Playoff Best Ball is one of my all-time favorite formats since it forces people to weigh how good a player is against their predicted number of games and the match-ups they’re facing. If Carolina somehow snuck into the playoffs, Christian McCaffery would not be a slam dunk #1 pick overall because Carolina would have been big underdogs and you would most likely only get one game of McCaffery (which would probably still warrant a top 10 pick, but might not return on value).
What is Playoff Best Ball?
Playoff Best Ball is exactly what it sounds like. People draft from a pool of NFL players from the 12 teams that made it to the playoffs. This year, the teams are BAL, KCC, NEP, HOU, BUF, TEN, SFO, GBP, NOS, PHI, SEA, MIN.
Each person gets all the points all of their drafted players accumulate throughout the playoffs (no sit/start decisions). Person with the most points after the Superbowl wins.
Where can I play Playoff Best Ball?
I was going to recommend Draft.com, but they recently merged with FanDuel and is not offering any new drafts. FanDuel does not support any Best Ball Formats at this point.
I did a quick Google search and there is a high stakes league you could play at. Better yet, you can play for free with our Google Sheets game. I’ve shared it below if you are interested in playing:
Playoff Best Ball Google Sheets link
On record (via Google Sheets), Dale and I have been playing since 2007. Off the record, I think we’ve been playing since around 1995 (writing on notebooks). It takes a little bit of effort since scoring is manual, but it is a ton of fun!
I’d recommend you use a scoring system that you are already using for traditional fantasy football. That way you can copy over scores into the spreadsheet instead of hand calculating. Yes, we (I) did that for a very long time.
I’ve worked on the spreadsheet and over the years it has had quite a few improvements in terms of auto-calculation. You’ll want to change the player names (unless you happen to have a Dale, Winston, and Ludwig playing), but the file shouldn’t need to many changes beyond that.
A Brief History
Dale and I have been playing this game for decades. It was always head to head, but we added a third head (Ludwig) two years ago and it still works well. 4 or 5 people would probably work as well, but with modified roster sizes (2 QBs, etc).
From 1995 to 2006, Dale and I went back and forth, with Dale getting the better of me (60/40 is my guess). But since then I’ve been on a tear winning 9 straight from 2007-2015, losing a close one in 2016 by 4 points, and then winning the last 3. Dale insists I must have a strategy, so I’ll try to share out what my thought process is.
I’m going to be talking about strategy for our free Google Sheet version of Playoff Best Ball, but some of it certainly will apply to other formats of the game.
The draft primarily comes down to who can accurately predict the players who will play in multiple games. Typically this will be 2 to 3 games as we have to go all the way back to 2013 when BAL fought its way to the SuperBowl from the #4 seed and people got 4 games out of those players.
We also need to weigh the value of a player against how many games they will play. This topic will be expanded upon below in “Pre-Draft Prep”.
The last factor is we want players that are going to find themselves in shootouts more often than defensive grudge matches. BUF is the easy one to predict here (bump down BUF and HOU). The harder ones to predict are opponents of BAL, KCC, and NEP. These three teams have defenses that are playing really well, but BAL and KCC will probably put up enough points where the opponents will get some garbage time points.
The draft is not necessarily all about predicting the results of the playoff bracket accurately. A winning best ball team will typically have shares in multiple NFL teams that play in multiple games. The draft is also about increasing your odds at hitting these teams and once again we will be relying on Vegas as the best indicator.
Difference Between Traditional Fantasy Football and Playoff Best Ball
One big difference between traditional fantasy football and Playoff Best Ball is that every position matters. RBs are not as critical since there are less people drafting and we don’t need a hoard of RBs (which typically get injured) to make it through a 17 week season. In typical drafts where we start 1 QB, we can wait until the middle to end of the draft and pick up a QB. That late round QB is essentially a lottery ticket where if we hit, we’re golden, and if we miss, we can stream the position. In Playoff Best Ball, we’re starting 3 QBs, so QBs become very important since they’re putting up the most points.
TE scarcity is still a thing. There typically are not many good TEs out there. This year there is actually more than usual (Kelce, Kittle, and Andrews being great options with many other playable options for later round).
This section is all about prepping your brain for the draft. Who are the players and teams that get a bump up or down?
Knowing All The Players
I find that writing down all the players on every team gives me a quick refresher on who is relevant.
(I’ve done that for you in the shared Google Sheet, but take some time to review all the names.)
