Well degenerates, here we are: Week 17. We’ve got one last chance to extract all the fun we can from NFL DFS (I’m not counting the ultra-degen playoff slates). Or maybe you’ve had a rough season and you’re taking one last shot at profit. Perhaps you’ve been waiting all year to play Tony Romo. Whatever the case, fantasy football in Week 17 calls for a mild dose of insanity; many of the top players are resting and still more have nothing to gain for their teams in the largely meaningless slate of games this Sunday. What do we do?
I normally propose low-owned plays to pivot away from the chalk. Those plays carry some risk; these plays are all risk. But to claim the reward at the top of the leaderboard in a week where Matt McGloin, Landry Jones, Matt Moore, Matt Cassel, and EJ Manuel are starting quarterbacks, we must take some risks.
Everyone is resting or hurt. The Cowboys look like a situation to avoid. Dak Prescott is expected to play (a little). Initially, it was reported Mark Sanchez would take over, but now Tony Romo may be in the mix as well. Even this week, that’s too much uncertainty for too little payoff. A couple of the replacements have excellent matchups, if you can trust them. Which is the bigger disaster: an EJ Manuel-led Bills’ offense or a Jets defense that gave up on the season weeks ago? Can Landry Jones move the ball without Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, even against the Browns? Meh.
Somehow priced right in the middle of the bench warmers at $5,000, Tom Savage waits for his chance to be the next QB to dismantle the Titans’ defense. OK, so he hasn’t put up big fantasy numbers in his very limited action so far. His 6.7 yards per attempt mark is not good and he hasn’t thrown a touchdown yet. But he’s shown real-life potential with solid decision making and he hasn’t turned the ball over. And the Titans are that bad. Over the last five games against the Tennessee defense, Blake Bortles put up 29.45 fantasy points, Alex Smith 13.25, Trevor Siemian 20.7, Matt Barkley 23.8, and Andrew Luck 21.3. Even Brock Osweiler, back in Week 5, managed to throw for a touchdown against them. The Titans allow the second-most passing yards per game this season on an absolutely ridiculous 11.9 yards per attempt. Seriously, I double-checked that number at least three times – and it hasn’t improved over the course of the season. Over the last four weeks, it’s up to 13.6. The adjusted yards per attempt mark (factors touchdowns and interceptions) isn’t much better at 11.09. The matchup is there for Savage to exploit. Unlike Landry Jones, EJ Manuel, Matt McGloin, and Matt Cassel, Tom Savage started last week and has had more practice time with the first unit. In addition, his weapons are superior to theirs. Well, DeAndre Hopkins is. It all adds up to a better shot at a big game than any of the replacements (except maybe Shane Falco).
If you thought quarterback was messy… Let me put it this way: I hadn’t even heard of all the guys who might have significant roles in Week 17. The juiciest situation is in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers will take on the hapless (though no longer winless) Browns, who give up the fourth-most rushing yards and allow a rushing success rate of 49.04 percent (tenth-worst). They also allow the fourth-most rushing attempts, likely because their opponents are always ahead. But there’s a great deal of uncertainty about who will get the workload. Will they roll out aging veteran DeAngelo Williams for a “playoff tune-up”? Or will it be career third-stringer Fitzgerald Toussaint? My guess is it’s the latter. A veteran like DeAngelo doesn’t need a tune-up. But I don’t feel strongly enough about it to put my money where my mouth is. Betting on coaches to do the smart thing, even guys like Mike Tomlin, is often a losing proposition.
While I do expect him to be popular, Darren McFadden is my guy in the bargain replacement range. He’s the same price as D-Will ($3,500), who will hopefully siphon off some of the Run DMC ownership. I think Ezekiel Elliott will get the least work out of the Dallas starters and that McFadden will be in early and running the ball often, whether it’s Dak, Romo, or Sanchez under center. I’ve been targeting the Eagles’ run defense all season long and it’s served me well. Their 50.49 percent rushing success rate has improved, but it’s still the seventh-worst. Dallas, meanwhile, has the fourth-highest offensive rushing success rate – thanks in no small part to their offensive line. McFadden has only averaged 3.5 yards per carry this season, but it’s only on a total of 17 carries. Last year he averaged 4.6, just outside the top-five for the season. Zeke is a special talent, but it doesn’t require a special talent to post big numbers behind the Cowboys’ offensive line. Frankly, the Cowboys would be playoff-bound even if it had been McFadden or Alfred Morris starting all season. There, I said it.
Start the guy running behind the Cowboys’ offensive line with confidence.
Not too much has changed here. The most consequential shift is Antonio Brown resting. This potentially opens up opportunities for some of the Steelers’ backup receivers, but with Roethlisberger also resting, is that opportunity worth anything? I’ll toss one quick name at you: Demarcus Ayers. He’s a receiver out of the University of Houston, who, in full disclosure, I absolutely loved coming out of college. However, his combine numbers were extremely unimpressive (4.72 40-yard dash, fifth percentile for receivers) and he’s been on the practice squad most of the year. My interest, aside from the fact that I think his game is better than his athletic profile suggests, comes from the fact he is physically very similar to Antonio Brown. Brown is 5’10” and 186 pounds. Ayers is 5’9” and 182. Brown’s combine was better than Ayers’, but not by much. Eli Rogers is deservedly getting a lot of attention as the Steelers wide receiver to roster this week, but I think Demarcus Ayers could be used by Pittsburgh to fill the Antonio Brown role – a role we know can be extremely productive.
OK, one more quick name: Brian Quick. It feels like Quick has been on the verge of a breakout his entire career. He’s still $2,900 on Fantasy Aces in what must be a pricing error (minimum for wide receivers is typically $3,000) and he’s set for a matchup with Arizona’s Brandon Williams, AKA the second worst-graded cornerback by Pro Football Focus (PFF). Williams been targeted on a league-high 30 percent of his routes covered and is surrendering 0.52 fantasy points per route, second-most. Kenny Britt is a little banged up and questionable after missing a couple of practices. If he can’t go, there’s a chance Patrick Peterson shadows Quick and ruins this. Ideally, Britt will play at less than 100 percent, draw Peterson, and leave Quick to soak up targets against Williams. Jared Goff still has to be able to get him the ball, of course, which is far from a sure thing. I warned you the risk was high with these plays.
Not much to report here. Travis Kelce should be the overwhelming chalk, for good reason. Literally anyone else should make for a strong pivot in terms of ownership, though this might be the place to stick with the chalk. Charles Clay is coming off a huge game, but now EJ Manuel is throwing to him, which dampens my enthusiasm significantly. Tyler Eifert is on IR, leaving CJ Uzomah and Tyler Kroft to take his targets. That’s about as exciting as it sounds.
There’s one guy whose increased opportunity tempts me and he may go completely overlooked: the outlaw, Jesse James. Ladarius Green is essentially ruled out for this game, handing over the primary tight end duties to James once again. The last game without Ladarius, James saw five targets and caught four of them for 49 yards against a much tougher Ravens defense. Add a touchdown to that line and you’ve got yourself a really solid TE punt for $3,800. We’re relying on Landry Jones to get him the ball, but against the putrid tight end defense of the Browns, even he should manage that. While they are bad everywhere, they are especially bad against tight ends and allow the most fantasy points per game to the position (13.58). Vegas still projects the Steelers to score a respectable 24.5 points; they are clearly not expecting the offense to struggle much against the Browns.
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