The Contrarian: FanDuel Week 17

Identifying underexposed players to create roster uniqueness in tournaments.

(The following intro was featured in The Fade. I felt it best described the season as it stands so I’m breaking my rule and using it here as well)

This is the part of the season we hate the most. It’s always unbelievable when we wake up on the last regular season Sunday of the year. Seems like it was just yesterday that Jeremy Hill cost us $8,600 and Devonta Freeman $6,300. Time, as they say, flies when you’re having fun.

DFS is fun. It’s fun to hunt under-owned plays in huge tournaments for a shot at winning large sums of cash. It’s fun to analyze salaries and design rosters around matchups and uniqueness. It’s fun to compete against our friends and strangers every weekend. Sometimes we’ll win. Sometimes we’ll lose. But, more often than not, we’ll have a great damn time.

It was fun to write this column every single week. But as you know, there’s a battle in New York going on, and in a lot of other states, that seek to end our fun. At this point, it’s difficult to see a positive outcome. So who knows if this column will even be necessary next year. Should that be the case, let me say that the feedback I have received over the course of the season from a lot the fantasy community has been humbling. That’s something the lawyers and politicians will never understand about our game: this is a team sport, and even if we’re playing against each other, we’re all on the same side. We’re all trying to get better. And, as the community strengthens—just as it has over the last several years—the crowd is getting smarter, the information is getting more sophisticated and the competition is as strong as it has ever been. The bottom line might be about profit/loss and ROI, because it has to be, but the value of the community can’t be priced.

One of the major components of our strategy is utilizing ownership data from early contests. (I do apologize for not initially having that info in this space last week—it was added after publication. Several of you reached out regarding that data, which I am very appreciative of. Just as a reminder, if ever there is a question about anything, or even a disagreement regarding any of my analysis, you can always reach me via the Twitter link at the bottom of the page. If you’re not of the social media type, Email works just as well: bonnema@footballguys.com) We don’t have that information available to us as every game is played on Sunday. Instead, we have a monster Sunday slate of 16 games, making Week 17 one of the most challenging of the season. Thankfully, most teams have something to play for, so we’re not as susceptible to coaches resting players as we have been in previous years. If you’re interested, here is an awesome, interactive look at the playoff picture for every team via The New York Times. That’s the best map we have towards projecting which players will be crowd favorites, and which of those we should fade.

And as much we love having ownership data, I do think we all get sucked into relying on it too much. The process here has never been to completely structure a roster around ownership percentages. Sometimes, those percentages need to be flat out ignored. Other times, they’re useful to help us recognize certain players we may not have otherwise considered. Sometimes they served as confirmation bias. All of it is secondary to building a solid lineup. This isn’t groundbreaking, but owning the players that score the most points always trumps uniqueness. This much is obvious. The data, like all stats, was super useful for a variety of reasons. But we can be successful without it.

With that in mind, be cautious in Week 17. I suspect there will be lots of folks panicking given that it’s the last regular season slate of the year and will be dumping loads of their bankrolls into tournaments, taking one last swing at a big payday. Couple that with some questionable matchups and we’re basically in variance hell.

Quarterbacks

Every now and then, we need to fire up Eli Manning and hope he delivers one of his 400-yard, three-score games that he seems to cobble together a few times each season. Week 17 looks like a solid bet. Manning and Co. will be at home to take on a broken Eagles defense that has allowed the second most touchdown passes and second most FanDuel points. On top of that, Odell Beckham Jr. will be back in the lineup and surely ready to shake off his suspension in style by whipping the Eagles secondary. There’s only pride at stake in this matchup, but for $7,500, Manning looks like a great value play that the crowd isn’t likely hip to.

Unlike the Giants, the Texans have everything to play for. A win over the Jaguars on Sunday and they are division champions. Enter Brian Hoyer and DeAndre Hopkins. The Jaguars have allowed the fourth most passing yards and fourth most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, and just recently allowed Drew Brees to dump 412 yards and three touchdowns on them. Hoyer is in a great spot here and his $6,900 salary allows us to stack him with Hopkins while also building a solid, well-rounded roster. In his 10 starts this season, Hoyer has averaged 235 yards per game and has tossed 18 touchdowns to six interceptions.

It’ll be interesting to see how the crowd handles Matt Ryan. As it stands, he ranks as QB19 in FanDuel scoring and has more turnovers than touchdowns. But he also has a glorious matchup at home against a Saints defense that delivers monster Sundays to our fantasy quarterbacks. Their 43 passing touchdowns allowed is nine more than the second-ranked Eagles. You don’t need us to tell you this a great spot for Ryan and Julio Jones to go ballistic. That stack, however, will cost us 28 percent of our cap. And it’s possible Devonta Freeman goes wild as well. So it’s worth noting that Manning and Hoyer are better plays.  

Running Backs

With Todd Gurley’s status for Sunday in doubt, Tre Mason instantly becomes the best value play of the weekend. The Rams are on the road to take on a 49ers defense that has allowed more rushing touchdowns than any other team and the fourth most yards. Mason hasn’t done much this year, so we should temper expectations to a certain degree, especially considering the offense he plays for. But he did show flashes of potential in limited fashion last season, such as in Week 13 against bad Raiders’ defense in which cranked out 164 total yards and three touchdowns. That, of course, is overly optimistic for his Week 17 tilt, but for $4,600, he gives a bounty to spend at other positions and pimp out our roster accordingly.

