Winning on Extreme Margins in Midseason Fantasy Football

Alexander Mattison Vikings

Content Warning: Lots of words to improve your chance at winning the championship by maybe 1%. 

Whether you’re fighting your way to make the playoffs cutoff or scratching nail and tooth to get yourself out of the last place position and out of whatever punishment your devious leaguemates have designed, I have a couple of small habits you should get into to optimize your fantasy football output each week.

Now that the draft is over, and major waiver wire players are on rosters and the trade market has dried up as players settle down into their teams, it’s hard to take big swings — improving your team has to be on the margins, finding ways to sneak wins and stash players at opportune times — and one of the most opportune times of all is during gameday. If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you’re one of the hardest-working members of your league, and winning on the margins is a way to convert that effort and knowledge you have into tangible results, rather than just waiting for variance to separate you from that player who hasn’t used the waiver wire once all season.

While everyone else is just watching football and waiting for their fate, take your fate into your own hands and make the optimizations needed to win. These tips are arranged in order from “probably should be doing” to “this is so galaxy-brain I have no idea if it helps or hurts.”

Evaluating Your Range of Outcomes — and Exploiting Bye Weeks

Understanding your range of outcomes at this point in the season is essential to enabling trades once the trade market dries up. Are you a contender chasing the first place crown? If so, then maybe you’re willing to sacrifice a startable roster piece for a player like Deshaun Watson. Is your team not in a great spot, time to go out and buy low on upside assets that seem dead, like Najee Harris, Skyy Moore etc.

Understanding your own and your leaguemates’ incentives alongside their roster structure is the only way to make trades happen, especially with less-active owners. Your most natural trading partners are middle of the pack teams who are fighting for points every week and bottom- and top-tier teams who are likely willing to sacrifice some immediate points for a chance at the championship, or a chance at not going last.

We are in the middle of the bye week season, and selling your players with upcoming bye weeks for players who have had their bye weeks already is an underrated tactic that can result in receiving 12% more production from roster spots at this point. If you’re a team ahead of the pack, buying talented players on bye weeks from struggling teams or slightly less-talented teams without bye weeks is an efficient tactic to sacrifice current points for more upside come the playoffs. 

Mid-GameDay Waiver Wire Toggling

In deeper leagues, or in leagues where you don’t necessarily love all your bench pieces, you can toggle who you roster throughout Sunday and Monday as the games progress. A perfect use case here are running back handcuffs — if you are rostering a handcuff like Alexander Mattison, but there are players like Rachaad White on the waiver wire, then you can actually, if your league settings allow, roster both that week with one roster spot in case either Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook go down.

Roster Mattison for the morning slate, and when the game closes out and it’s apparent that Cook is not in fact going to be sidelined — then drop Mattison and pick up White for the afternoon slate. Dropping and picking up tertiary players mid-gameday is a prime method to position yourself to capitalize on rapid value gains that players can have in the course of one game.

If a player doesn’t receive that needed value boost, drop him and move on the corresponding player in the Sunday Night Football game, and then the Monday Night Football game. This strategy can effectively double or even triple your at-bats with bench fliers, massively improving your odds of landing impact playmakers from the bottom of your roster. 

Game Day Audible

If you have a healthy mix of later slate players on your roster, then waiting to see how the early slate goes should inform your start/sit decisions for the rest of the week. You are essentially able to make start/sit decisions with more information of both your and your opponent’s expected point totals after the morning slate ends. That information should help you optimize your start/sits, if you have the choice between similar players.

If you’re in a deep deficit, maybe opt for higher-ceiling players who might not have a more steady diet of volume and expected fantasy points. Plays with more uncertainty are what you should chase when in a deficit; playing guys who are coming off of injuries, playing guys who recently switched teams at the trade deadline, stacking players from the same MNF or SNF team, are all methods to increase your variance and come back from a deficit.

Conversely, if you feel like you have the win in the bag if your players don’t absolutely let you down, maybe stay away from starting three players on the same team in the afternoon slate of games. Diversifying your lineup minimizes the chances for a letdown across all your players. Remember, this is rarely a reason to downgrade a position, but oftentimes after the top 20 or 30 players in a week, the rest of the relevant players in fantasy football are expected to score roughly the same amount of points in any given week, and optimizing lineups can often come down to figuring out what you need to win your week. 

Similarly, if it looks like your fantasy weeks are already won or lost, it can be optimal to drop yet to play players for streaming options that were on bye in the current week. Dropping your MNF defense for a top defense next week when your matchup is decided is an easy way to get ahead of your leaguemates without having to compete with waiver bids or using your waiver priority. I have won weeks off this tactic — by securing the top streaming option next week who just happened to be on a bye, and thus on the waiver wire in the previous week. 

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