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Please note: For full rankings, projections, expected games played, and more, please visit FFPC Playoff Challenge Rankings and Projections.

The NFL regular season is over. We’re onto the playoffs — but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop playing fantasy football. Many fantasy platforms offer playoff challenges, and there’s a massive edge for fantasy players willing to put in the time because most of the industry is so focused on standard season-long formats. With that being said, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to these tournaments because they all have such unique rulesets and lineup requirements. ETR’s Justin Herzig has already written a stellar article explaining how you should attack playoff best ball drafts on Underdog. Today, we’ll go in a different direction and hone in on the FFPC Playoff Challenge, perhaps the most well-known playoff fantasy tournament around.

 

HOW DOES THE FFPC PLAYOFF CHALLENGE WORK?

There is no draft or salary cap for the FFPC Playoff Challenge. You simply pick from a pool consisting of every player in the NFL playoffs to fill the following 12 roster spots:

  • 1 quarterback
  • 2 running backs
  • 2 wide receivers
  • 1 tight end
  • 4 flex spots (RB, WR, or TE)
  • 1 defense/special teams
  • 1 kicker

 

The scoring is PPR and TE-premium (you get 1.5 points per reception for TEs). QBs score one point for every 20 yards passing and four points every time they throw a touchdown. Defenses get one point per sack, two points for each forced turnover, 12 points for a shutout, eight points for allowing 1-6 points, and five points for allowing 7-10 points. Kickers get three points for every field goal of 30 yards or less and 0.1 extra points for each additional yard thereafter.

There is no changing your team once the contest starts. Rosters lock when the ball is kicked in the first Wild Card game. Whichever team has the most total points when the clock hits zero on Feb. 12 wins the grand prize. But here’s the big catch: You can only pick one player per team. That means if you pick Patrick Mahomes, you cannot also pick Travis Kelce. With 14 NFL playoff teams and only 12 roster spots, each entry will have two NFL teams not represented on their FFPC squad.

The FFPC Playoff Challenge costs $200 to enter and boasts a $500,000 prize to first place with more than $1.4 million in the overall prize pool. For more info on how the contest works, check out the FFPC website.

Now that we’re familiar with the settings, let’s get into some tips and tricks on how to attack this format. For this exercise, we’ll be using FFPC Playoff Challenge data from the past two postseasons, although it’s critical to realize that’s an extremely small sample size. With that in mind, we’ll also utilize logic similar to popular DFS game theory to formulate optimal strategy. Let’s get right to it.

 

EXAMINING PAST OWNERSHIP TO INFORM STRATEGY

Like in DFS, the key to the FFPC Playoff Challenge is deciphering where you can find leverage. The process for projecting ownership isn’t quite as advanced as it is for DFS, but we can lean on ownership in past years to predict what the field is going to do. Let’s start by looking at last year’s ownership.

 

Name Ownership Percentage
Cooper Kupp 91.0%
Davante Adams 76.8%
Deebo Samuel 63.7%
Travis Kelce 53.7%
Derrick Henry 53.0%
Joe Mixon 48.1%
NE D/ST 45.7%
Rob Gronkowski 45.6%
Stefon Diggs 43.2%
Ja’Marr Chase 31.1%
Matt Prater 30.8%
A.J. Brown 28.8%
CeeDee Lamb 27.3%
Mike Evans 27.1%
Patrick Mahomes 25.3%

 

As you can see, the field latches strongly onto the best players on the best teams. This makes sense — these players are both likely to score a lot of points and play a lot of games in the playoffs — but there’s also a point when it becomes +EV to fade them, especially when there are other high-scoring options on their own team. For example, Davante Adams was 76.8% owned last year after finishing as the WR2 on a Packers team that finished atop the NFC. Meanwhile, Aaron Jones finished as the RB9 (although he admittedly scored significantly fewer points per game than Adams during the fantasy regular season) and was only on 7.0% of teams. Green Bay lost their first playoff game; Jones scored 26.0 points in that game vs. 18.0 for Adams. Similarly, Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown both slogged through injury-plagued campaigns, but Henry came in at twice the ownership. Brown outscored Henry 25.2 to 12.2 in the playoffs.

