We all play with the ultimate goal of making it to the fantasy playoffs, so it’s never really too early to start looking ahead and planning. There’s nothing better than the feeling when you know you’ve made it in, but there’s also nothing worse than losing when your playoff roster simply fails to show up.

We can’t guarantee wins, but we could theoretically use what we know to predict which players might rise, and which might falter come the crucial playoff weeks. If we could identify these players beforehand, we could proactively trade for them, thus increasing our overall chances of winning. So let’s do just that – today we’re going to discuss players I think (and research suggests) have highly favorable playoff schedules that you should consider trading for now.

Note: For the purposes of this article, we’re considering the fantasy playoffs to be occurring during Weeks 14-16.

Quarterbacks

Drew Brees CAR | @CHI | ATL

Brees is the top ‘big name ‘ QB with an easy fantasy playoff schedule, coming in at 4th easiest overall. He’s also a great player to target in trade talks because he’s been a disappointment to his owners, and generally speaking his owners are probably in the lower third of the standings. All three of the pass defenses he’ll face are atrocious, so he’s easily the #1 QB to target if you want to upgrade.

Matthew Stafford TB | MIN | @CHI

Stafford has been even worse than Brees so far, and again, for that reason I love him as a trade target. His playoff schedule includes two of the ten worst pass defenses in the league (TB, CHI) and I don’t expect the Lions to have enough of a playoff cushion to just coast. Best of all, it looks like Megatron will return this week – We know that Stafford is a completely different QB when his stud WR is on the field.

Running Backs

Mark Ingram CAR | @CHI | ATL

If the Drew Brees schedule was great, Ingram’s schedule is simply ludicrous. The Saints RBs have the best overall playoff schedule, facing off against two separate teams that allow (on average) 23+ points to opposing RBs per game. Even if you factor in some Pierre Thomas/Khiry Robinson here, that still leaves an easy 15 or so for Ingram. As long as he stays healthy, he’s going to be a menace in the fantasy playoffs.

Chris Ivory @MIA | @TEN | NE

Ivory is coming off a terrible game, and just might have been dropped in a bunch of leagues this week if owners were in a bye-week bind. That would be a mistake, and you need to capitalize. All three defenses that the Ivory will be running against during the fantasy playoffs give up over 20 points to enemy RBs (average) per game. The Jets should be well out of playoff contention (if they’re not mathematically eliminated right now) and there’s no reason they shouldn’t let Ivory prove he’s their RB of the future. If he can remain upright, he could be a monster buy-low come playoff time.

Eddie Lacy ATL | @BUF | @TB

Lacy is one of my favorite targets in this entire piece. He was generally taken inside the top five on draft day, yet to say he’s underwhelmed is an understatement. As it stands now, he’s the 15th ranked RB on the year. His owners (I’m one, in multiple leagues) are more than fed up with his weekly ups and downs, and we’re going to use that to buy him low, and mash people with him in the playoffs. The Packers are 5-3 and no lock to even make the playoffs, so it should certainly be an all hands on deck scenario in Weeks 14-16. See if you can’t take advantage of the situation and buy yourself a playoff stud.

Terrance West/Isaiah Crowell/Ben Tate IND | CIN | @CAR

I included all the players in the Cleveland backfield because it’s still a week-to-week situation. I will say that I believe that Terrance West is the guy, and that he’s about to run with the job. Crowell has looked good but has fumbling issues, and Tate has been dreadful over the last couple of weeks. Regardless, the Browns are a super run-heavy team who have an extremely favorable fantasy playoff schedule (3rd easiest overall). They’re (surprisingly) hanging around in the playoff race at 5-3 and I expect them to have no reason to rest starters during Weeks 14-16 as they will probably be in contention for a Wild Card spot. How good are these matchups? Their best run opponent during the stretch, Indianapolis, gives up 19.2 points per game to opposing RBs.

Wide Receivers

Calvin Johnson TB | MIN | @CHI

Megatron has been powered down for the vast majority of 2014. Since he still hasn’t returned and had that signature Calvin Johnson monster game, his owners could potentially still be convinced that they should trade him to you. I noted the Lions insanely easy schedule earlier, and after all, he’s still Megatron. It was reported by various news sources that he’s healthy and ‘motivated’. The last part should scare the hell out of opposing defensive backs. I’m about to make an offer myself…

Kelvin Benjamin @NO | TB | CLE

The time to spend some Benjamin’s on Benjamin is now. He’s coming off a useless-looking game, unless you realize that he stone-cold dropped an easy TD in the end zone. If he catches that ball, his price goes way, way up. As it is now, you can buy him for an affordable price. He’s still Cam’s alpha target, and has had multiple monster games. It looks like the Panthers, despite being 3-5-1, will still be around in the race in the AFC south and therefore won’t be resting starters.

Josh Gordon IND | CIN | @CAR

This one’s more for you owners who are 6-3 or better and sitting pretty. Gordon probably isn’t floating around many/any waiver wires at this point, but he’s still a stash for later – you can probably get him for a fraction of what he could be worth. His matchups aren’t even that good (or really even good at all) but he’ll have been back a couple of weeks by this point and should be up to speed. We’re talking about a target monster who lead the league in receiving last year. If his owner in your league isn’t a clear playoff team, I’d try and open trade negotiations.

DeAndre Hopkins @JAX | @IND | BAL

I’m going to throw three numbers at you here. They are: 22.7, 25.3, and 23.1. Those are the average points per game, respectively, that Jacksonville, Indy, and Charm City give up to WRs per week. We’re not even counting RBs here – they’ll give up their fair share to Arian Foster too. But if you consider the relative dearth of WR options that Houston has, and the continued emergence of Hopkins as 1A to Andre Johnson’s 1, it’s pretty clear that he’s a great buy. I think he can be had in trade after two straight games under 10 points. It’s worth noting (for trade purposes) that Ryan Fitzpatrick was benched on Wednesday in favor of Ryan Mallett, which isn’t a great thing in the short term for the HOU WRs. I’d include that in any trade negotiations you might have, to gain some leverage. I also believe, however, that by the time the playoffs come around that Mallett should be comfortable in their offense, and be at least as good as Fitzpatrick.