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A quick note: you’ll see that I didn’t generate my projections this week. That’s the norm for my Week 17 work – I honestly feel silly putting them together for such unpredictable games. The worry goes beyond merely resting key guys for the playoffs – nearly every team shifts gears for Week 17. Established stars often request the week off when things are meaningless. Poor teams like to take a look at longshots from up and down the depth chart for 2016. And don’t forget – coaches don’t only rest players – they rest plays and gameplans as well. There’s no way I’m ponying up serious money based on my projection sheet telling me Quarterback X will throw 40 balls, only to find that his coach is shelving the pass in a meaningless game. Long story short: with all of these factors in place, I simply can’t trust what recent history tells me to expect.
As a result, Week 17 is largely a tournament week for me, and I’d recommend the same for you. There’s very little stability I want to invest my cap dollars into for cash games, but plenty of high-upside options who only need a break or two. With so much uncertainty blowing in the breeze, compose a few unique lineups for the GPPs you’ve waited all season to jump into.
Here’s a guide for whatever your Week 17 plans are, as always, from a cost efficiency standpoint:
Blake Bortles has long been deserving of a $7,000 salary, but he’ll have to wait for next season. Despite a track record that boasts eight 25-point games over his last 11, Bortles remains priced below several inferior options. Take advantage, despite the iffy matchup with an underrated Houston defense. Bortles has excelled against tough secondaries and in multiple game scripts, and as a road underdog, it’s hard to expect fewer than 35 attempts.
Carolina’s Week 16 upset loss means Cam Newton remains relevant to the final gun. The question to ask is whether his passing game dominance of the past month merely hiccupped last week or began to even out. I’m on board with him as a top-tier chalk play – he’ll certainly play to the finish to secure the No. 1 seed – but I’m not banking much on his return to the brilliance of Weeks 9-15. There’s just not the strong track record or surrounding cast I’d like to see at the top QB salary, so this largely boils down to a grope for a rushing TD.
The Drew Brees resurgence has me intrigued. The Falcons have put solid pass defense onto paper, but much of it has been built on a horrid schedule of passing games. Good offenses have generated strong passing numbers, including Brees’ 30 of 39 for 312 and 1 TD line from Week 6. Brees is underpriced for the rematch, needing just 20.1 to cash – and he hasn’t finished below 23 in four weeks.
Still far too cheap at just $5,400, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Week 17 outlook couldn’t be sexier. His arm is established as the clear focus of the Jets offense, with 36+ attempts in six straight games, and his All Pro-caliber wideouts have made life easy for him. With so much focus on the high-salaried QBs, Fitzpatrick fits nicely into any GPP with a low salary and (likely) ownership.
A semi-fade thought: Ben Roethlisberger will be covered in chalk this weekend, but I don’t love his outlook. If Roethlisberger would throw more in the red zone, he’d be the top weekly option regardless of matchup. But Todd Haley has reversed his red zone trends this season, favoring the run far more than expected, and Roethlisberger hasn’t helped with his scattershot passing near the goal line. And with real concerns over game flow, I don’t expect much of his yardage ceiling to be realized, either.
DeAngelo Williams isn’t Le’Veon Bell, but he’s been given the same role as the do-it-absolutely-all cog in the Steelers’ high-octane offense. He’s thoroughly involved in the pass game (25 catches over the last five weeks), and unlike Bell, he’s been the team’s driving force in the red zone. That’s made him a matchup-proof, high-floor option in any matchup. And while $7,100 is steep, there’s no back who projects better to the usage profile one needs to reach 21.3. With game script seemingly on his side in a big way, there’s no safer or higher-ceiling option.
Todd Gurley’s availability isn’t looking good, so Tre Mason looks poised to serve as the value play of the week. If Gurley indeed sits, you won’t need to consider much more than Mason’s RB-minimum salary, which sets his cash efficiency marker at just 12 points. He’ll project to sky-high usage in one of the league’s most run-happy offenses, and a home date with the 49ers, who have been flattened by opposing running games strong and weak alike, is lovely.