These leverage points obviously look better in hindsight and Adams and Henry were likely to lead their respective teams in fantasy scoring, but the point remains that the field is sometimes overconfident in some spots. With that being said, there’s a fine line between gaining leverage and being overly contrarian. For example, Jones realistically had a chance to outscore Adams throughout the playoffs. Taking someone like Allen Lazard as your Packer representative would’ve been getting too cute considering the Packers looked like perhaps the most likely team to survive the NFC.

 

We see the same occurrences with data from two years ago. The Henry vs. Brown case works there too, as Henry boasted the second-highest ownership at 71.4%. Brown was way down at 18.4%, but he outscored Henry in the postseason 20.3 to 8.1.

 

Name Ownership Percentage
Alvin Kamara 73.7%
Derrick Henry 71.4%
Davante Adams 71.3%
Travis Kelce 65.9%
Stefon Diggs 56.6%
Diontae Johnson 51.4%
Jonathan Taylor 45.8%
LAR D/ST 43.0%
DK Metcalf 40.7%
Josh Allen 37.6%
Chris Godwin 37.5%
Mark Andrews 34.7%
Nick Chubb 32.1%
J.K. Dobbins 28.3%
Rodrigo Blankenship 27.7%

 

The field may also be overconfident in certain game outcomes. Example: Two years ago, Cam Akers was only on 10.6% of teams. The Rams’ defense was on a staggering 43.0% of teams. In other words, the field was expecting the Rams to lose in the first round, even though they were only 3-point underdogs to the Seahawks. Los Angeles prevailed 30-20 before losing in Round 2, and Akers was the 10th-highest-scoring player in the entire playoffs.

You shouldn’t blindly fade the chalk, but you have to try to differentiate in a couple of spots to give yourself a real chance at the top prize. It’s difficult to create a truly optimal roster without strong ownership projections, but staying on top of market sentiment and researching leverage opportunities is critical if you want to avoid drawing dead. We offer rest-of-playoff fantasy scoring projections so you can see our expectations for how the postseason plays out. From there, you can simply think through which players are likely to be highly owned and pinpoint viable pivots.

 

FIGURING OUT WHICH TEAMS TO FADE

With 14 teams in the postseason and only 12 players per roster, each entry in the FFPC Playoff Challenge is hard-fading two NFL teams. Everyone also has a defense and kicker, which is essentially two other teams you’re fading because D/ST and K are extremely unlikely to be their team’s highest-scoring player over a multiple-game stretch.

Case in point: Last year, the six teams that lost in Round 1 were Dallas, Arizona, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, New England, and Pittsburgh. 82.9% of the field used one of those teams as their D/ST compared to 92% of top-50 teams and 94% of top-100 teams. 86.3% of the field had a kicker from one of those teams vs. 94% of top-50 and top-100 teams. It’s not a death sentence if your D/ST and K win a game, but you certainly want to try to pick losing teams for those spots so that your higher-scoring positions play more games.

With that in mind, it’s unsurprising to see that the best teams last year had lower exposure to teams that lost early and higher exposure to teams that made it far in the playoffs.

 

Team Field Ownership Top-50 Ownership Top-100 Ownership Team Last Round
ARI 84.5% 70% 75% Wild Card
BUF 97.2% 100% 100% Divisional
CIN 99.4% 100% 100% Super Bowl
DAL 97.7% 98% 97% Wild Card
GB 99.4% 100% 100% Divisional
KC 99.8% 100% 100% AFCCG
LAR 84.4% 100% 100% Super Bowl
LV 79.6% 94% 93% Wild Card
NE 79.6% 70% 71% Wild Card
PHI 25.9% 30% 26% Wild Card
PIT 42.5% 36% 38% Wild Card
SF 97.9% 100% 100% NFCCG
TB 98.0% 100% 100% Divisional
TEN 94.1% 100% 100% Divisional

