NFL

FANTASY PLAYS: Sizing up the favorable playoff matchups

It has become one of the most annoying cliches in professional sports: ''We are taking it one game at a time.''

It's not just overused by players and coaches, it's usually a blatant lie. Teams do look ahead to coming weeks, marking crucial divisional games on their calendars that they know could determine playoff position. Or knowing that they absolutely have to prepare for an upcoming game with a laser-like focus because they might have a series of brutal road contests in the weeks ahead.

Fantasy football playoffs are much the same: Managers absolutely need to look ahead to properly prepare in hopes of winning a title. Call it a case of taking three games at a time, the length of most fantasy playoffs.

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Savvy managers are making waiver wire pickups with an eye not only on this week, but also on championship week, when their top quarterback might be facing a cold weather nightmare on the road while another, less-heralded signal caller on the waiver wire might be at home against a soft defense. An available defense might have a juicy matchup next week against a lousy quarterback. There are many examples. So as the playoffs begin this week, here are some look-ahead moves fantasy players might want to make to get ahead of the curve:

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WEEK 14

New Orleans at Tampa Bay: If you were smart, you snatched up Jameis Winston a week ago knowing he has the deplorable Saints defense on tap. If you need a quarterback and he's still available, grab him. And don't hesitate to start any other Tampa player. It's also worth noting that Saints players are taking on increased value, as the only way they can realistically win games is to simply outscore the opponent and hope they have the ball last. But Mark Ingram isn't one of those Saints options anymore. He's out for the season with a shoulder injury, opening the door for Tim Hightower (and possibly C.J. Spiller) to pick up carries. He is still widely available.

Indianapolis at Jacksonville: The Jaguars amassed some nice offensive production the last time these two teams played, despite the 16-13 result. The Jags have become even more high-powered in the time since, so this looks to be a favorable matchup. Julius Thomas is on a nice run, Allen Robinson has been unstoppable, and Allen Hurns is back from a concussion. Blake Bortles is a good start at QB, too.

Buffalo at Philadelphia: The LeSean McCoy revenge game. Will he have a big day against his old team or will Chip Kelly find a way to shut him down? It's a moot argument for fantasy purposes because McCoy is an obvious start. But Tyrod Taylor is an alluring quarterback option this week. The Eagles defense still has holes. Remember, Philly's win over New England was more the result of some explosive special teams plays that caused the game to snowball, as opposed to it being a dominating performance by the Eagles' defense against an under-manned Patriots offense.

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WEEK 15

Atlanta at Jacksonville: The Falcons have been really bad after their 5-0 start. Their only win since then was a 10-7 win against the Titans with Zach Mettenberger at quarterback. They could easily be on a seven-game losing streak right now, and that has not been fun for Julio Jones and Matt Ryan owners. But this could be a nice matchup to bring Ryan off the bench and win a semifinal.

Cleveland at Seattle: If you own the Seattle defense, you are loving life. They play the Ravens this week with either Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, followed by a home contest against the Browns. After that, the Rams come to town. They will likely be double-digit favorites in every game. With their offense clicking, grab any available Seattle players and try to ride this wave to the finals.

Houston at Indianapolis: This feels like it could be the Andrew Luck return, with what could easily amount to the AFC South championship game. Keep that in mind if you're long on Colts players.

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WEEK 16

Jacksonville at New Orleans: Yet another favorable Jacksonville playoff matchup. The pot odds are seemingly in your favor if you are heavy on Jacksonville players heading into the playoffs.

Washington at Philadelphia: No attempt here at trying to handicap the state of the NFC East at this point, but this could be for all the marbles in the division. Sometimes simply having a meaningful game with stakes is a nice thing in late December, as you know you'll seemingly get effort out of your players.

Cleveland at Kansas City: More proof about why many think the Chiefs run will continue - a week 16 matchup against a Cleveland team with nothing to play for but pride and avoiding the No. 1 overall pick.