Fantasy Football 2021 Playoff Matchups Analysis: Part 2

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Patrick Yen

Just a guy trying to make a living doing what he loves, writing about sports. Eagles and 76er's fan, but currently live in Ohio so I have a soft spot for those teams. The Ohio State University graduate, Go Bucks! Come chat, always willing to talk sport, video games or my current love, Masterchef Australia!

Last week we took a look at the teams with the best playoff matchups, which in a standard league are in weeks 15, 16 and 17. Those five teams: the Philadelphia Eagles, the San Francisco 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Denver Broncos, have soft matchups for the most important part of the fantasy season. This means they have very valuable players. For managers who have the playoffs locked in, guys like Miles Sanders, Melvin Gordon, and James Robinson have extra value. 

There are guys on the opposite side as well, guys that play for teams with very difficult schedules. Even if these players are some of the best, if they face top defenses in the playoffs it might be good to get rid of them. Here are the top five teams with the worst playoff matchups and players on those teams you should consider trading. 

All stats shown on a per game basis from FootballReference.

Las Vegas Raiders

The playoff matchups for the Raiders are as bad as they can be.

By far the toughest schedule. All three defenses currently rank in the top half, and two of the three are in the top half. 

Week 15: @ Cleveland Browns

The Browns are currently tied 12th with the Bengals and the Cowboys in terms of points per game allowed, 22.3. They rank an even better fourth in yards allowed and sixth in yards per play allowed. As one can see from the data, they are one of the best teams at limiting yards. But they do somehow surrender a decent amount of touchdowns.

That can be seen in their passing defense. They rank eighth in yards allowed through the air and ninth in net yards per attempt. However, they’ve actually given up the fourth MOST passing touchdowns per game. It’s also somewhat prevalent (though less so) in their rush defense. They rank 11th in rushing yards allowed per game, tied-fourth in yards per attempt and tied-16th in rushing touchdowns allowed. That comes out to slightly less than one per game. The Browns have kept five of their last six opponents under 20, with a rather large blip against the New England Patriots. Other than a few outlier games like that Patriots one though, they’ve been quite stout. 

Week 16: Denver Broncos

The Broncos have been a top defense all year, and have done just fine without star Von Miller. They’re currently ranked third in points per game allowed, and are allowing opponents to score less than 20 a game on them. They’re eighth in yards allowed and tied-12th in yards per play. Notably, they are also tied-third in offense plays run against, which means teams get less opportunities against them then most. That makes sense, as they do like to keep things on the ground themselves on offense.

They are equally good against the pass and run. They rank 10th in passing yards allowed, fourth in passing touchdowns allowed and they rank 10th in rushing yards allowed and 2nd in rushing touchdowns allowed. Interestingly their per play numbers both passing and rushing are not as good. They come in at 14th in NY/A (net yards per attempt) and tied-20th in rushing yards per attempt. Again, since they don’t allow teams to run many plays it doesn’t hurt them much. 

Week 17: @ Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have overcome a pretty rough start to rank back in the top ten. However, there’s a decent chance it’s because of their weak schedule. Getting to play the Houston Texans who scored three total points in two meetings helps. Still, they’ve done alright against some other solid teams like the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers. It’s probably not all smoke and mirrors. As said before, they ranked tenth in points per game allowed, 13th in yards allowed and tied-20th in yards per play.

Their passing defense has been rough, as although they rank 12th in passing yards allowed, they’re 30th in passing touchdowns given up, at an even two per game. The rushing defense isn’t all that amazing either. They are 15th in yards given up per game, and tied-23rd in yards per attempt. They are third in rushing touchdowns given up, just below the Broncos, but there’s a good chance that’s just because it’s been so easy to throw touchdowns against them. 

Who to Get Rid Of

Two of these defenses don’t surrender nearly any touchdowns on the ground. At the same time, two of these defenses also give up some of the most passing touchdowns. That means Josh Jacobs is in a lot of trouble, as scoring touchdowns is sort of his thing. On the other hand Derek Carr, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow might see an uptick, but the Broncos are elite against both sides, and the Colts and Browns do limit passing yards even if they give up a lot of scores. I wouldn’t necessarily bet on any of them doing particularly well, but especially Jacobs. 

New Orleans Saints

Week 15: @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccs are a mid-tier defense ranking tied-16th in points allowed and tenth in yards allowed. Their rush defense is elite, allowing the tied-first least amount of rushing yards per game, at just 84.3. They also rank in the top ten in yards per carry allowed. Not only that, but they rank tied-fourth in rushing touchdowns allowed. With a top tier rushing defense though, for them to rank in the middle must mean their passing defense is a decent bit worse.

