Fantasy Football Playoff Challenge: Patriots, Steelers players are safe bets

For those of you who play in any sort of Fantasy Football Playoff Challenge, we have rankings for you. These are based on the entire playoffs, from the Wild Card round through the Super Bowl, and the goal is to find players who will play at least two games, with the hope of playing four.

If you're doing your own rankings, the first thing you need to do is map out the playoffs and figure out the teams you expect to advance. That's how I approached these rankings.

For example, in the AFC I expect Jacksonville to beat Buffalo and Kansas City to beat Tennessee in the Wild Card round. Then I have New England beating Kansas City and Pittsburgh over Jacksonville in the Divisional Round. I expect New England to beat Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game and advance to the Super Bowl.

That would be three games for the Patriots and two games each for Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Jacksonville. It also wouldn't be a huge surprise if the Steelers upset the Patriots, giving Pittsburgh three playoff games. I'd be surprised if any of the AFC teams from the Wild Card round advanced to the Super Bowl, but the Jaguars could upset the Steelers in the Divisional Round if you're looking for a surprise team to play three games in the AFC. 

The NFC is much more wide open, which is the challenge with these rankings. I have New Orleans over Carolina and Los Angeles over Atlanta in the Wild Card round. In the Divisional Round, I expect Minnesota to beat Los Angeles and New Orleans to beat Philadelphia. I have New Orleans beating Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game to advance to the Super Bowl.

The toughest game for me to predict is Falcons-Rams, because I can see that going either way. And if that happens then Atlanta would play at Philadelphia, and I expect the Eagles, without Carson Wentz (knee), to be one and done, which would give the Falcons the chance to play three games. 

If Atlanta beats Los Angeles, then the winner of the Panthers-Saints game has to play the Vikings in the Divisional Round, which would be tough. And I wouldn't be shocked if the Panthers beat the Saints since this is the third meeting for those two teams, although New Orleans has won the previous two matchups.

The Vikings could also play three games if they advance to the Super Bowl, which would be a home game in Minnesota. And even though I'm discounting the Eagles because of Wentz's injury, they could still advance with the benefit of a strong defense and home-field advantage.

We'll see how the postseason unfolds, but these rankings are a guide for any Playoff Challenge you might participate in. Please make sure to check the rules and scoring format, and we're ranking these players based on a standard league. Good luck.

Quarterbacks

  1. Tom Brady, NE 
  2. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT 
  3. Drew Brees, NO 
  4. Case Keenum, MIN 
  5. Jared Goff, LAR 
  6. Matt Ryan, ATL 
  7. Alex Smith, KC 
  8. Cam Newton, CAR 
  9. Blake Bortles, JAC 
  10. Marcus Mariota, TEN 
  11. Nick Foles, PHI 
  12. Tyrod Taylor, BUF

As stated above, I expect Brady to play three games, Roethlisberger could play three and Brees could play four. It also wouldn't be a shock if Brees gets knocked out in the Wild Card round, which is why he's only ranked No. 3. Roethlisberger's ranking could also change depending on the status of Antonio Brown (calf).

Keenum should play at least two games, with the potential for three, and I have Goff playing two games if the Rams beat the Falcons. But should the Falcons win that game then Ryan has the chance to play three games, which makes him a sleeper in any Playoff Challenge.

Newton also falls into that category, though I expect the Panthers to be knocked out in the Wild Card round. Just keep in mind the last time he faced the Saints he had 24 Fantasy points. Brees averaged 21 Fantasy points in two games against Carolina.

Bortles should play two games if the Jaguars beat the Bills as expected in the Wild Card round. And I expect Mariota, Foles and Taylor to be limited to one game in the playoffs, which is why they are ranked so low.

