JMToWin's NFL Edge: Week 17

Each week this NFL season, JMToWin will break down every game on the NFL slate from top to bottom, with a look at game flow, player matchups, coaching tendencies, DFS strategy, and anything else that shows up in his research that might give you an edge on the slate. Widely regarded as the most in-depth, DFS-specific article in the industry, this top-to-bottom breakdown is just what you need in order to conquer the slate and take home money each week!

Sunday Morning Update

If you are looking for a cheap TE, consider Jerell Adams.

While writing up the NFL Edge, I completely missed this, but Adams played 27 snaps last week – and while Rhett Ellison will work as a run blocker and get some action through the air, Adams will be involved as well. He is more of a pass-catcher than Ellison, and Washington is strong defending the perimeter. There should be a lot of targets today to RBs and TEs – which makes Adams an intriguing salary saver. I’ll call him a Tier 2 play. He’s risky, but for his price, I’m fine with him in all formats.

Week 17 Player Grid

Apologies for getting this up a bit later than usual; crazy travel day today!

With that: let’s get to it.

UPDATED INFORMATION SINCE THE NFL EDGE WAS POSTED:

DeAndre Hopkins is not going to play this week; this leaves Will Fuller as the number one receiver on the Texans in a great matchup against the Colts; he’s still tough to pull the trigger on, as he is used almost exclusively as a downfield threat, and there is no guarantee his role will change with Nuk on the sidelines; but he does carry huge upside.

The Steelers appear set to rest starters; this means Landry Jones under center, with Stevan Ridley and Fitzgerald Toussaint behind him. For me, this is a spot to avoid – simply because there are so many great values this week, I don’t want to chase bottom-tier backups if I can avoid it. This game is against the Browns – which provides some opportunity for success – if you feel compelled to go here yourself.

Matt Forte is out for the Jets. This will leave Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire soaking up all the work against a bad Patriots run D. Powell has gotten (far) more work lately; McGuire is the rookie the Jets may look to evaluate. This type of guesswork leaves these guys out of all three tiers, realistically, but it is likely one of them posts a strong game. As such, I still like the idea of guessing on one or the other in large-field tourneys. I have no idea which will see more work.

HOW TO BEST VIEW THIS PORTION OF THE ARTICLE:

These are the players I am currently gravitating toward in each tier. This should not be taken as a “complete list of the good plays on the slate.” This is, instead, simply a list of who I am gravitating toward, and how I see each guy.

The danger of relying too heavily on this Player Grid: Every week, there are going to be items in the research (laid out game-by-game in this article) that I will misinterpret, or will view incorrectly. If you lean on your own thoughts, and interpret the research on your own, you will never have one of those frustrating weekends in which you “lose because you relied on the thoughts of someone else,” rather than trusting yourself.

The benefit of incorporating this portion of the article into your research: I have over five years of profitable NFL DFS play under my belt. If you rely heavily on this list – building your teams around the players/thoughts below – you will definitely have those frustrating weekends in which you lose and wonder, “Why didn’t I rely on my own thoughts?” but you will also be profitable over time. I can say this with confidence, because I know that I will be profitable over time – and I lean on this list each week myself.

The best way to view this portion of the article: Ultimately, you would use this portion of the article as a balance against the thoughts you have come up with on your own!!!!

TIER 1: SAFE AND SOARING

These are all guys I feel have a safe floor and a high ceiling – with a good shot at hitting their ceiling. I am not particularly concerned about any of these guys ruining an otherwise-strong roster. These are guys I will be considering in cash games, head-to-heads, and tourneys of all sizes.

Quarterbacks

Matthew Stafford – A great QB, with great weapons, indoors, in a great matchup

Kirk Cousins – A great QB, closing out the season against the defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to QBs

Running Backs

Jamaal Williams – Talented running back in a great matchup; he will see all the RB work – through the air and on the ground

Dion Lewis – He’s Tier 1 if James White is out; if White plays, Lewis is a strong Tier 2 play, but his upside takes a big hit

LeSean McCoy – One of the most talented players in the NFL, in a must-win game; the Bills should ride him hard

Wide Receivers

Julio Jones – The talent is there; the matchup is great; the Falcons need this game

Michael Thomas – He has been left off the final injury report; if he had not posted a dud last week, he would be everyone’s favorite play, vs Tampa, in a must-win game; instead, he seems to be going overlooked

Tight Ends

Rob Gronkowski – The best tight end in football, on a Patriots team that is otherwise low on weapons

TIER 2: LESS SAFE; STILL SOARING

These are all guys I feel have a high ceiling – with a good shot at hitting their ceiling – but these guys do carry more risk than the “Tier 1 players” of posting the sort of score that could ruin an otherwise-strong roster. Ultimately, these are still excellent, and mostly-safe plays; I will try to pull as many names from the list above as I can for cash games, but I won’t be surprised to find a couple of these guys on my cash game roster. I like these guys in tourneys of all sizes.

Quarterbacks

Tom Brady – It feels weird to put him in Tier 2, but with limited weapons and a dip in effectiveness since the achilles injury popped up, there is a slightly higher chance than normal that he could disappoint; still an excellent play in a great matchup, in a must-win game

Tyrod Taylor – He’s highly unlikely to break the slate open, but he’s also unlikely to post a dud; at his price, that’s absolutely worth something

Philip Rivers – Because Keenan Allen is in a tougher matchup, Rivers misses Tier 1 for me – but he’s likely to post a really nice game

Jimmy Garoppolo – Is there any reason to expect a disappointing game against a Rams team that is resting players?

Russell Wilson – He has shown the last two weeks that Bevell can hold him back, and he can post a dud; he has also shown he can top 30 points with ease if the opportunities are there

Cam Newton – He should get 10+ carries, which limits the opportunities for him to completely bomb; along with that floor, he has one of the highest ceilings in the NFL

Drew Brees – This offense does not flow through him, but he should still get his

Running Backs

Isaiah Crowell – With the Steelers resting starters, there is a clear path to a 20-carry game for a talented running back in a good rushing offense – at near-zero ownership (this sets up as a Crowell week, but you know I’m always fine with Duke Johnson as well)

Samaje Perine – Injury issues knock him down to Tier 2, but he’s a 20-touch back in a great matchup

Wayne Gallman – The presence of Orleans Darkwa and Paul Perkins pull him down from Tier 1, but he’s cheap and averaging 6.3 catches per game since McAdoo got fired – in a great matchup

Derrick Henry – Better on FanDuel (where he costs a smaller percentage of the salary cap, and where catches don’t matter as much), but solid on both sites with 20+ touches likely

Kenyan Drake – With the Dolphins simply playing out the string, there is enough uncertainty for me to put Drake here; but the upside is huge vs a pathetic Bills run D

Alex Collins – The best way to beat the Bengals is on the ground, and Collins will soak up much of this work; I expect the Ravens to get him his 105 yards for a thousand-yard season

Marshawn Lynch – I think the Raiders will feed him the ball heavily here to close out his career; if I’m right, the matchup is great

Christian McCaffrey – We are likely overpaying for a score we can get for less – but we should also fully expect a solid score in this spot

Alvin Kamara – Always

Mark Ingram – A lower floor than Kamara, but just as high of a ceiling

Wide Receivers

Marvin Jones – Week 17 brings enough question marks for the Lions that he has to responsibly be placed in Tier 2; but I love him this week

Golden Tate – Whereas Jones is used primarily downfield, Tate is used primarily underneath; tougher for him to hit upside, but YAC ability gets him there

Kenny Golladay – Levitan brought him up on our Friday night show, and he’s a guy I fully overlooked; with the Lions in evaluation mode, it’s a great week for them to get Golladay heavily involved

Josh Doctson – The targets haven’t been there in a major way outside of his 13-target spike last week, but he should get around five to seven looks, with upside for more, in a great matchup

Jamison Crowder – If the targets spike, he could be in for a big game against the dead-on-their-feet Giants

Marquise Goodwin – The targets should bounce back to double digits, and his connection with Jimmy G. makes the upside very real

Tight Ends

Jack Doyle – On an ugly week for tight ends, Doyle is as likely as any to see seven to nine targets and post a strong game

Charles Clay – On an ugly week for tight ends, Clay is as likely as any to see seven to nine targets and post a strong game

Antonio Gates – On an ugly week for tight ends, Gates is as likely as any to see seven to nine targets and post a strong game

TIER 3: EVEN LESS SAFE; STILL STRONG

These are all guys I feel have a strong ceiling – with a good shot at hitting their ceiling – but there are also ways in which these guys could absolutely bomb. I will try to avoid these guys in cash games, but I like them in tourneys of all sizes.

Quarterbacks

Jacoby Brissett – While most people seem comfortable putting him in Tier 1, I prefer to roster good players; the matchup is great and the ceiling is there, but there is still room for a dud

Running Backs

Carlos Hyde – He could easily be put in Tier 2, but with Hyde likely gone after the season, the 49ers could feature Matt Breida, which introduces risk; that also makes Breida a worthwhile dart throw in large-field tourneys

C.J. Anderson – Things get iffy in this game, with KC resting some starters and the Broncos starting Paxton Lynch; but if the workload is there, there is opportunity for another nice game

Wide Receivers

T.Y. Hilton – He has as much upside as any receiver on the slate; he’s also receiving passes from Brissett, so while I expect a big game here, I’m also acknowledging the risk

Josh Gordon – Much like Hilton: if you are going to take on a low floor, you may as well do it with a guy who also has the upside to break the slate wide open with a monster game

Brandin Cooks – Much like the two guys above: the floor is lower than most want to admit, but the ceiling remains through the roof with a limited cast around him, in a matchup that sets up well for the Patriots to throw

Keelan Cole – Because the Jags have zero to play for, Cole has to be slotted down here, but he’s the #1 receiver right now in a good matchup, with plenty of upside

A.J. Green – The matchup is unfriendly against Baltimore, but Green is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL; as with the guys above: the time to take on a lower floor is when the guy in question can also post a monster score

Keenan Allen – I do not like the matchup against the Raiders – who have been strong vs wide receivers down the stretch – but the upside remains; he’s in the same category as the guys listed above

Doug Baldwin – He has disappeared from the game plan in recent weeks, but if the Seahawks wise up and get him more involved, Baldwin is capable of a monster outing

Larry Fitzgerald – Playing at Seattle is never fun, and catching passes from Drew Stanton lowers his floor; but the big upside remains

Tight Ends

Rhett Ellison – It feels downright dirty to go here, but who else is Eli Manning going to throw to? – at a tough position to fill, Ellison is in the conversation this week

TIER 4: BIG TOURNEYS ONLY

This empty space serves as a reminder that in large-field tourneys – with top-heavy payout structures and tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of entries – you often need one or two bold moves to take down first place. This can be full game stacks, or a player no one is talking about who you feel has a clear shot at a huge game. Boxing anyone in with a “list” in this section would be doing a disservice. If you’re trying to take down a large-field tourney, go out there – and be bold!

Week 16 Lineup Review

Because of travel and the holidays, I went lighter on volume in Week 16 – and I also rolled with a pair of main teams.

I was unable to find the time on Sunday morning to put together pre-kickoff thoughts, but here are the teams, followed by my post-results breakdown:

Russell Wilson – 14.82
Christian McCaffrey – 7.8
Dion Lewis – 35.3
Doug Baldwin – 12.8
Keelan Cole – 19.8
Jarvis Landry – 9.1
Rob Gronkowski – 17.7
Chris Godwin – 12.8
Lions – 5.0

Russell Wilson – 14.82
Kareem Hunt – 20.6
Dion Lewis – 35.3
Doug Baldwin – 12.8
Keelan Cole – 19.8
Jarvis Landry – 9.1
Eric Ebron – 19.3
Duke Johnson – 17.1
Lions – 5.0

If you read last week’s Player Grid, these teams come as no surprise. There are 11 position players in all across these two teams. Six of those 11 players were listed as Tier 1 plays for me last week (Russ, CMC, Landry, Gronk, Godwin, and Hunt), and another three were listed as Tier 2 plays for me (Baldwin, Cole, and Ebron). The only guys missing from the Player Grid were Dion Lewis (after news broke late Saturday night that James White was expected to miss, Lewis became a must-play in my mind, as he could comfortably be projected to reach around 20 carries, and to soak up all the pass game work for the Patriots out of the backfield) and Duke Johnson. If you’ve read this article all season, you are well aware of my love for Duke Johnson – who is genuinely one of the best per-touch players in the NFL (and if Hue Jackson gets canned this offseason, we’ll hopefully see him unleashed next season by a less in-over-his-head coach). I’ve been down on Duke since Josh Gordon returned, but I realized late Saturday night that I couldn’t quite get comfortable with Theo Riddick at $4700 (all signs pointed to another strong workload, but the presence of both Tion Green and Ameer Abdullah still created a lot of guesswork), and my “best case” workload projection for Riddick was not all that much better than the guaranteed workload for Duke. With how thin value was, I decided to take the plunge on a player I feel is the better on-field threat, with a more secure “guaranteed workload” – even if the other player (Riddick) had a higher “upside for workload.”

I had a fine week – cashing nicely in tourneys with that second team (it would have been a really strong week if I had stuck with the Panthers as my defense on that team, rather than “making a late decision” to go with double-Lions), but falling short in tourneys with the first team and cashing in only half of the double-ups in which I had that lineup entered.

