#Trendspotting: Week 17 - Footballguys

Examining player and team trends to identify valuable DFS options and start/sits in season-long leagues

In Week 17, taking our usual stats-based approach can be a fool's errand. This week is more about information than stats and matchups. So we're changing the typical format and giving you actionable information to help with your fantasy football contests and conquests this week.

Below, we'll discuss the following topics:

Motivation

Week 17 in the NFL is the most difficult to predict. But based on playoff prospects, we can gauge the motivation levels of many teams. Thankfully, our Phil Alexander has already provided a great breakdown. Here's a quick summary table of this week's most appealing teams, sorted by the general desirability of their main fantasy commodities:

Team Opponent Vegas Line Team Total Comments
New England Patriots New York Jets -14 29 Win clinches 1st-round bye
Pittsburgh Steelers Cincinnati Bengals -15 30 Need win + BAL loss for Wild Card berth
Philadelphia Eagles Washington Redskins 7 24 Need win + MIN loss for Wild Card berth
Los Angeles Rams San Francisco 49ers -10 29 Win clinches 1st-round bye
Kansas City Chiefs Oakland Raiders -14 33 Win clinches 1-seed; OAK had "Super Bowl" Monday
Baltimore Ravens Cleveland Browns -6 24 Win clinches AFC North
Minnesota Vikings Chicago Bears -5 23 Win clinches Wild Card; line suggests CHI may rest
Indianapolis Colts Tennessee Titans 4 24 Win clinches AFC South; lose = out
Tennessee Titans Indianapolis Colts 4 20 Win clinches AFC South; lose = out
Cleveland Browns Baltimore Ravens -6 18 Can't make playoffs; this is their playoff game
New York Jets New England Patriots -14 16 Been out for weeks; still trying
San Francisco 49ers Los Angeles Rams -10 19 Been out for weeks; still trying

Above are the teams we know should be trying, whether for purposes involving playoffs or pride.

Below are the teams who are the best "stay-away" candidates, for various reasons. These are the teams who have no appealing DFS players at any position, due to matchup, motivation, or the terrible state of their offenses.

Team Opponent Vegas Line Team Total Comments
Carolina Panthers New Orleans Saints -9 18 No Newton, likely no McCaffrey, no Heinicke!
Oakland Raiders Kansas City Chiefs -14 20 Waiting for weeks to hit the golf course
Washington Redskins Philadelphia Eagles 7 18 20-point ceiling when trying; stay-away when not
Arizona Cardinals Seattle Seahawks -14 13 As if you wanted to play any of them before…

After the obvious levels of motivation (playing for the playoffs and/or seeding), the rest is harder to gauge. If projecting, expect teams that have been eliminated for multiple weeks to continue playing as they have. Teams recently eliminated, however, tend to have a let-down and/or rest their players. But in general, choosing players from teams not mentioned in the first table above can be a tricky proposition.

Only two teams fit the bill of those who have their playoff seed locked up but might still have fantasy-viable players. Those teams are New Orleans and Dallas. And their plays might be GPP-only DFS plays due to the unpredictable playing time and potential for vanilla schemes. But players such as Teddy Bridgewater in New Orleans and Rod Smith in Dallas, who should take over early for Drew Brees and Ezekiel Elliott, respectively, could be overlooked assets.

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Milestones

There's more motivation than teams looking to make the playoffs. Teams often attempt to reward their players via milestones and franchise records, even in lost seasons. Let's take a look at a few examples, with some help from some of our Deputy #Trendspotters on twitter.

A Rose in a Season of Thorns

The tweet below is a highlight video from Week 14 when George Kittle had 210 receiving yards in the first half (5 shy of the all-time single-game record for a tight end) and then had one target for zero yards in the second half. Kyle Shanahan can help to make up for that atrocity this week.

This season was far from what San Francisco had imagined, but Kittle has been a revelation. What better way to commemorate that than with a record. Kittle is 99 yards behind Rob Gronkowski's mark for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end. And Kittle and his quarterback are both aware of where they stand.

Skeptics may note that Travis Kelce is currently ahead of Kittle, but that shouldn't stop San Francisco from trying. First, Kansas City can generate production in many ways. Second, they may rest their stars in the second half if they are taking care of business.

Aside from that, Kittle has other milestones, like the team record for receptions by a tight end, a mark he'll exceed with four catches Sunday.

A Legend Among Many

Franchise records in Green Bay aren't easy to break, but Davante Adams is close to a couple -- receptions (needs two to break it) and receiving yards (needs 134 to break it).

Digging In

We can disregard the McCaffrey part of this tweet, as he's likely not playing. As for Stefon Diggs, franchise records aren't in reach, but some round numbers are.

Speaking of "round number" milestones, Diggs isn't the only player near a notable benchmark.

Slam Dunk for the Saints

Michael Thomas is 24 receiving yards away from the New Orleans franchise record. The Saints aren't likely to play their stars long, but Thomas should be in the game long enough to get the team record. Shout out to fellow Footballguys writer and Power Grid colleague Devin Knotts for this one.