 

This knowledge alone isn’t enough to gain an edge because, frankly, it’s intuitive that we want to avoid players on teams that get bounced early. The trickier part is determining which teams to fade, but Michael Leone has put together an expected playoff games metric for each team. You can also rely on Vegas odds (money lines) to quantify each team’s chances of advancing past the first round. We don’t know exactly what the field will do, but we do know we absolutely have to get our fades (the two unrepresented teams, D/ST, and K) correct to make a run for the grand prize.

 

For this year specifically, let’s look at some teams that are unlikely to advance past the first round:

  • Seattle (10-point underdogs, +425 ML, 19.0% implied probability, 1.27 expected games per Leone)
  • Miami (10.5-point underdogs, +450 ML, 18.2% implied probability, 1.28 expected games) – Tua Tagovailoa‘s health in question
  • Baltimore (6.5-point underdogs, +250 ML, 28.9% implied probability, 1.43 expected games) – Lamar Jackson‘s health in question

The Giants, Buccaneers, and Jaguars are also underdogs in their first game, but the spread is at most +3 in those games right now (Jags are +1). Regardless, these teams all make sense as potential fades, or as D/ST or K spots.

 

With that being said, these squads also provide potential leverage, as highlighted by the Akers situation outlined in the previous section. In 2021, 85.5% of teams (5,337) had a Rams player. 3,736 of those teams were Rams D/ST or Matt Gay. That means just 25.6% of the field had a Rams skill player, providing you with a huge leverage opportunity if they exceeded market expectations (especially if you had Akers). Los Angeles was an alright fade given they were 3-point underdogs in the first round, but this is merely an example of how you can also get contrarian by including a player on a team the field is harshly fading. You don’t want to load your team up with low-probability outcomes, but you do need to get unique in some spots and this is one way to do so if you think the field will overcorrect for a team being an underdog.

 

OPTIMAL USE OF FLEX SPOTS

With four flex spots, roster construction is also a pivotal part of creating a viable team in this contest — especially since the FFPC format gives tight ends 1.5 points per reception. A one-year sample isn’t really enough to say anything definitively about optimal flex usage, but it’s still interesting to look at last year’s data.

 

Group Number of RBs Number of WRs Number of TEs
All teams 2.47 4.72 1.81
Top-50 teams 2.18 5.25 1.57
Top-100 teams 2.19 5.32 1.49

 

In 2022, the best teams leaned harder on WRs in the flex spots and less on RBs and TEs. This is partly because the teams that advanced furthest didn’t have stud running backs, but WRs do have a wider weekly range of outcomes, which is beneficial in a contest where we are trying to maximize our chances of finishing in first place (because of the top-heavy payout structure). As such, it’s likely +EV to focus on wide receivers for your four flex spots (though that does not mean you absolutely must have six WRs).

 