My upside on the week was capped no matter what, as I was unwilling from the start to do three things:

1) Pay over $9k for a running back who had been getting about 20 touches (and three to four catches) per game. That running back, of course, was Todd Gurley – who saw a massive spike in workload.

2) Roster a 37-year-old tight end (Antonio Gates) in a below-average matchup on a team that does not use the tight end as often as it should in the first place.

3) Pay $8k for a running back (Ezekiel Elliott) who had caught three passes across his previous four games – on a site with PPR scoring.

I don’t regret any of those moves. As you have surely picked up from my content, I value volume and matchup above everything else, and with my primary focus on cash games and small-field tourneys, Gurley’s recent workload simply did not justify the price. As I tried to emphasize heavily last week: I completely expected a strong game from Gurley. But on a week without a ton of value available, I simply could not justify his price tag if his workload remained where it was. Knowing why you make certain decisions is hugely important in DFS – and accounting for those decisions both before the games kick off and after the results are in is massively beneficial. There are a lot of weeks in which I profit specifically because I care about volume more than most of my competition does. I’ll always be fine missing out on a game like Gurley posted last weekend (again: with my perpetual focus on cash games and small-field tourneys) if I missed out because I was paying attention to volume.

Because I don’t pay attention to what others are writing and saying throughout the week, I was jaw-dropped shocked when I saw Gates’ ownership on Sunday. Yes, value was thin, but – as highlighted in the Edge – there was other tight end value available: Ebron’s volume had spiked lately, and the Bengals specifically filter targets to the tight end. Hunter Henry (who is probably the third-best receiving tight end in the NFL – behind only Gronk and Kelce) has consistently seen two to five targets per game. I would have paid $3700 for Ebron (with an expectation of seven to nine targets) a thousand times out of a thousand over Gates, with an expectation of three to five targets. The results didn’t work in my favor, but that’s a process I’ll happily follow time and time again. There was no reason – either from recent tight end usage patterns on the Chargers, or from matchup – to expect Gates to see eight targets. I was annoyed that he was so highly owned when his points started climbing, but I’ll always be happy making a decision like that.

I said last week that Zeke was fully capable of catching the ball, but that I didn’t want to speculate on his pass game involvement spiking after that had not happened in four consecutive games. His pass game role did spike, but the matchup (which was also tough) caught up to him. This fade worked out just fine, as Zeke scored 15.8 points at $8k.

My big mistake on the weekend was getting talked off of C.J. Anderson. Groupthink was the only reason he was not chalky after seeing an average of over 25 touches per week across his previous three games – but after my Friday night show, I got sucked in as well, and after strongly considering him all week, I bumped him down to Tier 3 in my Player Grid on Saturday morning.

Other than that, I felt pretty good about the weekend. I had an awesome run earlier in the year that came alongside some decisions I didn’t feel great about in retrospect. And I’ve had a fairly mediocre run across the last month (barely profitable during this stretch) while mostly making decisions I have felt great about. Jarvis Landry had his second-worst game of the season (in a great matchup). Christian McCaffrey had his worst game of the season (in a great matchup). Sometimes, these things happen.

If you are new to this article, I should point out: I’m not trying to make myself look good by making excuses for plays that performed poorly. Longtime readers can attest to the fact that I aim to be as accountable as possible, and that I’m very honest about the plays I feel were bad plays – both on winning weekends and losing weekends. But part of “assessing process” is A) knowing why you roster certain players, and B) being honest with yourself on whether or not you stand by your decisions. Outside of fading C.J. Anderson ($5500, under 3% owned, and 28.3 points – as one of the best research-driven, on-paper plays on the weekend), I stand by my decisions. I “hit my stride” in profit a couple months ago; I’ve hit my stride in decision-making this last month. Hopefully in Week 17, the two sides come together for a strong close to the regular season!

A Quick Note On Week 17

People freak out a bit too much about Week 17, but it is certainly true that we need to be aware of the situation in which each team finds itself. Because people tend to swing too far toward crazy plays this weekend, it has typically been one of my best weekends of the DFS season – by simply sticking to the plays that make the most sense on paper.

Of course, we’ll touch on the unusual situations, where necessary, as we walk through this week’s article. But remember: this is like any other week. You are trying to make what you feel are the actual best plays you can make.

People always make a big deal about “teams that have nothing to play for in Week 17.” Usually, teams like the Bears, 49ers, Browns, etc., are included on these lists. This is false advertising. Most of these teams have had nothing to play for through several weeks, and that has not impacted their approach. Yes, there are a lot of teams eliminated from the playoffs at this point. Very few of these teams will be resting players. Typically, Week 17 brings a standard level of effort from these squads, and should not be viewed any differently than any other week. The same goes for teams that were recently eliminated. There is always a tendency in the DFS community on this weekend to focus only on the teams that have a truly meaningful Week 17 game. Week 17 is a far more profitable venture when you avoid this trap.

The one major issue is teams that cannot change their playoff seeding, and may rest key players before the postseason begins. Here is a breakdown of the category into which each team falls this week:

The following teams still have playoff seeding to play for in Week 17, or are playing for a playoff spot (i.e., “meaningful games”):

Patriots
Steelers
Ravens
Titans
Chargers
Bills
Vikings
Saints
Rams
Panthers
Falcons
Seahawks

The Rams are only playing for the difference between the 3/4 seed, which is insignificant; they are planning to rest several players, which we will dig into in the writeup of their game below.

In order for the Vikings to fall to the 3 seed, they would need to lose, and the 49ers would have to beat the Rams, and the Panthers would have to beat the Falcons, and the Buccaneers would have to beat the Saints. That’s unlikely, but the difference between the 2 and 3 seed is enormous, and those other three games take place late, while the Vikings play early. As such, we should still expect maximum playing time for core players, and – barring an emotional let-down – maximum effort.

The following teams are eliminated from the playoffs, but – absent specific reports to the contrary – should be expected to play all healthy players:

Dolphins
Bengals
Raiders
Broncos
Jets
Texans
Colts
Browns
Lions
Cowboys
Packers
Redskins
Cardinas
49ers
Bears
Buccaneers
Giants

The following teams are in the playoffs, and have nothing to play for:

Jaguars
Chiefs
Eagles

Jaguars coach Doug Marrone – following a sloppy, embarrassing road loss – has said publicly he is treating this week like any other week, and the Jags are playing to win. I feel comfortable taking him at his word, as most of these players have no playoff experience, and the Jags would surely like to build momentum heading into the playoffs. We’ll dig deeper into the Chiefs and Eagles in our writeups for those teams, but those are the two units at major risk of resting key players. Keep a close eye on news this week – both on RotoWorld and on RotoGrinders alerts – for further information.

Packers at Lions

Vegas-Implied Total: Lions 25.0, Packers 18.0

KEY MATCHUPS:

Lions Run D – 25th DVOA / 22nd Yards allowed per carry
Packers Run O – 2nd DVOA / 4th Yards per carry

Lions Pass D – 16th DVOA / 23rd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Packers Pass O – 20th DVOA / 29th Yards per pass attempt

Packers Run D – 8th DVOA / 8th Yards allowed per carry
Lions Run O – 30th DVOA / 31st Yards per carry

Packers Pass D – 26th DVOA / 28th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Lions Pass O – 12th DVOA / 7th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell does not get a whole lot of media attention (the fact that I felt it necessary to write “Lions head coach” before typing Caldwell’s name encapsulates just how little he is talked about), and the media attention he does receive is usually negative – with a focus on his poor ability to make adjustments in-game, and on his quiet, unenthusiastic demeanor. Some of this criticism is warranted. But Caldwell is an excellent during-the-week coach – a guy who prepares well for his opponent, and who gets his team prepared along the way. He is also loved by his players, as he is always willing to publicly take blame, while almost never publicly placing blame on an individual guy. The Lions have nothing to play for this week, but it seems that Caldwell is (perpetually) on the hot seat, and after last week’s embarrassing loss to the Bengals in a must-win game, I expect the Lions to put forth maximum effort in this spot.

This game sets up well for Detroit as well, as they are the third-pass-heaviest team in the NFL, and they are taking on a Green Bay defense that ranks eighth in both yards allowed per carry and DVOA against the run, but 28th in yards allowed per pass attempt and 26th in DVOA through the air.

It is perpetually astonishing to me how little the fantasy community at large, and the DFS community as a part of that, pays attention to the context of the ups and downs of a player’s performance/usage. I imagine we will see very little interest this week in Marvin Jones and Golden Tate, one week after they took on a Bengals team that has allowed the fifth-fewest wide receiver catches in the NFL, and that filters targets to the tight end (10th-most tight end receptions allowed) and the running back (sixth-most running back receptions allowed). This week, the Lions take on a Packers team that has been a top 10 unit against tight ends (catches, yards, and touchdowns), but that ranks bottom 12 in yards and catches to wide receivers (while ranking second-worst in the NFL in touchdowns allowed to the position). The last time these teams played, Marvin Jones turned 11 targets in to a 7-107-2 line, while Golden Tate turned nine targets into a 7-113-0 line. The Lions won that game (at Green Bay) 30-17. Each guy should be expected to bounce back to his normal target range this week, which would put Jones at seven to nine targets (with most of them coming downfield), and would put Tate at seven to 10 targets (with most of them coming close to the line of scrimmage). Jones is the preferred target in the red zone (13 looks on the season, to seven for Tate).

The Lions got Ameer Abdullah more involved last week, forcing him six carries and two targets on 11 snaps. On a pass-heavy offense, with three running backs in the rotation, it’s unlikely any of these guys see enough work to matter on a 16-game slate. Theo Riddick would be the best bet to perform against a Packers defense that ranks bottom 10 in receptions allowed to running backs, though he has topped five targets in only one of his last nine games.

On the other side of this matchup, Brett Hundley has had his fair share of ups and downs, including three games of 18+ fantasy points (vs Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland), but also four games with fewer than 10 fantasy points (three of those came against Minnesota – twice – and Baltimore, but one came against Tampa Bay). Davante Adams is unlikely to be rushed back from his brutal Week 15 concussion, and Jordy Nelson may miss this game as well with a shoulder injury. This leaves coverage and usage a bit up in the air, but it also leaves plenty of cheap targets against a beatable secondary.

If Davante plays, Darius Slay will likely stick to him, which will worsen his matchup; if Davante is out and Jordy plays, we’ll likely see Slay on Jordy. If both guys are out, I’ll be surprised if Slay shadows anyone.

Last week, Geronimo Allison played over 50 snaps, but saw only three targets, while Michael Clark saw nine targets on fewer than 30 snaps. He turned these looks into only three catches for 36 yards. Randall Cobb has yet to top 58 yards with Hundley under center, and he has topped five catches only once (an 8-39-0 game vs Cleveland). He has one touchdown with Hundley under center. If Davante and Jordy can’t go, Allison, Clark, and Cobb will likely play the majority of the snaps, with targets distributed fairly evenly among all three.

The Packers were also hit by injuries in the backfield last week, losing Aaron Jones to an MCL sprain, which should leave Jamaal Williams as the lead back for the Pack. Williams has only 25 carries and three targets across his last two games combined, but he had 39 carries and 11 targets across Weeks 11 and 12 with Jones on the sidelines. The Packers rank second in DVOA on the ground and fourth in yards per carry, while Detroit ranks 25th and 22nd in each category, respectively. Only the Bills have allowed more rushing touchdowns to running backs than the Lions have allowed, and only the Falcons have allowed more receptions to running backs than the Lions.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

On a 16-game slate, I will be looking to play only the best plays (assessing “best plays” – as always – based on talent, matchup, opportunity, and price). This will leave me off the Lions’ backfield, and will likely leave me off Eric Ebron as well. I won’t argue against Ebron if you want to go there – given his recent spike in involvement – but the Packers filter targets away from tight ends, and there is plenty of (preferable) value available on a slate this large.

I like Stafford – indoors, in a great matchup, on a pass-heavy team that should bounce back in a big way to close out the season – and I also like his top targets in Jones and Tate. Jones carries more big-play upside, while Tate has a higher floor and can reach upside with his run-after-catch ability.

In large-field tourneys, there is a case to be made for Brett Hundley, as his dual-threat ability – indoors, in a game the Packers should be trailing – gives him solid upside for his dirt-cheap price. Teams have an easier time scoring on the ground against Detroit than they do through the air (only 10 teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Lions), and Hundley may have no legitimate wide receiver weapons – both of which keep his floor low – but the upside remains. It won’t surprise me if Allison, Clark, or Cobb posts a solid WR game at a cheap price, but I probably won’t take on this level of guesswork and uncertainty myself.

Far more certain is the workload and upside for Jamaal Williams. We should expect around 18 to 20 carries for him this week, and he should get involved in the pass game once more – especially with all the injuries to the Packers’ wide receivers. He’s a strong play this week, and is indisputably underpriced on both sites.

Bears at Vikings

Vegas-Implied Total: Vikings 25.75, Bears 13.75

KEY MATCHUPS:

Vikings Run D – 5th DVOA / 6th Yards allowed per carry
Bears Run O – 16th DVOA / 11th Yards per carry

Vikings Pass D – 5th DVOA / 2nd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Bears Pass O – 29th DVOA / 24th Yards per pass attempt

Bears Run D – 11th DVOA / 10th Yards allowed per carry
Vikings Run O – 18th DVOA / 22nd Yards per carry

Bears Pass D – 14th DVOA / 15th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Vikings Pass O – 6th DVOA / 11th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

With 16 games on the slate, this one is likely to go overlooked in the DFS community – and for good reason, as there are no above-average matchups on either side. The Vikings are one of the best defenses in the NFL – ranking fifth in DVOA against both the run and the pass, while allowing the fewest yards and the fewest points in the league. They are taking on a Bears offense that ranks 30th in yards and 29th in points. On the other side of this matchup, Vic Fangio’s disciplined and well-schemed Bears defense ranks in the top half of the league in catches and touchdowns allowed to wide receivers, while allowing the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks and the eighth-fewest passing yards per game. The Bears also rank in the top half of the league in fewest rushing yards allowed and rushing touchdowns allowed. Only nine team have allowed fewer points per game than the Bears have allowed.

