There are just two weeks remaining in the typical fantasy regular season. We’ll be following our usual publishing schedule during the week, but our Sunday postgame columns over the next few weeks will cater to the playoff-bound owners. Those of you who have clinched berths in the postseason should already be thinking about how to have your team at its best from Week 14 through Week 16. We’ll help you get there by looking at the schedule during the fantasy playoffs and highlighting the players who have the best matchups at their respective positions.
Perhaps the easiest way to get a leg up for the playoffs is by focusing on defense. The only people who can really afford to stash defenses for weeks in the future are owners who are safely in the playoffs. Owners who are still in need of a win or two to get in can’t really burn a roster spot for a defense on their bench. If you can afford to take this strategy, you’ll likely have no competition for an extra defense or two on the wire. It could also prove to be the difference between winning and losing in the playoffs.
You may not be able to pick up all of the defenses below, but pounce on any if you can. Their matchups could turn them into playoff heroes.
Kansas City Chiefs
Week 14: vs. San Diego
Week 15: @ Baltimore
Week 16: vs. Cleveland
The Chiefs had a great defensive day in Week 11, holding Philip Rivers and the Chargers to three points. In fact, they outscored the Chargers offense thanks to a pick-six by Justin Houston. They’ll get those same Chargers to begin the fantasy playoffs, then take on AFC North doormats Baltimore and Cleveland. San Diego’s offense hasn’t been the same since losing Keenan Allen, scoring just 22 points in the two games without the star receiver. In Week 15 and 16, the Chiefs will likely go up against Matt Schaub and Johnny Manziel, respectively. That doesn’t exactly scream a high degree of difficulty. Justin Forsett is done for the year after breaking his arm, making Kamar Aiken far and away Baltimore’s most dangerous offensive player. That’s not a good thing for the Ravens. The Browns, meanwhile, have been among the offensive trailers in most categories this year. They’re right to keep Manziel in the starting lineup, but that has more to do with 2016, not this season. Not only is this a defense well worth stashing right now, they’re one you should feel comfortable spending a few dollars on in waivers this week.
Week 14: vs. Pittsburgh
Week 15: @ San Francisco
Week 16: @ Denver
You’re not going to want to use the Bengals in the opening week of the playoffs, when they face Pittsburgh. It wouldn’t make much sense to play a defense like Seattle against the Steelers, let alone one like the Bengals that is clearly a few rungs down the ladder. If you make it to the semifinals, though, the Bengals should be a fixture in your lineup. A Week 15 matchup with Blaine Gabbert and the 49ers already looks attractive. By time that game arrives, the 3-7 Niners will be just playing out the string. The Bengals will likely be one of the top-rated defenses in the fantasy semifinals. They visit Denver to take on the Broncos during the fantasy championship. That might mean Andy Dalton and company fall short in the season’s money week. The defense, however, might be able to make up for them. Whether it’s Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler under center, the Bengals will have a plus matchup. Manning clearly isn’t the same, and late December weather isn’t going to help. Osweiler looked competent in his first start against Chicago, but he didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard. You can ride the Bengals with a ton of confidence in the playoffs, once they get past the Steelers.
New England Patriots
Week 14: @ Houston
Week 15: vs. Tennessee
Week 16: @ New York Jets
The Patriots will be harder to grab off the wire than the Chiefs or Bengals because of their higher ownership rate, but they, too, will be one of the best defenses to own in the playoffs. They’ll be huge favorites in their first two games of the fantasy postseason, against the Texans and Titans. Brian Hoyer should be back for the Texans by Week 14, but it’s not really going to make much difference. The Patriots will almost certainly have the Texans in predictable passing situations, and we’ve seen this team thrive when it gets in that position. The case will be the same the following week when they host Marcus Mariota and the Titans. Mariota has put together a solid rookie season, but he has played much better against the weaker teams he has seen. The Titans don’t have a run game, their receiving corps has been beset by injury, and they should be chasing all game. That’s a great setup for the Patriots. Week 16 against the Jets is no better than a neutral matchup, but this defense can certainly help carry fantasy owners to championship week.
Week 14: @ Baltimore
Week 15: vs. Cleveland
Week 16: vs. St. Louis
Obviously you aren’t going to be able to just scoop the Seahawks up off the waiver wire. If you already own the unit, you’re going to be awfully happy you invested in it back in draft season, even though you used too high a pick on a defense. Just look at that schedule above. They get the same AFC North weaklings as the Chiefs, but instead of starting with Rivers and the Chargers they end with Case Keenum (or Nick Foles) and the Rams. Todd Gurley may be the best offensive player on the field in that game, but we’ve seen over the last two weeks that he can’t make this offense go all on his own. This Seattle defense may not be the same lockdown group it was either of the last two years, but they don’t need to be against this trio of quarterbacks. They’ll be opposing Schaub, Manziel and one of the odious Keenum/Foles duo. Even a defense as bad as the Saints or Chargers would be on this list if they had that schedule. The Seahawks are at the opposite end of the spectrum. If you drafted them, you’ve waited all year for the move to pay dividends. It just might happen during the season’s most important three-week stretch.
Conversely, fantasy owners have been able to lean on the following three defenses for most of the season, but they could end up falling short in the playoffs based on the matchups.
Week 14: vs. Oakland
Week 15: @ Pittsburgh
Week 16: vs. Cincinnati
The Broncos have the highest-scoring fantasy defense through 11 weeks, and they’ve proved they can be trusted in basically any matchup. We have seen, though, that time and time again offense drives matchup success in the NFL. As good as the Denver defense is, it’s going to have its hands full against the Raiders, Steelers and Bengals. You don’t need to divest yourselves of them immediately, but it’s entirely possible you’ll be able to go in a better direction during the playoffs, especially in Week 15 when the Broncos head to Pittsburgh.
Green Bay Packers
Week 14: vs. Dallas
Week 15: @ Oakland
Week 16: @ Arizona
The Packers showed in Week 11 what they can be when they’re at their best defensively. In short, Dom Capers’s blitzing machine got to Teddy Bridgewater six times and completely shut down the Vikings in Minnesota. It’s going to be a whole lot harder for them to be at their best during the fantasy playoffs, however. The Cowboys looked like themselves again in Week 11, Tony Romo’s first game under center since September. They should only be sharper by time they host the Packers in Week 14. The Packers then take a two-week trip out west to take on the Raiders and Cardinals, a couple of offenses that can really throw the ball. No one, Tom Brady included, is playing better at the quarterback position than Carson Palmer, and the Cardinals, as currently constructed, might have the most potent aerial attack in the league. Of all the defenses that have paid off for fantasy owners this year, the Packers have the toughest path in the playoffs.
Week 14: @ Arizona
Week 15: vs. Chicago
Week 16: vs. New York Giants
The Vikings haven’t had nearly the consistency or ceiling of the Broncos and Packers this season, but they are still the No. 12 defense in standard-scoring leagues. Given that they’ve been no more than a matchup play for most of the season, you won’t want to use them against the Cardinals in Week 14 or the Giants in Week 16. You could stream them against the Bears in the semifinals, but that’s the only time they’ll be startable in the fantasy playoffs.
Photos: Charlie Riedel/AP (Chiefs), Elaine Thompson/AP (Seahawks)