Cassy Aite

How Do Fantasy Football Playoffs Work?

Dec 30
9 minutes

You’ve put in the time. Your draft strategy went smoothly, your waiver wire pickups added depth, and your trades were one-sided in your favor. You beat up on the cellar dwellers of your NFL fantasy football league, and you pulled off sensational regular season comebacks throughout the fantasy football season.

Now that you’re at the top of the standings in your league, a fantasy Super Bowl championship is within reach. But if you’re new to fantasy football, you may ask one of the most common questions: “How do fantasy football playoffs work?”

If you’re a fan of the NFL playoffs, understanding fantasy playoffs shouldn’t be all that hard to grasp. Yet knowing the format and rules of fantasy football playoffs is almost as important as your starting lineup, management, and smack-talking.

Before the first round of fantasy football playoffs, use this guide to learn who you’ll play, the playoff format, and if you need to make any adjustments moving forward. It can make all the difference between victory and coming up short.

How Do Fantasy Football Playoffs Work?

Football coach talking to his players during practice

Let’s dive into the all-encompassing question, “How do fantasy football playoffs work?” First, your fantasy football playoff format is entirely up to your league commissioner. They can decide how many teams make the playoffs through the league settings menu. So whether you play through Yahoo, CBS, or ESPN, the playoff system may vary.

Four-Team Playoff Formats

In general, each of these fantasy platforms allows the top four or top six teams into the playoffs. In four-team formats, the team with the best record earns the one-seed. The other three teams earn a playoff seeding (2-seed, 3-seed, and 4-seed) based on the standings. The one-seed plays the four-seed, and the two-seed plays the three-seed in head-to-head, single-elimination matchups.

The winners of each matchup then play each other in the championship game to determine the ultimate fantasy football league victor.

Six-Team Playoff Formats

In leagues with a higher number of teams, a six-team playoff format provides more excitement and gives fantasy players motivation to manage their fantasy teams throughout the season without throwing in the towel. With a playoff spot on the line, engagement remains, leading to more competitive matchups

In a six-team format, the two teams with the best overall records each get a first-round bye (the 1 and 2 seeds). The other four teams are then ranked 3 through 6.

The 4-seed plays the 5-seed with the chance to take on the 1-seed, while the 3-seed plays the 6-seed with the 2-seed lying in wait. The winners of the semifinal games advance to the championship to battle it out.

Divisional Playoff Formats

Some leagues have two divisions, which slightly alters the fantasy football playoffs. Divisional playoffs can use either a four- or six-team format, depending on what the commission chooses at the beginning of the season.

The major difference is that the top teams in each division/division winners automatically earn the top two seeds, regardless of their record. So if a team finishes 7-7 but is atop their division, they’ll claim the two-seed, even if two or three teams have better records in the other division.

Aside from the two divisional winners, two or four wild-card teams make the playoffs. No matter the record of a wild-card team, they’re the lower seed when playing a divisional winner; the higher seed is always the divisional winner.

From there, the playoffs work just as they would in ordinary four- or six-team league playoffs, as mentioned above.

How Do Fantasy Football Playoffs Work With the Bottom Half of the Standings?

Wilson football leaning up against a post on a sidewalk

Obviously, to the victor go the spoils. But if you want to keep people engaged in your fantasy league until the end, you may want to consider consolation playoffs.

The consolation playoffs include all the teams that didn’t make the playoffs. This is usually somewhere between four and six teams.

The formats follow the same rules. Popular in 10-team leagues, the four-team playoff format has the 7-seed vs. the 10-seed, while the 8-seed plays the 9-seed. The winner of both games takes home the consolation championship.

The top two teams in a six-team playoff format — those who finished 7th and 8th in the rankings — get byes, effectively becoming the 1- and 2-seeds Then, the remaining teams that finished 9th through 12th get seeded as such:

  • The 9-seed becomes the 3-seed.
  • The 10-seed becomes the 4-seed.
  • The 11-seed becomes the 5-seed.
  • The 12-seed becomes the 6-seed.

Then, the 3-seed plays the 6-seed to face the 2-seed, and the 4-seed plays the 5-seed to play the 1-seed — just like you would in a six-team format.