On a 16-game slate, I could probably end this game’s writeup right there – and I won’t blame you if you want to save time by skipping to the next game. If we want to focus only on “the best plays on the slate” (which is exactly what we should want), this is one of a handful of games this week that can be crossed off entirely.

With how difficult it will likely be for the Bears to post points this week, Minnesota should be able to build an early lead – which has been a recipe the last couple weeks for 20+ carries from Latavius Murray. This is a below-average matchup, but it’s not a “scary” matchup. Murray should see around 20 carries once more, and should get the first crack at goal line work.

Jerick McKinnon has been held below 10 carries in four straight games, which will almost certainly be the case once again if the Vikings take their expected lead. The Bears’ relative weakness has been pass-catching running backs (they’re not bad in this area – allowing the ninth-fewest yards through the air to RBs and the fewest touchdowns in the league – but they have allowed the 11th-most catches to the position), but McKinnon has seen unreliable usage in this role, with recent target counts of two, eight, three, five, and three.

Adam Thielen has topped six targets in only one of his last four games (after seeing eight or more targets in eight consecutive games), and he was held to a 5-34-0 line (on eight targets) the last time these teams met. The talent is inarguable, but the matchup is a drawback. With the Vikings content to slow down the game and keep the ball on the ground when they take a lead, we should also not expect a major spike in workload here.

While Thielen has seen his work trickle downward lately, Stefon Diggs has seen his work trickle up. He has only four games on the year of eight or more looks, but two of those have come in his last three games (eight targets last week, and 10 in Week 14). He posted a 1-4-0 line on four targets the last time these teams played, and he has topped 66 yards only once in his last nine games (78 yards on four catches in Week 10 vs Washington – aided by a 51-yard play). The Bears have also been a top 10 tight end defense this year. Kyle Rudolph has three targets across his last two games (one hobbled, one healthy).

When the Bears have the ball, they will try to run (27th in passing play percentage) until they fall behind and are forced to go to the air. Early on, this will mean carries for Jordan Howard; later in the game, this will likely mean Howard (22 catches through 15 game) falls out of the game plan as the Bears fall behind. Only two teams have allowed fewer rushing yards to running backs than the Vikings have allowed.

The Bears’ current group of wide receivers have combined for one total game on the season of 100-plus yards, while the Vikings have allowed the 11th-fewest yard and receptions to the position. The Bears throw less often in the red zone than any other team.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

There is no one on the Vikings I will be interested in this week. In large-field tourneys, you can take a shot on the upside of Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen, though neither is a strong on-paper play. The same goes for Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon: things could fall in place for one of them to post a solid game, but it would be totally unpredictable, and there are much better spots on the slate.

If you have regularly rostered offensive players against the Vikings this year, you have probably lost money. If you have regularly rostered Bears players this year, you have probably lost money. The Bears have the lowest Vegas-implied total on the week, and are a poor bet for DFS production.

Texans at Colts

Vegas-Implied Total: Colts 22.5, Texans 18.5

KEY MATCHUPS:

Colts Run D – 14th DVOA / 11th Yards allowed per carry
Texans Run O – 22nd DVOA / 15th Yards per carry

Colts Pass D – 30th DVOA / 31st Yards allowed per pass attempt
Texans Pass O – 19th DVOA / 15th Yards per pass attempt

Texans Run D – 6th DVOA / 9th Yards allowed per carry
Colts Run O – 23rd DVOA / 28th Yards per carry

Texans Pass D – 23rd DVOA / 32nd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Colts Pass O – 31st DVOA / 22nd Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

Some people will likely avoid this game altogether because it “has no bearing on the rest of the NFL season,” but even those who are willing to pull players from all games are likely to largely avoid this game, simply because it pits a pair of poor offenses (Indianapolis ranks 31st in yards and 30th in points; Houston – even with the aid of a few Deshaun Watson weeks – ranks 18th in yards and 16th in points). Outside of a few key exceptions, I take no issues with that approach – as this game is largely unattractive for DFS production.

Jacoby Brissett has spent the year proving to be nothing more than a capable backup, with a completion rate of only 58.8%, and with only 12 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He is averaging under 200 passing yards per game, and he has been far more interested in checking down to safe throws than to forcing the issue downfield. This has led to largely mistake-free football (absent all the sacks he has sustained), but has also led to very few explosive plays.

This approach has mostly held back T.Y. Hilton this season, as Hilton – last year’s leader in receiving yards, and one of the most dynamic and explosive players in the NFL – has gone for 100+ yards only four times all season, and only once in his last six games. Most egregiously of all, Hilton’s five games before his 12-target (100-yard) game last week had yielded target counts of seven, four, six, five, and four. It is worth noting that Hilton has had some fairly difficult wide receiver matchups on the year, and the targets tend to be there in matchups where he can get open. Last time he took on Houston (on the road), he turned nine targets into 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Realize this with Hilton: Brissett is rarely going to throw to him in tight windows, and is rarely going to “throw him open” or anticipate him breaking open, which always creates risk for a low target floor. But if the targets are there (there is a solid chance they will be), Hilton sets up nicely against a defense that has allowed the eighth-most passing plays of 20+ yards and the most passing plays of 40+ yards.

Brissett’s tendency to check down has been a boon for Jack Doyle, who has seen seven or more targets in nine games this season (his 103 targets on the year, hilariously, ties Hilton for the team lead). He has topped 50 yards only four times this year and has scored only three touchdowns, so upside is no sure thing, but the Texans are a bottom-10 tight end defense, and the floor here should be solid.

Outside of Hilton and Doyle, there has been nothing usable in the Colts’ passing attack all season.

The Colts’ rushing attack is also in a rough spot, as the Texans rank sixth in DVOA and ninth in yards allowed per carry. Like Larry Fitzgerald last week (when we said in this article that it was “maybe worth noting that Fitz might be playing the last home game of his career”), it is maybe worth noting that 34-year-old Frank Gore could be playing in his last contest. Gore also has 16+ carries in six of his last eight games – though, again, the matchup does not set up well, and the only game this year in which Gore topped 82 yards was a 36-carry outing against a bottom-three Buffalo run D.

The Texans have also been difficult to trust on the ground, with Lamar Miller averaging a poor 3.7 yards per carry and failing to top 75 rushing yards all season. The Colts are a bottom-three pass defense (DVOA and YPA), but they rank in the top half of the league against the run. Miller has also seen only 19 carries across the last two weeks, while Alfred Blue (4.2 yards per carry on the year) has seen 28.

T.J. Yates has thrown 73 passes this season, but has had the misfortune of firing off 47 of those attempts against the Steelers and Jaguars. He performed respectably in his one beneficial matchup – completing only 53.8% of his passes in Week 14 against the 49ers, but throwing for 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns on only 26 attempts. Last week, the Texans gave 26 carries to Blue and Miller while allowing Yates to throw only 16 times (in a blowout loss, no less), which creates cause for volume concerns around his pass catchers. But if the volume is there for Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller, they get to take on a Colts defense that has allowed the most pass plays in the league of 20+ yards, and that has allowed the fourth-most receiving yards to wideouts, in spite of allowing only the 15th-most receptions. Hopkins has only four games all year below double-digit looks, so as long as Yates is asked to throw 25+ times, Hopkins should get there once again. He leads the NFL in targets per game and percentage share of team air yards, and also has the most receiving touchdowns in the league. (UPDATE: DeAndre Hopkins is expected to miss Week 17.)

Will Fuller is less reliable, with only three games all year north of five targets, and with exactly five targets in three straight. Fuller continues to be used primarily downfield, with the second-deepest average depth of target in the NFL, so the floor is also low with a third-string quarterback under center. Obviously, these “low floor” caveats” come alongside big upside if Fuller manages to connect on one or two of the deep balls that come his way.

The rest of this passing attack holds very little DFS (or real-life) appeal with T.J. Yates under center and Fuller/Nuk hogging a massive chunk of the available work.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

I will not have interest in either backfield myself, with Gore almost certain to fall shy of 100 yards, and with Miller and Blue splitting work. None of these backs have a high-quality matchup, and there is not enough ceiling to go with the low floor each guy carries.

T.Y. Hilton also carries a low floor, but his ceiling is high enough to justify a roster spot at his price tag on both sites. I have avoided Hilton in cash games all year, but I tend to focus more heavily on tourneys in Week 17, so he will be on my radar for the slate-breaking upside he carries in this matchup. Doyle has a nice floor with the guaranteed work he typically sees, though he’s the opposite of Hilton: in this matchup, he’s unlikely to post a score that will ruin your roster, but he’s also unlikely to break the slate wide open with a monster outing. Generally speaking, yards and touchdowns are tough to come by with Brissett under center, so expectations should be set accordingly.

Fuller is in play in large-field tourneys for me, as he can top 20 points at low ownership and a low price tag if he connects on a deep ball or two – though he can also finish under five points if he and Yates fail to connect.

After the Texans kept Yates to such low volume last week, I don’t want to make Hopkins a priority in Week 17, but the upside is obviously massive. I will have no issues with Hopkins if I find I am able to easily fit him onto my roster, as he has the highest floor and ceiling among all NFL receivers now that Antonio Brown is on the shelf, and matchup sets up nicely along the way.

Browns at Steelers

Vegas-Implied Total: Steelers 26.5, Browns 13.0

KEY MATCHUPS:

Steelers Run D – 17th DVOA / 28th Yards allowed per carry
Browns Run O – 7th DVOA / 5th Yards per carry

Steelers Pass D – 11th DVOA / 17th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Browns Pass O – 32nd DVOA / 31st Yards per pass attempt

Browns Run D – 1st DVOA / 1st Yards allowed per carry
Steelers Run O – 11th DVOA / 25th Yards per carry

Browns Pass D – 28th DVOA / 24th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Steelers Pass O – 4th DVOA / 9th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

Both teams enter this week with plenty to play for. The Steelers are trying to secure the number one seed in the AFC playoffs…and the Browns are trying to avoid the ignominious distinction of going 0-16. Neither team is particularly likely to reach their goal (the Steelers – after getting robbed on “the right call on a very dumb rule” with the Jesse James no-touchdown a couple weeks ago – need the Patriots to lose to Bryce Petty and the Jets; the Browns need to beat a Steelers team that is much better than them), but each team will be playing to win.

UPDATE: Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger will be rested for Week 17.

For the Steelers, this means a full complement of snaps for Le’Veon Bell, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Martavis Bryant – or, at least, it means a full complement of snaps unless the Steelers have a big lead, and the Patriots have a big lead. This is where Week 17 trickles into strange territory, as I’m hesitant to say that Bell is not a cash game play. But I’m also hesitant to get as far behind him as I normally would, given that the Steelers – if scoreboard-watching – could decide to pull their core guys off the field after three quarters if they have a big lead and the Patriots also have a big lead. With the Steelers taking on the Browns, and the Patriots at home against Bryce Petty, we have to consider it likely that each team will have a big lead after three quarters. As such, we need to consider it genuinely risky to lean too heavily on the core pieces of the Steelers’ attack in cash games. This is especially true after the Steelers let Stevan Ridley (nine carries) and Landry Jones close out their blowout Week 16 win. (Scenarios like this are part of the reason I prefer tourneys to cash games in Week 17.)

That’s really the only issue for Le’Veon Bell, as he should otherwise be the focal point of an offense that is missing Antonio Brown. Bell ranks first in the NFL in rushing attempts, third in rushing yards, and seventh in receptions. Not seventh among running backs. Seventh among all players.

This is the value of Bell, who is usable in tough matchups because of his massive volume and his massive pass game role. The only players with more receptions than Bell are Jarvis Landry, Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown, Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, and Keenan Allen. Bell has more catches than guys like Julio Jones and A.J. Green, and he will function as the key cog in the Steelers’ offense this week for as long as he is on the field.

The Steelers are averaging 66.2 plays per game on the season (fifth-most in the NFL), but they ran only 58 plays last week, which lowered volume across the board – with Ben Roethlisberger attempting only 29 passes. The Browns allow the 13th-most opponent plays per game, and because they have turned the ball over more than any other team in football, they also rank 30th in points allowed. This is a good spot for Ben to get on track with Juju and Martavis, who still may be his top two weapons in the Steelers’ first playoff game.

Last week, Bell saw eight targets, Juju saw seven, and Martavis saw four. As mentioned last week, Martavis is rarely targeted outside of designed plays, but he should get anywhere from five to eight designed looks this week if the passing volume supports it. Seven targets should be the floor for Juju, while he has upside for 10+ if the Steelers get to throw the ball more than 29 times. The Browns have been solid against wide receivers, but more in a way that “they don’t boost a receiver’s expectations” than in a way that they “drag down a receiver’s expectations.” A blowout win and scaled-back volume is a much bigger concern this week for Juju than the matchup.

