Winning Strategies for Playoff Best Ball
War of Attrition
Playoff best ball is a whole different animal than season long leagues. The player pool is constricted, rosters are smaller, and teams face weekly eliminations.
Ultimately there are two goals for this format. The first is to field a complete starting roster in each week of the playoffs. For teams to survive, fantasy gamers not only have to navigate natural variance but also the threat of postseason ejection.
The second goal is to construct a team that highlights a vision of how the playoffs enfold. Like any good DFS tournament lineup, the ideal mentality to internalize is to have your roster tell a story. The question in a best ball elimination format is how will the four weeks play out and how can your roster mirror the playoff gauntlet?
Rules of the Game
Playoff best ball features drafting a roster from NFL teams either in or contending for a berth in the post season. Each week of the postseason, lineups are optimized so your five highest scoring players will automatically accumulate points based on position. The team with the most points at the end of the playoffs wins. As a staple of the format, there are no waivers, trades, or setting your lineup.
Let's look at the format DRAFT uses and how to exploit it.
Duration: There are four scoring weeks. Teams score points during the: Wild Card Round, Divisional Round, Conference Championships, and then Super Bowl.
Translation: Understand the playoff schedule and know it’s a war of attrition. A balanced and diverse roster will be key.
Scoring Positions: Each week your highest-scoring players at these positions will count to your postseason total: 1 QB, 1 RB, 1 WR/TE, and 2 FLEX (can be RBs, WRs, and/or TEs).
Translation: Tight end is not a position of scarcity and TEs need to be treated on par as any wide receiver.
Team Size: 10 players. Up to 5 players score each week. 5 don’t.
Translation: Up to 5 players is the key. Come Round 3 of the playoffs, many rosters will struggle to field more than 4 players.
Scoring: .5 PPR just like our weekly NFL drafts.
Translation: Touchdowns remain king in this scoring setting, even given a smaller window of games. Certain players with more PPR value such as backs like James White and Tarik Cohen still have tremendous value given their high volume of red zone touches.
Tell a Story
Football-Outsiders Playoff Win Probabilities
The chart above and earlier version from FiveThirtyEight should be your bible to telling a story. Telling a story is simple: pick your final four teams and build a roster to match. If you are constructing a Saints/Chiefs Super Bowl roster, the goal is to chain together a squad heavy on both teams. Now it’s nearly impossible to draft all of Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, and Alvin Kamara on one squad, but the trick to this story is to stack cheap value players.
Mahomes is my top pick based on position scarcity, scoring prowess, and playoff survival. One of my favorite stacks is to take Mahomes (ADP of 2) very early and reach for Damien Williams later (ADP of 38). A Mahomes/Williams stack ensures a potentially huge share of the Chiefs touchdown pie.
Another example is to pair potential NFC conference final QBs Jared Goff (ADP 7) and Drew Brees (ADP 1) with their affordable tertiary pass-catching option in Josh Reynolds (ADP 37) and Ted Ginn (ADP 21). In a best ball format, Ginn shines as a boom/bust option, especially with the Saints drawing home-field advantage (NO averages 8.1 more PPG at home) throughout the playoffs.
The flip side to team stacking Super Bowl favorites is to have exposure to favored lower-seeded teams. As of now the Chiefs, Saints, Rams, and Patriots are favored to have first round byes. That leaves several lower-seeded teams squarely in play for fantasy gamers to consider. As mentioned before, the goal is having a full five-man starting lineup every round. It’s critical to target the right player on the right team based off playoff schedule.
The DRAFT current ADP can be found at this link under “Edit Rankings.”
The below chart is how I would rank the players, as well as their last six-game average fantasy points per game (data courtesy of the great Peter Howard, @pahowdy on Twitter).
Players to Target
The Chicago Bears are entering the playoff race with palpable momentum, propelling the team to dark-horse status in a tight NFC race. Ideally the goal is to grab shares of high floor players on teams that have a strong chance of making it to the conference finals and Chicago fits the bill.
Tarik Cohen is in an enviable spot, as he is the only skill position player on the Bears that doesn’t suffer from Mitch Trubisky’s penchant to spread the ball around. Per Player Profiler, Cohen commands a strong weighted opportunity share of 186.3 (ranks 10th) and many will be opposed to drafting him when receptions aren’t at a premium. The Bears back ranks 4th in red zone targets, 6th in receptions, and 2nd in receiving yards.
I have Cohen ranked at 16 versus his current ADP of 28. James White, a reeling, game-script dependent back is being taken at 15 currently.
As far as stacking, Cohen and Trubisky make for a perfect pairing as both players are undervalued relative to their current draft position. As mentioned earlier, grabbing heavy shares of a contender's scoring output can be invaluable. Trubisky offers a safe rushing floor and the ability to put up monster stats on occasion (finished as a QB5 or higher four times).