How Do Tiebreakers Work?

If two or more teams are tied for a playoff spot, how do fantasy football playoffs work? Well, just like the NFL, you have a set of tiebreakers. Again, these can vary by platform, but they typically follow this order:

  1. Total fantasy points scored
  2. Head-to-head record
  3. Divisional record (if you have divisions)
  4. Fantasy points against
  5. Coin flip, arm-wrestling, Madden battle, or whatever else you choose

When Do Fantasy Football Playoffs Start?

The first week of the fantasy football playoffs typically coincides with Week 15 of the NFL season. Depending on the format, these playoffs last either two or three weeks and wrap up on Week 16 or Week 17 of the NFL season.

The reason that most leagues have playoffs earlier than the actual NFL season is twofold. The first and most important reason is that many playoff-bound teams in the NFL rest players in Week 18, which can ruin fantasy teams’ playoff chances. Secondly, an early playoff schedule gives you time to enjoy the last week of the NFL season and the NFL playoffs — two of the most exciting parts of pro football.

Fantasy Football Playoff Management Tips

Empty 49ers Football Stadium

To some degree, fantasy football playoffs don’t require any change to your current in-season strategy. If you’ve come this far, why change what’s already working?

Nevertheless, you should know a few basic tips before the playoffs start and often weeks in advance if you’re sniffing a playoff spot. Here are a few of the most crucial topics to examine.

Look at the Real NFL Season

As the NFL regular season comes to a close, you see teams on the verge of a playoff spot, those who are securely in, and a number of other factors that can impact your fantasy team.

For example, a team that’s already clinched home-field advantage is unlikely to play their superstars for the entirety of the game, whereas a team on the cusp of the playoffs will come into the week guns blazing.

Make your moves accordingly, as your clutch player may see more or limited playing time depending on their team’s scenario.

Weather Factors

The weather may not play a crucial role during the beginning of the NFL season or even into midseason. However, winter weather can have a dramatic effect on teams throughout December, especially if they’re a team in the Midwest or Northeast.

Snow, freezing rain, sleet, and wind can cause unpredictable results in the NFL. So, if you have a player on the Packers or the Jets and they’re playing at home, you may want to swap in player who have more favorable playing conditions.

Understand the Format and Rules

Because the playoff format can vary from league to league and the commissioner’s preferences, you should know the format and rules. If you’re gunning for a 6-seed in a four-team playoff, you’ll be disappointed when the playoffs finally come.

Preferably, read the playoff format and rules when the fantasy season starts. This can help you avoid disappointment and give you something to gun for when the season begins.

Know Your Deadlines

If you’re facing injuries or poorly performing players toward the end of the season, initiating a trade can salvage your playoff expectations. However, you need to know when the trade deadline looms.

In most leagues, the trade deadline is either Week 12 or Week 13 but check with your league’s rules and settings to ensure you don’t miss it.

Snipe the Waiver Wire

If you don’t have a solid trade piece or are unwilling to part with your best players, the waiver wire is still an option. The waiver wire continues throughout the entire season and into the playoff rounds.

While no rules exist against it unless prohibited by the commish, you can chat with some of your fellow league mates who aren’t going to make the playoffs. They may have that missing piece that’s ideal for your roster. Is it ethical? That’s open to interpretation. But if you can work out a deal, you’re playing the same game that many GMs in pro sports do.

Didn’t Make Your Fantasy Football Playoffs? Let Wise Guys Edge Help

Just like real NFL teams, you’re not always destined for a postseason bid every season. Use it as a learning experience to propel you to the top seed and a playoff team next year.

Though your draft strategy, waiver wire acquisitions, and in-season moves will define your next season, an ace up your sleeve never hurts.

That’s when Wise Guys Edge can help.

Using Vegas sportsbook odds, Wise Guys Edge allows you to compare stats with ease, while also offering a handy five-player comparison tool so you always know who to start and who to sit on any given week. Whether you’re in a superflex league, a flex league, or a dynasty, Wise Guys Edge provides an extra edge in its own right.