DraftKings Sunday Games Roundtable: Week 17

A look behind the curtain at a staff discussion pertaining to Week 17 DraftKings topics

This week, we'll discuss the following topics:

Week 17 Strategy

In general, what is your Week 17 DFS strategy? Do you play less than usual because of the unpredictability of some teams playing for nothing? Do you play your same amount but focus most of your energy on teams with something at stake?

John Mamula: For Week 17, you need to target teams that still have motivation along with a high team total. By this point of the season, some players and teams have given up on the season and are going through the motions in a "U-Haul" game. Many players' minds are on vacation. If you can determine which teams and players are still playing with motivation, then half the battle is won. I play significantly less than usual in Week 17 due to the fact that many teams will be resting players. This season, it seems as though we have more teams playing for the playoffs or seeding than in past years. I recommend targeting matchups with teams that still have something to play for.

John Lee: As John already discussed, the key to winning DFS in Week 17 is to identify teams and players that are playing motivated football to close the season. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to win their game against the Browns (and get help from a Jets loss) to make the playoffs, so you can bet that we will see Mike Tomlin roll out his best players for all four quarters; meanwhile, Washington has already wrapped up the NFC East title, have no incentive to win their game against the Cowboys, and will likely pull their starters sometime in the second quarter. Fortunately, the NFL has done a very good job of timing the games this weekend in such a way that 1:00pm games should not dramatically affect how the motivation of teams playing in the later slate; this, alone, should help elevate the quality of football we see this weekend.

Another thing I look for later in the season, particularly in Week 17, is for coaches to give untested players additional opportunities in what are otherwise meaningless games. This weekend, we should see older players (like Zach Miller) working hard to keep their starting positions in 2016; likewise, coaches are more apt to give young, unproven players (i.e., the Cowboys' Brice Butler) additional looks in the offense to take stock of their talent entering the off-season. In each instance, we should see a lot of motivation from those individuals fighting for jobs next season -- the key, of course, is to accurately identify those situations and the players involved.

Regarding my DFS play for Week 17, I will definitely cut down on my typical volume because, no matter how much one researches regarding motivation and opportunity, there will still be surprises. I will probably play about 30-50% of my normal volume and will skew my play more towards GPPs because I think I can identify low-owned players with upside more accurately than the run-of-the-mill DFS player in a week where lesser-name players could thrive. Furthermore, there will be less edge in cash games because the obvious plays (i.e., DeAngelo Williams) in Week 17 are more pronounced with fewer "safe" situations.

Dan Hindery: Last season, I played my normal volume in Week 17 and did terribly. Dallas was playing at Washington last year and had no real incentive to play any of their starters. Winning or losing wouldn’t have had any impact on their seeding, and they were likely to be playing Wild Card weekend. With that in mind, I didn’t roster any Cowboys despite the juicy matchup and went heavier than I otherwise would have on Redskins players. Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray combined for over 200 yards and three touchdowns and Dallas won 44-17.

As John said, even if you’ve done your homework and you know what every team has to play for, it’s still no guarantee that you really know what the coaches will be thinking. They may say they are playing everyone as normal and decide at halftime to pull the starters. Or they may unexpectedly play their stars for most of the game even with nothing to gain in terms of seeding. It’s definitely more of a crapshoot than most weeks.

With the inherent uncertainty, John’s approach of playing only half your normal amount is the smart one. But I won’t lie and say that I’ll personally proceed with caution. I will play my usual weekly volume because it’s going to be a long time until we’ll have a full slate of NFL games and who knows what the future holds legally for DFS.

Chris Feery: I’ll cut my volume back to about 50% for Week 17 due to the overall uncertainty and focus on GPPs with a couple of lineups. As the others have mentioned, part of my focus will be on looking for teams and players with something to play for and avoiding situations where there’s a good probability that starters will be pulled early. On the something-to-play-for front, the Jets and Steelers offenses offer plenty of upside, while there’s a good chance that Washington will pull the reigns back and looks like a situation to be avoided. Once I have my shortlist of players to focus on from the above scenarios, I’ll move on to games involving teams that have been eliminated and look for the high-upside players in good matchups. For Week 17, we don’t have to look too far as the two highest projected scoring games of the week involve eliminated teams: Saints at Falcons and Eagles at Giants. There are plenty of options from both matchups, but I’ll probably lean towards having some exposure to Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr as my main focus for these games.

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“Meaningless” Games

New Orleans-Atlanta is tied for the highest over/under of the week. But neither team has any postseason motivation. Diagnose what you'll do with this game.

Will you stay away? Will you target it lightly (just a player or two across a couple different lineups)? Or will you go after it heavily thinking that a lack of motivation could simply be on the defensive sides?

John Lee: I am not a big fan of describing a game as "meaningless" unless it truly is. And the New Orleans-Atlanta game does not fall into that category. There are players on the Falcons and Saints, whose jobs are on the line when these teams meet in Atlanta this weekend. The coaching staff, scouting teams, and administration will be making final assessments of their personnel leading into the off-season; there are players like Drew Brees, who are playing for big contract extensions, players like Brandon Browner, Tim Hightower, and Roddy White, who will be doing their best to stay in the NFL, and players like Brandon Coleman, who are campaigning for starting positions in 2016. In other words, none of those players look at this game as meaningless and will be playing like it's opening weekend.