Running backs

  1. Le'Veon Bell, PIT 
  2. Dion Lewis, NE 
  3. Todd Gurley, LAR 
  4. Alvin Kamara, NO 
  5. Mark Ingram, NO 
  6. Leonard Fournette, JAC 
  7. Kareem Hunt, KC
  8. Latavius Murray, MIN 
  9. Devonta Freeman, ATL 
  10. Derrick Henry, TEN 
  11. Christian McCaffrey, CAR 
  12. Tevin Coleman, ATL 
  13. Jay Ajayi, PHI 
  14. Jerick McKinnon, MIN 
  15. LeSean McCoy, BUF 
  16. Rex Burkhead, NE 
  17. James White, NE 
  18. Jonathan Stewart, CAR 
  19. T.J. Yeldon, JAC 
  20. Marcus Murphy, BUF 
  21. Corey Clement, PHI 
  22. LeGarrette Blount, PHI 
  23. Mike Tolbert, BUF 
  24. DeMarco Murray, TEN

If Burkhead (knee), White (ankle) and Mike Gillislee (knee) are out for some part of the playoffs then I would rank Lewis as the No. 1 running back ahead of even Bell. Lewis has more than 130 total yards and two touchdowns in each of his past two games with the rest of New England's backfield dealing with injuries. Bell, however, could post ridiculous stats if he plays three games, especially if Brown remains out or limited.

It's hard to ignore Gurley even if he plays just one game, as he has more than 120 total yards in five games in a row, including eight touchdowns over that span. You know the upside of the Saints guys, especially if they play as many as four games, and Fournette should be dominant in the Wild Card round against the Bills.

Hunt is rolling again with a touchdown in four games in a row, and Latavius Murray finished the season strong with 20 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns in Week 17 against the Bears. I like him better than McKinnon, but they should be close if the scoring is PPR.

Freeman, like Ryan, could be ranked too low here if you expect the Falcons to beat the Rams. And Freeman closed the season with a touchdown in three of his final four games. Coleman also should get a boost if you expect the Falcons to advance past the Wild Card round.

Henry just had the most work of his NFL career with DeMarco Murray (knee) out in Week 17 against Jacksonville with 29 total touches, and he finished with 117 total yards and a touchdown. With Murray likely out again, Henry should see a lot of touches against the Chiefs in a favorable matchup.

McCaffrey could get a lot of work against the Saints if Stewart is out, and he was inactive in Week 17 against Atlanta with a back injury. If you like the Panthers to advance past the Wild Card round, then bump up McCaffrey a few spots.

I'm not optimistic for the Eagles, which is why Ajay is ranked at No. 13. And McCoy is also ranked at No. 15 because of a tough matchup against the Jaguars, as well as being banged up. He was carted off the field in Week 17 at Miami with an ankle injury, although the NFL Network reports McCoy has a chance to play in the Wild Card round.

Wide receivers

  1. Antonio Brown, PIT 
  2. Brandin Cooks, NE 
  3. Michael Thomas, NO 
  4. JuJu Smith-Schuster, PIT 
  5. Stefon Diggs, MIN 
  6. Adam Thielen, MIN 
  7. Julio Jones, ATL 
  8. Tyreek Hill, KC 
  9. Robert Woods, LAR 
  10. Keelan Cole, JAC 
  11. Devin Funchess, CAR 
  12. Chris Hogan, NE 
  13. Dede Westbrook, JAC 
  14. Cooper Kupp, LAR 
  15. Mohamed Sanu, ATL 
  16. Marqise Lee, JAC 
  17. Rishard Matthews, TEN 
  18. Sammy Watkins, LAR
  19. Alshon Jeffery, PHI 
  20. Danny Amendola, NE 
  21. Ted Ginn, NO 
  22. Martavis Bryant, PIT 
  23. Nelson Agholor, PHI 
  24. Allen Hurns, JAC 
  25. Kelvin Benjamin, BUF 
  26. Albert Wilson, KC 
  27. Corey Davis, TEN 
  28. Deonte Thompson, BUF 
  29. Eric Decker, TEN 
  30. Torrey Smith, PHI 

Brown is expected to be ready for the Divisional Round of the playoffs after getting hurt in Week 15, and if he's 100 percent with the chance to play three postseason games then he's the No. 1 receiver in any Playoff Challenge. With Brown banged up, Smith-Schuster has closed the season with either 100 receiving yards or a touchdown in three games in a row.

