2023-24 FFPC Playoff Challenge Strategy


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2023-24 FFPC Playoff Challenge Strategy

The FFPC Playoff Challenge is one of my favorite fantasy playoff tournaments to play every year. The tournament has been around since 2018, but has taken form over the past few seasons. It is extremely unique in that it only allows you to select one player from each playoff team. I have collected the data from the past three years of the tournament to uncover edges in the types of lineups that have done well each season.

First, I will go over the rules to help explain what the tournament is and how to play if you have not heard of the tournament before.

All of the information can be found on the FFPC site (use code POINTS at checkout).

FFPC offers both a $200 and $35 tournament. Both have the same rules, but the $35 tournament has about double the number of entries, so it will be slightly harder to win it all. At 16,000 total entries, it still isn’t anything like playing the Milly Maker each week on DraftKings, so it’s definitely not lottery-sized.

As I stated earlier, you are only allowed to pick one player from each playoff team to fill out a roster consisting of 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 4 FLEX (RB, WR, TE), 1 Kicker, and 1 Defense.

If you add up those roster spots, you will notice that you will be forced to choose no players from two of the playoff teams. These will be teams you are fading to not make it out of the wild card round. You also want to pick a kicker and defense from teams that will lose their first game.

The scoring is the same as any FFPC leagues: 4 points per passing TD, 6 for all other TDs, 1 point per 20 passing yards, 1 point per 10 rushing/receiving yards, and 1 point per reception — except tight ends, who get 1.5 points per reception (TE premium scoring). All points are doubled for players in the Super Bowl.

Defense scoring is pretty typical of what you see in most leagues: 1 point for sacks, 2 points for an interception or fumble, etc. However, your defense will only lose points up until they give up 10 points. After 10 points, they receive the same amount of points, whether it is 12 or 35. More on that later.

Now with that out of the way, let's get into the fun information. For the most part, my data analysis was done on the top 150 rosters each season, dating back to 2020.

How to Allocate FLEX Positions

How you choose to utilize your four FLEX positions can be very important to your chances of winning. Obviously, every year is somewhat different, and there are going to be better RBs, WRs, and TEs depending on the teams in the playoffs, but we can look for general trends of what works and what doesn’t. Below is a table showing the percentage of positions used in rosters of both all the teams in the tournament and the top 150 teams over the past three seasons.

In previous seasons, there used to be larger discrepancies between the roster structures of all teams and the top 150, but after three seasons, since the NFL expanded to 14 playoff teams, things have started to level out.

The one thing that usually was the largest edge was people overusing tight ends because of the 1.5 points per reception bonus. In 2022, the top 150 teams used 2+ tight ends 29.5% of the time, and all teams had 2+ tight ends at exactly the same rate. Whereas in 2020 and 2021, 2+ tight ends were utilized 40.6% of the time, but the top 150 teams only used them 33% of the time. I really would not force more than two tight ends, as it is still overused, but if you do, you don’t have to be very contrarian elsewhere.

We can also see the importance of the wide receiver position. You are going to want at least four wide receivers on your team. If you don’t, you can get pretty chalky with the rest of your lineup since only 14% of the field will have no more than three wide receivers.

This doesn’t feel like a year to go with four running backs on a large percentage of your teams. Christian McCaffrey, Isiah Pacheco, Kyren Williams, and James Cook feel like the strongest options, but also come with sacrificing strong options at other positions. If I were making fewer than 10 teams, I probably would have only one team at most with four running backs, but certainly would have some with three.

Games Played by Position

Now we are going to look at the number of games played for each position on the top 150 teams over the past three seasons.

1 Game0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
2 Games0.0%89.4%0.0%28.1%
3 Games1.3%10.5%100%41.1%
4 Games96.7%0.0%0.0%30.2%

The above table shows that you want your QB to play the most games of any player on your roster. In 2020, Tom Brady was on 98% of the top 150 teams, and played in 4 games. 2021 was a bit unique in that the Rams and Bengals were not the favorites to reach the Super Bowl. Not only that, but Josh Allen played only two games but scored a whopping 81 fantasy points. To put that into perspective, Joe Burrow played in four games but scored only 78 points.

When choosing your QB, you need them to be extremely efficient, even if they play only two games. Unlike previous seasons, I actually think there are a lot of QBs who fit the criteria to be viable in this format. We have QBs like Brock Purdy and Dak Prescott, who could easily play 3+ games, and many elite rushing upside QBs like Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Patrick Mahomes, who also could go on deep runs or do enough damage in fewer games.

The problem is some of these QBs come at the cost of high value skill players. Purdy and Dak will force you to fade McCaffrey and CeeDee Lamb, the two of the best options in the entire format. If you are making fewer than 10 or even 20 teams, I would not risk fading those players which likely puts my QB pool down to Jackson, Allen, or Mahomes.