OTHER TIPS

  • The Super Bowl is worth twice as much as all other games. You basically need to have the highest-scoring players in that game. Last year, the top 850 teams (as far as the leaderboard goes) had Cooper Kupp. It was more split among Bengals since Ja’Marr Chase (85.3 points) and Joe Mixon (81.8) were pretty close (Tee Higgins rode a massive Super Bowl performance to 86.9 FFPC points and he also had a few highly-placed teams at low ownership). Teams with a bye week have one less game to accumulate points, but they also have the best chance at the Super Bowl most years (although the 49ers currently have better odds to make it out of the NFC than Philadelphia).
  • Building off that, the No. 2 seed in each conference will usually have the most expected games because they don’t get a first-round bye but still have a legit shot at the Super Bowl. Still, expected games aren’t the end-all-be-all because the Super Bowl holds outsized importance compared to other weeks.
  • Another reason expected games aren’t the only factor is that you need to predict the entire bracket to an extent. We’ve discussed how you’re fading two teams and soft-fading D/ST and K, but the other positions aren’t all created equal either. You want your highest-scoring players to get as many games as possible while remaining mindful of ownership. It’s also informative to think through the bracket and what scenarios you need to happen since the NFL re-seeds after each round.
  • We’ve spent a lot of this article talking about how you need to get contrarian in certain spots, but it’s also fine to eat the chalk in some places, too. If you go fade every highly-owned player, you are hitching your wagon to an extremely unlikely overall outcome. The key is figuring out which chalk is good and which is bad — the same as it is in DFS (and this is obviously easier said than done). Our projections and playoff resources will hopefully help you make educated guesses on which players are viable fades and which ones you simply need to roster.
  • It’s worth deliberating over adjacent scenarios if a player does well. For example, Patrick Mahomes may score the most points for the Chiefs, but Travis Kelce‘s value over replacement in a TE-premium format might make him the optimal Chief over Mahomes. Meanwhile, someone like Josh Allen is likely to dominate his Bills teammates over a multi-game stretch, which could make him the optimal QB despite lower Super Bowl odds for Buffalo.

 

LEVERAGE EXAMPLES

Below, we’ll briefly run through what we view as the optimal play on each team along with a leverage option. Note that there are multiple viable leverage plays for some of these teams, but we tried to pick one for each.

 

Team Optimal Leverage Explanation
PHI Jalen Hurts A.J. Brown The Eagles go as Hurts goes and he scores so much as a runner (i.e. he can score a lot without his teammates doing well), but A.J. Brown is also dominant and could easily end up as the optimal PHI representative, especially if the Eagles don’t make the Super Bowl.
SF Christian McCaffrey George Kittle Game script doesn’t affect CMC, but Kittle has been hot lately and benefits big-time from the scoring settings.
MIN Justin Jefferson Dalvin Cook Justin Jefferson is the OPOY favorite, but he’s had his share of floor games this year and a Vikings run would likely mean lots of Dalvin TDs.
TB Fade/soft fade Leonard Fournette Tampa Bay are underdogs in Round 1, but they have leaned heavily on Fournette in the past and he is in line for high-leverage work.
DAL CeeDee Lamb Dalton Schultz CeeDee is a stud, but Schultz is above a 20% overall target share in his last five games and has returned to an every-snap role.
NYG Saquon Barkley Fade/soft fade NYG will be a popular fade/soft fade spot (and it makes sense), so fantasy players will have to decide between that and Saquon.
SEA Fade/soft fade Tyler Lockett The Seahawks are big dogs in Round 1, but either DK Metcalf or Lockett (likely lower ownership) have spike-week potential and would offer massive leverage if the Seahawks can pull off an upset.
KC Travis Kelce Jerick McKinnon Kelce is so valuable in TE-premium and warrants being highly owned, but McKinnon has been on fire lately and is easily K.C.’s most-trusted back.
BUF Josh Allen Stefon Diggs Allen scores so much and is so productive as a runner that it’ll be hard to fade him if BUF makes a run, but Diggs should come in at much lower ownership and is the clear alpha pass catcher.
CIN Ja’Marr Chase Joe Mixon Ja’Marr is a monster, but Mixon has high TD potential if the Bengals make a run and has quietly been extremely involved as a pass catcher this season.
JAC Fade/soft fade Travis Etienne The Jags are slight dogs, but ETN is intriguing given a first-round matchup against a forgiving Chargers run defense.
LAC Austin Ekeler Fade/soft fade An interesting spot where LAC are slight favorites but have such strong skill-position players.
BAL Fade/soft fade Mark Andrews Justin Tucker is the best kicker in football and is a sensical soft fade option as a result. Andrews would provide huge leverage if Baltimore wins Round 1.
MIA Fade/soft fade Tyreek Hill Tyreek’s ownership will be understandably suppressed with the Dolphins as double-digit dogs vs. the Bills.