Fantasy Playoffs: Evaluating the Late Schedules for Kyren Williams, Joe Mixon, Jaylen Waddle, and Others

It’s dangerous to project too far in advance, but the fantasy playoffs are critical, and some players have interesting matchups for Weeks 15-17.

What a team will look like in Week 1 right now is an exact science and, believe it or not, the ability to forecast the weaknesses/strengths of these units only gets harder the deeper we venture into the fantasy season.

That said, the NFL schedule has been released, and that gives us the excuse to look ahead. Will these schedule notes impact how I rank these players for fantasy football in 2024? Check back in August, but for the time being, these are the situations that have my attention.

Fantasy Playoffs: Players Set To Thrive in Weeks 15-17

Anthony Richardson, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Weeks 15-17: at DEN, vs. TEN, at NYG

As much as I’d love to tell you that I can predict the future and assure you of Anthony Richardson’s health in December, I can’t. But what I can tell you is that the risk you’re taking in selecting him in the fifth round has plenty of reward potential attached to it, specifically when all the glory is on the line.

First of all, getting a bye in Week 14 is a blessing if we assume that the Indianapolis Colts are playing meaningful games. The lead-in form might not be great with three AFC East games in the month before the off week, but if he is close to full strength, he should be in a position to be on the short list of fantasy’s most impactful player during the postseason.

  • Broncos: fourth highest opponent aDOT (average depth of target)
  • Titans: third highest opponent CMP%
  • Giants: Below average in pressure rate despite the second-highest blitz rate

Richardson is being drafted just ahead of Joe Burrow and Jordan Love in the QB hierarchy, a spot I loved for him before the schedule release.

With this strong finishing kick (not to mention 13 straight games to open the season while you work on your playoff seeding), he deserves to be in the C.J. Stroud class of signal caller and could crash the Tier 1 party that currently houses four elite names (Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, and Lamar Jackson).

Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos

Weeks 15-17: vs. IND, at LAC, at CIN

The year after the year after the injury has been profitable in the past, and that is a big part of why I have Javonte Williams ranked as a strong RB2, something that is far from the industry consensus.

It’s not easy to clear 1,200 yards as a rookie, and it’s even more difficult when playing for a bottom-10 offense, but that is exactly what this former Tar Heel did back in 2021.

All three of these defenses ranked outside of the top 20 last year in terms of value added by their run defense, and I’m not sure 2024 is drastically different. They were all 25th or worse in rushing scores allowed a season ago and all have a quarterback that I like, fueling my thought that Denver will look to control the clock with the ground game.

I’m hoping that by this time, Bo Nix has been able to adjust to the professional game and has this offense trending in a positive direction. Is that a leap of faith? Maybe, but if there was ever a time to do it, coming off a Week 14 bye is as good a time as any.

I have no problem taking Williams over backs with a capped touch count due to roster construction like Rhamondre Stevenson, David Montgomery, Tony Pollard, and James Conner — all of whom are routinely being drafted ahead of him.

Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons

Weeks 15-17: at LV, vs. NYG, at WAS

Could it be? Could the Kyle Pitts truthers be rewarded at the perfect time to wrap up the 2024 fantasy season?

It’s possible. These three opponents all ranked below league average in pressure rate last season, and if there is one thing Pitts has down well through three seasons, it’s stretching the field vertically.

The production hasn’t been there, but the book on him coming out of Florida was that of a physical mismatch, and the Atlanta Falcons, at the very least, have tried to pay that off.

MORE: Consensus Dynasty Rankings

With Kirk Cousins under center, the odds of the former first-rounder paying off some of that usage increase, especially in these specific matchups (over the final month of last regular season, Las Vegas, New York, and Washington all allowed a double-digit PPR performance to a tight end).

Pitts’ price tag is a little rich for my liking right now (late fifth round, 8-12 picks ahead of my targeted option at the position in that range in Evan Engram), but this favorable stretch of games at the perfect time could help him pay off that ADP.

Fantasy Playoffs: Players Set to Struggle in Weeks 15-17

Jared Goff, QB, Detroit Lions

Weeks 15-17: vs. BUF, at CHI, at SF

In early drafts, Goff’s name is a popular one for those who wait on the quarterback position, and I like that approach given the stability he provides. With Jahmyr Gibbs, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Sam LaPorta at his disposal, his weekly floor figures to be stable enough to keep your team competitive and let your early picks do the heavy lifting.