RBs on Top 150 Rosters (Games Played)
Running Back1234
1 Game85.3%29.5%1.2%0.0%
2+ Games90.0%58.9%5.0%2.1%
3+ Games56.2%2.1%0.0%0.0%
4 Games19.2%0.0%0.0%0.0%

As we saw earlier, you can roster up to six running backs on your team using your FLEX positions. The table shows the number of games played for running backs gets very small past 3 RBs, because teams get eliminated in the playoffs, and it is rare for a team with 4+ RBs to make it into the top 150.

In general, it is rare for teams to have RBs that make deep runs into the playoffs. This makes intuitive sense because of the PPR scoring of FFPC — plus over the past three seasons, the NFL teams making deep playoff runs have had stronger passing attacks. The 2021 playoffs had Cooper Kupp, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins outscoring RBs on their respective teams. The 2020 playoffs had the Buccaneers and the Chiefs in the Super Bowl — both had potent passing attacks. Last season, Hurts was on every top 150 team, and the Chiefs had Travis Kelce.

All this should lead you to try and choose running backs that can be the highest scorer on their team, and if the team were to make a run in the playoffs have it be because of them. Christian McCaffrey is a great example of this for the 49ers. James Cook's usage has spiked down the stretch, and could potentially get enough points to be the optimal Bills player. If the Bills were to reach the Super Bowl though, Allen likely would pull away. Pacheco certainly could be the highest-scoring Chiefs player. I’m not sure if any Dolphins, Eagles, Cowboys, or Ravens running backs could outscore the other players on their teams if those teams went on to make the Super Bowl.

You will have two skill players eliminated during the wild card round, though, and 85% of the top 150 had a running back play only one game, so it is possible to pick a running back such as Aaron Jones or Kyren Williams from an underdog team.

WRs on Top 150 Rosters to (Games Played)
Wide Receiver1234
1 Game95.5%61.6%15.3%0.1%
2+ Games100.0%98.6%65.7%11.0%
3+ Games98.8%30.4%11.4%0.0%
4 Games31.6%12.2%0.0%0.0%

Wide receiver games played are similar to running backs, mostly because of the success of QBs and TEs making deep runs, but we do see that WRs playing more games on your roster is important to some degree. There hasn’t been a WR to play four games that you had to have on your team other than Cooper Kupp, and the Rams were not the favorites to make it to the Super Bowl. We do see a much larger percentage of top teams to roster at least 2 WRs to play 2+ games, but stop short of 3+. It is not hard for an alpha wide receiver to have two big games in a row in a full PPR scoring system. 2020 Stefon Diggs, 2020 Davante Adams, 2021 Mike Evans, 2022 CeeDee Lamb, and 2022 Diggs were all on 90+% of the top 150 teams in their respective seasons and played exactly two games.

The main takeaway for wide receivers is that they provide the most flexibility of all the positions. In general, it is good to have a larger number of them because they have such high ceilings compared to everyone but quarterbacks, but also, you don’t need them to play a ton of games.

I do think this could be a year we see a high number of top 150 rosters containing a WR that played 4 games, with teams like the Cowboys, Dolphins, and Bills all with decent Super Bowl odds. Back in 2021, when the Rams went to the Super Bowl, Kupp ended up scoring 146.2 fantasy points — the most of any player in the tournament since I started tracking it back in 2019. Elite WRs have elite upside.

TEs on Top 150 Rosters (Games Played)
Tight End123
1 Game23.8%3.5%0.0%
2+ Games96.1%4.3%0.4%
3+ Games96.1%0.1%0.0%
4 Games0.2%0.0%0.0%

The FFPC 1.5 PPR scoring for tight ends can make elite tight ends even more elite. No player has been more elite at the position than Travis Kelce, and he is the reason the above table shows the results that it does. In each of the past three seasons, the Chiefs have played three playoff games, and 96.1% of the top 150 teams contained one tight end who plays at least three games.

Despite the likes of George Kittle, Rob Gronkowski, and Mark Andrews being in the playoffs over the years with Kelce, it was extremely rare to have two tight ends on the same roster play a significant number of games. You likely are trying to thread a thin needle hoping two elite TEs go far in the playoffs.

With 24% of teams only having one tight end on their roster play one game, it can be viable to punt the position in a way where a single-game team gets eliminated, but its tight end happens to put up a good score. But definitely do not try to guess two “punt” tight ends on the same team. Only 3% of top teams have two tight ends who each play only one game.

With Kelce clearly on the decline, I’m expecting a big shakeup in the tight end data this year. While it is very possible Kelce gets it going again in the playoffs, we also may see tight ends not making deep runs this year because of him. That is going to make the punt tight end method more viable than usual. The 49ers are really the only team in the playoffs with high Super Bowl odds and an “elite” tight end in Kittle. Jake Ferguson, Dalton Kincaid, and Isaiah Likely are nice players, but not really top 5 tight ends in the league, so I’m not sure they could outscore their teammates over multiple games assuming their teams make deep runs.