A breakdown of a game against the Browns is incomplete without a mention of the tight end playing against them, as Cleveland has allowed the most catches, the eighth-most yards, and the second-most touchdowns to the position. Jesse James is not a focal point in this offense, and he has seen one and five targets the last two games with Vance McDonald on the sidelines, but he has the potential for a few extra looks this week.

This will hopefully be the last game Hue Jackson coaches for the Browns, and will hopefully be the last game with DeShone Kizer under center. With Chiefs architect John Dorsey now installed as the GM in Cleveland, I’m hoping Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy gets this job next year (assuming he would even want it; the roster does have plenty of talent for a non-pathetic coach to take advantage of), but in the meantime, we are left with this: A head coach in Hue Jackson who has managed to become the first coach in NFL history to “earn” back-to-back number one picks in the draft, and a QB in Kizer who has somehow managed to throw 21 interceptions to only nine touchdowns. The Steelers rank second in the NFL in sacks. Only six teams have taken more sacks than the Browns.

One thing the Browns have going for them is a good rushing offense, as they rank seventh in DVOA on the ground and fifth in yards per carry. The Steelers are exploitable in this area – ranking 17th in DVOA and 28th in yards allowed per carry – but Cleveland ranks 27th in rushing attempts. This has partly to do with them constantly falling behind, but has more to do with pure and utter incompetence; the Bears, Jets, Colts, Texans, and Broncos all rank in the top half of the NFL in rushing attempts in spite of constantly falling behind. The Browns are simply too quick to abandon the one thing they do well. Isaiah Crowell has topped 12 carries only six times all year, and he has not cracked the 20-carry mark once. Duke Johnson has only one game all year with more than seven carries.

Because Cleveland will likely turn pass-heavy as soon as they fall behind, we could see Johnson reach around seven targets (as he has in back-to-back blowout losses), and we should also see Josh Gordon take on eight to 11 targets (starting with his most recent game, his target counts on the year have been eight, 10, six, and 11 – with the six-target game coming the one time the Browns had a lead for a large chunk of the game, which is unlikely to happen this week; Crowell saw a season-high 19 carries in that game). Gordon has only 14 catches on his 35 targets this year (the blame for this lands almost entirely on Kizer), but he always carries monster upside if the looks are there. Corey Coleman has seen four to six targets in each game with Gordon on the field, and has only seven catches on 20 targets in that span as Kizer continues to regress.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

Because of the elevated price tags on the key Steelers pieces and the elevated risk of these guys playing only a portion of the game, I am likely to leave them alone altogether – but I’m absolutely on board with Le’Veon Bell and Juju Smith-Schuster as sharp plays, if you want to go there yourself. Each guy should get enough volume to matter this week, but neither guy should be considered “underpriced,” given the game flow risks involved.

Martavis Bryant and Josh Gordon fall into the same general category as one another: “explosive players who can post a week-winning game, but probably won’t.” Martavis’ issue is his lack of locked-in volume, and his inconsistency when he has been on the field this year. Gordon’s issue has been the godawful quarterback play on this Browns team. Either guy can be targeted for the upside in tourneys, and Gordon in particular remains appealing with his price so much lower than his talent would otherwise justify. But Gordon’s galaxy-shattering talent does not mitigate the risk that Kizer forces onto this play.

Duke Johnson is always on the table – on DraftKings, in particular (with full PPR scoring) – as he has shown he can get his targets as long as the Browns fall behind (which should be the case this week). I have probably rostered Duke on core teams this year more than any other DFSer, so take my love for him with a grain of salt if you’d like – but last week I pulled in 17+ points for $4500, at less than 1% ownership, and he is fully capable of posting a similar score (at similar ownership) this week, making him a viable tourney option. On DK, Duke has averaged almost 1.4 fantasy points per touch; to put that in perspective, Todd Gurley – who has been the most efficient high-volume player in the NFL – has averaged under 1.2 fantasy points per touch.

Crowell would be capable of posting a great game in this matchup if the workload allowed him to do so, but unless Hue Jackson gets fired between now and Sunday (which won’t happen), the workload will probably not allow him to do so.

If the Browns get a good head coach next year and a merely capable quarterback, people are going to be surprised at just how strong this 0-16 (I mean…0-15) roster is capable of being.

Jets at Patriots

Vegas-Implied Total: Patriots 30.25, Jets 14.75

KEY MATCHUPS:

Patriots Run D – 32nd DVOA / 31st Yards allowed per carry
Jets Run O – 24th DVOA / 17th Yards per carry

Patriots Pass D – 21st DVOA / 25th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Jets Pass O – 21st DVOA / 16th Yards per pass attempt

Jets Run D – 13th DVOA / 14th Yards allowed per carry
Patriots Run O – 6th DVOA / 13th Yards per carry

Jets Pass D – 22nd DVOA / 20th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Patriots Pass O – 1st DVOA / 1st Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

The Patriots may be Super Bowl favorites at the moment, and Tom Brady may be the MVP favorite, but this has more to do with parity and injuries in the rest of the league than with any particularly spectacular play on the part of the Patriots – who have looked fairly mortal lately. This is the Patriot Way, of course – winning whether it’s pretty or not – but after a stretch that went “Loss at Miami, should-have-been loss at Pittsburgh, and home win over Buffalo that was very close until the 4th quarter,” this is a good spot for the Patriots to get back on track, against a Jets team that sets up well for them – with Bryce Petty under center, and with a defense that is easier to attack through the air than on the ground.

The Patriots have been a run-heavy team lately – holding Brady to 30 or fewer pass attempts in three of their last five games (with only 35 attempts in another) – but as always with the Patriots, this was more about the opponent than about any particular change in philosophy. This week should see them swing more toward the pass, in a matchup that saw Brady throw the ball 38 times when these teams met earlier in the year.

It seems likely at this point that the Patriots will hold Chris Hogan out of action again even if he progresses quickly, as this will give him another couple weeks to heal up before the Pats return to the field in the second round of the playoffs. This will leave a group of pass catchers headlined by Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks, with Danny Amendola, Kenny Britt, and Phillip Dorsett as afterthoughts (Amendola has topped four targets only once in his last five games; Dorsett has not topped one target in that stretch, and Britt has not topped two targets since joining the Patriots).

There have been a lot of casual mentions lately by Rob Gronkowski about how he and Brady have clicked really well in practice lately, and about how his body feels right for the first time in a while. He has at least seven targets in eight of his last nine games, and his last four games have gone for seven, 13, 11, and eight looks. He has three touchdowns in that stretch, and has averaged 116 yards per game. Only seven teams have allowed fewer tight end receptions than the Jets, but matchup matters far less for Gronk than for other tight ends, and the Jets have allowed the third-most touchdowns to the position.

During this same stretch of games – with Gronk dominating looks, and with Hogan on the sidelines – Brandin Cooks has seen his volume dry up, with recent target counts of five, seven, seven, and three. He has one touchdown in this stretch and has not topped 60 yards. Of course, coming into these four games, he was on a three-game hot streak with target counts of seven, nine, and 11, two touchdowns, and an average of 102 yards per game. Because Cooks sees very little red zone involvement (nine red zone targets all season – tied with Vernon Davis, Bennie Fowler, Ryan Grant, and Demetrius Harris), rarely sees more than eight targets (only three such games all year), relies on the big play for his production, and is usually priced like a number one receiver, proper strategy calls for him to be faded any time he projects to see high ownership, and to only consider him when he projects to be low-owned. I expect he’ll be fairly low-owned this week, if you want to take a shot on his upside against a beatable Jets secondary.

Over the Patriots’ last five games, their running backs have combined for 8.4 targets per contest, but this has come with none of these guys individually able to be relied on for more than four or five looks. If Rex Burkhead and James White are active this week, expect a similar distribution to what the Patriots had prior to Week 16 – which saw Lewis taking around 15 carries with a couple targets, while Burkhead took anywhere from five to 13 carries and two to five targets and White handled third-down work. If White misses and Burkhead plays, the latter will likely take over on third downs; if White plays and Burkhead misses, the former will play his usual role, while Lewis will have an expanded role on early downs and Mike Gillislee will mix in; if both guys miss, a distribution similar to Week 16 (24 carries and five targets for Lewis; six carries and one target for Gillislee) seems likely. The Patriots can be expected to run less often than they have in recent games vs Buffalo and Pittsburgh, making all of these guys iffy propositions if White or Burkhead (or both) are healthy, but Lewis will see enough work to be considered a workhorse back if White and Burkhead both miss.

The Jets also have a three-way backfield, but it might be clearing up a bit. Elijah McGuire saw zero touches last week while dealing with an illness, but he had only seven touches the week before, and one touch the week before that. Matt Forte is averaging 8.3 touches per game (1.7 catches) during that same stretch. Bilal Powell is averaging 15 touches (zero catches) during those three games. The Patriots have (partly by design) been one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, so while the Jets project to fall way behind this week, there is a chance Powell will see enough work to matter. With that said, Powell’s average snaps per game (24.7) have actually been down during this stretch compared to his previous three games (31.0), so the workload is certainly not locked in. Forte has seen 26.0 snaps per game during the last three weeks, and McGuire has seen 10.7.

Through the air, Bryce Petty holds back this offense in a good matchup. Petty has completed 47.4% of his passes so far this year, with one touchdown and three interceptions – bringing his career marks to a 53.11% completion rate, with four touchdowns and 10 picks.

Across the last two weeks, Petty has looked to Robby Anderson on 19 of his 67 throws (28.4%), completing 10 of these passes for only 91 yards. Anderson has the speed to give fits to the burnable New England secondary – especially with the help of garbage time – though he will obviously need Petty to help in order for this to happen. He should see enough targets for this to be a reasonable possibility, though he obviously remains a high-variance proposition.

Jermaine Kearse has seen 13 targets across the last two weeks (catching eight for 70). He would need a much stronger game from Petty in order to become usable this week, but Petty did take on the tough defenses of the Chargers and Saints the last two weeks (his career body of work tells us the matchup was not the reason he struggled, and he should be expected to struggle again this week – but there is at least hope for a good game from his pass catchers, whereas very little hope existed the last two weeks).

Austin Seferian-Jenkins woke up a bit last week with eight looks (after averaging three targets per game across the previous three weeks), though the matchup is not great against the Pats, who have allowed the seventh-fewest yards in the NFL to the position. The Patriots have also been solid at keeping tight ends out of the end zone – and, for that matter, have been solid at keeping opponents out of the end zone altogether, ranking seventh in the NFL in points allowed (19.3 per game), in spite of ranking 29th in yards, and in spite of allowing 32.0 points per game through the first four weeks of the season.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

Rob Gronkowski is the only guy in this game who stands out as a high-floor, high-ceiling play, as even Brady needs to have his floor bumped down a bit in this game, given A) the risk that the Pats go run-heavy after grabbing a big lead, and B) the fact that Brady has not looked like his MVP self since his achilles injury popped up a few weeks back. Obviously, Brady has huge upside, but his potential for a disappointing game is higher than it would have been in this matchup a month and a half ago.

I almost certainly won’t pay up for a low-volume receiver in Brandin Cooks, and with Brady’s average intended air yards dropping in recent weeks, I’m fairly certain the achilles issue is preventing him from wanting to go deep quite as often, but by now you know that I’m a sucker for volume in my roster decisions. If “floor” is less of a concern for you in your roster decisions, there is plenty of upside to chase in this spot with Cooks.

The Pats’ backfield is overpriced if White and/or Burkhead return, and is appropriately priced if both guys miss. Because I’m always on the lookout for underpriced guys, I probably won’t end up with anyone in this spot, but I’ll keep Lewis “in the conversation” for my rosters if both Burkhead and White project to miss, as he should touch the ball 20+ times once more if that’s the case.

Powell would be interesting on the other side of the ball if not for the fact that his touch counts are unsupported by his snap counts (it’s tough to continue averaging 15 carries per game on under 25 snaps per game). I’m also concerned the Jets could give a few extra touches to Forte if he has let them know he plans to retire after the season. This backfield is probably best left to large-field tourneys – though there is enough upside in this matchup that I’m not against the idea of taking a shot on Forte or Powell in smaller-field and single-entry stuff if you want to go there yourself.

The Jets’ passing attack is held back by Petty – and I don’t imagine he is helped by the fact that this game will be played in sub-freezing temps. But obviously, there is big upside to chase with Robby Anderson if you don’t mind the low floor. Kearse and ASJ would be tougher for me to justify this week, with 16 games on the slate.

Redskins at Giants

Vegas-Implied Total: Redskins 20.75, Giants 17.25

KEY MATCHUPS:

Giants Run D – 24th DVOA / 21st Yards allowed per carry
Redskins Run O – 29th DVOA / 29th Yards per carry

Giants Pass D – 25th DVOA / 29th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Redskins Pass O – 13th DVOA / 6th Yards per pass attempt

Redskins Run D – 22nd DVOA / 26th Yards allowed per carry
Giants Run O – 28th DVOA / 27th Yards per carry

Redskins Pass D – 8th DVOA / 18th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Giants Pass O – 18th DVOA / 30th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

These two teams are looking to close out disappointing seasons, with one team having already fired its head coach, and with the other team’s head coach rumored to be on the radar of at least one other team. After this season, Washington could be without its quarterback, at the very least, and could be in for a painful rebuild as a result.

This makes this game unappealing from a psychological perspective for DFSers – but as always, we should dig into this game to see if there is anything we can pull from it for our roster(s).