It’s always a risky to invest in a Patriots’ running back, especially one that’s in a fairly even timeshare. But even if Brandon Bolden has played the most snaps over their last three games, and even if Steven Jackson was recently signed, James White has a beautiful matchup against the Dolphins. We should expect Tom Brady and Co. to roll into Miami with every intention of blowing up the scoreboard after being upset last week. A win hands the Patriots the No. 1 seed—an invaluable asset in the playoffs. White stands to benefit from their fast-paced, pass-first attack. The Dolphins have allowed more receiving touchdowns to running backs than any other team and the most FanDuel points overall. White has 32 targets over the last four games—most of any Patriots player—and five red-zone looks over that span. The return of Danny Amendola might syphon some of that action away, but for $6,400, White is involved enough to return value.

With Bilal Powell’s status in doubt, Chris Ivory gets a huge bump against a shaky Bills defense. The Jets will secure a wild-card spot with a win, so we can expect an aggressive approach. Both Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall will be more than the Bills can handle. Losing Stephon Gilmore crippled their secondary, which means Ryan Fitzpatrick should have no trouble moving the ball. In the end, Ivory may not get 30 carries (unless the Jets blow them out, a small possibility) but he should have plenty of cracks at the end zone and plenty of open lanes as the Bills chase Decker and Marshall around. His $6,500 salary is well worth the temptation.

Wide Receivers

We suspect the crowd will still be shy about the Bengals’ offense with A.J. McCarron under center. As such, A.J. Green will likely be under-owned. It’s worth noting that he is our WR9 since Week 12 with 415 yards and five touchdowns during that time, even with McCarron under center for three of those game. Meanwhile, the Ravens defense has allowed the second most touchdowns to receivers and the third most FanDuel points overall. It also helps that the Bengals have a shot at the No. 2 seed and a first round bye, so they’ll play this game with a must-win attitude. The matchup and situation, and possible low ownership, makes Green a solid contrarian play. A McCarron/Green stack is also a unique look and one of the most affordable, high-ceiling stacks on the board.

The last time Larry Fitzgerald played the Seahawks he hauled in 10 of his 15 targets for 130 yards. That game turned into an unexpected shootout that blasted past its 43.5-point over/under in a Sunday night thriller. This time, Fitzgerald is at home and the Cardinals have a shot at locking up the No. 1 seed (in the unlikely event that the Buccaneers beat the Panthers, but a shot nonetheless). Vegas is giving the rematch a 47-point over/under and favoring the Cardinals by nearly a touchdown. This is good news for Fitzgerald, especially since he runs more slot and tight end routes—the most susceptible area of the Seahawks defense. We can expect Richard Sherman to cover Michael Floyd for most of this game, or John Brown should he not shadow, leaving Fitzgerald as the go-to for Carson Palmer.

It’s becoming painfully obvious that Terrance Williams is not good at football. He failed to get much going even with Dez Bryant injured. Bryant is out again for Week 17, leaving Williams as the No. 1 wide receiver for the Cowboys. He’ll need to prove that he’s worth a roster spot against a Washington secondary that has allowed the fourth most touchdowns and more points per reception than any other team. We always warn to protect your rosters from bad players regardless of the matchup, and that’s certainly the situation with Williams. But if you’re looking for an ultra-cheap option that gets the benefit of being the top target on his respective offense, then Williams and his $5,000 salary is for you. Just be warned that it’s possible he turns in another four-catch, sub 100-yard performance, especially in a meaningless game (Washington has nothing to play for). That said, if he manages to find the end zone for the first time since Week 11, he’s a lock to return value.

For $300 less we have Nelson Agholor. Like Williams, there’s a reason why Agholor will cost us less than several kickers. It’s been a horrible rookie season for him and missing some time didn’t help. An inconsistent offense didn’t help either. But now that Chip Kelly has been removed, it’ll be interesting to see what the Eagles do offensively to close out the season. It could be that they do squat. But we like this meaningless division game to be high-scoring. So does Vegas, as they have it pegged as our second highest over/under of the week. The Giants have allowed the most receptions and second most yards to wide receivers. Jordan Matthews has the best matchup here, and the crowd will likely flock to him, but Agholor and his $4,700 salary are worth contrarian considerations.

Tight Ends

Jacob Tamme has vanished. And it’s difficult to say when we’ll see him again. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 8 and has 58 total yards over his last four games. To label him as a risky fantasy bet is an understatement. But if ever there were a week for him to pick things back up, it’s Week 17 against the Saints. As you already know, the Saints defense is bad at everything. No team has allowed more yards to tight ends and only the Lions have allowed more touchdowns. We know that Tamme is capable turning in big stat lines; we saw some of that in the middle of the season. In fact, going into their Week 10 bye, Tamme was our TE13. He’s a nice punt play for $4,900.

The Bears are hosting a meaningless game against the Lions and will be without their best receiver (Alshon Jeffery has been placed on I.R.). Martellus Bennett has also been placed on I.R. This might be a situation where the Bears are going to see if Zach Miller is the tight end of the future. He has soft enough matchup. In short, only two other teams have allowed more FanDuel points and no team has allowed more touchdowns. Miller is a great play regardless of meaningless games or ownership percentages.

Defense

The Colts, as of Friday, still haven’t decided who their quarterback is going to be. The Titans defense is horrible, but they have a shot at hitting value since they’ll cost us just $4,100. An even better play might be the Colts’ defense, who have averaged 9.5 FanDuel points per game since their Week 10 bye. The Titans offense is averaging 10 points per game over their last three.

Similar to the Colts/Titans game, both Washington’s and Dallas’s defenses are in play. It’s possible that Washington pulls their starters since this game is meaningless, so the Cowboys defense could enjoy the benefit of playing a second-string offense. Conversely, the Cowboys offense will be without Dez Bryant and will feature Kellen Moore, who is averaging 172 yards a game and has thrown four interceptions to just one touchdown. This game looks like a dud.