• Everything you need to craft a winning fantasy football lineup in Week 15, the fantasy football semifinals.
By SI.com Staff
December 14, 2018

Every Sunday, the combined SI.com and 4for4 Football team will answer a question about the day that is to unfold before our eyes. The question will change every week. Some weeks, it will be quite specific, and others it will be broader in nature. No matter what the question is, though, we’ll strive to give you a last few pieces of wisdom before you officially set your lineups for the week, kick up your feet, and enjoy the football. Let’s get to it.

The fantasy playoffs are not a perfect construct. No playoff setup can be, especially those that are single-elimination. Fantasy owners who rode Todd Gurley or Drew Brees to dominant regular seasons may be out after both turned in duds in Week 14. Owners who had James Conner or Odell Beckham may have packed it in after last week with those two stars missing their respective games due to injury.

What's one rule change you've made in your leagues that makes the playoffs less of a crapshoot?

Michael Beller (@MBeller): All too often, a top seed—be it the No. 3 seed in the first round of the playoffs, or the No. 1 seed in the semifinals—is stuck playing its toughest possible opponent because of the rigidity of playoff seeding. How often is the No. 6 seed better than the No. 4 and 5? Or the No. 4 seed better than the No. 3? Pretty often, right? Top seeds earned the right to have the easiest possible path to the championship, and that too frequently gets mucked up by a messy regular season in which a team with a worse record is clearly superior to some of the higher seeds, resulting in teams that should meet in the semis or the championship forced to play one another a round earlier. That isn’t right.

My friends and I have done away with that problem in our home league. It’s a deep, 10-team superflex league with 12 starting spots, in which six teams make the playoffs. Rather than locking ourselves into 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5 in the first round, we let the No. 3 seed choose his opponent. In the semifinals, we let the No. 1 seed choose who he wants to play, with the caveat that he cannot choose the No. 2 seed. After all, that No. 2 seed earned a little something in the regular season, too, at least the right to not have to play the top team in the league before the championship. Not only has it eliminated any unbalanced matchups based on seeding, but it has significantly increased the amount of bulletin board material produced by the league every season. There’s no downside.

Chris Allen (@ChrisAllenFFWX): Hey Beller, are you stealing things from my league? We do the same thing. We call it the Call Out Rule. As Beller said, late-season fantasy football doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility should injuries or unfortunate seeding befall your squad. A lot of the strategy goes out the door as handcuffs are stashed and the trade deadline passes. Bye weeks in the playoffs feel like a reward, but it’s not as though your players get to rest. Also, the individual matchups for your team change, rendering the bye week useless in some cases. The Call Out Rule gives some power back to GMs who have been on top throughout the season. I’ve seen multiple strategies used here. Some have prioritized the weaker teams right off the bat to secure a win. Others have tried to match wits with the stronger teams up front to clear the field. Either approach has merit, but at least the GMs have some control of their playoff destiny. It also balances the league’s playoff picture prior to the Call Out Rule being exercised. The temporary hold on the playoff bracket removes any bias from the regular season. Your win-loss record doesn’t matter. It’s all about what your team can do in the playoffs. Once the decision is made, it’s all on the GMs to make the best of the situation.

Stephen Andress (@SportsByStephen): I have never enjoyed the idea that half of the teams in a fantasy league (or more) make the postseason. To me, that severely devalues the regular season, and all the work we all put in to draft well, make trades, and accrue wins via consistent production. For those reasons, I've always liked the idea of a 12-week regular season, followed by a four-team playoff, with a two-week semifinal and two-week championship. Reward teams for the best regular seasons.

If you'd like to keep the traditional 13-week regular season, the other idea I've had is to take a page out of college football bowl season. College football teams need to go 6-6 to be bowl eligible. In fantasy, why not require seven or eight wins to become "playoff eligible"? Then adjust the playoff bracket based on how many teams make the playoffs. In my league of record this season, our No. 6 seed was 6-7. Gross. 

In six-team playoffs, I also love the idea of rewarding the best regular season team/No. 1 seed after its bye week by either playing the worst remaining seed in the semifinals (as is done in the NFL playoffs) or, as Beller and Allen have said, allowing the top seed to choose the semifinal opponent from the three remaining teams. 

Lastly, in leagues with divisions, it has always bothered me that division winners automatically get higher seeds. Winning the division should guarantee a playoff spot, not automatic higher seeding or a playoff bye week. If a wild card team has a better record than a division winner, we should reward the team that has had the better regular season, regardless of division. After all, if you're in a 12-team league with three divisions, the majority of your schedule is played out of the division.

Jennifer Eakins (@themondaymommy): I was in a league where we decided to shake up the playoffs completely. All 12 teams play through Week 16 as the regular season, and the four teams with the highest record advance - with tiebreakers being cumulative points scored. Managers keep their NFL playoff bound players, and the four teams participate in a redraft of those players involved in the real NFL postseason. So not only do you have to choose wisely in terms of who will score the most points, but you have to also determine which teams will have the deepest playoff run. This system is not for everybody, but is a fun way to turn the fantasy playoffs on its head.

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