Looking ahead to the fantasy football playoffs, I've broken down which running backs are facing the most user-friendly defenses. The green bar represents the average number of fantasy points being given up to opposing rushers by the running back's Week 14-16 opponents. The purple bar represents the variance within those three weeks.
The top-10 running backs in terms of strength of schedule for the fantasy playoffs:
Eddie Lacy has the most favorable fantasy playoff schedule among all running backs with respect to the average number of fantasy points being given up by the teams he is facing in Weeks 14-16. He also has the second-lowest variance score among the top-10 running backs, which should translate into consistent scores each of those three weeks.
C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson have a tough Week 14 matchup versus Tampa Bay, but after that it should be smooth sailing. They face Jacksonville and Miami in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively. The Tampa game is the reason for the high variance. So if you're playoff start in Week 15 or if you think you'll land a bye week in Week 14, those guys are strong trade targets.
Just like Spiller and Jackson, LeSean McCoy has a tough Week 14 (Lions), followed by a softer Week 15 (Vikings) and Week 16 (Bears).
Alfred Morris' schedule gets exponentially easier each week of the playoffs. He starts with the Chiefs (giving up 12.3 fantasy points) in Week 14, the Falcons (16.1) in Week 15 and then ends with the Cowboys (22.3) in Week 16.
Here are the 11th-20th ranked running backs in terms of strength of schedule for the fantasy playoffs:
The Ravens and Chargers' schedules stand out because of their low variance but it's hard to trust the running backs on those two teams.
Ryan Mathews is running a bit better than expected this year (although expectations were pretty low). I still wouldn't want him on my fantasy team during the playoffs when he's facing the Giants (13.4), Broncos (17.9) and Raiders (15.0). You have to essentially cut those fantasy points in half due to the time-share he's in with Danny Woodhead and if the Chargers are playing catch-up, Mathews isn't typically on the field.
Ray Rice continues to say that his hip is not an issue but it's pretty obvious that something is affecting his play. Now that the team has taken the "hot-hand" approach to the backfield, he's someone to avoid during fantasy playoffs and in trade talks.
The Chiefs (Jamaal Charles) has a high variance score and it's not in his favor. Each week of the playoffs, Charles' opponent gives up less and less fantasy points. He has the Redskins in Week 14 (21.6), Raiders (15.0) in Week 15 and the Colts (13.0) in Week 16. Charles has the ability to transcend these statistics, so don't you go trading or sitting him.
The final-12 ranked running backs in terms of strength of schedule for fantasy playoffs:
Like Charles, Adrian Peterson has the ability to put up the top points on any defense. Start him.
By now, I hope you've kicked Trent Richardson to the curb. If not, then this graph should be the final nudge you need to let go of the worst bust of the year. He's not going to do anything for you in the playoffs. He faces the Bengals (11.8), Texans (13.9) and Chiefs (12.3). Come to think of it, if you have Richardson on your team you're probably not too concerned with the playoffs.
The biggest takeaway from this group of guys is Andre Brown's playoff situation. He faces three strong defenses—Chargers (13.8), Seattle (13.2) and the Lions (14.3)—during the playoffs. He's a prime trade candidate who can land you a DeMarco Murray or C.J. Spiller with ease. You may not like the trade now, but when you're in Week 15 and looking at him facing Seattle, you'll wish you had Spiller facing Jacksonville instead. (Although Seattle is giving up 5.2 yards per carry over the last three weeks). Either way, Brown is a chip you may want to consider moving while you have the chance to do so.
Zac Stacy is also a guy you may want to move being that he faces the Cardinals (10.6) in Week 14 and the Buccaneers (12.4) in Week 16.