Hopefully, your fantasy teams have clinched a spot in your league's fantasy playoffs (or at least are still in contention going into the final fantasy regular season week). But, as the initial joy of clinching a coveted playoff position subsides, you will find that the real challenge is just beginning. In 10-team leagues like Yahoo! public leagues, four teams will advance to the championship playoffs. As far as I am concerned, I do not care if my team goes in as the #1 seed, the #4 seed, or anywhere in between. As long as my team makes it, I have a chance at the league championship. Everyone else, enjoy the consolation bracket and the long offseason.
As the fantasy playoffs begin, some teams start to scramble and refocus at this point. However, my focus on the playoffs actually began at the draft and has not ceased as the season has progressed. By this time, I have already utilized trades to strengthen my starting lineups. I have used waivers and free agency to my advantage. I have added key depth to alleviate injury surprises. I have capitalized on key pickups of players peaking at the right time or thrust into key NFL positions (i.e. C.J. Spiller in the 2011 fantasy playoffs). And I have looked ahead at real-life favorable NFL matchups during the fantasy playoff weeks that can benefit my fantasy team.
But I think one thing that is often overlooked (and could come back to bite you) is not keeping an eye on the real-life NFL playoff picture. As NFL teams wind down their regular season and the NFL playoff picture starts to fall in place, many teams make roster decisions based upon their current records and placement. Some teams that have already wrapped up a playoff position, home-field advantage, and/or first-round bye may start to rest their players for the playoffs (and not risking their player's health in the process). Other teams that have already been eliminated from playoff contention may make starting lineup changes in their final weeks (looking ahead to next year in the process). Obviously, this is the primary reason fantasy leagues end their season in Week 16 (and not Week 17 like the real NFL season).
In addition, some teams that are fighting to the bitter end to grab one of the last available playoff positions will play their players til they drop from exhaustion out of desperation to join the party. This can be a very good thing for fantasy owners capitalizing on the extra workload of these team's players.
In looking at the current 2012 playoff picture for the AFC, the Houston Texans (11-1) currently sit as the #1 seed (with a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs). The other current playoff teams include (with current record and seed in parentheses): New England Patriots (9-3 / #2 seed), Baltimore Ravens (9-3 / #3 seed), Denver Broncos (9-3 / #4 seed), Indianapolis Colts (8-4 / #5 seed), and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5 / #6 seed). The Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) are currently next in line with multiple teams 2 games further back of them at 5-7 (just waiting to be officially eliminated).
The concern here is that Houston currently has a two-game lead over the three teams sitting at 9-3. If they were to beat the New England Patriots this week, you may start to hear discussion about resting some of their key fantasy players (Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, team defense, etc.). As for the three teams at 9-3 (NE, BAL, DEN), all are obviously interested in the final #2 seed and first-round bye and home-field advantage that goes with it. So, they should be playing to their fullest until things shake out a little further. Indianapolis is waiting for one or more of these teams to stumble so they can join in. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (both 7-5) are only separated by a head-to-head matchup win by the Steelers (24-17 in Week 7), so both will play hard to not be the odd team out of the playoffs. All other AFC teams not mentioned are either already eliminated or nearly eliminated, and are possible candidates to make some potentially unfavorable roster moves in the coming weeks. So, be watchful as you advance through your league's playoff weeks (Week 15 and 16) as you could easily have some players involved.
In looking at the current 2012 playoff picture for the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons (11-1) currently sit in the driver's seat (#1 seed) with a 2.5 game lead over current #2 seed, San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1). The other current playoff teams include: Green Bay Packers (8-4 / #3 seed); New York Giants (7-5 / #4 seed); Chicago Bears (8-4 / #5 seed); and Seattle Seahawks (7-5 / #6 seed). Please note that division champions get ranked higher than probable wild card teams (explaining why a 7-5 Giants team is ranked higher than an 8-4 Bears team). Just behind these teams are the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Minnesota Vikings (all at 6-6). With this many teams still in contention, my only current concern pertains to the Falcons who (like the Houston Texans in the AFC) may start to consider resting some of their key fantasy players (Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, etc.). It is not being talked about yet, but keep your eyes open. And as is the case in the AFC, all other NFC teams not mentioned are either already eliminated or nearly eliminated, and are possible candidates to make some potentially unfavorable roster moves in the coming weeks.
You would hate to work your tail off all season, only to have your championship hopes dashed by the resting of some key fantasy players. Not only is this possible, it is probable. So, add this to the things to do for your championship push. Hopefully you have quality player depth or free agent prospects to protect you. If not, you still have a little time, but not much! Get your teams ready while you still can. Good luck in your league playoffs.
Brian Music is one of five inaugural inductees to the 2011 Toyota Legends of Fantasy Football Hall of Fame on Yahoo! Sports. He has participated in fantasy football for 23 years and began playing Yahoo! fantasy football in 2001, winning trophies in 17 of the 25 leagues that he has played (including 9 League Championships) and placing in the Top 3 in Fantasy Points in 23 of the 25 leagues.