The goal in any competitive endeavor is to limit unpredictability. There’s a reason Calvinball from Calvin & Hobbes never caught on. You want to know as much as possible entering an event.
So in Week 17, if you’re playing fantasy football, your first focus should be on players with a reason to play.
Will Julio Jones get his eighth touchdown in nine games in Week 17? Will Christian McCaffrey continue to dominate snaps for Carolina? Can George Kittle continue his breakout campaign? Maybe, on all counts. But there’s just as much chance that their respective teams decide those guys have been through enough this year, giving them a light (or even no) day Sunday.
So for this week’s fantasy matchups advice (powered by the stats and information we compile at Pro Football Focus), I’m focusing on the teams with something to play for. We can’t guarantee who will and won’t have playing time, but we can focus on the ones who have reason to continue to do things as they’ve done all along. That goes for bad matchups as well, because even when avoiding names, you want predictability.
Here we go for the final time this season, starting as always with the mismatch of the week.
Mismatch of the week
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Through Week 13, Baldwin had a 71.1 PFF grade (No. 43 among receivers), averaging 9.8 PPR points per game. Since then, his grade is 92.4 (tops at the position), and he’s averaging 24.7 points per game. With the playoffs looming for the surging Seahawks, they’ll want Baldwin firing on all cylinders, and that likely means continuing to give him a healthy dose of work in Week 17 to have him fully ready for their road playoff appearance. Against Arizona in Week 17 with the Seahawks likely playing to win, Baldwin (running two-thirds of his routes out of the slot the last two weeks) is a better play than Tyler Lockett (10 fewer slot routes on six more total routes), given the likelihood that whichever receiver lines up outside for Seattle will go against Patrick Peterson.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Bengals have only held one quarterback without a passing touchdown this year — Lamar Jackson in his first start, when the rookie ran for 119 yards. In all their other games, the Bengals have allowed 2.2 passing touchdowns per game and for the season are allowing the most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks around the league. Meanwhile, since the Steelers’ Week 7 bye, Roethlisberger has thrown for multiple touchdowns in every game but one — against the Broncos in Week 12, when he did throw for 462 yards. The Steelers need some help from the Browns to make the playoffs, but they also need a win Sunday, so they’ll be going all out.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Entering the 2017 season, Todd Gurley was my choice for biggest bounceback in the league. It was based on the fact that Gurley is good, yes, but it was also based on the Rams overhauling their offensive line, primarily with the signing of Andrew Whitworth in free agency. The line gave him 2.0 yards before contact per carry in 2017 after the previous iteration had given him 1.0 in 2016. In other words, Gurley got an extra yard per carry in 2017 through no work of his own. The line has been strong this year as well, with 1.8 yards before contact per carry. That’s why, even with Gurley out for Week 16, Anderson (2.0 yards before contact) looked the part. With Gurley quite possibly out for Week 17 and the Rams needing a win to hold on to a bye, Anderson should get plenty of work against a subpar 49ers run defense.
Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots
In Week 15, with Josh Gordon out, the Patriots’ pass-catching game was basically Edelman-or-bust — his work aside, the team targeted non-RBs a total of 4 times, with Cordarrelle Patterson having the only reception. Edelman, meanwhile, caught 6-of-8 targets for 70 yards and a touchdown. He’s had double-digit PPR points in every game since his suspension ended except one, and with Gordon out, Rob Gronkowski disappointing, and the other New England receivers forgotten in that offense, Edelman — up against a Jets team allowing the second-most points per game to slot receivers — should still be more than fine.
Mark Andrews, TE, Baltimore Ravens
Rookie tight ends never do much. That’s the rule. Set through that lens, Andrews’s current ranking as the No. 18 PPR tight end is impressive, especially considering the inconsistent QB play and run-heavy nature of the Ravens offense down the stretch. Andrews is not dominating targets among the Baltimore tight ends, but he is getting the most work and doing the most with what he gets — he is averaging 3.3 PPR points per touch this season, while the team’s other tight ends (Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst, Maxx Williams) combine to average 2.2. His opponent this week, the Browns, held five of the first six TE groups they faced to under 10 PPR points, but has allowed eight of the past nine to cross that threshold.
Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears
For the season, the Bills are allowing 12.0 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, the stingiest average in the league by more than a full point. Last year, that incredible Jaguars defense held quarterbacks to 10.4.
Since Week 5, the Vikings are allowing 9.9.
Yes, every game counts, but the point is that the Vikings defense has been incredible for the majority of the season (and lest you think that is opponent-based, they’ve faced Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Trubisky inside of that stretch). The Vikings have to go all out Sunday. The Bears do too — at least at first, because if it becomes clear early that the Rams will beat the 49ers, the Bears will be locked into the No. 3 seed and might not press things. I’m not sure if there’s a quarterback I’d use against the Vikings defense, but I know Trubisky isn’t one.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
The flip side of that Bears/Vikings game is the run defense on the Chicago side. Lions running backs have scored three rushing touchdowns against the Bears this season. All the rest of the running backs in the league have combined for one (Aaron Jones in Week 15). They’ve allowed the second-fewest rushing yards and fourth-fewest yards per carry, with only five rushing touchdowns. Cook has been on a mini-hot streak down the stretch (6.1 yards per carry over the last month), but I’m steering clear in this one.
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans
One of my roles as PFF Fantasy editor involves tagging the names in all our fantasy stories. Go through a story, see a name, link it. As such, it doesn’t take me long early in the season to notice patterns. One of our staff patterns early in the year was hyping receivers facing the Colts, with cornerbacks Kenny Moore, Pierre Desir and Nate Hairston commonly cited as a reason. And not to indict my fantasy staff, because it was a common belief around the industry, but the Colts enter Week 17 allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers on the season. And (obviously) it’s better when they win — the Colts have allowed 36.5 PPR points per game to receivers in losses, but only 23.4 in wins. If you think the Colts win in Week 17 (and I do), Davis would be a player to avoid.
Eric Ebron, TE, Indianapolis Colts
Everything said in the previous paragraph is still true, but even if the Colts win Sunday, it’s unlikely to be an Ebron-dominated win. The Titans have somehow not allowed a touchdown to a tight end all season, and only the Eagles, Texans and Giants have even topped 10 points against them. Ebron has faltered the last two weeks, with a total of 4 catches for 36 yards. Meanwhile, the Titans allow the 10th-most PPR points to opposing receivers, including a nine-catch, 155-yard, 2-touchdown game to T.Y. Hilton the last time they played. That’s the avenue for a Colts win Sunday.
Daniel Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus.
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