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: email@example.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.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Ben Roethlisberger ends up as the highest owned quarterback in Week 17. He has a cake matchup against the Cleveland Browns and their forgiving secondary. Only four teams have allowed more passing touchdowns and their nine interceptions ranks near the bottom of the NFL. The last time these two teams met, he came off of the bench and dropped 379 yards and three touchdowns on them. But the thing working against Roethlisberger this time is game script. We’d be a lot more comfortable with this game if Johnny Manziel were starting, simply because he adds explosiveness to the Browns offense. As it stands, Austin Davis will be under center. As such, the Steelers are big favorites on the road. Expecting a high-volume passing attack just isn’t logical, even if the Browns have been playing much better run defense lately. The Steelers are in a must-win situation, so if the Browns do put up a fight, Roethlisberger could finish as QB1. But that’s asking a lot. His $8,800 salary is tough to justify.
With a win, the Panthers can lock up the No. 1 seed and secure home-field advantage for the duration of the playoffs. Last week they took their first loss during which Cam Newton scored his fewest FanDuel points (14.28) since Week 1. It would have been a tragedy of a day had he not chipped in rushing touchdown. This week he returns home to take on a division rival that has allowed the 16th most FanDuel points per game to quarterbacks. In truth, we don’t need to overanalyze matchups with players like him. He’s mostly immune to game scripts, especially at home:
Cam Newton's fantasy finishes in home games this year: QB4, QB3, QB14, QB12, QB1, QB1, QB5.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) December 31, 2015
Here’s the thing: he let a lot people down in last week—of all weeks, the worst possible timing. It makes us wonder if people will be shy this week. Recency bias at its finest. Fire up the MVP without concern.
The last time the Seahawks and Cardinals played, the over/under was set at 43.5 points. The two teams combined for 71 points with the Cardinals edging the Seahawks by a score of 39-32. It was one of the most exciting Sunday Night Football games of the year. Seven weeks later, we have a rematch in Arizona. This time, the over/under is 47 points with the Cardinals decent favorites (-6.5). It’s tough to say how the crowd will play this one. I’m staying away from both Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer. This one strikes me as a defensive struggle for at least one of these teams. My money is on the Cardinals defense keeping the Seahawks offense grounded. If the Cardinals win, they’ll still need the Panthers to lose in order to secure the No. 1 seed. If the Cardinals lose, they’ll still be the No. 2 seed no matter what. The Seahawks can improve their seeding but a road game is immanent. In the end, there’s just not enough at stake for either team to go full-blast. I’ll take the under look for higher ceilings at quarterback.
We can confidently say that DeAngelo Williams and Devonta Freeman will be the two highest owned running backs this week. Both have electric matchups and both are capable of laying solid stat lines. Williams is of particular interest. As mentioned with Roethlisberger, this is a game that the Steelers are huge favorites and could win handily. Riding Williams to a victory seems likely. The Browns, after all, have allowed more rushing yards than any other team. But here’s what they’ve allowed in their last seven games:
That’s 14.1 fantasy points per game allowed across 19 running backs, including Williams himself, who flopped in Week 10 with just 7.4 points. The Browns haven’t allowed a single 100-yard game since Chris Johnson’s 109-yard effort in Week 8. The silver lining, however, exists in the level of competition they’ve faced. This list of running backs hardly features a collection of dominate runners. To that end, Williams has proven capable of gashing any run defense. See Baltimore last week or the Bengals in Week 14. Feel free to fire up Williams as a loss leader.
Freeman, fantasy’s No 1 scoring running back, has the best matchup on the board. The Saints defense is just atrocious at every angle. No team has allowed more total yards to running backs and only two have allowed more FanDuel points. Freeman is effective both as a between the tackles grinder, and a check-down pass-catcher. His 71 receptions and 560 receiving yards both rank third among running backs. This is ideal, as the Saints have allowed more receiving yards to runners than any other team. Neither team in this contest has anything play for. But it doesn’t matter. Even though we hate paying up for running backs, this is a great week to roll out both Williams and Freeman while taking a discount elsewhere.
Todd Gurley has played only 13 games this year yet ranks sixth in the standings. Over the last three weeks he has 318 yards and four touchdowns. His exposure will be undoubtedly high come Sunday. The matchup is a blessing; the Rams are on the road to San Francisco to take on a team that has allowed more touchdowns to running backs than any other team (tied with the Dolphins) and the second most FanDuel points. We’d be a lot more comfortable if this game were in St. Louis, especially since the Rams offense is tough to trust, but Gurley is in a great spot here. The only reason to fade him is because both Williams and Freeman, in our estimation, are better plays for the same price.
After last week’s monster performance, it’s likely the crowd will flock to Tim Hightower and his friendly $7,000 salary. He’ll be on the road against an Atlanta Falcons defense that has allowed the most receptions and fifth most receiving yards to running backs this season, and the second most total touchdowns. Hightower has caught seven of his eight targets for 88 yards since taking over as the lead back in Week 14. He’s also our fourth ranked running back during that time with 349 total yards and three touchdowns. But the cause for concern here is usage. We’ve seen him get suffocated by negative game scripts in the past, such as in Week 15. It’s possible Atlanta builds a lead, thanks the Saints atrocious defense, and Travaris Cadet ends up playing a significant amount of passing downs. That said, this game features our highest over/under of the week and it’s entirely possible Hightower finds the end zone at least once.