Other Round Numbers

Here are some other milestones. They may happen; they may not. These are sorted by category, then by player, then by likelihood. It's informational-only, so don't be upset with the order. And if we missed any, please feel free to drop a line on twitter (info at the bottom of the article).

Player Statistic Milestone Needs? Comments
Patrick Mahomes II Passing Touchdowns 50 2 Lock City?
Patrick Mahomes II Passing Yards ? ? Currently 26 behind Roethlisberger for NFL-high
Matt Ryan Passing Yards 5,000 451 Would take a Herculean effort
Andrew Luck Passing Touchdowns 40 4 Worried about bigger things this week (division)
Saquon Barkley Scrimmage Yards 2,000 114 Rookie of the Year race with Mayfield also at stake
Saquon Barkley Scrimmage TDs 16 2 1 per game seems like a nice number
Nick Chubb Rushing Yards 1,000 28 Should get it just by trying to win
James Conner Rushing Yards 1,000 91 Team trying to win + player not 100% = ?
Travis Kelce Receptions 100 2 So close to many important marks
Stefon Diggs Receptions 100 6 26 yards from 1,000 as well
Keenan Allen Receptions 100 7 Expect heavy involvement early; potential rest late
DeAndre Hopkins Receiving Yards 1,500 75 Battle with Ramsey could be enough fuel on its own
DeAndre Hopkins Receiving Yards ? ? Currently 114 behind Julio (who could be inactive)
Mike Evans Receiving Yards 1,500 82 No reason to expect him to sit

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Money

One final measure of motivation is individual performance bonuses. Often, teams (and teammates) want to help get a hard-working player a little extra for his efforts. Here are a couple of notable examples in Week 17, according to this article from CBSSports.com.

Please note: the players below are also in playoff contention. Their inclusion here isn't a suggestion that individual accolades motivate them more than their team's success. This is informational.

"NLTBE" and Not Counting Incentives Towards the Salary Cap

Teams are always looking for creative ways to increase a player's potential earnings, but they have to be mindful of the salary cap. One way to increase potential earnings but not count against the cap when the deal is signed is through "Not Likely to Be Earned" (NLTBE) incentives.

These are typically performance-based and are common to that player's position (i.e. receptions and receiving yards for wide receivers). By making these incentives at levels just above the player or team's previous season's levels, they typically qualify as NLTBE.

Here's an example to help, using Rob Gronkowski's 2017 and 2018 seasons.

  • 2017 stats: 69 receptions; 1,083 yards; 8 touchdowns; 79% of offensive snaps
  • 2018 NLTBE incentives: 70 receptions; 1,085 yards; 9 touchdowns; 80% of offensive snaps

When people call New England a smart organization, they typically point to on-field execution, draft capital, and player acquisition. But keeping Gronkowski happy via incentives while setting them as low as they possibly could to still be deemed "NLTBE" is pretty savvy as well.

For what it's worth, Gronkowski won't make any of those bonuses. He currently sits at 45 receptions; 658 yards; and 3 touchdowns on 74.5% of the team's offensive snaps. Even 80-of-80 snaps this weekend would only get him to 76.3%.

Paid for Services Rendered

Nick Foles had a magical season in 2017, but he wasn't expected to be the starter in 2018, so Philadelphia wanted to find a way to show him that he's valuable without having that money count against their cap at signing.

Therefore, they made Foles' contract highly incentive-based. Here are a few details on Foles' deal:

  • Earns $250,000 for each regular season game in which he plays at least 33% of the team's offensive snaps.
  • Earns $250,000 for each regular season win in which he plays at least 33% of the team's offensive snaps.
  • Earns $500,000 for each playoff game in which he plays at least 33% of the team's offensive snaps.
  • Earns $500,000 for each playoff win in which he plays at least 33% of the team's offensive snaps.

Foles has earned $1,000,000 total for his last two wins (at L.A. Rams in Week 15 and vs. Houston last week). He can add another $500,000 with a win at Washington this week. And if Philadelphia makes the playoffs (they need to win plus have Minnesota lose to Chicago), Foles can earn $500,000 in a losing effort and $1,000,000 for a win.

Would Eagles fans be happy paying Nick Foles a total of $5,500,000 for seven straight wins that resulted in a second straight Super Bowl victory? It's hard to imagine saying that money would be irresponsibly spent.

Double Dozen

Travis Kelce has put together a fantastic 2018 season. But one more milestone could make him even happier.

  • Earned $375,000 for reaching 1,200 receiving yards.
  • Can earn another $375,000 for reaching 12 receiving touchdowns (he currently has 10).

The good news for Kelce is that a playoff berth doubles all bonuses, so even if he fails to score two touchdowns on Sunday, his 1,200-yard season is worth $750,000 already.

But how magical would two Kelce touchdowns be for Kansas City? For Patrick Mahomes II, it would mean 50 passing touchdowns (as shown above, he currently has 48). And for Kelce, it would mean an additional $750,000 ($375k doubled for the playoff berth).

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Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail hester@footballguys.com