The line in this game is the first thing that jumps off the page, with two teams that rank 26th (Washington) and 29th (New York) in points allowed this season. On average, these teams have combined to allow 49.9 points per game, so it would take an offensive meltdown from each team for this game to reach only 38 points as Vegas is projecting. The Giants also rank last in the NFL in yards allowed, while Washington ranks 15th in yards and 14th in points. If I were in Vegas this weekend, I would bet the Over on this game, and (I’m not a sports bettor, so I’m not sure if there is a way to do this, but if there is…) I would bet on Washington going over their implied total.

Kirk Cousins is coming off tough matchups against Denver, Arizona, and the LA Chargers, and he is now going up against a Giants pass defense that ranks 25th in DVOA and 29th in yards allowed per pass attempt. No team in the NFL has allowed more fantasy points per game to QBs than the Giants have allowed.

Over the last month, Cousins has looked toward Jamison Crowder surprisingly little, with only six targets per game going his way across Washington’s last four contests. Crowder will square off primarily with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who got flamed by Larry Fitzgerald last week for a 9-119-1 line (though, of course, Fitz saw 15 targets – which cannot be expected from Crowder).

It is said that the definition of “insanity” is “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” If that’s the case, Cousins was certifiable last weekend, as he fed 13 targets to Josh Doctson – connecting on only two, while finally striking for a 48-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. That workload came with all-world cornerback Chris Harris on Crowder, so take the huge spike in targets with a grain of salt, but Doctson had been seeing 5.4 targets per game across his previous seven contests, with no fewer than four in any game during that stretch, so he will definitely remain involved this week. Ryan Grant continues to steal a few targets per game from other pass catchers without providing any real DFS value. Vernon Davis has not topped two catches since Week 11 – including in a great matchup against Denver last week. Obviously, he has another great matchup this week vs a Giants defense that is notoriously awful against tight ends.

Samaje Perine has averaged 19.8 touches per game across his last five contests (16.8 carries, 3.0 catches), and is taking on a New York run D that ranks 24th in DVOA and 21st in yards allowed per carry. Somehow, he is priced at only $4500 on DraftKings. He is more appropriately priced on FanDuel at $6400. The final piece on Washington’s offense is Kapri Bibbs, who has taken over the passing back role in this offense the last couple weeks, but has seen only nine total carries and six total catches.

Wayne Gallman has taken over the lead back role on the Giants over the last three weeks, averaging 10.0 carries and 6.3 catches per game since Ben McAdoo was fired. The last part of that – “since Ben McAdoo was fired” – is noteworthy. We can expect this usage to continue against a Washington defense that ranks 22nd in DVOA and 26th in yards allowed per carry, and that just allowed seven catches on nine targets to C.J. Anderson.

The outlook of this game will change if Davis Webb starts, but interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo has said that Eli Manning will be under center (for what may be his last game in a Giants uniform – or even his last game as an NFL starter). Washington has been strong against receivers this year, allowing the fourth-fewest receptions to the position – and most of their roadblocks are put up on the perimeter, which will make life difficult for sub-NFL talents Roger Lewis and Tavarres King. For whatever you feel it is worth: Lewis has seen double-digit targets in three consecutive games, though he has only 5.0 catches per game and 53.3 yards per game to show for it.

Washington is much weaker against slot receivers and tight ends, but the health of Sterling Shepard (neck) and Evan Engram (ribs) leave us waiting for more news before making any decisions here. If these guys miss, the Giants will be stuck relying on practice squad caliber wide receivers Hunter Sharp and Travis Rudolph, and blocking tight end Rhett Ellison. Ellison did see seven targets – hauling in four for 60 – with Engram on the sidelines for a chunk of last weekend’s game, and would be the best bet for production if Engram and Shepard miss. If one or the other guy plays, he should be in for a big workload in a winnable matchup.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

I’ll be surprised if this game draws much ownership attention – which suits me perfectly fine on a tourney-focused weekend, as Kirk Cousins has played at a high level all year, quietly ranking seventh in passing yards, eighth in completion percentage, sixth in touchdowns, and sixth in passer rating, in spite of losing Sean McVay and Pierre Garcon in the offseason, playing most of the season without Jordan Reed, losing Chris Thompson to injury, and having a poor group of wide receivers. He should have more time than normal against a Giants defensive line that ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, and he should perform well against a team that has allowed the most fantasy points per game to QBs.

I’m likelier to go Cousins naked than to pair him with a receiver, as he spreads the ball around too much for us to easily pinpoint a “high floor/ceiling” play among his pass catchers – but Doctson and Crowder are both in good spots. I expect Crowder’s targets to rise a bit this week, and am likelier to gravitate toward him than toward Doctson.

I also like Perine as an underpriced DK asset in a great matchup, and on the other side of the ball, I like Gallman as a near-lock for 10 carries and five to seven catches in a great matchup (I will lower my expectations if Eli ends up on the sidelines this week).

I’m less interested in the Giants’ wide receivers if Shepard/Engram are out, as there are simply safer, higher-upside values on the slate than these guys who will not be starting in the NFL next year. My interest level changes if Shepard or Engram take the field, as each guy has enough upside to justify a roster spot in this matchup if they are healthy. The nature of this broken offense means each guy has a low floor in spite of talent and matchup – but the upside is worth chasing on either guy if one or both end up playing. Value is not particularly hard to come by this week, but on DraftKings – where he is only $2700 – I could also see myself rolling with Ellison if Engram is out, as Washington is a bottom-10 tight end defense, and Eli showed last week that he is happy to throw to Ellison when Engram is off the field.

Cowboys at Eagles

Vegas-Implied Total: Cowboys 21.75, Eagles 19.25

KEY MATCHUPS:

Eagles Run D – 4th DVOA / 5th Yards allowed per carry
Cowboys Run O – 3rd DVOA / 3rd Yards per carry

Eagles Pass D – 9th DVOA / 4th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Cowboys Pass O – 17th DVOA / 19th Yards per pass attempt

Cowboys Run D – 23rd DVOA / 18th Yards allowed per carry
Eagles Run O – 15th DVOA / 6th Yards per carry

Cowboys Pass D – 20th DVOA / 11th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Eagles Pass O – 2nd DVOA / 13th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

This is a stranger game to break down than many of the others on the weekend – on one side of the ball.

We will start, however, on the easier side of the ball – which belongs to an Eagles team that has already locked up the number one seed in the NFC, and that is expected to treat this game a bit like a preseason contest – starting all offensive pieces before giving way partway through the game to backups in key spots. “Easy to break down?” Absolutely! On a 16-game slate in which most teams have players who will be playing 60 minutes (with plenty of value to go around), there is absolutely, positively no reason to play players who will be playing only a fraction of the game. This goes for the Eagles starters, and for the Eagles backups.

This creates a more complicated situation on the other side of the ball, however. NFL teams, after all, are allowed to carry only 46 players on game day each week, which does not leave enough spots for players to be rested across the board – and should still leave plenty of starters (on the offensive line, on the defense, and perhaps even in a couple skill positions) playing 60 minutes. Lack of motivation may be an issue for Philadelphia’s defense, and a handful of players “who could use some extra rest” may be taken off the field early, but we still need to go into this game viewing the matchup mostly the way we would usually view it. And the way we would usually view this matchup is as follows:

The Eagles’ pass defense ranks ninth in DVOA and fourth in yards allowed per pass attempt.

The Eagles’ run defense ranks fourth in DVOA and fifth in yards allowed per carry. The Eagles have also allowed a whopping 223 fewer rushing yards to running backs than the next best team in the league, and only two teams have allowed fewer rushing touchdowns to running backs.

If we view this as a spot in which “the Eagles’ defensive starters will mostly play the whole game,” we have a difficult spot for Ezekiel Elliott, who is entering a matchup that only Todd Gurley has won – after leaving a matchup that only Todd Gurley had won. Zeke may also be without world-beating left tackle Tyron Smith, who was almost inactive for last Sunday’s game, left the game after three plays, and cannot responsibly be put on the field this week by a Cowboys team that needs him healthy for 2018. Zeke should get his normal workload as the Cowboys aim to close out the season on a high note; across his last five games, that “normal role” has yielded a truly ridiculous 27.8 carries per game, with seven catches sprinkled in across those five games as well.

If you have been rostering the Cowboys’ passing attack this season, you have probably lost money as a result – and after Dak Prescott passively-aggressively called out Dez Bryant to the media on Sunday (saying something to the effect of, ‘Maybe I just need to put the ball right in his face mask where he can’t drop it’), it would be difficult to rely on a connection that has not yielded a single 100-yard game this season. Dez has not topped seven targets since Week 11. Week 11 saw Dez receive 14 targets against this same Philly team – though he turned these looks into only eight catches for 63 yards. Unless Jerry Jones’ obsession with conflict and poor team chemistry steps in, this appears likely to be the last game Dez plays in a Cowboys uniform.

Dak Prescott has taken a massive step backward during the second half of the 2018 season – topping 212 yards in only one of his last seven games and averaging under 21 rushing yards per game during that stretch. He has thrown four touchdown passes and 11 interceptions since Week 10 – including three picks the last time he took on Philly, in a home game in the dome in Dallas.

The other pieces on the Cowboys – Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Brice Butler, and Jason Witten – have rarely been worth a roster spot this year. In a tough matchup on the road, with Zeke set to hog most of the offensive work, that is unlikely to change this week.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

Ezekiel Elliott (driven by his massive workload) is the only player in this game who has a decent on-paper shot at posting a solid raw score – and given his $8700 price tag on each site, even a good raw score won’t be enough to justify his salary. With his pass game involvement fairly limited, he would not only have to become the first player all season to rush for 100 yards against the Eagles in order to justify his salary, but he would also have to score at least two touchdowns against a team that has allowed only six rushing touchdowns all season. There is a chance the Eagles rest a few defensive starters as the game moves along, but there is also a chance the Cowboys ride Zeke a little less than normal in a meaningless game. There is no reason to expect a poor game from Zeke; he is highly unlikely to crater your roster. But for me, there are also much better uses of salary this week than his massive price tag on a dysfunctional team in a tough matchup on the road.

With Philly expected to rest key offensive players after a few series and with Dak/Dez performing far below expectations for two months now, I cannot make a strong on-paper case for anyone else in this game. I will be leaving this game alone altogether myself.

Jaguars at Titans

Vegas-Implied Total: Titans 23.5, Jaguars 17.5

KEY MATCHUPS:

Titans Run D – 10th DVOA / 4th Yards allowed per carry
Jaguars Run O – 14th DVOA / 8th Yards per carry

Titans Pass D – 24th DVOA / 14th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Jaguars Pass O – 15th DVOA / 12th Yards per pass attempt

Jaguars Run D – 27th DVOA / 29th Yards allowed per carry
Titans Run O – 5th DVOA / 12th Yards per carry

Jaguars Pass D – 1st DVOA / 1st Yards allowed per pass attempt
Titans Pass O – 24th DVOA / 18th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

While the Rams are expected to rest players this week, the Jaguars – who are locked into the three seed in the AFC – are expected to go all-out. This makes sense, as most of these players will be playing in the first playoff game in their career, and they are coming off a brutal loss on the road at San Francisco. The Jags will try to build momentum this week as they head into the playoffs, which should allow us to view this game through the same lens we would have viewed it through earlier in the year.

This means we should see the Jags running their normal offense, which will call for them playing at the run-heaviest rate in the NFL – and has led to recent touch counts for Leonard Fournette of 21, 28, 23, 15, 30, 19, and 23. This has come with two to three catches in six of his last seven games, which is noteworthy against a Titans defense that – even after getting destroyed by Todd Gurley – still ranks 10th in DVOA against the run and fourth in yards allowed per carry, while allowing the fifth-fewest rushing yards to running backs and the fewest rushing touchdowns (four) in the NFL.

It’s easy to forget that the Jags are the run-heaviest team in football, as Blake Bortles has recent pass attempt counts of 50, 29, 27, 35, 33, 30, 51, and 38, as the Jags’ defense has been good enough to allow their offense to run the second-most plays per game in the NFL. The Titans allow the fifth-most opponent plays per game, so we should see solid volume for Bortles once again this week – likely something in the 30 to 35 pass attempt range.

With Bortles throwing 79 times across the last two weeks, Dede Westbrook has seen only nine targets (11.4%), while Keelan Cole has seen 22 (27.8%). As we hypothesized in this article last week, Cole has essentially taken over as the number one receiver in this offense in the absence of Marqise Lee, and that should continue to be the case against a Tennessee defense that has posted solid numbers on the backs of a soft schedule, but that is a middling to above-average spot for wide receivers. Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee are massively unlikely to be rushed back for a meaningless game, and if they are active, they can only be relied on for a minor role. Cole and Westbrook will continue to operate as the top two targets through the air. (Last week in comeback mode, passing back T.J. Yeldon also saw 10 targets, though he is unlikely to see more than three to five targets unless the Jags find themselves in another shootout.)

It will be difficult for the Titans to create a shootout, given how little they have to work with through the air against the number one pass defense in the NFL. Marcus Mariota has taken a big step backward – with the Titans ranking 24th in DVOA and 18th in yards per pass attempt, while throwing the second-fewest passing touchdowns in the NFL.

If you feel compelled to attack the Jaguars’ all-world cornerbacks, Corey Davis stepped up with nine targets last week, to four for Rishard Matthews. Eric Decker also saw 10 targets, which he turned into six catches for 73 yards. The Jags have allowed the second-fewest catches, the second-fewest yards, and the second-fewest touchdowns to wide receivers this year.

