For those of you that are trying to cram in every morsel of fantasy football that the 2016 season must offer, playoff pools and DFS for postseason games are underway to fulfill our final fantasy needs. I’m going to take some space each week to rank the positions from the remaining teams as a guide to maximizing those final efforts.
The NFL is already an inherently volatile game weekly when we have 16 matchups to dissect, so when we cut the weekly player pool down to eight teams in four games, we’re inviting variance to run amuck. In DFS games, we can swerve into that variance to a degree by maximizing player exposure to cover as many angles as clairvoyantly possible. I typically avoid cash games for the NFL Playoffs, but want to run out as many different tournament lineups as possible in multi-entry fields over trying to hit a bullseye in single entry contests. If you’re someone doing a playoff pool, that is much tougher to do. My best advice in those pools is to try maximize player games as much as possible as Jeff Brubach suggested with his overall ranks.
Also, for the sake of finding as much middle ground as possible to cater to all scoring formats, I’m going to operate under the tent of .5 PPR scoring here. Before we run this intro too long, let’s roll into the ranks…
1. Aaron Rodgers (@ DAL): Rodgers has thrown four touchdown passes in three consecutive games, with over 30 fantasy points in each of those games. He’s the first player since Drew Brees in 2012 to throw at least four scores in three straight. His second lowest scoring game of the season (13.5 points) came against Dallas in Week 6, but since then he’s thrown 34 touchdowns to three interceptions while averaging 26.5 points per game. Dallas has a knack for slowing down the pace and limiting possessions, and Rodgers may be without Jordy Nelson, but he carved up a hot New York defense without Nelson a week ago and is just too scorching to put anywhere else.
2. Matt Ryan (vs SEA): Ryan already touched up Seattle on the road for 335 yards and three touchdowns for 22.6 fantasy points in Week 6, and that was with Earl Thomas patrolling the back end. In the five games since Thomas was injured, Seattle has allowed 19 pass completions of 20 or more yards (tied for the most in the league) after allowing 35 through their opening 12 games of the season (ninth best in the league). Going downfield is what Ryan did best this season as he ranked second in completions (69) and touchdowns (15) on connections of 20 plus yards and led the league in passing yardage on such completions (2,210 yards).
3. Tom Brady (vs HOU): Brady has thrown at least three touchdown passes in three of his past four games, but he has shown us a few more floor moments than we’re used to seeing from him since the loss of Rob Gronkowski as he averaged fewer than 6.0 yards per pass attempt in three of those seven games. Houston has allowed a league-low 210.9 passing yards per game to opposing passers with no 300-yard passing games on the season. Still, the upper tier of quarterbacks found some success against Houston this season for fantasy. Andrew Luck (24.4 and 18.2 points), Derek Carr (22.6), Philip Rivers (20.7) and Aaron Rodgers (15.9) all threw multiple touchdowns against this defense. With New England a huge 16 point favorite, I believe Brady will be more of a touchdown dependent option this week, but still one of the top options on the board.
4. Dak Prescott (vs GB): Prescott scored fewer than 17.5 points in just three of his 15 full games and all three of those games (two versus the Giants) came against pass defenses in the top-10 of passing points allowed per attempt. Green Bay ranks 28th in that department (.487 passing points per attempt) and allowed at least 17.5 points to 11 quarterbacks this season, including a 19.5 points effort to Prescott himself in Week 6.
5. Russell Wilson (@ ATL): There’s some shootout potential here if Seattle can generate consistent offense, but that’s hardly something we can bank on given how Seattle performed on the road this season. Seattle scored just 10 touchdowns on the road this season, tied with Houston for the fewest in the NFL, as Wilson has thrown just eight of his 23 passing touchdowns this season away from home. That said, it will be hard to completely turn away from him against an Atlanta defense that allowed opponents to score a touchdown on 26.9 percent of their possessions, the fourth highest rate in the league. Wilson didn’t throw a touchdown pass when these teams met in Week 6 in Seattle, but still was strong, completing 25 of 37 passes for 270 yards during the stretch of the season when he was largely immobile with Desmond Trufant active on the Atlanta side.
6. Ben Roethlisberger (@ KC): Anytime we get six players deep in a small field and Roethlisberger is this low, we’re looking at a good quarterback slate. By now you’ve been bludgeoned with the home and road splits for Roethlisberger, so we won't harp on those greatly, but he threw just nine touchdown passes in eight games away from home this season. Roethlisberger roughed up this Kansas City defense for 300 yards and five touchdowns in Week 4, but the Chiefs have gotten their act together as a pass defense, allowing just 221.4 passing yards per game to opposing quarterbacks over the final five weeks of the season to a group that included Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota and Philip Rivers.
7. Alex Smith (vs PIT): With so many quarterbacks in play, it will be hard to use Smith in spots outside of a variance play only. On the plus side, Smith did close the season with 23 plus points against both Denver and San Diego and had a rushing touchdown in each of the final three games to end the season. Smith also had 18.7 points in the first meeting between these teams, but needed a career-high 50 pass attempts to get there. I expect this game to be much tighter than that meeting and the Steelers allowed one or fewer touchdown passes in 10 of their 17 games this season with no more than two in any game this season.
8. Brock Osweiler (@ NE): As mentioned with Russell Wilson, the Texans have been anemic road offense, averaging just 14.8 points per game on the road (31st in the league). Vegas has them with a 14.3 implied team total this week, right in line with that output. The Patriots allowed a league-best 15.6 points per game and haven’t allowed more than two touchdowns in a game since Week 10. On top of all of that, Osweiler threw for just 4.8 yards per pass attempt when these teams played in Week 3, throwing for just 196 yards in a 27-0 loss.