That is until we get to the stretch run.

I can’t imagine that I have to sell you on the shutdown potential of the San Francisco 49ers, so let’s focus on the two opponents Goff would have to produce against just to make that matchup matter.

The Buffalo Bills were the 10th-best yards-per-play defense in an injury-plagued 2023 season and added depth on that side of the ball with two of their first three picks in the draft. They also ranked inside the top five in passing scores allowed, interception percentage, and opponent passer rating.

READ MORE: How Does Kirk Cousins Impact the Fantasy Stock of Falcons’ Stars?

Their ability to rank sixth in pressure rate despite blitzing at the league-average rate is a major concern for a QB in Goff who excels when kept clean but is well below average when forced to improvise.

The Chicago Bears are getting a lot of attention for the talent they have on the offensive side of the ball, but how about a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in a game since Thanksgiving? They may not be perfect, but they are certainly on the rise, so the fact that they were in the top 10 in adjusted yards per pass, pass deflections, and INT% is encouraging.

Goff is a fine option, but with this rough stretch, I’d rather roll the dice on Trevor Lawrence in the second half of the draft. I’d rather invest in Jayden Daniels a round later and see if his athletic profile transfers to the pros. Heck, if I want the Goff profile, why not go with Kirk Cousins in this range?

Kyren Williams, RB, Los Angeles Rams

Weeks 15-17: at SF (TNF), at NYJ, vs. AZ

Let me get this out of the way — if you make it to your fantasy Super Bowl, Kyren Williams could well be the reason you take home the title (42 touches for 262 yards and three TDs against the Arizona Cardinals last season).

That matchup is enticing, but it won’t matter much if you’re playing in the third- or fifth-place game when we get there. The 49ers (third fewest points allowed) and New York Jets (second fewest first downs allowed) were both top-seven defenses last season in terms of yards per play — I doubt I have to sell you on the talent on these rosters.

What can get overlooked when evaluating defensive matchups is the opposing offense.

Huh?

Brock Purdy is coming off the most efficient season in over two decades, and Aaron Rodgers has a claim to be the most efficient passer of all time. These two teams methodically matriculate down the field, and that hurts opposing running backs in two ways

  • Limited possession count
  • Negative game script

Williams was able to finish his breakout 2023 season with a bang (131.5 scrimmage yards per game with eight touchdowns over his final six games of the regular season), but there were an average of 54.2 points scored in those games.

Neither of these games will project to be anywhere near that, creating a lower floor for Williams than you’re penciling in most weeks.

In addition to the disadvantageous matchups, there are a few logistical moving pieces to at least consider. Los Angeles has a Week 6 bye, meaning that the Week 15 date in San Francisco is not only traveling on a short week, but it’ll be their ninth straight week with a game. Could that wear-and-tear break down Williams? Could it result in a Matthew Stafford injury and thus compromise the upside of everyone on this roster?

Williams is coming off of draft boards in the first half of the second round, ahead of De’Von Achane every time and a round (or more) ahead of Derrick Henry, a running back with whom I have him sharing a tier.

Would I select Henry over Williams? It’s a coin toss for me, and with this brutal stretch, I’m more open to the idea today than I was yesterday. At the very least, this makes Williams a potential sell-high after he lights up the Detroit Lions and Cardinals to kick off the season.

Joe Mixon, RB, Houston Texans

Weeks 15-17: vs. MIA, at KC, vs. BAL

It was a cold day. The date was Dec. 15, 2019. Stefon Diggs was a Minnesota Viking and C.J. Stroud was preparing for the second half of his senior year … of high school.

The world had yet to experience “Tiger King,” and most people had never taken a meeting remotely.

That was the last time Joe Mixon had more than 65 rushing yards in one of the final three weeks of the fantasy season. That was also the last time he had a carry gaining 20+ yards in those weeks with all of our chips in the middle of the table.

Assuming health, he will be over 2,100 career touches come the fantasy playoffs this winter and the schedule certainly does him no favors. The Miami Dolphins allowed the sixth-fewest yards per carry in 2023 while the Baltimore Ravens, Mixon’s championship matchup, allowed a touchdown once every 69.2 carries last season.

In the middle of those matchups is a date with the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that won the Super Bowl thanks to a defense that missed the sixth-fewest tackles a year ago. On top of strong defenses, all of Mixon’s opponents over this stretch own potent offenses that could be playing with a lead and thus put the ground game at risk in terms of volume.

