Week 17 Rankings & Game Flowbotics
As a relatively conservative fantasy player, I’m not a huge fan of the wonky swings brought about in the final week of the NFL season. Only a handful of teams have something to play for, so if you’re setting championship-hopeful lineups or playing Week 17 DFS, you need to be extra careful in your analysis. In the Week 17 Game Flowbotics spreadsheet, I’ve color-coded the team abbreviations at the top of each matchup to show which teams still have something to play for:
Editor’s Note: If you need a primer on the Flowbotics spreadsheet, check out this previous rankings article.
The indications of who is eliminated, who is playing for the playoffs, and who is locked into playoff seeds is based on this handy playoff picture breakdown from Sports Illustrated. Here’s the short of it:
- The Eagles, Jaguars, and Chiefs are locked into their seeds and have nothing to play for.
- The Vikings should wind up with the NFC’s second seed and a bye. A win against Chicago would guarantee it.
- The Rams can finish as the third or fourth seed in the NFC, but coach Sean McVay is planning to rest his starters.
- The Steelers and Patriots have clinched byes, but either team can get the first seed. If both teams win, the Patriots clinch home field.
- The Panthers and Saints have clinched playoff spots, but either team can wind up a wild card. If both teams win, the Saints will win the NFC South and host a home playoff game in Week 18.
- The other teams in NFC wild card contention are the Falcons and Seahawks. If the Falcons win, the Seahawks are out.
- The Ravens and Titans can clinch AFC wild cards spots with Week 17 wins. The Bills and Chargers are also in the wild card hunt, but need help from other teams to advance.
- All other teams (highlighted in red on the Game Flowbotics spreadsheet) are already eliminated from the playoffs.
With so many teams playing for nothing, including some with draft-based incentive to lose, we’re sure to see a ton of surprising names making big impacts in Week 17 box scores. With that in mind, take any set of Week 17 rankings with an extra large grain of salt and be sure to monitor player news up to game time for surprise inactives. My Week 17 rankings are a short mouse scroll or touchscreen swipe away, but for the space between, let’s break down the most meaningful matchups of the week and other fantasy implications related to the overall playoff picture.
Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons
This is the only game on the Week 17 slate with playoff implications for both teams, but Atlanta clearly needs the game more. The Panthers are already in the playoffs, and a win for them against the Falcons would only matter if the Saints lose to the lowly Buccaneers. Furthermore, a loss for Atlanta opens up the door for the Seahawks to sneak into the playoffs. The Panthers probably won’t admit having a preference, and maybe they’d rather face Seattle because Atlanta is a divisional opponent with more experience against Carolina, but in a vacuum, I would much rather face the Falcons in the postseason than Russell Wilson and company. Furthermore, the Falcons improving their record would mean landing a slightly worse pick in the upcoming draft, which would help the Panthers long-term outlook ever so slightly. I doubt Carolina cares much about a minor difference in pick for Atlanta, but preference in potential playoff opponents seems important.
If we could count on both teams to play at full intensity, this would have makings of a good matchup. Atlanta has a pretty good offense (8th in DVOA), and Carolina has a pretty good defense (also 8th in DVOA). On the other side of the ball, Carolina’s offense has been playing better lately (15th in DVOA, 10th in weighted DVOA), but so has Atlanta’s defense (23rd in DVOA, 20th in weighted DVOA). The Vegas line favors the Falcons because they’re at home and because there are questions about how much effort we’ll see from Carolina’s starters.
The Panthers’ lack of depth on offense is a double-edged narrative. Devin Funchess hasn’t looked 100% for a couple weeks, and they just lost Damiere Byrd to injured reserve. Either Carolina sticks with their starters in Week 17 because they don’t have much else to compete with, or they rest their starters for some portion of the game to ensure a healthy front line heading into the playoffs. The argument for resting starters is strongest for Cam Newton. Carolina can’t win without him in the playoffs, so why risk an injury to Newton in Week 17? I imagine Cam will start and play at least part of the game, but a relatively quick hook for Derek Anderson wouldn’t surprise me, especially if the out of town scoreboard hints at a New Orleans win.
My doubts about Cam’s game-long availability will likely steer me toward other quarterback options in DFS. By proxy, that will probably push me off most other offensive players for Carolina as well. Running backs Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey might be the key exceptions. If the Panthers aim to keep Cam healthy with fewer designed runs, that would mean more opportunities for their rushers against Atlanta’s 25th-ranked rush defense by DVOA. The Falcons also rate poorly against backs as receivers, allowing 8.7 passes and 52.4 yards per game to the position (league averages are 7.3 passes and 44.2 yards per game). Carolina’s backfield is a time share at a base level, though, and that creates it’s own host of problems for forecasting usage. Do the Panthers rest Stewart more because he has more existing mileage, or do they rest McCaffrey because his body is still adjusting to the length of an NFL season? These are the types of frustrating waters we’ll wade through in Week 17.
