This season I am going to be taking a slightly different approach to the standard “play these guys” articles that are readily available across the industry. Instead what I am going to do is basically walk through my thought process as I am building my lineups so hopefully you not only learn who to start this week but continue to refine your analysis and lineup building skills. If you haven’t read my preseason series on how to transition to DFS you should do so to get an understanding of my approach to DFS Here are parts 1, 2, and 3. In that series there are two key things to think about on a weekly basis as we are setting our cash lineups. First of all, I challenge you to come up with your cash game plays before you read my article or any other articles. This gets you to critically think about every position before you start to get swayed by public opinion. Secondly, if you recall I am a strong proponent of playing multiple cash lineups. As such I will discuss the key plays of the week as well as who your secondary options should include.
Week 17 is the most difficult week for cash games because so many of the players and teams have unknown motivations heading into the game. Several teams have clinched playoff spots and have no changes that can occur in their seeding. These teams will be resting their starters like the Steelers or they will be playing them only a fraction of the game. These are the best situations because we know how the players and teams are thinking. They really don’t care about the game and they have let us know that. You can play the backups with confidence that they will get playing time. The problem is that they are backups for a reason and aren’t normally that good.
Another easy situation is the teams that need to win to make the playoffs. Which includes teams like the Green Bay, Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Washington. These teams are fully motivated and will play just like any other week. Some people make the mistake in thinking that these teams will play harder than normal and you should rely heavily on them but that is a mistake. Players play hard all year long and won’t be able to play materially harder this week. So don’t expect players from these teams to play at super levels. But we should still lean heavily on these players as we know they will be playing at their full capacity.
The other situations get a little trickier. First of all those teams that have been eliminated for quite some time such as the 49ers should play the same as they have played all season long. They have no reason to play any differently. They have been eliminated for quite some time and we know who they are. Teams that just got eliminated are a little trickier. They had their hopes up for a playoff spot and have just been eliminated in the last week or two. These teams are often very disappointed with how the season finished up and as such tend to have a big letdown during week 17. The Colts are a prime example of this and we can see this playing out in Vegas already as they opened as a 7 point favorite and have fallen all the way to a 4.5 point favorite despite no big changes to the roster. I have a tough time trusting these types of teams.
Finally, the trickiest teams are those that have already clinched a playoff spot but they have the opportunity to win something extra such as a bye. My general approach with these teams is to play each one on a team by team basis and try to read into the situation and coach speak as much as possible. You shouldn’t assume that moving up a seed spot is worth it to the teams to play full steam ahead. In fact most of these teams I would assume are going to be taking their starters out at some point in the game. The main exception are those teams that have a chance at a bye. Most teams feel like a bye is worth playing for, but even that isn’t fully guaranteed for a full game and once a game gets out of hand they will quickly be benched.
The three best quarterbacks this week are Aaron Rodgers ($8,800), Matt Ryan ($8,700), and Russel Wilson ($7,600). All three quarterbacks should be fully motivated. The Packers have won 5 straight games and are one of the hotter teams heading towards the playoffs but they need to get in before they can make a run in the playoffs. Rodgers is coming off a huge game last week where he threw for 347 yards and four touchdowns and won several people tournaments. Rodgers and the Packers better play has come along with Jordy Nelson getting healthier and better separation from his defenders. I expect the Packers passing game to be successful against the Lions despite their own personal motivations as the Lions pass defense has been suspect all year long and are the fifth weakest in the league.
The other two have a little less certainty as they both have already clinched their playoff spots and are just playing for seeding. On the plus side they are playing for a bye and most teams prefer to play their bye in the playoffs than the last week of the season. Ryan will have less risk because if they win the game they will win the two seed and get the bye so they should be playing for the win all game. The biggest risk will be if the game is locked up they will start to pull their starters and you could end up with less than a full game. This isn’t super likely though as they have a matchup against Drew Brees ($8,200) and the Saints who will likely be able to put up plenty of points against this Falcons defense. In a high scoring game and Ryan likely playing the full game you should feel fine playing Ryan and even Brees isn’t a bad pivot.
Wilson has the most risk of the three options because the Seahawks will have no hesitation to bench Wilson if the Seahawks get far ahead, far behind, or the Saints get far ahead. The most likely scenario in a game against the 49ers is that the Seahawks build up a big lead and Wilson ends up not playing in the fourth quarter. This will likely allow Wilson to get cash value which is what we are looking for but it would make me limit my exposure in GPP and make me less than fully comfortable going too heavily on him even in cash games in case they run the first few scores in.
This week the Steelers have already said that they will be inactivating LeVeon Bell so we have to stop relying so heavily on him unfortunately but it has been a heck of a run! Our other partner in crime has been David Johnson ($9,300) who gets a prime matchup against the Rams. The Cardinals have nothing left to play for and should limit Johnson’s touches but they have shown any indication of doing so thus far in the season as he added another 32 touches last week including 28 carries. I will be trying to read the tea leaves carefully over the next few days and if there is any indication that the Cardinals will limit Johnson’s exposure I will reduce my exposure but as of now I will include Johnson in at least some of my cash games. Johnson is the perfect example of why you should limit your cash game play in week 17 because if the team is smart they will limit Johnson but we just can’t be sure at this point.