As the only RB of note in the Saints’ wide-open offense, Tim Hightower is priced nicely at his floor ($5,500). The Falcons defense struggles mightily against the run, but it’s the volume you’re buying with Hightower. He’s gobbled up 77% of the team’s rushes since taking over the starting job, and only one RB league-wide (Isaiah Crowell) has more short-yardage runs. He’s safe and will be widely owned, so he’s almost a Week 17 must-play.
No longer dependent upon pass-heavy game flows, Bilal Powell has cut noticeably into Chris Ivory’s rushing dominance over the last few weeks. Still, Powell’s value comes almost entirely from his passing down prowess, and he should see more than enough opportunity in a must-win road game. The Jets have thrown 36+ balls in six straight games, so Powell’s floor at his recent 18% target share sits around 5-6 catches. That’s a huge boost toward his cash goal of 13.5.
Rostering David Johnson is a good way to stray from the herd but stay high-impact. Matchups with the Seahawks have been higher-paced than we’re used to seeing, and opposing backfields have found success in spots. If Johnson remains the offensive focal point – which he can do across different game flows – he looks like a strong bet for at least count-stat production.
Joique Bell has certainly peaked, if we can call it that, at the right time. As the interior portion of the Lions’ three-headed RB monster, Bell has run well of late (6.1 yards per rush over his last three games) and found the end zone in back-to-back weeks. His usage – solidly between 8-10 touches per game – profiles to reach his 14-point GPP requirement with the aid of another touchdown. That’s a decent proposition this week, as the Bears have allowed four of their last six short-yardage runs to score.
Gone (at least for the moment) are the days we could expect thoroughly dominant RB1 numbers from Seattle’s starter, but there’s some Week 17 value in that backfield. The Seahawks are unlikely to control their matchup with the Cardinals on the ground, nor do they project to much success at all, but someone has to take the snaps in that suddenly wide-open offense. And third-down specialist Fred Jackson needs just 14 points – 4-5 catches and a touchdown should do it – to serve as a viable punt play.
As always, there’s little downside and monstrous upside in Julio Jones, who draws the Saints for Week 17. New Orleans has gotten better cornerback play of late, with youngster Devin Breaux shining in coverage, but we still have to consider Jones the favorite there. Needing 25.5 to cash, Jones is a bit of a stretch in a meaningless game against a talented young cornerback. But his talent level and deep-seeded involvement in his offense ensure that matchup is never a real concern. After all, he notched 140% of that 25.5 cash marker against Josh Norman and the suffocating Panthers last week, and 110% of it against the Vontae Davis-led Colts in Week 11.
We can’t whine too much about Brandon Marshall’s ever-swelling salary (from $6,800 to $7,900 over the last five weeks) – he’s earned it. Marshall has obliterated that 23.7-point marker in four of his last five, averaging 33.3 in those games. The Jets have morphed into a decidedly pass-happy offense, yet they still only feature two targets, so Marshall’s sterling target totals don’t project to go anywhere.
He lacks sizzle, but Kamar Aiken has been a model of consistency across several different quarterbacks. He’s on the verge of breaking Derrick Mason’s team record of eight straight five-catch, 50-yard games. (Antonio Brown laughs at this, of course.) Aiken has drawn moderate-to-high target volume from Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen, and Ryan Mallet, and he’s turned it into strong, sneaky DFS value along the way. His Week 17 requirement for cash value is 16.2 points, a mark he flirts with or exceeds weekly – he’s landed below 14 once over his eight-week streak – and should see lots of garbage time against the motivated Bengals.
Brandin Cooks is on an absolute tear, with 25+ points in three of his last four games and five of eight. And while fellow DFSers scatter like cockroaches against the Falcons’ pass defense, shrewd owners will note that ace cover man Desmond Trufant rarely follows receivers around the formation. Cooks will work plenty from the slot and the right, perhaps enough to scorch Atlanta’s lesser DBs and reach his 25.6-point marker.
If you blinked, you missed Jordan Matthews’ supposed Year Two breakout. The overstretched slotman has had a nightmarish season, but has exploded over the last two weeks, with 263 yards and two TDs on a good-not-great 20% target share. At least he’s maximizing his opportunity. In any event, his $4,700 salary is far too low for this matchup against a Giants crew that’s susceptible to being eaten alive in the slot.