Picking offensive players from Atlanta’s side of the ball should be business as usual. If anything, the values of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman might be a little higher than normal because Carolina might deploy a more conservative approach in the matchup. The Panthers’ defensive line ranks first in Adjusted Sack Rate, but if their foot isn’t on the gas, Matt Ryan will have more time behind his 8th-ranked offensive line to find open receivers. In the end, though, this is a divisional game and the Panthers strike me as a prideful team. I’m more concerned about Carolina resting starters than I am about a potential lack of effort. Atlanta’s players will need to work for their fantasy stats. The big question is whether they’ll be working against starters or second-stringers from Carolina.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans
Despite having nothing to play for, Jags coach Doug Marrone claims his starters will play on Sunday. This is another divisional game, and it makes sense for Jacksonville to try to establish momentum for the playoffs after losing to San Francisco last week, but using all normal starters for a meaningless contest is asinine. Giving Blake Bortles reps in Week 17 is fine, but players nursing injuries like Leonard Fournette and Marqise Lee should be riding the bench with nothing at stake. This presents potential buying opportunities for Jaguars lower on the depth chart like Keelan Cole, DeDe Westbrook, Jaydon Mickens, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant, and maybe Chris Ivory. Still, the Jaguars’ 17.5-point implied total indicates a lack of ceiling across the board. You’re likely better served attacking other matchups than grasping at straws with Jacksonville’s second string.
Tennessee’s outlook depends greatly on how many defensive starters rest for Jacksonville. The Jaguars rank second in defensive DVOA and fourth in weighted DVOA, but you can throw those rankings out the window if players like Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye don’t play. If the Titans’ wide receiver matchups get easier on the outside, that could really open things up for those running backs and tight ends. DeMarco Murray’s MCL tear should keep him out of this game, or at least limit his snaps. Meanwhile, Derrick Henry is the 30th-most expensive running back in FanDuel’s Superflex DFS contests. He should receive a featured workload in a must-win game against Jacksonville’s 29th-ranked rush defense. All aboard the hype train to Chalksville!
Backup QB Showcase
Pat Mahomes will start for the Chiefs. I’m excited to see how he does, but I have tempered expectations for the rookie against Denver’s 10th-ranked defense. Yes, the Broncos have been playing worse on defense lately (13th in weighted defensive DVOA), but they have a real rivalry with Kansas City, and Mahomes will likely be without his team’s best skill position players for some portion of the game.
Sean Mannion will start for the Rams and Landry Jones will start for the Steelers. Dumpster diving at quarterback in daily fantasy can work, but with so many low-salary options available at other positions, we don’t necessarily need to seek out the cheapest possible passers. It’s better to pay up for more reliable signal-callers.
Paxton Lynch isn’t one of those reliable options, but it seems he will play over Brock Osweiler. Lynch may not be fully healthy, and he’s probably just not very good, so his involvement in Week 17 might impact whether or not you want to use Demaryius Thomas or C.J. Anderson. Anderson’s value feels safe to me, but I’d avoid Thomas if Lynch starts.
In the remaining games, I have concerns that any of Case Keenum, Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, Bryce Petty, Andy Dalton, and DeShone Kizer could all sit down mid-game in favor of their backups. The Vikings should turn from Keenum to Teddy Bridgewater once their fate is sewn up. I noted the stupidity of Doug Marrone playing his starters above, but like a preseason game, we should see Bortles cede playing time to Chad Henne at some point. If Carson Wentz were still healthy, it would make sense to sit him this week, but Nick Foles probably needs the in-game reps, so I expect him to play most of Philly’s game against Dallas. If Foles does sit, Nate Sudfeld is the backup quarterback of brotherly love. Petty, Dalton, and Kizer likely aren’t in the long-term plans of their franchises, so we might catch glimpes of Christian Hackenberg, A.J. McCarron, Kevin Hogan, or Cody Kessler, but viewer beware! Once you see them, you can’t un-see them.
Otherwise, there is surely plenty of other insanity in store for us in Week 17. I’ve tried to be rational with my rankings for the slate, but things are probably going to go all sorts of sideways once the games are in motion. Good luck in Week 17, and thanks for all your support this season.