For the first 16 weeks of the season we are looking at every data point in about 10 different ways to gather as much information from it as possible. When week 17 comes along that process gets flipped on its head because not all players and teams are playing with the same motivation. We can no longer look at these stats in the same way. When we think about motivation a lot of people will immediately think that players aren’t going to be as efficient because they aren’t trying as hard. But that isn’t the case. All of these players are still looking for their next big contract and have millions of dollars on the line so they aren’t about to let their efficiency drop. Plus, if they don’t play as hard as they normally would they are more likely to get hurt which is the last thing they want in a meaningless game.
Instead, the main thing that you need to start to question is playing time and targets. Playing time is the easiest thing to bank on during the first 16 weeks and in a lot of ways it is still in week 17 but you just have to think of it in a different way. Snap and target trends aren’t as important as milestones and playoff probabilities. To gauge if a player is in a great position for heavy workload or high “motivation” these are some of the keys things that I like to look for:
- Was the team just eliminated from the playoffs last week? If a team was just eliminated in week 16 these are the teams that really tend to let down in week 17. They tend to be the teams that give some of their backups the most opportunities in week 17. This makes sense because if a team has been eliminated from the playoffs for quite some time, they have already started to work their backups into their plans to see if they are a player, they can trust next year. This isn’t the case for these teams just eliminated. They haven’t had a chance to see these players yet and want to see them in a real game. These teams might say they are playing it straight but be careful. The Rams and Browns are the main worry this week. The Colts to a lesser a degree being eliminated week 15.
- A derivative of this concern is the team that comes into the game with something to play for but if another team wins they no longer have anything to play for. An example, of this could be both the Texans and Chiefs. If the Patriots win the Chiefs are locked into a 3 or 4 seed. If the Patriots build up a pretty safe lead will the Chiefs still push their starters with a risk or injury? Similarly do the Texans care about a 3 seed vs a 4 seed? These may look like games they care about but it might be more beneficial to keep starters healthy and/or see how backups play in live games.
- The other end of this is the team that has been eliminated for quite some time. These teams have gotten used to their season over and are continuing to play for their next contract. Don’t worry too much about these teams. Think about the Dolphins last week. Someone might tell you they have no motivation but that’s usually not the case.
- Players on teams that have been eliminated with incentives or records to break. These have the opportunity to be the biggest boom opportunities because the team often becomes motivated to get the player their incentives. Be careful what the incentives are though. I hear people get excited about WR A needs 25 yards to trigger a $1 Million bonus or RB B needs 200 rushing yards to break the rushing record. The goals have to both be achievable and they need to be able to make a big difference in your lineup. If the WR gets 25 yards who cares? You are looking for over 100 yards. What is the probability that a RB gets 200 yards even if they give him a ton of carries? At some point they are going to stop trying for the record and you will be left with a disappointing performance. But if you see something like a WR needs 150 yards to get a $1M bonus and he is only $5000. I would feel pretty comfortable going heavy on this player.
Week 17 has historically been pretty good for me. We shouldn’t be changing our whole strategy for week 17 but we should we weighting things a little bit differently. If you go about it in a smart way you should be able to navigate the week 17 landmines with little trouble.