They rank 20th in passing yards allowed, and tied-24th in passing touchdowns allowed. It is notable that they rank tied-fourth in interceptions though, and rank tied-fifth in NY/A. Essentially, their passing defense isn’t that bad. But a combination of their high-powered offense putting opponents behind and their top rushing defense means most teams throw a ton on them. They face the most passing plays and the least rushing plays in the league. In other words, it’s not exactly a great matchup either way. If you play a QB facing the Bucs you’re relying almost solely on volume. 

Week 16: Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins have been on a really nice run, winning five straight and limiting those opponents to just 11 points per game which is why they find themselves at 11th in points per game allowed. To be fair however, they did face four of the worst ten offenses in those games. Is the defense rounding into shape after getting beat up in the first half of the season? Or are they just facing easy opponents? Hard to say. The Dolphins do rank just 21st in yards allowed, but they also rank tied-12th in yards per play.

They are much worse against the pass than the run. They rank 25th in passing yards allowed and 16th in passing touchdowns given up per game. On the other hand, they rank ninth in rushing yards and touchdowns allowed. Interestingly, teams don’t pass that efficiently against them, gaining just six NY/A, which puts the Dolphins tied-seventh. Something about the Dolphins is causing the pace to ramp up, as they face the fifth most plays per game.

Week 17: Carolina Panthers

With how putrid their offense has been recently, the Panthers are once again back to being carried by strong defense, just like the last time they had Cam Newton. They rank a strong seventh in points allowed and second in yards, beating even the New England Patriots. In fact, they are one of two teams allowed less than 300 yards per game. They do that by slowing the game down massively. They rank tied-third in offensive plays faced by just keeping the clock running. Even when opponents get plays off they don’t do anything very efficiently. The Panthers are second in yards per play as well.

In terms of passing they give up just 176.7 yards through the air per game, which is second, and they are tied-sixth in passing touchdowns allowed. Their NY/A is also tied-second in the league. It’s a tad easier to rush against them, as they are tied-17th in the rushing yards allowed, but they are top ten in rushing touchdowns allowed and tied-eighth in yards per rush, which means nothing really comes easy against this team.

Who to Get Rid Of

The Saints feature a very tough slate. While the Dolphins might not be as intimidating as their stats suggest, there is a good chance the Buccaneers and Panthers are better than their stats suggest. None of the Saints passing offense was fantasy playable anyways, so it’s really just on Alvin Kamara, and given this schedule he’s a major sell candidate. All three teams rank in the top ten in rushing touchdowns allowed. The Buccs and Panthers rank in the top five least fantasy points given up to running backs and the Dolphins are 12th. Kamara is a bit of a different beast since he gets so much of his work on catches, but it’s not like any of these three teams are actually bad against the pass either. 

Baltimore Ravens

Week 15: Green Bay Packers

The Packers have been a top defense all year, but they have given up quite a few scores in their last two games (31 PPG in their last two). What should help them is the return of Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith, two of their best defensive players that should return by the fantasy playoffs. That’s bad news for the Ravens players that have to go against them though. The Packers rank fifth in points per game allowed and seventh in yards allowed (as well as tied-seventh in yards per play).

They are equally solid against the pass and run in terms of yards, ranked ninth in passing yards and eighth in rushing yards. There is a massive difference in scoring though. They rank tied-24th in passing touchdowns allowed, but tied-sixth in rushing touchdowns. They are also opposite in efficiency, ranking fifth in NY/A yet tied-17th in rushing yards per attempt. Overall it comes out to a matchup you don’t want to face. 

Week 16: @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are solid on defense. They’ve let a couple teams run rampant on them like the Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers and New York Jets, but those are the only three teams that have put up over thirty points on them. Everyone else has been quite limited. They didn’t build that up against the cream offenses of the crop, but in their other nine games they’ve only allowed opponents to score 16.7 points per game. That’s why they are tied-12th in points per game allowed. Their yards allowed is slightly worse, ranking 15th.

The Bengals are a better run defense than passing defense. They rank 27th in passing yards allowed and tied-sixth in passing touchdowns allowed, although that is with eight other teams, and finally tied 18th in NY/A. On the rushing front they are better allowing the fourth least yards per game and are tied tenth in rushing touchdowns per game. They are also tied-eighth in yards per rush. More startlingly, they rank fourth in yards per play but their pace means they face the sixth most plays per game.

Week 17: Los Angeles Rams

The worst defense the Ravens face is in their championship game, but even then the Rams aren’t bad and they have a host of star players on that defense that can wreck games. They rank tied-16th in points allowed, and 12th in yards allowed. Their passing defense gives up the 17th most yards, but at the same time they are the third best team at limiting passing touchdowns, giving up just 1.17 per game. Their rushing defense is the opposite. Although they rank seventh in yards allowed (and second in yards per attempt), they are 27th in rushing touchdowns allowed, at just over one per game. Overall though, this team is only allowing a bit over two offensive touchdowns, their points total is inflated by the four defensive touchdowns their offense has given up. 