The Jags have been much easier to attack on the ground, where they rank 27th in DVOA and 29th in yards allowed per rush attempt. They have been more “mediocre” than “bad” over the last couple months, but the Titans are a top 11 team in rushing rate, and they are top five in DVOA. Tennessee ranks 12th in yards per carry, but this has been more on DeMarco Murray (3.6 yards per carry) than on Derrick Henry (4.7 yards per carry). Murray has said he wants to play this week…but he has a partially torn MCL. As incompetent as this coaching staff is at times (i.e., giving Murray twice as many touches as Henry week in and week out), it’s nearly impossible to imagine them putting him on the field this week. As such, Henry should take on the full workload. In the Titans’ last three games, Murray and Henry have combined for 23, 25, and 19 carries, while combining for five, three, and three catches. Henry has only 10 catches on the entire year, so his catches may be a bit lower than Murray’s would be in a lead role, but he is perfectly capable in the pass game, so we can likely pencil him in for two or three grabs.

The final piece in this offense is Delanie Walker, who may see his targets rise this week with Murray on the sidelines and with the wide receivers in a tough spot. Delanie has recent target counts of five, 10, nine, five, five, nine, and nine, and should land on the higher end of that range this week. The Jags should not be confused with Denver, as Jacksonville ranks fourth-best in the NFL in catches and yards allowed to tight ends, so don’t fall for the idea that this is “a good matchup” – but it’s a bit better than what the wide receivers have, and that at least gives Delanie a path to high volume, and to a potentially solid game.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

There is some risk to targeting Jags players in this game – from a motivational perspective – but I’m pretty comfortable trusting Doug Marrone to get his team hyped up for this spot where they need to build momentum, and where they would love to keep a division rival out of the playoffs with a win. This likely won’t lead me to roster Leonard Fournette, who is not heavily involved in the pass game and has a poor matchup (as always: I expect a solid game from Fournette – but I also expect we can get a better game for less in salary), but it will leave me with interest in Keelan Cole and, to a lesser extent, Dede Westbrook. I feel comfortable projecting Cole for around eight targets, with upside for more (and with big upside on those looks). Westbrook’s usage is a bit tougher to nail down, but he has plenty of upside if the looks are there.

Derrick Henry is likely to be one of the most hyped plays on the slate, which I’m fine with. Jamaal Williams is a better point-per-dollar play, given his pass game upside, but Henry should touch the ball 20+ times – as a talented back in a good matchup. I’ll never argue against that type of workload at an affordable price tag – and this is a good week to keep in mind the fact that it’s never a bad idea to pay down at multiple running back positions when the opportunity is available to do so.

Bills at Dolphins

Vegas-Implied Total: Bills 22.75, Dolphins 19.75

KEY MATCHUPS:

Dolphins Run D – 15th DVOA / 16th Yards allowed per carry
Bills Run O – 19th DVOA / 16th Yards per carry

Dolphins Pass D – 27th DVOA / 19th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Bills Pass O – 28th DVOA / 26th Yards per pass attempt

Bills Run D – 28th DVOA / 23rd Yards allowed per carry
Dolphins Run O – 31st DVOA / 23rd Yards per carry

Bills Pass D – 12th DVOA / 10th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Dolphins Pass O – 23rd DVOA / 28th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

The Dolphins enter this game with nothing to play for, while the Bills are needing a win in order to keep alive their slim playoff hopes. The Dolphins should be expected to play with “maximum effort” (whatever that means for them), while the Bills should be expected to leave it all on the field in their hunt for their first playoff berth in a couple decades.

“Leaving it all on the field” for the Bills will hopefully mean “giving the ball to LeSean McCoy over and over again.” Here are the updated touch totals for LeSean McCoy this year in wins:

27 / 21 / 23 / 28 / 33 / 26 / 32 / 24

And in losses:

18 / 25 / 12 / 11 / 14 / 17 / 22

Buffalo has been too quick to abandon the run this year when they fall behind, but as favorites in a must-win game, we should see McCoy approach 25 touches. The Dolphins have a decent run D – ranking 15th in DVOA and 16th in yards allowed per carry – and when they took on Buffalo two weeks ago, they sold out to stop the run, limiting Shady to 2.5 yards per carry (50 yards on 20 carries – with 14 of those yards coming on a single run), though the Bills adjusted by feeding five targets (4-46-1 to Shady) along the way. He posted a strong fantasy game in spite of rushing for only 50 yards. Shady ranks eighth in carries inside the 20 and sixth in carries inside the 10.

Buffalo has been far less effective through the air, with Tyrod Taylor topping 183 passing yards only three times in his last eight games. He has more games this year with zero touchdown passes (four) than he has with multiple passing scores (three). The Dolphins have allowed the 13th-most fantasy points per game to QBs, and Tyrod gets around three to four points per game with his legs if you want to go off the board here.

Last week was the first time since he joined the Bills that Kelvin Benjamin topped three catches (5-70-0). The Dolphins have quietly filtered targets away from wide receivers – with Denver and Jacksonville currently the only two teams in the NFL that have allowed fewer catches to the position. This is more scheme-driven than talent-driven, but “what drives this” matters less than the fact that it has consistently been the case.

While the Dolphins have allowed the third-fewest receptions to wide receivers, they have allowed the second-most catches and the second-most yards to tight ends. Charles Clay has returned to his early-season role, seeing 19 targets across the last two weeks. He has turned these looks (vs New England and Miami) into only nine catches for 105 yards, but the looks should be there again this week in a high-end matchup.

The Bills’ defense has faced the fourth-most rush attempts in the NFL, allowing the most running back rushing yards and the 23rd-most yards per carry. The Dolphins should get back to leaning on Kenyan Drake this week in a game that should stay closer than their blowout loss in Kansas City last week. Before last week’s game, Drake had seen touch counts of 22, 31, and 26 – with six, five, and three catches along the way. If Damien Williams makes it back onto the field for this meaningless game, Drake’s volume expectations will take a hit, but he’ll have monster upside and a sizable workload if Williams remains on the sidelines.

The rest of the Dolphins’ offense will function as it always does – funneling targets through Jarvis Landry (who leads the NFL in receptions this year, with 103) and DeVante Parker, who has seen at least eight targets in every healthy game this season outside of his poor stretch Weeks 12 through 14 (two games against a New England defense that sold out to stop him; one game against Denver; two of those games came with Matt Moore under center as well). The Bills have been below-average this year in preventing receptions to wideouts, but they are a top 10 defense in limiting yards, and only one team has allowed fewer touchdowns to wideouts.

Kenny Stills has seen six or fewer targets in four of his last five games, while Jakeem Grant exploded last week for 107 yards and a touchdown, but did so on only six targets and 11 snaps. There is a chance the Dolphins aim to get second-year man Grant involved a bit more in the final week of the season, but absent that, he’s a tough sell for volume in a difficult matchup this week.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

LeSean McCoy is very much in play at the high end of the price range at running back. There is always some risk when a cold-weather team travels to Miami this late in the year to play in the heat and humidity, and the Dolphins did a good job bottling up Shady on the ground the last time these teams played. But talent and workload are both in Shady’s favor, making him a strong upside play – even if the floor is a bit lower than some of the other high-end backs.

I also have interest in Charles Clay if I decide to pay down at tight end. He has not lit the world on fire lately, but if he sees eight or more targets in a great matchup, he has a chance to post a very strong game.

On the other side of the ball, I’m always fine with Jarvis Landry (whose “second-worst game of the year” last week still yielded a 5-51-0 line), and DeVante Parker’s (theoretical) talent-driven upside keeps him in the conversation as well. The idea of the Dolphins “giving more work to Grant in a meaningless Week 17 game” also holds enough weight to make him a sleeper play in large-field tourneys. Obviously, all of these guys would be easier to target if they were not taking on a team that has allowed the second-fewest wide receiver touchdowns in the league.

The guy on the Dolphins I have the most interest in is Kenyan Drake. Last week, Drake went completely overlooked by the DFS community – and then he posted a dud in a blowout loss in Kansas City. This should leave him with very little ownership, and if Damien Williams misses again, Drake’s expectations should be set at the same level we were setting them at in Weeks 13, 14, and 15 – in one of the best running back matchups in the NFL.

Bengals at Ravens

Vegas-Implied Total: Ravens 25.0, Bengals 15.5

KEY MATCHUPS:

Ravens Run D – 9th DVOA / 12th Yards allowed per carry
Bengals Run O – 21st DVOA / 30th Yards per carry

Ravens Pass D – 2nd DVOA / 5th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Bengals Pass O – 26th DVOA / 21st Yards per pass attempt

Bengals Run D – 20th DVOA / 19th Yards allowed per carry
Ravens Run O – 8th DVOA / 19th Yards per carry

Bengals Pass D – 18th DVOA / 9th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Ravens Pass O – 25th DVOA / 32nd Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

The Ravens still need one final win in order to guarantee a playoff spot, which will put them playing at maximum effort against a Bengals team that will be playing its last game under Marvin Lewis. The Bengals should play with a high level of effort themselves after dashing the playoff hopes of the Lions last week, but they are going to be overmatched along the way – which should allow the Ravens to win this game fairly easily at home (as implied by their standing as a 9.5-point favorite).

Cincinnati discourages teams from passing against them (17th in pass attempts faced) and pushes opponents toward the run (only the 49ers have faced more rush attempts than the Bengals this year), while allowing the most opponent plays per game in the entire NFL. When teams do pass against Cincinnati, this action is further filtered toward running backs (Cincy has faced the fourth-most RB targets) and tight ends (Cincy has faced the 14th-most tight end targets). Wide receivers are an afterthought against the Bengals, as only nine teams have faced fewer WR targets, and only four teams have allowed fewer receptions to the position. Only three teams have allowed fewer yards to wide receivers.

With Baltimore likely to play with a lead in this game, there is a very clear path to a high-volume game for Alex Collins, who is involved in both the run game (16.5 carries per game across his last six contests) and the pass game (three catches per game during that same stretch). Collins has averaged 4.7 yards per carry on the season (the same mark as the more popular Derrick Henry), and in spite of receiving only 192 rush attempts on the year, he is 105 yards shy of posting a 1000-yard season. The first order of business for the Ravens will be winning this game; but you can guarantee that the Ravens are aware of Collins’ proximity to the 1000-yard milestone, and they will likely give him an opportunity to get there if they are salting away a lead.

Danny Woodhead has maintained his third-down role, with five, six, and four catches across his last three games. Javorius Allen has been involved as well – spelling both backs, and piling up nine carries per game across the last three weeks (with four total receptions along the way).

Joe Flacco has locked heavily onto his running backs through the air (an absurd 12.7 targets per game to these three across the last three weeks) – and this is a matchup that should cause those numbers to spike, if anything. When he looks elsewhere, however, his main focuses are Mike Wallace (recent target counts of six, 10, five, and eight) and Benjamin Watson (recent target counts of six, four, one, and five). Wallace is in a below-average matchup, but he still carries upside; Watson does not carry much upside outside of broken plays and touchdowns, but the matchup is agreeable.

The Bengals are likely to be without Joe Mixon again this week – which will allow Giovani Bernard to continue to see touches at a massive clip. He touched the ball 30 times last week, and 17 each of the previous two weeks with Mixon on the sidelines – racking up 16 catches (5.3 per game) along the way. The matchup against a Ravens run defense that ranks ninth in DVOA and 12th in yards allowed per carry (and has been ferocious during the second half of the season) is not particularly attractive, but the workload certainly is.

The Ravens have adjusted nicely to life without Jimmy Smith in the secondary, and they enter Week 17 with the fewest touchdowns (and the ninth-fewest receptions) allowed to wide receivers. There is a reason the Bengals have a Vegas-implied total of only 15.5; this is a poor matchup for A.J. Green, who will look to finish an up-and-down season on a high note. If you feel compelled to go here, Green ranks third in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards (43.48%), and will certainly remain involved.

The rest of the Bengals’ passing attack can be best described as “an afterthought,” and will be challenged by one of the most difficult matchups in the league.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

I like Derrick Henry this week, but I encourage you to recognize that Jamaal Williams has a better projected workload than Henry, and Collins has a similar projected workload. In tourneys, I’m absolutely fine with the strategy-driven idea of fading Henry and loading up on some of these cheap guys who will likely go overlooked (that includes Wayne Gallman and Samaje Perine from earlier in the NFL Edge). Collins should see around 16 to 20 carries and three or four catches, and I genuinely think the Ravens will try to get him to the 105-yard mark if they have the game in hand heading into the fourth quarter.

Giovani Bernard gives us yet another cheap running back who can be relied on for 20+ touches, though his matchup is more difficult than what Perine, Gallman, Williams, Collins, and Henry have. Especially with his pass game role, he can surprise with a strong game in a tough matchup – though you can find low ownership this week at running back with a higher floor than this. For me, Gio is more of a large-field tourney play than a guy to focus on in cash games and small-field stuff.

I’ll likely leave this game alone outside of the backfields, but Mike Wallace should see five to seven targets if you want to chase upside in a difficult matchup, while A.J. Green should see seven to 10 targets on the other side. As with Wallace: the upside is there for Green, but the matchup is tough. The tight ends are not my preferred place to look in this game (there is more upside to be chased than what Watson provides, and Tyler Kroft has been an absolute non-factor for months), and the ancillary pieces would be tough to get behind in a game that is expected to be low-scoring behind a pair of solid defenses.