Since taking over as the lead back in week 14 Bilal Powell he has hit cash value 2 of 3 weeks and in those two successful weeks he absolutely crushed value. In each of those games the Jets have relied heavily on Powell as evidenced by his 15, 16, and 29 carries as well as 2, 11, and 5 receptions. The Jets are going to be facing the Bills who are going to end the season with yet another 6 to 9 win season like just about every one of the last 10 years. They have already said they are sitting Tyrod Taylor due to an injury clause in his contract which makes me think that the rest of the team will be less motivated than normally. I expect Powell to hit value once again.
Jacquizz Rodgers ($5,200) and Spencer Ware ($7,200) will fill out my rosters. Ware should be relied on heavily against a suspect Chargers defense in a game that the Chiefs should care about and Rodgers has been a workhorse when given a chance as evidenced by his 15 carries last week and carries of 19, 26, and 30 back in weeks 5-8.
Julio Jones ($8,300) and Doug Baldwin ($7,100) are in the same good situation that Ryan and Wilson are that we talked about earlier. Both should be highly motivated for a win and relied upon heavily to do so. Jones was limited to only 62% of his team’s snaps last week in his first week back so you should be a bit careful with him but they really didn’t need him as they carved up the Panthers 33-16. This week the Falcons will want to make sure they win in order to give Jones an extra week of time off before their playoff run starts. Also as mentioned above I expect the Falcons to be able to carve up the Saints defense and Jones to be a big beneficiary. The biggest risk for Jones is that he is going to be one of the first players pulled if the game gets out of hand.
Baldwin is coming off a career high 13 catches for 171 yards on 19 targets. He was the primary beneficiary of the Tyler Lockett injury who is going to miss again this week. Baldwin proved to be one of the few targets that Wilson really had comfort in and with a bye on the line I expect him to lean heavily on him once again. Similar to my concerns with Wilson my biggest fear for Baldwin is that the game gets out of hand early which ends Baldwin’s day early.
Jordy Nelson ($8,200) and Golden Tate ($5,700) are in the best spots of the Sunday night showdown between the Packers and Lions which as mentioned above should be the game where we know the motivations of the teams the most clearly. Nelson has been on fire of late having received 10+ targets in six of his last eight games and reached cash game value in 5 of those games which is outstanding for a wide receiver of his cost. Not to mention his tournament winning 9-154-2 line that he put up last week. With the playoffs on the line expect Rodgers to zero in on Nelson more than ever. The Lions pass defense has been very susceptible to the pass allowing 6.9 NY/A which is the fifth worst in the league which makes Nelson very interesting as well.
When the Lions have the ball my favorite target is Tate who had a disappointing week 16 against an unmotivated Cowboys but before that had three straight double digit target games and surpassed 100 yards in two of them. Similar to Nelson, Tate draws a great matchup as the Packers represent a great matchup for Tate as they have allowed the fourth most yards per attempt at 7.0.
If you are finishing off your teams with very little money left over you could simply go with Eli Rogers who at ($4,700) is going to be one of the most heavily targeted players on the Steelers with most of the team resting. While the game isn’t important for the Steelers it is a good opportunity for Rogers to prove his value to the team.
At tight end the chalk play of the week will be Antonio Gates ($5,800). The Chargers are out of the playoffs playing a team in the Chiefs that are motivated to win a first round bye and have shut down tight ends all year thanks to Eric Berry’s great season. But Gates is chasing the all-time tight end touch down record so many people are assuming that he will be force fed in order to break the record. I think this is certainly a legitimate scenario as player incentives are one of the biggest motivators in week 17, especially if they involve records or bonuses, but this one is a tough one to completely buy into. First of all, as mentioned the Chiefs are motivated to win the two seed and have a very stingy defense against tight ends. Additionally, they know that the Chargers want to get Gates the record so they will shadow him tighter than normal. Over the last few weeks this has been a successful strategy and Gates only has 1 touchdown in the last four weeks. Gates also mentioned this week that he plans to play next year. This takes some of the pressure off him getting the record this week. Finally, the current record holder is Tony Gonzalez and while I don’t think that materially changes the odds of a Gates TD it does lessen the chance of them just giving him a touchdown if the game gets out of hand. I will have some exposure to Gates but the other tight end in this game, Travis Kelce ($6,800) who has topped 100 yards in five of his last six games is my preferred option as the Chiefs go to their best receiver early and often in a big game.
Kickers and Defense
At kicker you should simply go with the motivated offenses and call it a day. Matt Bryant ($5,300), Stephen Gostkowski ($4,700), Steven Hauschka ($4,700), and Cairo Santos ($4,600) should give you plenty of options.
On the other hand defense is a bit of a bigger challenge due to pricing issues and most of the motivated teams being in higher scoring games. Seattle ($5,200) makes for a good option against the 49ers but are priced up decently higher than most of the other options. It makes sense to pay for Seattle to some degree though. The Bears and Rams continue to be good targets which makes the Vikings ($4,600) and Cardinals ($4,700) intriguing options but they have limited motivations. Even so Barkley and Goff are bad enough that I will take a semi motivated defense against them.