. 49ers - 14.3%
4. Seahawks - 10.3%
5. Falcons - 7.7%
6. Packers - 6.6%
7. Bengals - 3.3%
8. Ravens - 3.0%
9. Redskins - 2.8%
10. Texans - 0.9%
11. Vikings - 0.4%
12. Colts - 0.2%
In the last six years, the Super Bowl winners have been sixth, first, second, fifth, third, sixth and fourth seeds. Courtesy of Las Vegas oddsmakers, here are the latest Super Bowl odds:
1. Broncos 11/4
2. Patriots 4/1
3. 49ers 6/1
4. Falcons 7/1
5. Packers 8/1
6. Seahawks 11/1
7. Texans 15/1
8. Redskins 18/1
9. Ravens 22/1
10. Vikings 40/1
11. Bengals 45/1
12. Colts 45/1
On the rankings. For a quick primer on playoff fantasy football, check out Evan Silva’s how-to column from a few years back. The rules are similar to regular fantasy football except that total points are the key. Pick a starting team, possibly a bench, and let them go at it.