Raiders at Chargers

Vegas-Implied Total: Chargers 26.0, Raiders 18.0

KEY MATCHUPS:

Chargers Run D – 29th DVOA / 32nd Yards allowed per carry
Raiders Run O – 13th DVOA / 14th Yards per carry

Chargers Pass D – 6th DVOA / 3rd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Raiders Pass O – 11th DVOA / 25th Yards per pass attempt

Raiders Run D – 18th DVOA / 13th Yards allowed per carry
Chargers Run O – 27th DVOA / 24th Yards per carry

Raiders Pass D – 32nd DVOA / 27th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Chargers Pass O – 5th DVOA / 10th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

This game pits one very disappointing team in the Raiders against an extraordinarily unfortunate Chargers team that will be better than at least one AFC playoff team if they fail to make the cut for the postseason tourney. The Chargers won’t make it in unless they both win and get some help on Sunday.

The first order of business, of course – the only one the Chargers can control – is their hunt for a win, and they enter a good matchup to make that happen against a Raiders defense that ranks 32nd in DVOA against the pass and 27th in yards allowed per pass attempt. Conversely, the Raiders – rather quietly – have been decent against the run, ranking 18th in DVOA and 13th in yards allowed per carry. This matchup sets up well for a Chargers offense that has struggled to run the ball this year (27th/24th in DVOA/YPC), but has been strong through the air (5th/10th DVOA/YPA). The Chargers rank third in the NFL in passing yards, but only 24th in rushing yards.

While the talk around the Raiders’ defense usually centers on their beatable corners, it is interesting to note that only seven teams have allowed fewer receptions this year to wide receivers than the Raiders have allowed. In spite of the Raiders having a reputation as a defense to attack with wideouts, they have allowed only one more catch (161) to the position than the Chargers (160) have allowed. These two teams are also tied with the 10th-fewest touchdowns (11) allowed to the position through the first 15 games of the year. With T.J. Carrie playing at a high level and Sean Smith bouncing back a bit this year, this is not as much of a “team to attack” with wide receivers as their reputation implies. The last time these teams met, Keenan Allen hauled in only five catches for 45 yards – on nine targets. He should see plenty of targets this week, and he is good enough to win in the toughest of matchups. This is not “the toughest of matchups,” but it is an average to below-average draw.

While the Raiders have been much better vs wide receivers than most have realized this year, they have returned to their “tight end generous” ways – having allowed the most catches and the most yards to the position. That means more catches and yards than the Giants have allowed to tight end. That means more catches and yards than the Browns have allowed to tight ends. (Oakland has allowed only five touchdowns to the position, which is the 11th-fewest in the league). Last week, I didn’t want to use a roster spot on a 37-year-old tight end in a below-average matchup on a team that has underutilized a top three tight end all season; after Antonio Gates saw eight targets last week, however, I have no such concerns. This is going to be the last game of Gates’ illustrious career, and while the Chargers’ first order of business will be winning this game, their second order of business will be getting passes to Antonio Gates. The fact that this matchup sets up perfectly for Gates to be heavily targeted is a major bonus to this narrative.

The other primary pass catchers on the Chargers – Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams – should each see anywhere from three to seven targets, with big downfield upside, but with a low floor. Each guy’s speed does match up well against the size of Sean Smith – who they should each see on about 30% of snaps.

While the Chargers’ rushing attack has been a disappointment this year, the DFS production for Melvin Gordon has still been good enough to make him a top back, as he ranks fifth in the NFL in red zone rushing touchdowns and has averaged 3.5 receptions per game. Much like Trent Richardson in his rookie year with the Browns, Gordon’s 12 touchdowns have nicely hidden the fact that he has averaged only 3.8 yards per carry and has cracked 100 yards on the ground only two times all season. I have not made a habit of paying up for Gordon this year, as his poor play has just given him too low of a floor for his price, but if you have been riding the Gordon train this year, this matchup lines up perfectly fine for him to see his usual workload. If Gordon misses this week with his ankle injury (unlikely in a do-or-die game for the Chargers), Austin Ekeler will handle lead back duties if the Chargers deem him capable of handling the football with his broken finger; otherwise, Branden Oliver will handle the bulk of the work (which would likely lead to a more pass-heavy game plan from LA). Either guy would be a strong salary saver.

There is less to dig into on a Raiders team that distributes passes almost primarily through Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper – who have combined to post only two elite wide receiver games all season when sharing the field. Casey Hayward (1), Trevor Williams (8), and slot corner Desmond King (12) all rank in the top 12 in PFF’s cornerback grades. They are further aided by Joey Bosa (6) and Melvin Ingram (9) each ranking among the top 10 defensive ends in the league.

The Chargers are more susceptible up the gut, where Brandon Mebane is having a disastrous year, and the Chargers’ linebackers have been major liabilities – leading to LA ranking 29th in DVOA against the run and 32nd in yards allowed per carry. We have had a number of “last game of his career” narratives, but this game brings us yet another, with Marshawn Lynch set to hang up his cleats again after this final game with his hometown Raiders. After seemingly saving Lynch for the playoffs all year, they have finally unloaded him on opponents the last couple weeks – giving him 27 and 19 touches in their last two games. Lynch has cracked 100 yards only once all year (101 yards in Week 13 – aided by a 51-yard run), but he still has his tackle-breaking upside, and he should be given opportunities this week against a beatable run D. “Retiring old man” narratives are fully in effect in this game.

Jared Cook has topped two catches only once in his last six games. Seth Roberts is the number three option on a below-average passing attack in a very difficult matchup.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

As I write this article, I make notes on the guys I want to consider for my rosters and my point-per-dollar rankings. To this point in this week’s article, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins are the only quarterbacks I have added to that list. So. Yeah. Philip Rivers is definitely in the conversation this week – in a good matchup, in a must-win game. The Chargers rank 10th in passing touchdowns this year, but – as mentioned above – rank third in passing yards.

I’m also very intrigued by Gates. This is not quite the legendary “Kobe in his last game” DFS situation (firstly, the Chargers need to win this game first and foremost; secondly, one player can easily hog the ball in the NBA, while a lot has to happen for one player to hog the ball in the NFL), but I do think we can expect BFF Rivers to force him the ball – especially as the matchup dictates this is the way to go. I probably won’t have interest in the other pieces on the Chargers, but you can certainly make a small-field case for Keenan (he’s always a solid on-paper play – there are just other plays I like more this week), and there is no reason to avoid Gordon if you’ve been on that track this season. Tyrell and Benjamin are worthwhile dart throws in large-field tourneys if you’re the kind of DFSer who doesn’t mind a low floor in your hunt for upside.

The Raiders are less appealing, and I’ll be leaving their passing attack alone altogether against one of the best pass defenses in the league. I could see myself taking a shot on Marshawn Lynch on a tourney team – as there are better on-paper plays, but there is also a very clear path to a big game from Lynch in this matchup, especially if the Raiders make a conscious decision to send him out on a high note.

Cardinals at Seahawks

Vegas-Implied Total: Seahawks 23.25, Cardinals 15.25

KEY MATCHUPS:

Seahawks Run D – 12th DVOA / 15th Yards allowed per carry
Cardinals Run O – 32nd DVOA / 32nd Yards per carry

Seahawks Pass D – 13th DVOA / 6th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Cardinals Pass O – 27th DVOA / 20th Yards per pass attempt

Cardinals Run D – 3rd DVOA / 3rd Yards allowed per carry
Seahawks Run O – 17th DVOA / 21st Yards per carry

Cardinals Pass D – 10th DVOA / 7th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Seahawks Pass O – 14th DVOA / 14th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

The Seahawks need this game in order to have a shot at the playoffs (a fairly solid shot, at that – as they simply need a win, and need the Panthers to beat the Falcons in a game both those teams need), while the Cardinals are playing out the string on another disappointing and injury-ravaged season. Incredibly, this does not mean we can expect the Seahawks to unleash Russell Wilson (I literally get annoyed the moment I start typing up this offense these days, with how absurdly hesitant they are to hand the reins to Russ until forced to do so), but it does mean we can expect maximum effort.

If we take away the rushing yards Russell Wilson has amassed this year, the Seahawks have under 1000 yards rushing on the year (the Lions rank dead last in the NFL with 1170 rushing yards), which illustrates just how pathetic this rushing attack has been. In spite of this, the Seahawks have called on Russ to throw the ball 21, 30, 31, and 31 times in his last four games. Excuse me while I go for a walk around the block to clear out my frustration over how pathetic Darrell Bevell is as a play-caller.

Helping the fantasy case for Russ, of course, is the fact that he is averaging over 35 rushing yards per game and has three rushing touchdowns on the season. He has now accounted for 35 of the Seahawks’ 36 offensive touchdowns on the year. The matchup is not great against an Arizona team that ranks 10th in DVOA against the pass and seventh in yards allowed per pass attempt, though Russ did shred this team at home in Week 16 last year to the tune of 350 yards and four touchdowns through the air, with 36 additional yards on the ground (naturally, that came with Arizona scoring 34 points of their own – as Seattle refuses to let Russ take over until forced to do so; in that game, they let Russ throw the ball 45 times).

For weeks now, it has been better to roster Russ naked than to try to guess on a receiver to pair him with, though the best matchup for Seattle goes to Doug Baldwin, who runs 75% of his snaps out of the slot and should mostly avoid Patrick Peterson. Baldwin has topped six targets only once in his last seven games (seven targets vs Jacksonville), and there is no guarantee the volume will be there this week. But if the Seattle coaching staff bumps their head on something this week and gets some sense jarred into them, attacking Arizona heavily with Baldwin will be the best means to success. Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson have a much more difficult draw on the outside vs Peterson and Tramon Williams.

Speaking of things that don’t make sense: Jimmy Graham has six total targets across his last three games. He has caught two passes for two total yards. He maintains the largest red zone role in the NFL, so he can be rostered in search of touchdowns if you don’t mind the low floor. Mike Davis rounds out this offense and should see 16 to 20 carries (as he has in three of his last four games), though his matchup is pretty brutal against an Arizona run defense that ranks third in DVOA and third in yards allowed per carry. The Eagles are the only team in football that has allowed fewer rushing yards to running backs than Arizona has allowed.

When Arizona has the ball, they are unlikely to generate much offense outside of Larry Fitzgerald – who has been their entire offense in recent weeks, with five games in his last seven of double-digit targets (and zero games in that stretch below seven targets). Fitz ranks sixth in the NFL in red zone targets, fourth in targets per game, and second in receptions. After Fitz saw 15 targets last week from Drew Stanton, the Seahawks will be ready for him and will be fully focused on shutting him down and forcing Stanton to beat them on the outside – but we should also fully expect those targets to be there again. With all the injuries in Seattle, this is an above-average draw for Fitz.

Using other Cardinals pass catchers this year has been a recipe for shedding bankroll. The same can be said for Cardinals running backs, as this team ranks 32nd in DVOA on the ground and 32nd in yards per carry. Kerwynn Williams has taken 53 carries across the last three weeks, but he has averaged only 3.5 yards per carry and has caught only three passes in that stretch. We can expect another 16 to 20 touches in this spot, but it’s a tough matchup on a poor rushing offense. Arizona as a whole ranks 22nd in yards and 25th in points on the year, and they will be playing in a tough road environment with a Vegas-implied total of only 15.25 points. This is not a great recipe for major DFS production.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

As much as I love Russ, this is not a great spot to rely on him for “floor” – in a tough matchup, with the Seahawks’ coaches continuing their maddening run of poor decision-making. If the Seahawks do turn the reins over to Russ and allow him to take over the offense, he could absolutely demolish the Cardinals (as he is capable of doing against any team), so I am fine with him in tourneys – even small-field tourneys, as long as you understand the concerns that surround this play.

Russ does not have to be paired with a pass catcher, but if going here, Baldwin is the guy I would look to. No one else on this offense stands out to me outside of the “take on a low floor and hope for the best” category (a category I typically aim to avoid).

There is definitely something to be said on the other side of this matchup for rostering Larry Fitzgerald and hoping the Cardinals feed him the ball all game long, but there are better matchups out there for other wide receivers (with better quarterbacks throwing to them). Fitz is not a priority play, but the upside remains.

The rest of the Cardinals can be left alone, in my book. I have no interest in rostering the low floors that come with the other weapons on this team.

49ers at Rams

Vegas-Implied Total: 49ers 23.5, Rams 20.0

KEY MATCHUPS:

Rams Run D – 19th DVOA / 30th Yards allowed per carry
49ers Run O – 20th DVOA / 20th Yards per carry

Rams Pass D – 3rd DVOA / 8th Yards allowed per pass attempt
49ers Pass O – 22nd DVOA / 17th Yards per pass attempt

49ers Run D – 16th DVOA / 7th Yards allowed per carry
Rams Run O – 9th DVOA / 9th Yards per carry

49ers Pass D – 31st DVOA / 26th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Rams Pass O – 3rd DVOA / 4th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

The complexion of this game has changed with the report that the Rams plan to sit Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald, and others – a fairly aggressive move for a team with plenty of players preparing for their first playoff game, and a move that is always complicated, as the implication in sitting certain players is that these guys are more important to your team than others (which can create minor friction in the locker room). With that said, I trust Sean McVay and Wade Phillips to have thought through this move – and in any case, we cannot do anything about their decision beyond adjusting accordingly.

