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Saturday 16th Dec 2017

If you as fortunate as I am to be leading your fantasy football league heading into the playoffs, your weekly lineups now become more important than ever. At this point, your skill players pretty much are what they are, with exceptions of some possible pickups as beneficiaries of playing time as the result of injuries to others.

One often-overlooked area of late-season leverage is team defense. A number of fantasy football players who I consider savvier in this game than I seem content to draft a top defense and ride it all season long. Sure, they might grab a bye-week special, only to drop the defense the next week for the next hot running back prospect.

I see things differently. If the league has a big enough bench, I will carry two defenses and choose my starter based on weekly matchups. One defense might be my primary or in some years in some leagues, I flip both over the course of the season. Rarely do I own one of the top few defenses unless it was an emerging one not popular on draft day.

In my view, these weekly defensive matchups become even more important in the playoffs. Obviously, you must win each week to advance, but also it can pay off to plan ahead to Weeks 15 and 16.

I will share some examples.

In league #1, I currently hold New England and Houston as my two defenses. Both teams have decent matchups here in Week 14, with the Pats at Washington and the Texans at Cincinnati. I could play either one and be satisfied. On the other hand, I don’t like either of their opponents next week, at Denver and at Carolina, respectively.

I’ve held onto the Patriots much of the season and might be inclined to dump the Texans now to prepare for Week 15. At least that was my knee-jerk reaction before looking into the upcoming schedules.

Among the defenses currently sitting out there as a free agent is New Orleans. That isn’t one of the top groups in the league, but they head to Minnesota next weekend. It is a plum Week 15 matchup for a Saints club still motivated to play well and clinch their division. Whether Adrian Peterson is rushed back for a meaningless game won’t matter. The Vikings are playing more for a top draft pick.

Other decent Week 15 options available as free agents in this league include the Giants (at home against Washington), the Bears (entertaining Seattle at home), Detroit (on the road at Oakland) and Cleveland (in the Valley of the Sun). Still, each of those clubs has recent warts that cause me to stick with the Saints as my addition.

A glance at the Week 16 schedule makes my immediate choice of the corresponding move clear – and it isn’t to keep New England and drop Houston. The Texans have a date the following weekend with the woeful Colts, on the road, in a dome. For that alone, they are definitely worth a hold now. As a result, I will be saying goodbye to the Pats while adding the Saints.

In summary, my plays are Houston in Weeks 14 and 16 with New Orleans in Week 15.

In a second league, I currently own New England and Atlanta. No roster changes are needed as I will ride the Pats in Weeks 14 (at Washington) and 16 (versus Miami at home). In between, the Falcons, chasing a wild card berth, have a favorable Week 15 home draw against the reeling Jaguars.

My third league defenses are New England (once again) and the Titans. With a Week 14 bye in my favor, I could look ahead with no concern whatsoever. As a result, the Patriots went over the side in favor of the Falcons and their nice home matchup against Jacksonville in Week 15. I could also stay with Tennessee and their road trip to Indy and most importantly, whichever one is on my bench means a prime defense is unavailable to my opponents. The Titans will be my Week 16 choice at home against that same Jaguars club, who have already lost their coach and are playing out the dreadful season.

Of course, if you are one of your league’s top regular-season finishers, then you may have a Week 14 bye. That makes your decisions much less complicated, but the main point of planning ahead for the next three weeks is still valid.

Sure, it can be dangerous to look too far down the road. On the other hand, waiting too long will mean someone else may very well beat you to your preferred choices. So act now to line up your defensive game plan and best of luck in the playoffs.

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