Keshawn Martin was priced at the minimum, under the assumption that Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, or both would come available for Week 17. That hasn’t happened yet, and if both are held out again, Martin will again find himself on the upper edges of the New England target chain. He led all Patriots comfortably with 11 targets against the Jets, and since Tom Brady throws downfield roughly as often as the Pope visits America, the slotman should see another steady workload. Don’t expect yardage or touchdown opportunity, but 5-6 catches looks like his floor; that would easily reach tournament value.
Wideouts are tricky against Seattle, of course, but the Cardinals’ trio is capable of swinging a GPP with unexpected windfalls. Michael Floyd scorched them for a 7-113-2 line in Week 10 with John Brown sidelined, and the two could divvy up those numbers again – Seahawks games don’t move at the same sluggish pace they once did. Even Larry Fitzgerald is worthy of a GPP spot this week, as Seattle has become particularly vulnerable with Jeremy Lane covering the slot. Don’t expect consistency, especially from the outside guys as they occasionally tangle with Richard Sherman. But there’s real big-play potential at play in a game the Cardinals need to lock down the No. 1 seed.
DraftKings is apparently as nervous and uncertain over Zach Ertz as we are. Touted as a Rob Gronkowskian talent, Ertz has long been marginalized in the Eagles offense. The dam has burst of late, however – only three players (Antonio Brown, Jarvis Landry, and Demaryius Thomas) have seen more targets over the last three weeks, and among tight ends, only Jordan Reed has amassed more yardage. Yet Ertz remains priced at just $3,600, making him an absolute steal against a withered Giants defense in a high-octane game. By position, there’s no better value on the board this week.
Regardless of his QB, Delanie Walker keeps chugging along. He drawn fewer than eight targets just twice in his last eight games and hasn’t registered below 52 yards in any of them. He may hurt for touchdown opportunity in this rudderless offense, but he’ll remain the focal point of the pass game and should be plenty busy as a six-point underdog.
Assuming he can suit up, Zach Miller looks next in line behind Ertz in terms of value. His recent 19.2% target rate is far too high for this salary, and some of that came alongside Alshon Jeffery. And he’s a better-than-50/50 bet to find the end zone; opposing tight ends have found the end zone three times against the Lions over the last four weeks. It’s important to note that two of them, Vance McDonald and Richard Rodgers, posted season-best games.
Jacob Tamme floundered in his opportunity to gain TE1 status once Leonard Hankerson was placed on IR, and DraftKings’ pricing ($3,300) reflects it. It’s worth a dice roll that much of the DFS community has disregarded him as well. Needing just 13.2 points – either modest usage and a TD or a 6- or 7-catch day – for GPP value, Tamme is a shrewd play against the hopeless Saints defense.
Always bet on red – Kansas City has posted double-digit scoring in eight of its last 11 games, beautifully weathering the storm of Justin Houston’s ambiguous knee injury. They’ve notched a solid 11 sacks over those three games, and their takeaway barrage (1.9 per game on the year) hasn’t really slowed either. They remain your top play in a motivated home showdown.
Ah, the joys of playing Cleveland. The Steelers are a flawed and talent-deprived defense for sure, but the matchup has to make you salivate at just a $3,100 salary. No team allows more points to opposing D/ST units than the Browns, who have coughed up 18 giveaways over their last nine games. Pairing the Steelers with DeAngelo Williams makes for one of the week’s shrewdest cash-game stacks.
The Colts will be more highly owned than I’d like from a GPP defense, so I’ve got an eye across the field on the Titans. Indianapolis is closing its lost season in appropriate garbage-fire form, with “Seriously?!” haunts Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley competing to start. Freeman has been more than a nightmare while Lindley may literally be the league’s worst QB (a 50.3 rating over 264 career attempts, with a 2:11 TD:INT mark). Junior varsity defenses would contain this “attack,” which shouldn’t amount to more than a jumble of Frank Gore stuffs and wild sideline throws, and turnovers should be plentiful.