Here are some things to think about: Matt Breida and Emmanuel Sanders have had their games this year, but Raheem Mostert and Deebo Samuel have really turned it on late in the season. Marshawn Lynch was signed for Week 17 and the playoffs and is at least the goal line back. That being said, Travis Homer looked pretty good in his first start against a stiff SFO rushing defense.
Looking At The Odds – Super Bowl Contenders
BAL is the favorite this year. Right behind them are KCC, SFO, and NOS. GBP and NEP are long shots. If you drafted a few players that made it to the Super Bowl, your team most likely has either won it outright or you’re in contention.
Looking At The Odds – Wild Card and Beyond
The first round is the easiest to predict since we have Vegas odds on all the Wild Card matchups. NOS players will be a hot commodity since they are very likely to beat MIN in the first round (i.e. very likely to play in multiple games). NEP is a moderate favorite and the other two matchups are toss-ups.
The next step is thinking about the next few rounds. BAL should be a heavy favorite in the divisional round. KCC should at least be a moderate favorite. SFO and GBP will be favored, but might have very tight matchups after their bye.
What about upsets? There’s always upsets. If you’ve been playing in Confidence Pools, you know how hard it is to predict them (30%-50%). All we can do is give a bump up or bump down to those teams and their opponents.
Let’s think through some scenarios for how the playoffs could play out:
If NOS beats the Vikings as expected, they’ll have a tough but winnable matchup at Lambeau. Then, we would assume they play SFO, which was a shootout last time. This lines up with The Super Bowl odds. Bump up NOS.
If MIN beats the Saints, they’re most likely going to get crushed by SFO. No change since Vikings players will be picked near the end of the draft and we might get a shootout (over/under of 49).
If SEA beats the Eagles, they’ll probably play SFO. If Seattle plays SFO like they did in the second half of their Week 17 outing, they have a pretty good chance at winning. Bump up SEA.
If PHI beats the Seahawks, they’ll be huge underdogs in their next game. Bump down PHI.
On the other side, we already talked about the HOU/BUF bump down. Whoever comes out of that has a very tough matchup against KCC or BAL. Another bump down for HOU/BUF.
TEN is my favorite team outside of the Packers to just cheer for right now. Even though they are on a tear right now, it’s really hard to see them upset the Patriots and then the Ravens. No change since the Titans are not going to be highly drafted and Henry + AJ Brown are worthy lottery tickets at the end of a draft.
NEP. Never count out the Patriots in the playoffs! They do not look good though and have the hardest path to multiple games. No adjustments.
The Packers are just playing terrible football, but they’re winning! Assuming the Saints win, GBP will be favored at home at Lambeau. They will then get a terrible rematch game at SFO. Slight bump down for GBP (maybe this is the homer in me praying for Rodgers magic to reappear in the playoffs).
Thinking of the players in tiers helps guide the basic layout of your draft. I typically draft 1, 2, and 3 as separate tiers. Tiers 4-6 are a hodgepodge with some intermixing between tiers (i.e. bump up BAL kicker and DS to the top of Tier 4; Patriots and 49ers are all Tier 6 but should be drafted around Tier 4; etc). Tier 7 is the bottom of the barrel.
- Great players – Great odds of multiple games
- Lamar Jackson, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Mark Andrews, Travis Kelce, Mahomes, Tyreek
- Great players – Ok odds at multiple games
- Aaron Jones, Russell Wilson, George Kittle
- Good players – Great odds of multiple games
- Mark Ingram, Damien Williams, Jared Cook
- Great players – Maybe one and done
- DeAndre Hopkins, Derrick Henry, AJ Brown
- DS/Kickers – Great odds of multiple games
- Good players – Ok odds at multiple games
- Davante Adams, Miles Sanders, Tyler Lockett, Devin Singletary
- Everyone else
- I’ve found that role players that play in multiple games still don’t do that much. Examples (non-Michael Thomas WRs on NOS, non-Edelman WRs on NEP)
Adjust Based on Your Opponents’ Drafts
Some examples of this:
- Everyone else has drafted 3 QBs, you only have 2. Wait until the final round to draft your 3rd QB.
- The draft fell so that you don’t have any shares of skill players on teams that have a great chance at multiple games (e.g. BAL, KCC, NOS). Draft that team’s Kicker or DS to hedge.
- In head to head, if someone goes “all-in” on the Seahawks, avoid drafting Eagles (unless it is the very last rounds of the draft). That just puts way too much emphasis on the outcome of one game.
Try to have something at stake aside from your honor. For our draft, the last place finisher owes the winner a dinner. The 2nd place finisher owes the winner a drink.
If anyone has any suggestions on how to improve the format or different thoughts on strategies, please let me know!