I'm a fan of investing in cheap pieces of the Chiefs offense as Kansas City looks likely to secure home field advantage.
The backfield is unsettled; incumbent starter Spencer Ware failed to impress in his debut, then got injured. Although Ware was much improved against the Raiders, backup Damien Williams has opened eyes with his 91st percentile speed on full display. In a limited sample, Williams has seen solid red zone work (7 red zone carries) and passing game volume (11 targets).
As is the case often in fantasy, take the cheaper, more talented option (Williams rather than Ware) when drafting.
Many will point to Chris Hogan as the receiver to target with Josh Gordon on the shelf, but Tom Brady’s favorite pass target is catching my eye. The former Kent State QB has been on a tear since coming back from suspension and should see a slight boost in targets with the absence of Gordon.
Some will stay away from Julian Edelman based on the half-point PPR scoring format, but his scoring equity is robust. New England ranks 13th in pass plays per game with Edelman seeing a healthy 33.9% of the Patriots red zone targets (ranks 6th). He's only caught 4 receiving touchdowns (1.6 less than expected), but he ranks 5th in red zone receptions. With a healthy workload inside the 20, Edelman could be in line for some positive touchdown regression, especially if the Patriots can muster a playoff run of old.
Since Week 8, Tom Brady has only finished as top 12 QB in one week. Simply known as the GOAT, Brady will likely go overlooked because of his recent slide. Brady has a great chance of seeing a first-round bye at a discounted price, and pairing the QB with the second-best chance of making the AFC title game with his favorite target is a recipe for fantasy success.
Roster Construction Tips
With playoff best ball being a new concept on DRAFT, there is a cloud of ambiguity surrounding optimal roster construction. In the contests I have seen so far, the common build is 2 QBs, 4 RBs, and 4 WR/TE. The build has seemingly been replicated through all contests regardless of entrant size. Ideally, each separate position is split up between conferences to avoid your rostered player’s teams eliminating each other.
This is a recent 3-man draft from last week, prior to Week 16.
- I paired Mahomes with Dak Prescott to ensure I have QB exposure in every round in different conferences. While Dak offers a safe rushing floor, Dallas is at home and scores on averages 10.3 more points in Jerry World.
- Spencer Ware and Mahomes is another way to try to capture a large share of TD equity for Kansas City.
- Five of the 10 players I drafted are on teams I expect to be in the conference finals.
- Melvin Gordon offered tremendous value here if healthy. He has elite volume, game script independence, and the Chargers have thrived on the road (4th in road PPG).
Here's a roster I constructed in a six-man draft using similar principles.
Let's review some concepts and sum up some strategies for building your rosters.
- If you plan on playing in a high volume of contests, track your exposures to ensure you aren't over- or underexposed to the wrong guys.
- The drafts are live and there is a 30-second timer. Ideally you want to have a computer up and running along with your phone to ensure you have access to every bit of information.
- Don’t get too cute when it comes to making contrarian picks on bad teams. I have little faith in underdogs in the postseason, especially when I don’t think the team is particularly good. Don’t be afraid to be underweight on teams such as the Titans, Seahawks, and Texans.
- As is often the case with best ball, early bird gets the worm. Enter as many contests now while there is still a competitive edge to be had. Try joining drafts at peak times such as late on the weekends.
- Tight end is not a position of scarcity since there isn’t a TE slot, so treat tight ends as wide receivers.
- Be sure to set your own player rankings ahead of time or feel free to utilize the chart above. The point of using a customized chart is to identify ADP market inefficiencies and take advantage.
- Taking QBs early usually isn’t advisable in fantasy, but being that it’s an elimination format the signal caller is a position of scarcity. There are basically three QB tiers and your best bet is to pair one elite QB such as Goff with a mid-level signal caller such as Lamar Jackson. Over-utilize late-round QB (Marcus Mariota, Nick Foles, etc.) and your roster might be drawing dead at the position with the most stable floor by the conference championship round.
- Keep in mind your player’s conference. If you happen to select four WRs all from the AFC, you might find yourself in a tough spot if your teams get 86ed early. Remember a huge goal of playoff best ball is to field 5 players all four weeks.
- Navigate the bye weeks. Sure we all want to load up on Chiefs and Saints, but if most of your roster misses the first round then you're not in great shape. Balance is key. Great players (Adam Thielen, Zach Ertz, and Melvin Gordon come to mind) on lower-seeded teams can be a huge value since they are active early.
- Be wary of fringe sections (Keith Kirkwood, Jordan Matthews, Mark Andrews) and injured players. For example, I’m limiting my exposure to Sammy Watkins and Austin Ekeler since their status is up in the air.
Good luck to all my fellow gambling degenerates and best ballers out there. For any questions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JHawkChalk89