Who to Get Rid Of

All three teams are fairly stout against both pass and rush, with a bit more emphasis on the rush. The Rams and Packers rank in the top ten in RB points against, and all three rank in the top ten in QB points against. Lamar Jackson is an outlier QB, but he might find pretty tough sledding against all three teams, as will Devonta Freeman. I wouldn’t bank on Freeman especially. 

Detroit Lions

These last two teams have two really tough matchups and then one very easy one. They share this trait with the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Chargers who easily could have made these spots, however a combination of when, where and exactly who they are playing put the Lions and Colts ahead (or behind) of the other two. 

Week 15: Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are giving up the fourth least points per game, one of only four teams giving up less than 20 points per game. They are also giving up the fifth least yards per game, which means they are tough in every way. They are tied-fourth in passing yards against, and fifth in passing touchdowns allowed, as well as tied-second in NY/A. It’s not that much easier to run against them, as although they rank 16th in rushing yards against, they are fourth in rushing TDs. Then again, they do rank second to last in yards per attempt, but it hasn’t seemed to really hurt them. Put simply, this is one of the best defenses in the league, although you’ll have slightly better luck running than passing against them. 

Week 16: @ Atlanta Falcons

This is the very soft matchup the Lions get as the Falcons are definitely a bottom five defense by most metrics. It is away though, and it’s awkwardly sandwiched between two tough matchups. They are slightly better against the run, although that might just because their pass defense, which is giving up two touchdowns per game (second worst in the league) means no one needs to run on them. 

Week 17: @ Seattle Seahawks

For Championship week the Lions get another strong matchup in the Seahawks who are sixth in points against this year. They have a bend but don’t break approach though, as they do give up the second most total yards per game, although a large part of that is because they face the most plays in the league, the only team to face over 70 a game. Their yards per play is a more average tied-18th.

That’s reflected in their passing defense, as although they give up the most passing yards per game, they are tied-sixth (again though, with eight other teams) in passing touchdowns allowed. It’s a similar story on the rushing end, as they 24th in rushing yards allowed but tied-16th in rushing touchdowns allowed, which is still less than one per game if only just. They also give up just 3.9 yards per carry, third best in the league. At a glance the Seahawks defense isn’t that intimidating, but at the end of the day they limit touchdowns which is key in standard fantasy. 

Who to Get Rid Of

Similar to the Saints, fantasy managers probably weren’t using too much of Jared Goff or any of the receivers on the team (and with this schedule they definitely should not), so it really comes down to Javonte Williams and D’Andre Swift. Honestly though, besides the Cardinals being a pretty tough matchup, the Falcons and the Seahawks don’t match up that well against running backs (although the Falcons do better against backs then most positions). The Seahawks, despite limiting rushers to just 3.9 yards per carry, also face 31.3 carries per game, which equates to one of the worst fantasy defenses against the run. Still, I wouldn’t feel great about the Detroit guys either. 

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have some brutal matchups in the playoffs.

Week 15: New England Patriots

By many metrics, this is the best defense in the league, as Bill Belichick has done it again. They rank first in points allowed, with teams scoring just 15.4 per game on them. The yards against isn’t much easier, as they rank third in that metric, and in yards per play. They also rank third in takeaways. Their main focus is against the pass, where they rank third in passing yards allowed and second in passing touchdowns allowed. They are also tied-second in NY/A, meaning nothing flies against this team. It’s ever so slightly easier to run against them, yardage wise as they rank 19th in rushing yards allowed, but they are also a firm first in rushing touchdowns against. Their .46 mark is the only one below .50 in the league. This is a very scary defense.

Week 16: @ Arizona Cardinals

See above.

Week 17: Las Vegas Raiders

If you can get past the gauntlet in the first two weeks, you are at least rewarded with a pretty easy matchup against the Raiders. They’re 26th in points allowed and 19th in yards. For a quick snapshot, they give up a lot of passing touchdowns, but not THAT many yards, and give up a lot of rushing yards but not a ton of rushing touchdowns.

Who to Get Rid Of

Carson Wentz and Michael Pittman Jr. are prime sell candidates if you were using them. The Patriots and Cardinals are the second and third stingiest defenses in fantasy points given up to quarterbacks, and all three rank in the top ten against wide receivers as well. Not that you would deal him under any circumstances anyways, but Johnathan Taylor is fairly safe. The Cardinals are solid against the run, but the Raiders are pretty bad, and the Patriots are actually a middling squad when it comes to giving up fantasy points to RBs. Taylor, who could easily get 25+ carries in the game, should be fine. 

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Episode 273