Fitz’s NFL Playoffs Rankings & Tiers (2023 Fantasy Football)
Maybe you aren’t ready to be done with fantasy football yet and have joined a playoff league. A lot of the playoff formats use cumulative scoring, so it’s not just about picking good players — it’s about picking good players who are going to play multiple games.
In a season-long fantasy league, you’d never pick Gabe Davis ahead of Tyreek Hill, who’s a far superior player. In a playoff fantasy league, it might be worth taking Davis ahead of Hill because the Bills are expected to play at least two playoff games and perhaps as many as four, while Hill’s Dolphins are double-digit underdogs this weekend and will probably only play one game.
Below are my tiered positional rankings for cumulative playoff leagues, with some brief notes on each position.
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Fitz’s NFL Playoffs Rankings & Tiers (2023 Fantasy Football)
Tier 1 is comprised of top quarterbacks who are all likely to be around for at least two playoff games. Some people might prefer Josh Allen to Patrick Mahomes since the former will play in the wild-card round while the latter enjoys a bye, but Allen and the Bills could be looking at a tough game against the Bengals in the divisional round, while the Chiefs will be heavy favorites against the winner of Chargers-Jaguars.
And by the way, the so-called “onesie” positions — quarterback and tight end — are more important in playoff leagues than in season-long leagues, mostly because depth at RB and WR is less important in leagues that only run for a month.
Brock Purdy gets a tier of his own, The 49ers are going to be heavy favorites against Seattle in Round 1 and, if they win, heavy Round 2 favorites against the winner of Giants-Vikings. Purdy isn’t in the same class with the Tier 1 guys, but he’s a solid bet to play at least three games.
There’s not a lot of separation between the quarterbacks in Round 2. They’re all solid NFL starters for teams that might play only one playoff game and aren’t likely to play more than two. I’m tentatively assuming that Lamar Jackson will return from a strained PCL this weekend, but if we don’t get definitive word on that before you draft, he should probably be dropped a few spots.
Don’t get stuck with a quarterback from Tier 4 as your only option at the position. Seattle and Miami are double-digit underdogs in the wild-card round, and as of Monday it wasn’t clear whether Tua Tagovailoa is expected back for Miami’s wild-card game vs. Buffalo.
Christian McCaffrey should probably be the top pick in any cumulative playoff draft. He’s likely to play at least three games, and he’s probably going to average more than 100 yards from scrimmage per game.
I debated whether to give Joe Mixon his own tier. His per-game production isn’t on par with Austin Ekeler‘s, but Mixon’s Bengals are solid favorites against the Ravens this weekend and have a reasonable chance to win at least two games, while Ekeler’s Chargers are road underdogs this weekend. Miles Sanders is the lead back for an Eagles team expected to play at least two games, but he has a first-round bye and doesn’t offer much as a pass catcher.
I’m above consensus on Chiefs RBs Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon with my playoff rankings. Maybe other rankers were alarmed by the amount of work Ronald Jones got in Week 18, but I think it was a one-week anomaly, and the Chiefs are my pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Travis Etienne might only play one game — Chargers-Jaguars shapes up as one of the more competitive games of the first round — but I love his matchup against a Chargers defense that has given up the second-most rushing yards and seventh-most fantasy points to RBs.
Two running backs to fade: Kenneth Walker and Raheem Mostert. Walker has had an impressive rookie season but gets a hellish wild-card matchup against an impregnable 49ers run defense. Seattle is also highly unlikely to knock off San Francisco on the road. Mostert broke his thumb in Week 18, leaving his playoff status in doubt.
The playoffs are loaded with star power at wide receiver, but Stefon Diggs and Ja’Marr Chase are a cut above. They’re both expected to play at least two games. If, as expected, we get a Bengals-Bills matchup in the divisional round, either Diggs or Chase will play at least three games.
A.J. Brown is just a small step below Diggs and Chase, and he’d be on Tier 1 if the Eagles were a 2-seed instead of a 1-seed. Not playing in the wild-card round takes Brown down a peg. And don’t overlook his teammate, Smith, who’s been on fire down the stretch.
The 49ers’ receivers are likely to play multiple games, but who’s going to be the preferred receiver in any given 49ers playoff game? They’ll also have to share targets with TE George Kittle and RB Christian McCaffrey.
There’s a case to be made that CeeDee Lamb should be ranked higher. Lamb has racked up 33-398-3 over his last four games and is the Cowboys’ uncontested alpha receiver. I just hate that Lamb and the Cowboys have to open the playoffs with a road game against the Buccaneers, even though they’re slight favorites.
Monitor the status of the Chargers’ Mike Williams before your draft. He sustained a back injury in the Chargers’ Week 18 loss to the Broncos and looked to be in a great deal of pain. Early reports say he’ll play against the Jaguars this week, but he’s probably not going to be at the height of his powers.
K.J. Osborn could be a nice under-the-radar asset in playoff leagues. Over his last four games, Osborn has compiled 25-350-2 on 33 targets. The Vikings are unpredictable and could be bounced early, but Osborn should probably be drafted before teammate Adam Thielen, who hasn’t had more than 67 receiving yards in a game since Week 4.
Good receivers who are being faded because their teams are double-digit underdogs on wild-card weekend: Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle of the Dolphins, and D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett of the Seahawks.
I mentioned earlier that Christian McCaffrey should probably be the top pick in cumulative playoff league drafts, but you could also make a case for Travis Kelce as the No. 1. There’s an enormous chasm between Kelce and all the other tight ends, so you get a huge positional advantage by drafting him, and the Chiefs are likely to be around for a while. But with Kansas City the top seed in the AFC, Kelce and the Chiefs will be idle on wild-card weekend and can play a maximum of three games.
George Kittle is on a TD rampage, with seven touchdowns in his last four games. His yardage numbers vary wildly from week to week, but Kittle has become Brock Purdy‘s go-to guy in the red zone.
Speaking of touchdown binges, Dawson Knox has found the end zone in four consecutive games. He was a fantasy afterthought for much of the regular season, but he could be a valuable asset in playoff leagues, particularly if the Bills are able to make a run to the Super Bowl.
There is a BIG drop-off from Tier 3 to Tier 4. Make sure to get a tight end from one of those first three tiers. Some people might argue that Tier 4 denizen Hayden Hurst is a viable TE in playoff leagues with the Bengals likely to play at least two games, but Hurst is usually an afterthought in the Cincinnati passing game when WRs Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are both healthy.
I won’t elaborate on the kicker rankings. The tiering is based almost entirely on the likelihood of these kickers playing multiple games. But, yes, I’m fading the great Justin Tucker because I don’t expect Baltimore to be around very long. I’d rather have the Jaguars’ Riley Patterson, who’s been red-hot and gets a warm-weather home game on wild-card weekend.
San Francisco 49ers
Kansas City Chiefs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Los Angeles Chargers
New York Giants
Why are the 49ers and Bills a cut above? Because they’re great bets to play two or more games. The 49ers will most likely play at least three games. With first-round byes, the Chiefs and Eagles can play a maximum of three games — the 49ers and Bills could conceivably play four.
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