"If you ain't first, you're last." – Ricky Bobby
It's Week 17. The most exciting and nerve-wracking week of the season.
The reason for the excitement is the same as for the anguish. In the vast majority of IDP leagues, it is Championship Week. Set the right lineup and catch a break or two, and come Tuesday morning, you will be crowned champion. All of your hard work over the past several months will be rewarded. There will be glory. Maybe a trophy. Perhaps even a few bucks.
That last one can be especially nice.
However, if you make a bad decision or two and/or the Fates choose not to favor your cause, then everything that has transpired since September will amount to the same thing it does for the last-place team in your league—nothing. Sure, some leagues also pay out prize money for second place, but it's little consolation. To come so close only to come up short at the end can be excruciating. Fantasy managers will do just about anything to avoid that feeling.
What they would as soon not do is be forced to rely on a matchup play in a must-win game. It's infinitely easier to just trot out Maxx Crosby of the Raiders up front. Start Foyesade Oluokun of the Jaguars at linebacker. Roll out rookie safety Jalen Pitre of the Texans. None of those players are guaranteed to hit every week, but they hit more often than not—and certainly more often than the players listed in this column on a weekly basis.
But life is rarely easy. The injury bug doesn't hibernate when the weather turns cold—just this past week Raiders linebacker Denzel Perryman joined the list of prominent defenders forced from action. Or maybe you're an underdog in the Championship Game, have a starter with a bad matchup, and are worried about a potentially matchup-swinging dud. Whatever the reason, while you may not want a matchup play in Week 17, sometimes you need one.
Here's hoping that these players ride to the rescue this week—and don't fall off their horse.
DE Frank Clark, Kansas City (vs. Denver)
The Chiefs are not exactly a team known for playing defense—in Kansas City, the run all goes to Patrick Mahomes II, Travis Kelce, and the offense. With that said, though, this past week against the Seattle Seahawks, the Chiefs played one of their best defensive games of the season, and veteran edge-rusher Frank Clark said the plan is for that strong effort to be the first of many.
"We’re on a mission here in Kansas City, and the goal is to finish the season strong." Clark told reporters. "The last few weeks, we haven’t been getting the job done as far as just finishing strong, a lot of tight games and overtime last week. So it was pretty dope to get out there today and finish the game pretty strong.”
Clark was quiet statistically against the Seahawks, and he admittedly isn't the statistical force he once was—the 29-year-old has 34 tackles and five sacks in 13 games in 2022. But one of those sacks (and two QB hits) came back in Week 14 against a Broncos team that has surrendered a staggering 57 sacks this year—most in the NFL.
EDGE Leonard Floyd, La Rams (at La Chargers)
Floyd may not have entered the 2022 campaign with the reputation of an elite pass-rusher, but after logging 20 sacks over the two preceding seasons, Floyd was being counted on to anchor the outside of a Rams pass rush that had lost Von Miller. Instead, over the first half of the season, Los Angeles got a vanishing act—outside a two-sack effort against the Rams, Floyd didn't get to the quarterback once.
The second half of the season has been another matter. Over the past seven games, Floyd has logged half a dozen sacks, including two games with a pair of them. The 30-year-old is as hot now as he has been all year long, having recorded three sacks and six QB hits over the past two weeks. With two sacks over the last two games. With two sacks over the final two contests in 2022, Floyd could post the second 10-sack season of his NFL career.
There's a pretty good chance Floyd will make it three games in a row with a sack Sunday in the Battle for SoFi Stadium against the Chargers. That the Chargers are a better team this year than the Rams isn't in dispute. But pass protection has been an issue for the Bolts—the Chargers have allowed 38 sacks and the eighth-most fantasy points to "True Position" edge-rushers.
DE J.J. Watt, Arizona (at Atlanta)
When Watt tweeted out a retirement announcement earlier this week, it started the clock ticking on surefire selection to the Hall of Fame. Since Watt was drafted in 2011, there are only three other players (Von Miller, Cameron Jordan, and Chandler Jones) who have more sacks than him. He is first in batted passes, second in fumble recoveries, and tied for third in forced fumbles during that time. Watt also has 28 games with at least two sacks, five more than anyone else since 2011.
The career achievements extend to the IDP realm. Watt put up two of the all-time great IDP seasons by a lineman. Back in 2012, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year racked up 81 tackles and 20.5 sacks—with a jaw-dropping 39 tackles for loss. Two years later, he single-handedly led many IDP managers to glory once again, logging 78 tackles and 20.5 sacks. He is the only player in NFL history with two 20-sack seasons.
To be fair, Watt is no longer the player now that he was then. But as the 33-year-old showed with a three-sack explosion against the Broncos in Week 15, Watt is still plenty capable of having a big game in the right matchup. This week's tilt with the Falcons qualifies, and in any event, there's something to be said for having Watt in the lineup for what amounts to his last IDP outing.
What can I say? I'm sentimental.
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