During the fantasy football regular season, it was — from a general standpoint — your best players who got you into the playoffs.
To advance from your semi-finals (Weeks 15-16) and into your league’s championship, you needed a little luck, especially on the weather front.
Saturday of Week 16 brought with it record-low temperatures, caused by an arctic front that caused eight games to begin with temperatures of 20 degrees Fahrenheit, all of them affected by wind in the double-digits in terms of mph. Games in both Chicago and Cleveland had kickoff temperatures of 9 and 6 degrees with 26-mph winds, significant in that three of the 11 most-rostered players on ESPN playoff teams, Nick Chubb (61.6% of leagues had him on a playoff team’s roster , 8th-most), Stefon Diggs (61.1%, 9th-most) and Josh Allen (58.6%, 11th), were involved in those games.
It is unsurprising, therefore, that Chubb and Diggs were among the players who saw the most significant declines in roster rate between teams that made the playoffs and those who advanced to their league’s championship games in ESPN leagues. Chubb, who scored only 11.2 PPR fantasy points on a chilly Christmas Eve to give him a measly 37.6 over a four-week (Weeks 13-16) span, now resides on a finalist’s roster in only 27.0% of leagues, 20th-most in the league. Diggs, who scored a season-low 4.6 PPR fantasy points on that same frigid day, giving him a three-week (Weeks 14-16) stretch of only 22.0 points, can be found on a finalist’s team in only 24.2% of leagues, 34th most.
Kudos to Josh Allen, then, for scoring a sixth-best-among-quarterbacks 22.98 fantasy points on that same day in Week 16, earning him a place on a finalist’s roster in a sixth-best-overall 35.2% of ESPN leagues.
Allen was the exception rather than the rule, however, as the majority of players who helped their teams advance were those who played their Week 16 games in warmer environments. Of the 14 players most commonly now found on a finalist’s roster, nine played in either a controlled environment or in a game that had a kickoff temperature of 46 degrees or warmer. If you were wondering the degree to which severe weather has an impact on fantasy football production, there’s no more compelling evidence than that.
Let’s get right to that list, before diving into some of the more notable individual storylines. Listed below are the top 50 players in terms of percentage of ESPN leagues in which their teams advanced to their championship matchups. Included are their preseason ADPs (average draft position) as well as year-to-date earnings in PPR scoring.
Justin Jefferson’s name just pops off the page, doesn’t it? A 43.4% finalist rate is something special — no player made a finalist’s roster in as many as 40% of leagues in either 2020 or 2021 — but that’s the benefit of being the only player in the league who scored 30-plus PPR fantasy points in each of the semifinal weeks, and in fact, Jefferson is riding a streak of three consecutive 30-point games. As I noted on Sunday, Jefferson’s recent hot streak has given him a record-setting-among-wide-receivers seven 30-point games this season, and he is on pace to shatter Calvin Johnson’s record for receiving yards in a season.
Jefferson might remain a key to teams’ fantasy championships despite his high draft-day price (sixth overall in ADP, and second among wide receivers behind Cooper Kupp), as he’ll face the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears in the next two weeks , opponents against whom he scored 30-plus in each of their previous meetings this season. About the only thing potentially working against Jefferson is his Vikings’ playoff-clinched status, in which case if their seeding is known in advance of Week 18, he might play limited snaps or sit the regular-season finale entirely.
How many of you remain on the Travis Kelce-for-fantasy-MVP bandwagon? Count this columnist as a shotgun rider of said vehicle, as Kelce is authoring a historic fantasy story in 2022, and he overcame what was suboptimal weather (12 degrees on Saturday of Week 16) to score a sixth-best-at-his-position 17.3 PPR fantasy points. That gave Kelce 295.2 points for the season, for a pace of 334.6, which would set a new positional record (Rob Gronkowski’s 330.9 in 2011 remains the tight-end standard).
Kelce also sports a whopping 95.3 point advantage over the No. 2 player at his position, TJ Hockenson (199.9), which would be the second-widest between the Nos. 1 and 2 tight ends in NFL history behind only Kellen Winlow Sr.’s 111.6 point advantage over Dave Casper (Winslow scored 272.0, Casper 160.4) to conclude the 1980 campaign. Kelce now faces a Denver Broncos defense that utterly collapsed against Tyler Higbee and the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas Day, followed by a Las Vegas Raiders defense against whom he scored 33.5 PPR fantasy points in their Week 5 meeting (assuming the Kansas City Chiefs don’ t rest him if they have wrapped up their playoff seeding).
Saquon Barkley’s massive rebound season has also played a huge part in his fantasy teams advancing to their league championship matchups. He’s the third player with a greater-than-40% roster rate of reaching this round, a threshold extremely difficult for anyone to reach annually. Barkley’s 27.3 PPR fantasy points in Week 16 were his second-most all season, his second game in a row with 20-plus, and he and his New York Giants are plenty motivated to win their final two against the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles, with a playoff spot very much within their reach.
It’s not uncommon for a player to find himself on a greater percentage of finalists’ rosters than playoff entrants’, as managers are still welcome to add players who can contribute to their playoff matchups, meaning a rise in their roster rates places them among the annual list of “fantasy playoff heroes.” Jerick McKinnon is an early favorite for this year’s honor, having found himself on a finalist’s roster in 24.3% of ESPN leagues, 33rd-most overall and 14th among running backs. Although his 12.8 PPR fantasy points in Week 16 were a disappointment, they were still a welcome output for a player scooped directly off waivers after he topped his position in points in each of the prior two weeks (32.4 in Week 14, 34.2 in Week 15 ).
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McKinnon already has a head start for that “hero” honor, considering he next faces the Broncos, whose run defense was its weak spot before it allowed a position-leading 34.7 PPR fantasy points to Cam Akers in Week 16, and Raiders, who have been the fifth-worst schedule adjusted defense against running backs in 2022.
He didn’t experience an increase in roster rate between rounds, but George Kittle was one of the players whose stock most significantly improved during the fantasy semifinals weeks. The only tight end in the league to score 25-plus PPR fantasy points in both weeks, Kittle is now on a finalist’s team in 32.4% of ESPN leagues, 12th-most overall and third-most at his position. He has capitalized in a huge way with Deebo Samuel sidelined, and should continue to be a catalyst for his teams in the championship weeks.
Judging by the roster percentages between playoff entrants and now-finalists, Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams’ performance the past two weeks appears to have been the most damaging to his teams’ championship hopes. The No. 13 (and fifth among wide receivers) most common name found on ESPN playoff teams, Adams now finds himself on only 19.6% of finalists’ rosters, 60th-most overall and 19th-most among wide receivers. Unfortunately, weather affected his output on Saturday of Week 16, as he scored only 3.5 PPR fantasy points, his second-fewest in a game all season, on his nine targets. That came on the heels of a 6.8 point Week 15 on nine targets.
Can the aforementioned names continue their strong play to help put their fantasy teams over the top for a championship? Will the struggling Adams snap out of his funk, and overcome his next matchup, to be the unexpected championship-week rebound star? Additionally, can Jalen Hurts, still the quarterback most commonly found on finalists’ rosters (37.6% rate) despite his Week 16 absence, heal quickly enough to carry his teams in Weeks 17 and 18?
We’ll have those answers in two short weeks. Check back here for an update once the championship weeks conclude, and in the meantime, best of luck in the finals!