Houston’s new bell cow is currently being drafted, on average, toward the end of the fourth round, a vicinity that includes Kenneth Walker III and other veteran backs (Alvin Kamara and Aaron Jones to name a few). This rough closing stretch along with a potential learning curve to open the season slides him to the bottom of that class for me.

More importantly, the non-RBs being drafted in this range very much have my attention. Assuming you have two receivers and a running back through three rounds, investing at the one-off positions (Mark Andrews/Trey McBride, C.J. Stroud/Anthony Richardson) at this point is something I’d prefer over investing in Mixon.

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins

Weeks 15-17: at HOU, vs. SF, at CLE

We can argue to what degree this is true, but it’s pretty hard to escape the fact at this point that Tua Tagovailoa’s access to his fantasy ceiling is lessened when playing on the road and more specifically in the cold.

Last season, his completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate, interception percentage, and, not surprisingly, his passer rating declined when taking his talents away from the palm trees in Miami — numbers that are even more concerning when you remember that the ‘Fins played the three worst pass defenses in terms of yards (Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Commanders, and Philadelphia Eagles) all on the road a season ago.

With that in mind, it shouldn’t be shocking to see a Miami player make this list with two of three fantasy playoff games coming on the road and the one home game coming against maybe the best defense in the sport.

Why Waddle? Well, did you know that he hasn’t scored in a game in which Tyreek Hill was active since Week 8? His varied skill set creates a nice production floor, but the ceiling has proven limited and his ability to flirt with that over this three-game stretch seems like a long shot assuming health to both Hill and Tagovailoa.

The Houston Texans allowed the fewest touchdown passes in 2023, while the 49ers allowed the fewest yards per completion and the Cleveland Browns allowed the fewest total passing yards. Including the playoff loss, Waddle saw no more than six targets in seven of 15 games in his third season, and I worry that we are at risk of seeing multiple such games with your fantasy season on the line.

At this moment, Waddle is being drafted in the late stages of the third round amongst WRs like other strong pass catchers that are the WR2 on their own team like Cooper Kupp and DeVonta Smith. I prefer both of them to him right now, and the same goes for Zay Flowers (WR1 on his team, but the second option in the passing game) and even Tee Higgins, despite the lack of clarity on his future.

Strength of Schedule Rankings

As mentioned, trying to nitpick the order of these games months in advance requires some serious projecting, work that will need to be tweaked before you enter your draft room.

READ MORE: 2024 NFL Strength of Schedule Ranking

With that understanding, here is how I stack up the late season schedule for these teams as a fantasy scoring environment as a whole (using Weeks 14 and 18 as tiebreakers), ranked from the easiest to the most difficult.

  1. Falcons (at LV, NYG, at WAS)
  2. Colts (at DEN, TEN, at NYG)
  3. Broncos (IND, at LAC, at CIN)
  4. Bears (at MIN, DET, SEA)
  5. Ravens (at NYG, PIT, at HOU)
  6. Buccaneers (at LAC, at DAL, CAR)
  7. Cowboys (at CAR, TB, at PHI)
  8. Packers (at SEA, NO, at MIN)
  9. 49ers (LAR, at MIA, DET)
  10. Saints (WAS, at GB, LV)
  11. Patriots (at AZ, at BUF, LAC)
  12. Commanders (at NO, PHI, ATL)
  13. Raiders (ATL, JAX, at NO)
  14. Titans (CIN, at IND, at JAX)
  15. Vikings (CHI, at SEA, GB)
  16. Jaguars (NYJ, at LV, TEN)
  17. Eagles (PIT, at WAS, DAL)
  18. Panthers (DAL, AZ, at TB)
  19. Giants (BAL, at ATL, IND)
  20. Bengals (at TEN, CLE, DEN)
  21. Cardinals (NE, at CAR, at LAR)
  22. Chiefs (at CLE, HOU, at PIT)
  23. Chargers (TB, DEN, at NE)
  24. Jets (at JAX, LAR, at BUF)
  25. Browns (KC, at CIN, MIA)
  26. Seahawks (GB, MIN, at CHI)
  27. Bills (at DET, NE, NYJ)
  28. Texans (MIA, at KC, BAL)
  29. Rams (at SF, at NYJ, AZ)
  30. Dolphins (at HOU, SF, at CLE)
  31. Steelers (at PHI, at BAL, KC)
  32. Lions (BUF, at CHI, at SF)

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