The simple approach to Week 17 is that there are two types of NFL teams: Those that have something to play for and those that don’t. I prefer to look at it as three types, though: Those that have something to play for, those that have nothing to play for and no reason to push it, and those that have nothing to play for but have reason to put people to work.
For example: At 5-10, the 49ers don’t really have anything to play for this week. And they’re facing the Rams, who are only playing for third or fourth in the NFC. Theoretically, San Francisco could rest anybody important and call it a year. But in reality, the 49ers are closing the season on a five-game winning streak under the leadership of Jimmy Garoppolo and finishing with back-to-back wins over the Jaguars and Rams would be huge for a franchise whose rebuild has been jump-started by the arrival of the ex-Patriots quarterback. I think the 49ers will play all out in Week 17.
So this week’s look at the best and worst fantasy situations at every position will take those three types of teams into account. Which teams have games that matter? Which don’t? And which will press their players into service even if it doesn’t matter? That’s what I’m looking for — primarily for DFS purposes — using the Pro Football Focus exclusive stats and data to inform the decision.
Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles fall into that extra situation. They are locked into the NFC’s top seed, with nothing that can change in Week 17 other than the doesn’t-really-exist-anyway concept of momentum. But the flip side is that the Eagles have not looked great since Carson Wentz went down in Week 14. Foles looked passable (pardon the pun) in Week 15, but Monday night against the Raiders, he scarcely could have looked worse, grading out at 34.2. That’s the sixth-worst grade for any NFL starting QB all year. With Wentz out, if the Eagles want to make any movement in the playoffs, they’ll need the Foles of Week 15, and likely more than that. Letting him sit a game out isn’t going to accomplish much. I expect the Eagles to let Foles try to make some positive strides against a Dallas defense that has allowed multiple passing touchdowns in eight of its last nine games.
Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans: The situation is pretty simple for the Titans in Week 17: Beat a Jacksonville team that has nothing to play for other than confidence after a bad Week 16, and they’re in the playoffs. Say what you will about the quality of the Titans as a playoff team, but if they win, they’re in. And with DeMarco Murray likely out for Week 17 with a knee injury, Henry will get as much run as he’s capable of. The Jaguars run defense has turned things around since looking like a reverse-funnel early in the season (only allowing 100-plus rushing yards to opponents’ backs twice since Week 6), but Henry should be fine to compile quantity even if he struggles with quality.
Branden Oliver, Los Angeles Chargers: The Jaguars having nothing to play for makes it that much tougher for the Chargers to complete their comeback from an 0-4 start to the playoffs — they have a couple possible roads to the playoffs, but every path starts with the Chargers winning in Week 17 and the Titans losing. The matchups would make sense, but with the Jaguars perhaps taking it easy, it’s rough. Also complicating factors is the possible absence of Melvin Gordon, who hurt his ankle in Week 16. With Austin Ekeler also hurt, Oliver would be next man up. Oliver hasn’t gotten starter-level usage since he sporadically took over as a 2014 rookie, but when he did, he had two hundred-yard rushing games and four touchdowns, and was at least fantasy relevant. The Raiders have allowed four rushing touchdowns to running backs in their last four games, and with the Chargers going all out Sunday, Oliver would have ample opportunity at a cheap DFS price.
Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks: The last time the Seahawks played the Cardinals, Baldwin put up 95 yards, his third-highest yardage total of the season. Patrick Peterson didn’t shadow Tyler Lockett or Paul Richardson last time these two faced off, and likely won’t this time, but with Baldwin spending most of his time in the slot, we at least know Peterson is unlikely to be on Baldwin. And with no running game to speak of and Jimmy Graham suddenly barely a contributor to the Seattle offense (2 catches, 2 yards, 1 touchdown combined over the last three games) Baldwin will have to be the point man in a game the Seahawks must win to reach the playoffs.
Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins: The reason teams tend to shut players down in meaningless end-of-season games is to ensure there is no late-season injury that could impact the next season. Well, Landry is heading into free agency, and the talk all along has made it sound very unlikely he’ll be back with Miami in 2018. Maybe Miami takes it easy on Kenny Stills, or Kenyan Drake, or even oft-injured DeVante Parker in Week 17, but Landry and QB Jay Cutler are not likely returnees. And to top it off, Landry is the only receiver leaguewide with at least five receptions in every game this season, and he’s likely to want to end the season with that streak intact.
Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills: Since leaving Miami to join the Bills in 2015, Clay has topped 14 standard fantasy points twice: Against Miami in 2015, and against Miami in 2016. Just a couple weeks ago in 2016, Clay had nine targets, which he followed by being targeted 10 times in Week 16. With Kelvin Benjamin running on a bum leg, Jordan Matthews on IR, the rest of the Bills receivers hardly trustworthy, plus the team still alive for a playoff spot, expect Clay to get another huge dose of targets against his favorite opponent, revenge narrative or no.
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders: The Carr who was seen by some as an MVP candidate a year ago is long gone. This year’s version has as many games with single-digit fantasy points (three) as he does games of 20-plus. Carr is currently the No. 20 quarterback, both in fantasy scoring and in PFF grading. And now, he and the Raiders face a desperate Chargers team that ranks No. 1 in PFF pass-coverage grades (led by the No. 1 overall cornerback, Casey Hayward), and No. 3 in PFF pass-rush grades (led by two of the top-10 edge defenders, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram). A better supporting cast in 2018 might help Carr rebound, but his 2017 isn’t likely to end on a high note.
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs: There are some teams that continue to use key players even in meaningless games, but we have history to suggest the Chiefs aren’t among them. In 2013, the Chiefs entered Week 17 locked into the AFC’s top Wild Card slot, and they sat all their key players. Chase Daniel played quarterback, Knile Davis was the No. 1 running back, and A.J. Jenkins, Dexter McCluster, and Junior Hemingway led the team in targets. We might see Patrick Mahomes make his debut in Week 17, and I expect Hunt, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce will get only nominal usage at most.
Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams: The Rams have already been hinting that some starters might play barely or not at all Sunday, with minimal difference between the third and fourth seeds and no opportunity to move outside that range. If there’s a Ram you can certainly expect to get a breather, it’s Watkins, the team’s most oft-injured offensive weapon. Watkins is a fringe top-30 receiver overall this year, but he’s been a touchdown weapon; his total of eight scores is tied for fifth at the position, behind only DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Antonio Brown, and Alshon Jeffery. It’s only one off his career-best. Expect the Rams to take it easy on Watkins, perhaps even deactivating him to keep him ready for the playoffs.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots: Tom Brady is the most important Patriot, with Brian Hoyer as his backup. But Gronkowski is a close second — Brady’s numbers slip a lot when Gronkowski is absent. The Patriots could theoretically lose their grip on home-field advantage with a loss Sunday, but this isn’t a team that needs Gronkowski to beat the Jets. Gronkowski might get a drive or two — and heaven knows he can do a lot just on that little usage — but it’s hard to imagine the Patriots risking him for much of a game that isn’t likely to mean much.
Daniel Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus.
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