Kickers and Defenses

The only thing you need to know about kicker and defense games played is that you want yours to play only one game. Kickers and defenses will not outscore QBs or skill position players over multiple games, so you should focus on choosing your kicker and defense from teams you do not expect to win.

How to Differentiate Your Roster

You will, without a doubt, hear that you need to differentiate your lineup and can’t just play the best player from each team. While it is definitely true to try and make a lineup that won’t cause you to tie with 100 other teams, you also don’t want to try and get cute in the wrong ways.

The top six most-rostered players on top 150 teams in 2022 were Travis Kelce (100%), Jalen Hurts (100%), Christian McCaffrey (97%), Stefon Diggs (96%), Saquon Barkley (95%), and CeeDee Lamb (91%). Only Hurts and Diggs were not the highest-owned players on their teams by the field. Josh Allen was only 4% more owned than Diggs, and rostering Allen also meant you couldn’t roster Hurts. Despite many of those players being the far-and-away favorite on their team, McCaffrey came in the highest ownership at 77%, so they were all under-owned.

Now that isn’t always the case. Ja’Marr Chase was the most popular Bengal at 65% owned but showed up on 0% of the top 150 teams. However, Justin Jefferson was 77% owned and 75% owned in the top 150 despite being significantly worse than his teammate T.J. Hockenson in their singular game last season.

All this means is that — unless you are building a lot of teams — you really don’t need to fade the top best plays and likely only fade one or two of the next tier. To me, this year, the “lock them in” players are McCaffrey and Lamb, with Tyreek Hill being close. You can get creative with the rest of the teams, but you don’t have to get creative with all of them.

The two tables above show how people get way too carried away with trying to be different — this isn’t a DFS GPP. In both tournaments, the top 150 teams had more players that were 70+% owned and 50-70% owned on average than the rest of the field. Where they get different is in the 20-30% ownership range. You don’t have to go down to the lowest percentage of owned players. Just adding more players that are 10-30% owned compared to 30-50% owned can go a long way.

Both the product ownership and sum ownership were higher for the top 150 teams than the rest of the field. You do have to get a little more contrarian in the $35 tournament, because there are more teams, but not too much more contrarian. I will have my projected ownership in a link below that I will update up until the first kickoff.

One last note on choosing your defense. FFPC scoring is a bit unique in that your defense stops losing points after giving up 10 points. If you’ve watched many games this season, you likely know giving up fewer than 10 points in any game is extremely rare, except for the best teams. However, you don’t want to waste a good team by taking their defense. Basically, don’t worry about choosing a defense that can get blown out and instead focus on defenses that can generate sacks and turnovers — the Pittsburgh Steelers come to mind. Josh Allen is prone to sacks and turnovers, and the Steelers’ defense is likely to be under-rostered.

The Jaguars were the highest-rostered defense in 2022 at 20%, and ended up on 0% of top-150 teams. The Dolphins, on the other hand, were only rostered on 3% of all teams and 7% of the top 150 teams, and they scored 19 fantasy points. That was the highest score for a single-game defense in the playoffs last season, which is exactly what you are targeting. Even though they were playing the Bills, I was a huge fan of the Dolphins last season, hoping Josh Allen would make some mistakes. I didn’t care that they might get 30+ points scored on them, because every team in the playoffs was likely to give up at least 10 points.

A good defense won’t be the reason you reach the top 150, but it can be the difference in finishing 150th and 1st.

Usable Player Pool (Favorite Plays Bolded)

Kansas City Chiefs: Travis Kelce, Patrick Mahomes, Isiah Pacheco, Rashee Rice (Leverage)

Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, James Cook, Dalton Kincaid (Leverage)

Houston Texans: Nico Collins, Fade, Dalton Schultz (Leverage), Devin Singletary (Leverage), Kai’imi Fairbairn, HOU Team Defense

Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson, Isaiah Likely, Zay Flowers, Gus Edwards

Philadelphia Eagles: A.J. Brown, Dallas Goedert (Leverage), Fade

San Francisco 49ers: Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel (Leverage), George Kittle (Leverage)

Los Angeles Rams: Kyren Williams, Puka Nacua, Cooper Kupp, Fade

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, TB Defense (Leverage), Chase McLaughlin

Dallas Cowboys: CeeDee Lamb, Dak Prescott (Leverage), Jake Ferguson (Leverage)

Green Bay Packers: Anders Carlson, Fade, Jayden Reed, Aaron Jones (Leverage)

Miami Dolphins: Tyreek Hill, Raheem Mostert

Pittsburgh Steelers: Fade, Defense

Cleveland Browns: David Njoku, Amari Cooper, Defense

Detroit Lions: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Sam LaPorta (If Healthy), Jahmyr Gibbs

Projected Ownership

You can find my player ownership projections here — I will update until kickoff for the first game.

Finally, HAVE FUN! Use this link to enter the FFPC Playoff Challenge (use code POINTS at checkout).

Chris graduated as an engineer from the University of Delaware, and since graduating he was always interested in combining his programming and coding skills along with his love of football to find a career in sports