NFL Fantasy Strategy: When to Start Planning for the Playoffs

C.D. CarterFeatured ColumnistOctober 10, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin #18 of the Philadelphia Eagles in action against the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on September 30, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

For fantasy football postseason success, target the NFL's squishiest defenses.

Self-flagellation takes up most of your time these days, as your fake football squad limps to a 2-3 record and you're staring down the barrel of bye weeks for your superstars.

The fantasy playoffs, however, are nine short weeks away for most reasonable leagues, so stop spontaneously bursting into tears every time you think of drafting Chris Johnson and make a few moves with an eye toward the make-believe football postseason, when anyone—even CJ401K owners—can win a title.

But first, you have to earn a playoff spot.

Many of your rosters are stocked with overachieving players who have set the world aflame so far this fall but face treacherous Week 14-16 schedules. There are myriad underachieving players who have faced a murderers' row of defenses, and are slated to take on some of football's most generous defenses when it really counts: in December.

The Rams, for example, have the easiest Week 14-16 schedule for running backs. If you can stomach Steven Jackson's sometimes low point-totals in October and November, and the beast of a man is still upright in December, he could reward you in a big way.

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who missed a game with a hip pointer and laid an egg last week against a brutal Steelers secondary, is among fantasy's best buy-low candidates, in part because he'll face the seventh easiest schedule for wide receivers in those final three weeks of the fantasy season. Maclin is still seeing his fair share of targets—including eight last week—so see if you can snag him now and hope he's healthy for his tasty playoff schedule.

Perhaps the savviest move toward a run through the playoffs would be to trade for Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, he of a measly 15 yards last Monday night. Don't be swayed—Johnson is still getting good separation off the line, he's still the Texans most targeted pass catcher, and he'll face the single easiest Week 14-16 schedule for receivers. Johnson is fantasy's ultimate buy low, but even more so with a playoff slate that should have you dealing with your league's disenchanted Andre owner.

Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, who has infuriated waiver wire vultures who thought they had en emerging elite tight end on their hands, will have the second softest fantasy playoff schedule for tight ends. Pitta is almost impossible to play right now, after scoring a grand total of two fantasy points since Week 3, but if you can stash him, please do. His playoff schedule is far too scrumptious to pass on.

There is another, much darker, side to this strength of schedule coin.

Some of the studliest studs in fantasy football enter the seventh circle of hell come Week 14-16. Trading them—or finding stars with friendlier schedules—probably will be the difference between playoff agony and ecstasy.

49ers running back Frank Gore, for example, faces the third most difficult running back schedule during the fantasy playoffs. Gore, a 29-year-old workhorse runner, once again being ridden into the ground by a run-heavy San Francisco squad, is already a sell-high candidate. In the playoffs, when he faces off against the Dolphins, Seahawks, and Patriots—three run-stuffing defenses—he could sink your team. Get rid of him now. Let Gore be someone else's postseason headache.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has been a nice story so far, playing efficiently and posting decent fantasy numbers along the way. Just don't rely on the second year signal caller to deliver you to the fantasy football promised land. He won't.

Ponder faces the toughest playoff schedule for quarterbacks (the Redskins, Patriots, and Bills also have heinous Week 14-16 quarterback matchups). Ponder isn't really a sell high. But if he's your starter, maybe it's time to buy low on a guy like Cam Newton (seventh easiest playoff schedule) or Michael Vick (fifth easiest).

It isn't too early to position yourself for the playoffs, even if you're not running roughshod over your league through the first five weeks. Don't sell your soul to snag guys with the best playoff schedules, but if you see a nice buy-low candidate with a soft Week 14-16 schedule, do what you can to take him off your league member's hands.

Remember, find the league's squishiest late-season schedules and your self-hating quotient could take a serious dive come December.