If oddsmakers in Las Vegas see this game as a 52-point scoring fest, I will have significant exposure to the players involved, including Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, DeVonta Freeman, Willie Snead IV, and Hightower, among others. Each of those players represents solid value based on their respective salaries and matchups.

A truly meaningless game might be Washington visiting the Kellen Moore-led Cowboys. The Cowboys shut down Dez Bryant this week, and Moore has looked downright pedestrian through two games this season; meanwhile, they face a Washington squad that has nothing to gain by winning or losing and, as such, will put a bunch of no-name players on the field by midway through the second quarter. Washington is a total fade in Week 17, and the Cowboys are not exciting either.

John Mamula: I would still use the Vegas totals as my starting point. The Saints-Falcons game has the highest total of the week at 52 points. Check. Next, I evaluate if there is a high probability that we will see the teams playing their backups at the skill positions to evaluate talent. I do not think this is the case with these teams. The Giants-Eagles game has a high total of 51.5 points, but I would be more leery of playing Eagles due to their team evaluating talent.

If I were playing this weekend, I would target this game heavily on both sides. Creating multiple GPP combinations could be a recipe for success similar to the Jaguars-Saints game from last weekend or the Giants-Saints game from a few weeks back.

Dan Hindery: I don’t get too scared off by games between teams that have been eliminated from the playoffs. Coaches want to win because the result of the game ends up on their resume forever. Players want to rack up stats for their next contract. Plus, they know they have a long offseason to recover from nagging injuries and rest. Maybe teams will try to get some more looks for younger guys, but for the most part these “meaningless” games play out fairly closely to how they would if the game was played midseason.

It’s the games that involve playoff teams who may end up considering resting their stars that really concern me. If a playoff team falls behind early, instead of being able to count on some nice “garbage time” points in the second half, they could choose to pull their starters. This happened last year with Indianapolis playing Dallas late in the season. One example this season is Arizona vs. Seattle. Arizona enters the game with a bye locked up but has a shot at the number one seed should Tampa upset Carolina. If at halftime Arizona is down 10 and Carolina is up 17, you could easily see Bruce Arians deciding to rest Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and other key players. It’s these types of scenarios that most concern me in Week 17, not the already eliminated teams.

Chris Feery: I’m totally comfortable rostering players from the Falcons and Saints this week. We have one of the highest projected totals of the week at 52 points, players going for milestones in the form of Brees and Jones and two divisional rivals playing on a fast track in the Georgia Dome. What’s not to love? John did a great job outlining the motivations for both teams. I fully concur and have no concerns with rostering players from this game. As Dan already mentioned, my biggest concern for Week 17 is teams that may be pulling/resting starters – i.e. Washington, Carolina, Arizona.

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Targeting a Low Total Game?

Conversely, New York (Jets)-Buffalo, has a low game total that opened at just 43 points. However, the Jets are looking to clinch a playoff spot, and Buffalo could be looking at the Rex Ryan revenge angle. Would you be more willing to use players from this particular game than you would from a typical 43-point over/under game?

John Lee: In this game, I think the Jets passing game is in play. Both Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell are banged up and barely practicing early in the week. Ivory has been lackluster for the better part of six weeks. While Powell has been picking up the slack, he is still limited to a dozen touches per game. Meanwhile, Brandon Marshall is a model of consistency, and Eric Decker has scored in 12 out of 15 games this season, a remarkable feat; each of those receivers has a fantastic mismatch against the Bills' lackluster cornerback corps, Leodis McKelvin and Nickell Robey, both of whom have yielded significant fantasy points to receivers while in coverage this season. McKelvin has yet to obtain a positive score on ProFootballFocus this season and is five inches shorter than Marshall, while Robey has allowed a 103 Passer Rating while in coverage in 2015 and represents an even larger mismatch at 5'8" versus Decker's 6'3" frame (seven inches). Ryan Fitzpatrick will be a solid GPP play, who can be stacked with either receiver (or even both).

On the Buffalo side of the ball, I will be avoiding most players because the Bills have nothing to play for (outside of the role of spoiler), and the Jets will be gunning for a playoff position. With Charles Clay hitting the injured reserve list this week, following Robert Woods last week, perhaps Chris Hogan is an obscure GPP play at the DraftKings site minimum of $3,000, but I would not classify him as a strong play.

John Mamula: The Bills will come to play in this game. Vegas currently has the Bills as only a three-point underdog. And Rex Ryan would like nothing more than to knock his old team and division rival out of the playoffs. Based on the total of 43 points, I would not be looking to target this game for DFS. The early forecast is 33 degrees and snow in Buffalo on Sunday. I envision a low-scoring defensive struggle in this game. My prediction: Bills win 17-13. Ryan gets his revenge.