We'll find out if Hogan (shoulder) is able to play for the Patriots, although he's been practicing on a limited basis for the past two weeks. Cooks should still remain the No. 1 receiver for Brady, and he's scored a touchdown in two of his past three games.

Thomas has either 90 receiving yards or a touchdown in four of his past five games, including five catches for 70 yards and a touchdown against Carolina in Week 13. I also like both Vikings receivers given the chance of Minnesota playing three games. And Diggs has been better than Thielen of late since Diggs has scored in three games in a row.

We all know Jones has struggled this year, but he still has the ability to post outstanding stats, which happened in last year's playoff run. Over three postseason games in 2016, Jones had 19 catches for 334 yards and three touchdowns, and the Falcons could make another Super Bowl run this year.

Hill has scored a touchdown or had 100 receiving yards in three of his past four games, and he could have a great two-game run against the Titans and Patriots. Woods has been the best receiver for the Rams this year, although Kupp and Watkins aren't that far behind, especially after Woods missed three games with a shoulder injury late in the season.

For the Jaguars, things could get messy if Lee (ankle) returns for the Wild Card round after being out for the past two games. Based on the past few weeks, I would rank it Cole, Westbrook, Lee and Hurns, who played in Week 17 against the Titans after being out for six games with an ankle sprain.

Funchess has struggled of late because of a shoulder injury and the return to health of Greg Olsen, but he scored in Week 17 at Atlanta and scored in Week 13 at New Orleans with four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. He could have more value if the Panthers upset the Saints this week.

Matthews could have a big game against the Chiefs in the Wild Card round, and Jeffery could play well in the Divisional Round. But I expect both receivers to only play one postseason game, which lowers their upside.

Tight ends

  1. Rob Gronkowski, NE 
  2. Travis Kelce, KC 
  3. Kyle Rudolph, MIN 
  4. Greg Olsen, CAR 
  5. Delanie Walker, TEN 
  6. Vance McDonald, PIT
  7. Zach Ertz, PHI
  8. Charles Clay, BUF 
  9. Austin Hooper, ATL 
  10. Marcedes Lewis, JAC 
  11. Josh Hill, NO 
  12. Tyler Higbee, LAR

Gronkowski is the easy choice at No. 1 given his potential, along the amount of games the Patriots have the chance to play in the postseason. And Kelce is also easy to rank at No. 2 if the Chiefs play at least two games.

After those two, the hope would be Rudolph plays at least two games, and he's scored a touchdown in four of his final six outings during the regular season. And if Olsen gets past the Wild Card round then he could be a good value pick.

Walker, Ertz and Clay also have plenty of potential if they play more than one game, but the fear is they will be eliminated after their first game. That's part of the reason to trust someone like McDonald since the Steelers should play multiple games, and McDonald has four catches for 52 yards in two of his past three games.

Kickers

  1. Stephen Gostkowski, NE 
  2. Chris Boswell, PIT 
  3. Wil Lutz, NO 
  4. Kai Forbath, MIN 
  5. Matt Bryant, ATL 
  6. Harrison Butker, KC 
  7. Josh Lambo, JAC 
  8. Graham Gano, CAR 
  9. Sam Ficken, LAR 
  10. Jake Elliott, PHI 
  11. Ryan Succop, TEN 
  12. Steven Hauschka, BUF

DSTs

  1. Patriots 
  2. Vikings 
  3. Jaguars 
  4. Steelers 
  5. Saints 
  6. Rams 
  7. Falcons 
  8. Chiefs 
  9. Panthers 
  10. Eagles 
  11. Bills 
  12. Titans 
Senior Fantasy Writer

Jamey Eisenberg has been a Senior Fantasy Writer for CBS Sports since 2006 with a focus on Fantasy Football. A University of Florida grad (class of '98), Jamey got his start in the newspaper business and... Full Bio

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