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Part III of our three-part series...
Most all fantasy playoff football has to do with picking players from the teams likely to make it to the Super Bowl/play the most games, on top of performing well. So, let’s take a look at this team-by-team for their chances to make it to the big dance…and the players of note along with some sleepers. Yesterday we looked at the NFC, and we’ll finish things off with the AFC today.
Let’s do this in reverse, let’s eliminate the weak hands and build to the more likely to survive.
BUFFALO: There’s no way Buffalo is winning a game, but if they do…no way they win two. They don’t even belong in the playoffs…but that’s the AFC for you!
You cannot even identify a sleeper from the Bills for this fantasy playoff tournament because they start out facing the league’s best defense in Jacksonville. Let’s just write off the Bills and pretend this never happened.
TENNESSEE: You might think the Titans are in a similar boat with the Bills…wrong. Everyone loves the Chiefs because they happened to win five games in a row to start the 2017 season…so, it sticks out in our minds. We don’t care that they went 1-6 after that…while at the same time the Titans won six of 7 games midseason. Somehow KC’s memorable wins are more important because they started the season that way?
All I’m saying is -- don’t instantly usher in the Chiefs over the Titans. I agree the Titans aren’t going very far…probably not even one game, but they might get this one – and that spells more issue for KC in the FF-playoff strategy than it does worrying about the Titans.
I would say if the Titans beat KC…they would then find themselves facing NE or PIT, likely NE…and neither team is great against the run (now that Shazier is gone). If the Titans pulled some miracles, it would have to mean Derrick Henry got on a major roll. KC is terrible v. the run, and the Patriots are not great there either. Henry could get 1-2 games against bad run defenses and do a little something. I don’t trust Tennessee, Mularkey, Henry, etc., but if you do…God Bless.
KANSAS CITY: The Chiefs are a chic pick to easily beat Tennessee and then possible upset (again) the Patriots. I get that, but I’m personally playing the exact opposite. It’s not a given, to me, that KC beats Tennessee…but let’s say they do, then they have to go to New England, who has had 2+ weeks to prepare and do what they can never do late in a season – beat the Patriots, and at Foxboro. You think you might get 2, maybe 3-4 games out of KC…I think we’re getting 1 game maybe 2 at the most.
You know how I feel about Tyreek Hill, so if you like KC to make a run…it has to be on the back of Tyreek Hill. Alex Smith would, then, also go for a ride in that as well. I wish KC would make a run because I predicted KC as the non-Patriots representative for the Super Bowl from the AFC back in May 2017, and I want Tyreek to be a star…but I don’t see it happening this playoff. Next playoffs with unleahsed Patrick Mahomes, but not this season.
PITTSBURGH: Because of injuries, to our system analysis, we can’t see the Steelers making it to the Super Bowl. Unless Antonio Brown is 100% for their game against Jacksonville, the Steelers have almost no chance. Ryan Shazier and Brown being out is too lethal to overcome against the likes of the Jags or Patriots. With Shazier and Antonio healthy – I pick the Steelers to go all the way. Without them…I don’t see them having a chance.
If you see the Steelers making a run then one of two things happen – Antonio Brown is back full or Le’Veon Bell went off and carried the team. Antonio healthy versus the Jaguars is a problem to begin with, much less if he's hurt…and lethal to Ben-JuJu if he’s out. The Steelers would likely have to beat JAX-NE-LAR/MIN to win the Super Bowl, three tough matchups for Big Ben.
JACKSONVILLE: Think about how ‘easy’ the path might be here for the Jags. Possibly facing the Bills without LeSean McCoy…or even with McCoy. Facing the Steelers, who they already smacked around, without Ryan Shazier and maybe no Antonio Brown. The Jags might be ‘gold’ for getting three games, at least, worth of fantasy for you. Maybe more…
I think the Jaguars are absolutely built to destroy the Patriots this year…but Brady/Belichick always seem to find a way. I like the odds of the Jags playing three games, if not four this playoff. On the otherhand…’it’s the Jags’, something is bound to go wrong.
There will be no more messing around with Leonard Fournette in and out for T.J. Yeldon…you’d figure it’s all Fournette all the time. BUF-PIT (no Shazier)-NE are a great matchup run for Fournette. The added bonus is that the Jags seem to be throwing more to Fournette…great news for PPR – 2.4 rec. and 19.5 rec. yards per game his first 8 games of the season, 3.4 rec. and 29.2 rec. yards the last/final 5 games of the season. Week 17 was a career high 4 catches and 67 rec. yards.
Defenses will stack the box with 53 guys to stop the Jags, so Blake Bortles will have to throw…and when he does, it’s Keelan Cole as his go-to for the past few weeks. As it should be, like I said in June 2017 through December 2017 – Cole is 2x+ the talent Dede Westbrook is. Allen Hurns returning is a sleeper in nonPPR…he’s the red zone TD guy for Bortles. Marqise Lee returns…and I don’t like any of these WRs for the FF-playoffs due to the congestion, but a healthy Lee is the top options.
How can you bet against the Jags DST? Buffalo this week is a great matchup. Big Ben having his revenge is a tad scary…but if no Antonio it’s probably ugly again for Ben. If the Jags make it to the final four…it could be dicey…it could be Brady then Goff, and Goff was not fazed by the Jags earlier this year. I like the Saints DST and the Rams DST as sleepers/upstarts, but the ‘best in class’ talent has been the Jags DST all season (why they were our #2 DST for 2017 in our draft guide).
NEW ENGLAND: In some sense, we all know we can’t bet against the Patriots. However, I think we’re all looking for a reason to. Some are thinking KC has logic to come up and bite them…and that the Jags are ready-made to beat the Pats (I have that feeling)…or the Steelers get their one-more shot and take them down. There’s some logic in various arguments for Patriots’ opponents, but the most logical thing is that the Patriots do what they always do…and find a way.
Kansas City is not a good team…and whether it’s KC or TEN, the Patriots are winning that game with two weeks to prepare. The Pats will find themselves in the Final Four vs. Blake Bortles or face a wounded, depleted (potentially) Pittsburgh. How can the Patriots not go get back to the Super Bowl?
If the Patriots do make that run, you have to like the things that got them here/there – Dion Lewis at RB, even if Rex Burkhead returns. Brandin Cooks as the lead WR weapon, even though that’s been a yawn for weeks – it was working at one point. Of course, Gronk is Gronk…the best in the business. Chris Hogan would be a major sleeper…he should be back close to 100% and before he hit his injury he was on his way to 10+ TDs this season. A healthy Hogan could be the shock of the FF-playoffs. Only if the Patriots face the Jaguars would that strike fear in Cooks-Hogan usage.
If you buy that KC secretly stinks, and the Steelers are too wounded…it can only be Jacksonville or New England going on to the Super Bowl from the AFC. If Brady overcomes this Jaguars pass rush and secondary…they should build him his own Hall of Fame building separate from the actual one. Either way…Bill Belichick will retire after whatever the Patriots final game is and if it’s a Super Bowl win, Brady may follow him out the door.
This is going to be a wild NFL playoff, per usual. Good Luck in your fantasy endeavors.
We start breaking down all the NFL Draft and dynasty rookie draft work non-stop all preseason at College Football Metrics.com, about to get rolling mid-January and covering the East-West Shrine and NFLPA Weeks leading into the Senior Bowl week after that. The offseason for fantasy is nonexistent…football, fantasy management and studies never end.
-- R.C. Fischer
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