Dan Hindery: I would be only slightly more inclined to target this game than normal. The justification being that we don’t have to worry about either team resting players like we might in some other games. I can see using that as a tiebreaker if weighing a Jets player vs. a player on a team who might rest some players late based upon scoreboard watching (for example, Kansas City if Denver is blowing out San Diego).

Overall, though, the slate sets up surprisingly well in terms of having a lot of teams that will badly want to win for seeding. So this isn’t the only game to fit that narrative and thus doesn’t stand out as particularly attractive compared to some other contests that also have a lot at stake and higher totals.

Chris Feery: The Jets passing game is definitely in play this week. Fitzpatrick has thrown for at least two scores in four of the past five games, and there are no indications that he can’t have similar success against a disappointing Bills defense. Ryan will have the troops properly motivated, but shutting down a rolling Jets team fighting for their playoff lives may be too tall of an order. I would roster Fitzpatrick, Marshall, and Decker with confidence this week and shy away from a banged up Bills offense.

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Milestone Watch

Even though some teams have nothing to play for in terms of postseason implications, there will be some players chasing some milestones or records this week. Which "milestone watch" players are you targeting this week?

I'll get the conversation started by listing a few potential milestones: Drew Brees is 453 passing yards from 5,000; Blake Bortles is five passing touchdowns away from 40; Doug Martin is 146 rushing yards short of 1,500; Julio Jones needs 16 receptions to tie the all-time record for a season.

John Lee: Of the options listed, Martin likely has the most motivation to hit his milestone as the Buccaneers have gone on record stating that they want to get Martin the NFL rushing title. That said, he has an atrocious matchup against the Panthers, who are seeking a number one seed in the NFC and have allowed only two 100-yard rushers all season, neither of whom have surpassed 110 rushing yards. As 10-point underdogs, it is difficult to see Martin getting enough volume to surpass the 150-yard mark with such a negative gamescript.

Bortles enters the week five passing touchdowns short of 40, but he is in similar situation to Martin. The young quarterback has impressed in his sophomore season but enters Week 17 with a matchup against a Houston Texans team looking for only their third playoff appearance in franchise history. For their part, the Texans boast the league's fifth-best pass coverage unit (per ProFootballFocus), including Johnathan Joseph, who has put together a season worthy of Pro Bowl consideration. At home in a high-motivation situation, I expect the Texans to dominate this game and slow down the red-hot Bortles.

That leaves Brees, who will be looking to renegotiate his contract in the off-season at the age of 37. Brees has looked stellar this season, having thrown for 300 passing yards and/or multiple touchdowns in 11 out of 14 starts. Brees certainly plays better in New Orleans, but he has performed very respectfully in Atlanta over the years. In ten lifetime starts at Atlanta, Brees has surpassed 300 passing yards and/or had multiple touchdowns in every game except his rookie year in 2004. While I do not expect him to achieve the 453 yards he needs to hit the 5,000-yard threshold, he should be in line for a solid fantasy day, particularly if the Falcons move the ball effectively (I suspect they will).

John Mamula: Of the milestones listed, the one that I believe has the best chance is Jones with 16 receptions to tie the all-time record in a season. Matt Ryan and Jones have the perfect matchup to go after this milestone this weekend. The Saints defense has been terrible all season and there is a chance this game could turn into a shoot-out.

There are two more milestones that we can all but lock up this weekend:

  • DeAngelo Williams is currently at 899 rushing yards. The Steelers will make an effort to get him over 100 yards vs. the Browns so the 32 year-old can post a 1,000-yard rushing season.
  • Odell Beckham Jr is currently at 1,396 receiving yards. The Giants probably want Beckham to end the season on a high note after his suspension last week. Going for at least 105 receiving yards should not be a problem against the Eagles secondary who will be evaluating talent on their roster. The Giants will make an effort to get Beckham over 1,500 receiving yards.

Dan Hindery: I'm with John and John that the milestones and motivations involved in the New Orleans at Atlanta game are most intriguing. That just has the feel of one that could end up in a shootout.

In addition to the milestones already touched upon, the uncertainty this offseason surrounding both Brees and Head Coach Sean Payton makes for an interesting subplot. Brees is 37 years old, will be entering the final year of his contract, and will be sporting a $30,000,000 cap hit next season. The Saints will have to think long and hard about whether they are close enough to competing for a title to pay an older quarterback that type of money, or whether they should pursue a trade, clean up their cap and look to rebuild. In addition, Sean Payton has a clause in his contract that would allow him to become a free agent after this season if he wants to leave New Orleans. This could end up being the last rodeo for this dynamic coach-quarterback duo, and it shouldn't surprise if they try to go out with a bang.

Chris Feery: I agree with the majority and would lean towards the milestones from the New Orleans at Atlanta game as the most intriguing to watch for. The game has all the makings of a good old fashioned shootout on a fast track in Atlanta. For Brees, 453 yards is certainly a tall order, but as Dan mentioned, the added intrigue of a potential offseason shakeup could inspire a vintage Brees performance. I expect Ryan to force feed Jones as much as possible on Sunday and look for him to at least be within shouting distance of the record when all is said and done.

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