Looking over the rankings and matchups, there’s just no logical reason to fade Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins or Odell Beckham Jr. I doubt Jones hauls in 17 receptions against the Saints, but that’s how many it would take for him to have most all time in a single season (Marvin Harrison’s 143 in 2002 rank first). He needs just three climb into second place. The Saints defense, as you know, is bad.
Not that we need to study matchups when it comes to Hopkins, but the last time he played the Jaguars we clocked them with 10 receptions for 148 yards and two touchdowns. This time, the Texans are at home and a win hands them the division title.
You think Beckham wants to finish strong after a pathetic display in Week 15 that got him suspended for one game? Yes, the narrative is in place. It helps that the Eagles defense is getting blown up by No. 1 types this season, and have allowed the third most touchdowns to wide receivers.
Surely, given the situation and plus matchup, Antonio Brown will be a hot commodity. The Browns have allowed the seventh most FanDuel points to receivers, and the Steelers are in a must-win road game. And surely, fantasy’s No. 1 receiver won’t lay two duds in a row. But we’re going to stick with the theme that this is Williams’ game and fade Brown for the likes of Jones, Hopkins or Beckham.
Brandon Marshall’s salary is the highest it has been since Week 13 of the 2012 season. Since Week 12, he is our second highest scoring receiver. This week he travels to Buffalo with his team in control of their own playoff berth. A win gets them in. The Bills secondary is exploitable with Stephen Gilmore out for the season. But so is their run defense. We can expect a balance approach from the Jets offense, even if their defense struggles a little. It’s possible Marshall has a monster game two weeks in a row, but his $8,600 salary is nearly prohibitive, given the Jets other options. For that matter, Eric Decker, for $7,400, might be the better play.
I can’t imagine the likes of Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson having much exposure to end the season. But just in case, be sure to fade this game outright. The Bears and Lions have both been eliminated and neither features an offense worthy of a GPP investment. I can see there being some temptation to roll out Matthew Stafford, given the Bears’ inability to shutdown quarterbacks, but again, this game has dud written all over it, especially with Alshon Jeffery out.
Over his last five games, Jeremy Maclin has 422 yards and five touchdowns—good enough for WR7. His involvement in the offense makes his floor reasonable in most weeks. The last time he faced the Raiders he punched nine receptions on 10 targets for 95 yards and two scores. But it’s worth noting that the Raiders have played very well against receivers otherwise, ranking 20th in points allowed with just nine touchdowns surrendered (the fifth fewest). It’s also worth noting that the Chiefs have a chance to win their division with a victory and a Chargers win over the Broncos. These two games will be played simultaneously, so you have to think Alex Smith and Co. will take on the attitude of must-win and keep their foot on the gas. So we should expect Maclin to be involved as normal. However, if they fall way behind for some reason, and the scoreboard shows the Broncos way ahead for some reason, it’s possible the Chiefs let up and protect themselves from injury. Not that those concerns should push us away from his friendly $7,100 salary, but we can get a lot more for our money by looking a little deeper in the ranks and avoiding a potentially poor game script.
It’s difficult to say how popular Rob Gronkowski will be in Week 17. His salary makes it almost impossible break even from a value standpoint and still build a competitive roster. The good news is that the Patriots can lock up the No. 1 seed with a victory, so they’ll be running their usual offense. But there are a few other great plays this week at tight end for thousands less than what Gronkowski will cost us.
Greg Olsen, for example, is $1,500 less and represents a large chunk of Carolina’s offense. As mentioned with Newton, the Panthers, just like the Patriots, can lock up the No. 1 seed with a victory. Expect Olsen to be busy as usual. If you need one, he is the best reason to fade Gronkowski.
The most popular tight end Sunday might very well be Zach Ertz. His 37 targets over the last three weeks would be enough fourth in the NFL, just behind Demaryrius Thomas, Jarvis Landry and Brown. His 26 receptions over that timeframe ties him with Landry for the second most. In short, he has been the second highest scoring tight end over the last three weeks. What’s difficult to project is how the Eagles’ offense will respond after Chip Kelly’s outing, especially since both of these teams have been eliminated and have nothing more than pride to play for. The matchup for Ertz is spectacular; the Giants have allowed the second most fantasy points to tight ends on the season and haven’t a linebacker or safety capable of covering him. Ownership and offensive coaching concerns aside, his $5,700 salary is impossible to fade.
The Denver Broncos defense will likely see a high ownership rate on Sunday. There’s a lot on the line in this game. A win delivers them a first round bye. A loss could send them tumbling as far as the No. 6 seed. Lucky for them, they’ll host a Chargers team that scored only three points against them the last time they played. But Philip Rivers is a competitor who would love to send his division rival down a tricky road in the playoffs. And it’s not as if the Broncos defense has been a fantasy savior lately. They’ve scored just 18 total points over the last three weeks. In fact, since their Week 8 bye, they are averaging seven FanDuel points per game—and that includes a 23-point performance against the Chargers in Week 13. Fade.
Both the Bengals and the Chiefs will be crowd favorites. Of the two, the Bengals looks the best on paper. They’ll be at home against an awful Ravens squad that has averaged 13.25 points per game over their last four. If you’re going to pay up for a highly exposed defense, the Bengals look like a most likely to return value.
The Panthers will also be a hot pick. It was just a few weeks ago that they held the Falcons scoreless. But still have allowed 23 points per game over the last four weeks despite that zero. Division games are always tough to predict, especially with an erratic offense like the Buccaneers. We’d rather roll out the Chiefs or Bengals.