Fantasy Playoffs: Tips, Advice and Strategy

By Greg Alan (4for4 Founder), last updated Jul 10, 2012

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Greg Alan is the founder of 4for4 Fantasy Football and comes from a deeply statistical and analytical business background. Greg is currently a managing member of The GNG Group. You unfortunately cannot find him on twitter.

In most fantasy leagues it's playoff time. 

Having just one extra matchup or break go in your favor might be the difference, so let's dig in.... 
I really love football. Studying the game, researching and analyzing everything I can find to unearth applied insights. Sometimes, the statistician in me comes out. Below is the Football Analyst side of my brain talking to the old Statistician within. Whatever you call it, it's designed to help you find an edge in the playoffs. 
First, if you're battling in the playoffs this weekend, congratulations for making it this far! Regardless of what happens, you've certainly had a successful season. But, lets face it -- you still have some major unfinished business to take care of. 
Below I offer a few strategies and tactics to help you work around some untidy events. Much of the material is geared towards head-to-head single elimination formats. For the most part, I'm assuming Week #16 is your championship game. However, to varying degrees, these tactics apply to other situations. 

Tactic #1: "But My Lineup is Good This Weekend"

Perhaps you're thinking this material doesn't apply to your team. You got 'lucky' and all your players are healthy. While that's certainly good news, be sure to carefully examine your opponent's roster, especially if you're playing for all the marbles this weekend or next.
Remember, your goal this week isn't to score as many fantasy points as possible. Rather, your goal is to outscore your opponent. Did your foe suffer any setbacks this week? Is he hurting at running back? If so, consider grabbing up as many waiver wire RBs as possible. The key here is to really study your opponent's roster. Who is he going to be starting this week? Might he benefit from a waiver wire move? If so, beat him to the punch.
In several of my private leagues, I often discard a significant portion of my roster just to reduce my opponent's viable options. I'll drop solid players, but I'm careful not to drop players my opponent would likely pickup and start this weekend. Is this a harsh tactic? Sure, but it's fair and effective.
The point is clear. Eliminate as many viable starting players from your opponent's roster as possible. Work the waiver wire this week to improve your lineup and to constrain your opponent's starting roster. 

Tactic #2: Risk-Reward

If you're struggling with a "who should I play" or "who should I pickup" decision you might benefit from this tactic.
If you're in a head-to-head game this weekend, your goal isn't to score as many fantasy points as possible. Rather, your goal is to outscore your opponent. With this in mind, you may want to determine just how much risk you need to achieve your goal.
Financial advisors often suggest a safe lower-risk option when investing for the short-run. But, the same advisor might offer a high-risk high-reward option when planning for the long haul. Different investment vehicles fit different needs. So to in fantasy football, different players fit different roster needs.
By examining risk-reward, you might see your roster in a new light.
First, let's look at an exaggerated example.
Assume you and your opponent are evenly matched. Both teams start players that score 15-25 fantasy points each week. However, you have a secret weapon... Player X! Let's suppose Player X has a 50% chance of scoring a 1,000 points and a 50% chance of scoring zero. Also, you have Player Y. Player Y is very consistent. He always scores 20 points.
You can only start one. Who do start - Player X or Player Y?
Friends, I'd suggest you start Player X. If he scores (1,000 points) you win! Also, even if he doesn't score and you take a zero, you could still win.
That's an easy and exaggerated example. But, if you break it down, it does point out several key parameters to examine when making your "final starter" decision.
Player X or Player Y -- Variables to Consider When Making the Hard Call:
- Your Lineup's Projected Score (minus your final starter [Player X or Player Y])
- Opponent's Projected Score (with his full lineup)
- Your Player X's expected score, his upside and downside risk
- Your Player Y's expected score, his upside and downside risk
After you get a take on the above parameters, consult the following Strategy Chart.
Strategy Chart - Who to Start With Your Final Roster Spot
If you look to be: Suggested Fantasy Action NFL Parallel
A Major Underdog Take some risks. Select a player or group of players with major upside potential. Example: favor the player with breakaway speed. Go with a QB-WR on the same NFL team, etc. In short, be willing to roll the dice. Desperation time. Onside kick, Hail Mary, etc. Since you're in trouble, you need the football game to come down to one good event. You have little choice.
A Clear Underdog Select the player with the largest upside potential. While it's riskier, this could allow you to steal the win with a major break. You want to keep the game close. You want to control the clock and have the football game come down to one or two big plays. A long FG, a special teams TD, etc.
In a Close Battle Go with the odds. Select the player with the superior projected stats and higher projected fantasy point total for the week. You're looking for "expected" value. Go with your strengths. Avoid major risks. But also avoid overly conservative play. Be sure to play the percentages.
A Clear Favorite Avoid risks with your final roster spot. Select a safe player with solid excepted value stats. While you may forfeit some upside potential, you'll minimize your downside risk and your opponent's win probability. You're in the driver's seat. Run out the clock. Don't take unnecessary risks.
To get a handle on whom to start with your last roster spot, check out the Weekly Assistant Coach (WAC). 4for4's WAC will use weekly projected player stats, estimate your score and your opponent's point total as well. It will also offer some advice. Once you see your projected score and your opponents, also consult the above chart. 
Should you take risks? Play it safe? Think it over. Do you agree with the above recommendations? Does it fit your league? Why? Why not? Again, think it over, ultimately it's your call.

Tactic #2(b): Use The Player That Best Fits Your Needs

Statisticians talk about "expected" value. Flip a fair coin 1,000,000 times and you'd expect to get 50% heads and 50% tails.
"Expected value" data can be invaluable in many situations. The 4for4 Projected Weekly Player Stats generally fall into the realm of expected value data. In the long run, the actual value (or average) comes close to the predicted value.
Still, when it comes down to one week or one roster spot, "expected value" isn't always enough. Actually, this is often the case in decision support.
Time for another example. Suppose Bill Gates stopped over to see you tonight. During the visit he offers you two options:
Option #1 -- Gates will flip a fair coin and you call it. If you get it right, he'll gladly write you a check for $5,000,000. But, if you get it wrong, you get nothing.
Option #2 -- No coins, no games, Bill will simply give you a check for $2,000,000.
Which would you take? Easy, option 2 all the way! 
But, the "expected value" from Option #1 is actually higher than Option #2 (5,000,000 x .50 = 2,500,000 > 2,000,000). As you can see, in some cases, expected value neglects to factor in "utility" -- your specific goals and how you make tradeoffs.
The same is often true when making fantasy roster decisions, especially with your championship hanging in the balance. Here, you really don't care how much you win by, as long as you win. 
Finally, as always, be sure to keep an eye on the news and injury reports. It's time to nail down a Championship!
Filed Under: Preseason, 2010

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