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Veteran Moves: Tips for preparing your team for fantasy playoffs

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Berry would lower expectations for Carson (2:26)

Matthew Berry is concerned about Chris Carson and would pick up Rashaad Penny as insurance in weeks going forward. (2:26)

Congratulations, you're headed to your fantasy football playoffs. Or, even if you haven't yet clinched your spot, that certainly looks to be your destination.

That's the good news. Now here's the bad: If you're already in, this isn't the time to get comfortable. You've earned your ticket to compete for your league's championship. What you have not earned is a Week 13 rest, à la NFL playoff-bound teams' treatment of Week 17 games. Let that nap wait until January.

One of the luxuries of knowing your playoff fate in advance is the ability to fine-tune your roster for the wild, anything-goes nature of the fantasy football postseason. Here are some tips for getting the advantage over your competition:


Know your FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) standing/waiver position

... and use it to your advantage. While the FAAB format provides greater control, knowing your positioning and using it is one of the most under-the-radar strategies of the fantasy football postseason.

During the regular season, you've got nine (in a 10-team league, or 11 in a 12-team league, etc.) competitors for free-agent assets, all of whom have more funds than they'll have during the fantasy postseason. If your league doesn't have a consolation bracket, you'll have only three (or five, depending on whether four or six teams advance) such competitors, and in subsequent weeks that number will decrease further, along with their funds. Even if your league does use the consolation bracket, unless it carries some sort of reward or relevance in next season's draft order, there's a good chance that the teams involved will be less attentive than those in the playoff bracket. There's simply less passion in the fight for fifth compared to that for first place.

If you possess the most remaining FAAB, or "wield the hammer," as the kids say, take special note of the funds of your opponents. Track the tie-breakers as well. For example, if you have $26 FAAB remaining and the five other teams have $9, $7, $5, $3 and $3, the $9 team is the No. 1 seed and the tie-breaker is the lower team in the standings, you know that with a $9 bid, you can guarantee any player you want -- you can, in fact, purchase two players for $9 before you face any competition.

In a waiver system based on standings each week, know that the lower your seed, the more control you have over free agency, meaning squeaking into the playoffs isn't anywhere near the black mark it might seem to be. If your waivers roll over from week to week, take extra care to save it for a week you need it most. Don't ever spend a No. 1 waiver position on a fill-in WR3 or, in IDP formats, a defensive back projected to score only 1-2 points more than the player he's replacing. If you have only one move to make in a given week, it'd be wiser to save your waiver position -- thereby letting your competition move down around you, even if you're not No. 1 -- and pick from the available free agents if the move will grant you only a marginal gain.


Evaluate all your playoff-week matchups in advance

While the traditional thinking is to worry only about the current week's matchups, for planning purposes, it's a good practice to evaluate the entirety of your team's (potential) playoff schedule. This will help you properly address roster weaknesses at the right times, at a time of the season when your resources are more limited (FAAB funds diminishing, trade deadline passed).

Deshaun Watson, for example, has to tangle with a tough-as-nails Broncos defense in Week 14, but he gets one of the best quarterback matchups in the league in the Buccaneers come Week 16. Let's say your fantasy team features him, Alvin Kamara and DJ Chark Jr. Evaluating their schedules would tell you that your Week 14 -- the opening week in most fantasy football playoff structures -- is going to be the tough one, with Kamara facing the 49ers and Chark facing the Chargers, but that Week 16 -- the championship week in many formats -- will be comparatively easier, with Kamara facing the Titans and Chark the Falcons. In this scenario, it'd be wise to spend your FAAB/waiver position more aggressively in Week 14, knowing that your stars will be more likely to carry you in Weeks 15 and especially 16.


Get to your competition's handcuffs before they do

This goes somewhat hand in hand with the first tip. While it's not the best idea to make your own lineup decisions based on what your competition will throw at you, it is a good idea to use your resources to prevent your opponent from improving his/her roster during the week you'll be squaring off.

That's not endorsing funny business -- that is always a no-no -- but if your opponent has one of the aforementioned weaknesses, like a lineup full of poor matchups in a specific week or a position battered by injuries, use any of your roster space not committed to the matchup at hand to collect pieces that might otherwise ultimately be used against you.

Grab these running back handcuffs -- and add Raheem Mostert to that list -- if there is any question about the injury status of your immediate opponent's starters. Similarly, if your Week 14 opponent's quarterback is Drew Brees, who faces the 49ers, don't under any circumstances leave Jacoby Brissett and his matchup against the Buccaneers out there for the taking.


Stash, stash, stash

Finally, to the point about "roster space not committed to the matchup at hand," never, ever allow a roster spot to get stale. With the bye weeks now behind us, we have full access to every healthy player on our rosters and can always use every available spot to accumulate talent that can help during the playoffs. If your league still allows trading, use it to continually improve right up until the deadline.

Beyond handcuffing your own running backs, use any remaining roster spots to gather dart-throw types, especially those who have especially favorable schedules. The chart below, using schedule-independent, full-season data like the methods explained in my weekly Matchups Map column, reveals the eight teams at each of the four skill positions with the best and worst matchups during the playoff weeks (Weeks 14-17):

Among some of the players to consider adding: Baker Mayfield (available in 38% of ESPN leagues), Rashaad Penny (available in 71%), Will Fuller V (35%), N'Keal Harry (89%), David Njoku (80%) and T.J. Hockenson (52%).

In addition, if you're already confident in your Week 14 lineup but have a roster spot to burn that isn't needed to block your competition, consider adding a piece you might be able to use in your Week 15-16 matchups. For example, a team in need of wide receiver help deeper in the postseason might want to stash Darius Slayton (77% available), who draws the Dolphins and Redskins in Weeks 15-16.