The fantasy football playoffs are here, and with them brings a degree of randomness that comes with assigning great weight to one- or two-week matchups.
We're all for tradition, but if your league is seeking to freshen up its playoff system, or would simply like to inject some excitement into the fantasy postseason, Tristan H. Cockcroft and AJ Mass have some ideas for new playoff formats that you could integrate into your leagues beginning next season.
Pick your poison: Is there anything more painful than earning a top playoff seed, only to lose your first-round matchup to the lowest seed that snuck into the mix as the league's hottest hand? Give the best seeds in your league a reward for their regular-season efforts by allowing the highest playing seed in each playoff week to pick his/her opponent, with the remaining teams getting matched up with one another. For example, in a six-playoff-team system with one-week playoff matchups, in Week 14 the No. 3 seed would get the choice of any of the Nos. 4, 5 or 6 seeds as opponent, and in Week 15 the No. 1 seed would get the choice of either the No. 2 seed or either of the Week 14 winners. It builds in an element of strategy, but better yet, it's a good way to ramp up the smack talk in your league! -- Cockcroft
Pacesetter week: In the NFL, when the No. 1 seed gets a bye, it's an opportunity for that team to rest up its bumps and bruises and get healthy for the next game. That's good. In fantasy, there's no such "rest benefit." And when your QB throws for 400 yards and 4 TDs in Week 14, all you get is frustration, as it doesn't count for anything -- until now. To truly give an advantage to a fantasy team that has earned it, allow teams on a bye to still set a starting lineup in Week 14. In Week 15, they'll get a second bite of the proverbial apple with a fresh starting lineup, getting to use the higher score of the two weeks as their official total for their postseason tilt. -- Mass
Most points sub-in: Doesn't it stink to be the week's second highest-scoring team, only to have drawn the top-scoring team as your opponent? A similar, yet grander-scale pain is felt by those who finish among the highest-scoring teams in their fantasy league, only to miss out with, say, a 5-8 record due to having drawn a terribly unlucky schedule. To combat this, why not reserve the final playoff seed in your league -- or better, the final two in a six-team format -- for the team(s) that scored the most total points among teams that didn't qualify for any of the higher seeds? Gone is the frustration of missing out on the playoffs by one win despite having outscored one of the playoff teams by 200-plus points [e] and trust me, the first time that happens to you, you'll be right on board with the idea. (Note: leagues that incorporate the idea might well want to combine this with the "Pick your poison" idea, due to the strengthening in quality of the playoff's final entrant.) -- Cockcroft
Playoff pods: Two's company, three's a battle royale. Instead of head-to-head matchups, why not make the postseason a little more interesting with a pod format. Nine teams make the playoffs and get seeded into three pods: 1-8-9, 2-6-7, and 3-4-5. In Week 14, the lowest-scoring team in each pod is eliminated, leaving six teams. Reseed those six sides into two new pods for Week 15, with the highest-scoring team in each pod, plus the highest second-place team entering the Championship Pod for Week 16. -- Mass
NFL playoffs fantasy playoff: I'm flummoxed every time a manager provides the rationale that they like the traditional fantasy playoff format because "it's the most like the real game." Well, I can guarantee you that your players certainly do not play for you in Week 16 as if a championship is on the line, but I can guarantee they would during the NFL postseason. So what if we use the NFL playoffs as our own playoffs? Make the fantasy regular season the full 17 weeks, with the best-finishing teams being ordered first through fourth for a straight draft -- not serpentine, as a straight draft better rewards regular-season success -- of players qualified for the NFL postseason. You can either lock in those post-draft rosters or allow add/drops and set weekly lineups, and the team with the greatest point total at the conclusion of the Super Bowl wins. For an added wrinkle, you could even allow any of the four playoff teams to lock in players who qualified for the NFL postseason. That'd ramp up the strategy on draft day as well as on the trade market. Granted, scoring for these leagues would be more difficult, as leagues would probably need to do it by hand, but it wasn't that long ago that it was the way all leagues were done! -- Cockcroft
Week 17 tournament: We all know that leagues are loath to have their title game in Week 17 due to the likelihood that NFL teams will rest their studs in what, for them, is a meaningless contest. Why not lean into that possibility? Each team other than the league champion sets a lineup for Week 17, with a small prize at stake. The winner is the team that finishes exactly in the middle of the pack. Do you start your stars and hope they hang up the cleats early? Do you start your scrubs and hope they don't end up getting tons of unexpected touches? A whole new strategy emerges. -- Mass
Musical chairs: One-week fantasy matchups have an inherent randomness to them, which can be particularly frustrating during the playoffs. Instead of using single-elimination, you could eliminate teams one at a time, with the team bumped being the one that has the fewest total points at the conclusion of the week (cumulative totals, so Week 14, then 14-15 combined, 14-16, etc.). -- Cockcroft
Real-life tiebreak: It behooves a league manager to have rules in place to break a playoff tie prior to a deadlock actually taking place. Some leagues designate "overtime players" in advance, whose scores only count in the event of a stalemate. Some leagues award the victory to the team that scored the most touchdowns. But, ties are rare (especially in leagues with fractional points), so when they do occur, why not make them an event to remember? Fantasy managers traditionally have no influence over the result. They can't actually gain yards or play defense or give a struggling performer a halftime pep talk. If there's a tie, you can't make your fantasy team play more football, but the fantasy managers can square off themselves. Be it a game of poker, buying two identical jigsaw puzzles and seeing who can solve theirs first, or blindfolded field goal kicking from the 30... give your fantasy managers some agency for once -- and enjoy the show! -- Mass