Speaking of “adjusting accordingly”: the Vegas line has swung from the Rams to the 49ers, and a Vegas-implied total for the 49ers of 23.5 seems a bit low. Through his first 145 pass attempts with the 49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo has completed 69.0% of passes while posting a 98.9 quarterback rating. I’m excited to see the sorts of free agents this team attracts in the offseason with Jimmy G. and Kyle Shanahan in the building – but in the meantime, the most talked-about quarterback in the NFL will continue to operate with Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, and Kendrick Bourne as his primary weapons.

Last week against the Jags (who are the toughest matchup in the NFL for wide receivers), Goodwin saw only six targets, but he should be expected to bounce back up to double-digit looks this week after averaging 11 targets per game in Garoppolo’s first three starts with the team. He had notched at least 99 yards in each game with Garoppolo before getting slowed by the Jags, and he’ll take on a Rams defense that has been mediocre against the wide receiver position (12th-most yards allowed; 14th-most points allowed). The Rams will not be able to rest everyone, so the matchup should not be viewed as a major boost to Goodwin, but it is not a detractor, either.

Garoppolo has fed 4.5 targets per game to Trent Taylor and 3.5 targets per game to Kendrick Bourne since taking over under center. Garrett Celek was seeing under four targets per game before playing only 17 snaps last week while working through multiple injuries. None of these guys are being heavily used in an offense that is designed to spread the wealth behind its alpha receiver.

The best way to attack the Rams is on the ground, where they rank 30th in yards allowed per carry and should take a step back with key players resting. After he saw 21 carries last week (following weeks of 16, 14, and 17 carries), Carlos Hyde immediately becomes an intriguing option – even with his targets drying up since Garoppolo took over under center (under three targets per game across his last four contests). The 49ers have relied on the run during this four game win streak, feeding 12+ touches to Matt Breida in three of four games as well, so Hyde’s upside is A) dependent on the 49ers running enough plays for both backs to get their volume, and B) dependent on solid per-touch production, as his workload is capped by the team’s willingness to liberally mix in his backup. The matchup and likely game flow, of course, are conducive to San Francisco getting each guy into their normal range of touches (around 18 for Hyde and 12 for Breida). Hyde ranks second in the NFL in carries inside the five-yard-line.

Malcolm Brown will likely develop plenty of ownership momentum on the Rams as he steps in for Todd Gurley in the backfield – likely joining Derrick Henry as the sexiest salary savers on the slate. Brown has averaged only 3.9 yards per carry this year and has only five catches, and he will be somewhat held back by the fact that Sean Mannion will be under center for LA – which will allow San Francisco to load up the box to slow down the run. The 49ers’ run D ranks seventh in the NFL in yards allowed per carry, and they have been particularly lights-out lately, holding Leonard Fournette to 18-48-1, the Titans’ RBs to 25-78-0, the Texans’ RBs to 20-59-0, and Jordan Howard to 13-38-0. This is a tough matchup for a backup running back.

Any time a Sean McVay passing offense is going to draw low ownership, they are probably worth considering…but this is a 16-game slate, and this game brings us far too many unknowns for us to responsibly think we can predict what will happen. If the Rams’ primary receivers are all active, there is no guarantee they will play the entire game. If they do play the entire game, they will be receiving passes from Mannion, who has thrown 16 passes across three NFL seasons. Mannion did look good in the preseason this year – completing 64.5% of passes, while going for 490 yards on 76 attempts (a pretty pathetic 6.4 YPA) and tossing two touchdowns to zero interceptions. The matchup is good against a weak 49ers pass defense. There are also actual NFL quarterbacks available in DFS this week.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

I will have no problem leaving the Rams’ offense alone, as we have uncovered plenty of “actually good plays” this week that will likely draw low ownership, and as such, I don’t see the need to take on bad plays in order to be contrarian. This goes double for Brown, who I actually expect to be somewhat chalky. If this were a normal week, a cheap 20-touch back would still be heavily on my radar – even if that back were a backup in a difficult matchup. But this week, with so much excellent on-paper value available on the slate, I cannot make a case for going to Brown. If you want to go here yourself, it should not at all surprise us if Brown posts a solid game – but the chances of him doing so are lower than the chances of several other affordable guys highlighted throughout the article this week.

The 49ers are a different story, as Jimmy G. will have yet another opportunity to show the league what he can do, and he should once again be expected to lock onto Marquise Goodwin. Each guy is very much in play for me this week, with the only major drawback being that the Rams have allowed the 10th-fewest passing touchdowns in the NFL this year (which may or may not even matter, depending on who the Rams decide to rest this week).

I will also have interest in Hyde, who is a safe bet for around 18 touches in a great matchup. I’ll likely slot him below Jamaal Williams and Alex Collins among affordable backs, and may even place him below all of Gallman, Perine, and Henry as well, but as others narrow their scope to too few guys in this group of “affordable Week 17 RBs,” Hyde will be a guy who remains in consideration for me until my final teams are set.

Panthers at Falcons

Vegas-Implied Total: Falcons 25.25, Panthers 21.25

KEY MATCHUPS:

Falcons Run D – 30th DVOA / 20th Yards allowed per carry
Panthers Run O – 10th DVOA / 10th Yards per carry

Falcons Pass D – 19th DVOA / 13th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Panthers Pass O – 16th DVOA / 23rd Yards per pass attempt

Panthers Run D – 7th DVOA / 17th Yards allowed per carry
Falcons Run O – 12th DVOA / 7th Yards per carry

Panthers Pass D – 7th DVOA / 22nd Yards allowed per pass attempt
Falcons Pass O – 9th DVOA / 5th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

Atlanta – in a must-win game, at home – has surprisingly been installed as a four-point favorite over a Carolina team that has looked better than them for much of the season. Carolina is locked into a playoff spot, but they still have plenty to play for, as an unlikely Minnesota loss in the early games will open the door for Carolina to nab a first-round bye, and even if the Vikings win, the Panthers will enter this game with a shot at the NFC South title (and a home playoff game in the first round) with a win and some help from the Buccaneers.

Of course, for DFS, we care less about who wins this game and more about the fact that each team will be trying their hardest to win, and each team has a quality offense that can put up points in a hurry. (Each team also has an inconsistent offense that can disappoint in a big way – which will need to be factored in.)

When it comes to “players who sometimes disappoint in a big way,” there is no one who tops the list in the way that Cam Newton does. After I got on board with him as a cash game play last week (for the first time since his previous game against Tampa), he must have assumed I had played him in cash games myself, as he went out there and posted another disappointing game in a premium spot – a game that would have been far uglier had he not scored on a fumble with under one minute remaining. In his last five games, Cam has thrown the ball 25, 31, 25, 27, and 28 times. He has rushed the ball 14, 14, 11, six, and nine times. In three consecutive ‘must-win’ games, Cam has reached double-digit rushes, and he should be expected to reach double-digit rushes once again. His inconsistency will always make him a difficult guy to pull the trigger on in cash games – where we should be looking for both a high floor and a high ceiling – but with Cam, you are essentially rostering a “number two running back on a run-heavy team,” and any passing points he picks up are bonus. Across his last four games, his points generated from passing have been (roughly) 5 / 26 / 8 / 15. Atlanta has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points per game to QBs, aided by the third-most rushing yards allowed to QBs this year.

The Falcons have also allowed the most receptions in the NFL to running backs, which plays nicely to this offense that has fed recent target counts to Christian McCaffrey of four, seven, four, six, and five. The Panthers are unlikely to throw the ball more than 25 to 28 times, so a spiked-volume game is not worth predicting, but CMC should see eight or nine carries and five or six targets in a quality matchup. Jonathan Stewart will grab the rest of the work in the backfield, though he has topped 11 carries only once in his last four games, and he has exactly one target each game in that stretch.

Atlanta presents an average matchup for both wide receivers and tight ends. Devin Funchess has seen only four targets in back-to-back games, and he has topped seven targets only once in his last eight contests. Greg Olsen dropped to six targets last week after seeing 12 the week before. With it safe to assume Cam will be held under 30 pass attempts, and with it safe to assume Christian McCaffrey will grab around seven looks of his own, we should expect around six or seven targets apiece for these two – which is enough to make each guy viable at his price, in this matchup, but not enough to make either guy stand out. With Damiere Byrd now on Injured Reserve, Brenton Bersin and Kaelin Clay will pick up the slack. Neither guy can be projected for more than two or three targets.

Julio Jones has continued to disappoint in the touchdown department this season, with only three scores on the year, but he ranks third in the NFL in receiving yards and 10th in receptions, while ranking second in percentage share of team air yards. Although Julio has underperformed for expectations this year, he has still consistently posted strong raw scores; this week, he’s taking on a Carolina secondary that has allowed the fourth-most receptions and the sixth-most yards to the wide receiver position. Only seven teams have allowed more touchdowns to wideouts than the Panthers have allowed.

When one receiver is grabbing 44.32% of his team’s air yards, there is not going to be a ton of work (or upside) available for the ancillary pieces. Mohamed Sanu has seen recent target counts of six, five, eight, five, and nine, but his work close to the line of scrimmage has left him with only two games in his last eight north of 43 yards. His early-season scoring binge has left his DraftKings price higher than the usage justifies, though his price has dropped to a point on FanDuel where he can be said to be appropriately priced (though without a ton of upside to bring to the table). Taylor Gabriel has not topped 20 yards since Week 10. Austin Hooper has not topped 50 yards since Week 1.

The Panthers have been tougher on running backs – facing the second-fewest rush attempts in the NFL, and allowing the fourth-fewest yards. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have finally gotten involved in the pass game again across the last two weeks (14 total targets between the two of them during this stretch), but with Coleman healthy, they have also returned to the split workload that has not yielded a truly usable DFS game with both guys healthy since Weeks 2 through 4. Each guy is talented enough to post a strong game on limited touches – but especially with Carolina allowing the second-fewest opponent plays per game in the NFL, that’s what you will have to expect if you want to roster one of these guys: a strong score on limited touches, rather than a strong score supported by volume.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

While Cam has disappointed “for Cam” a number of times this year, there is no other quarterback in the NFL who can be rostered as if he’s a 10 to 14 carry running back, with passing points as a bonus. This gives Cam a high enough floor to be considered in all formats, and it makes him an excellent tourney play.

A similar sentiment can be pinned to Julio Jones. Julio has disappointed “for Julio” a number of times this year, but even without the touchdowns to boost his upside, he is seeing enough consistent targets at this point to be considered one of the most workload-secure wide receivers, in a great matchup, with tons of talent behind him. He has one of the highest floors among wide receivers this week, and he carries one of the highest ceilings as well. The massive amount of value available this week at the running back position also makes it easy to fit Julio onto a strong top-to-bottom roster.

Everyone else in this game is “tourney only” for me, and I likely won’t have much personal interest in any of these other guys, but CMC carries nice upside in this matchup, while Funchess and Olsen also have an outside shot at justifying their respective price tags. The ancillary pieces in the Falcons’ passing attack are tough sells from an “upside” perspective, but the opposite can be said for the running backs – who are not remotely safe, but each guy carries 20+ point upside even on limited touches if you want to chase that upside in a tough matchup in tourneys.

Chiefs at Broncos

Vegas-Implied Total: Broncos 21.0, Chiefs 17.5

KEY MATCHUPS:

Broncos Run D – 2nd DVOA / 2nd Yards allowed per carry
Chiefs Run O – 4th DVOA / 1st Yards per carry

Broncos Pass D – 15th DVOA / 12th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Chiefs Pass O – 8th DVOA / 3rd Yards per pass attempt

Chiefs Run D – 31st DVOA / 24th Yards allowed per carry
Broncos Run O – 25th DVOA / 18th Yards per carry

Chiefs Pass D – 17th DVOA / 21st Yards allowed per pass attempt
Broncos Pass O – 30th DVOA / 27th Yards per pass attempt

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LEVEL I – The Research

This is probably the absolute best game on the slate to leave alone altogether, outside of perhaps the defenses. From a fundamental standpoint, there are excuses to be made for chasing some of the upside in this spot – but when we talk about DFS strategy and proper contrarian approaches, the best way to be contrarian is to take the really good plays the field is simply overlooking (a category that probably includes guys like Kirk Cousins, Wayne Gallman, and Marvin Jones this week), while the second-best way to be contrarian is by taking high-ceiling plays (even if you have to take on a high floor) that no one will be on. What makes very little sense is to take bad plays that are low-owned (which most DFSers do far too often), or to take low-floor, high-ceiling plays that will draw more ownership than they should. I feel that Patrick Mahomes falls into the second category this week. If he draws under 1% ownership, I can see a case for taking a shot on him. If he draws anything more than that, it simply does not make a whole lot of sense to roster a rookie quarterback in his first career start on the road against one of the top defenses in the league. Only the Vikings have allowed fewer yards per game than the Broncos. Only the Jags, Vikings, and Chargers have allowed fewer passing yards per game.

While reports available at this point in the week only indicate that Alex Smith will sit in favor of Mahomes, we need to also consider the likelihood that Kareem Hunt will be fully (or mostly) rested this week, while Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill should get the same treatment. This will leave non-starters taking on the number two run defense in the NFL, and taking on a pass defense that is lights out against wide receivers – allowing the fewest yards and catches to the position.

On the other side, Paxton Lynch is expected to start, while Emmanuel Sanders is likely to be sidelined. In theory, this will open up extra targets for Demaryius Thomas, but he has averaged only seven targets per game this year in the three contests Sanders has missed. Either way, his passes will be coming from a quarterback in Paxton Lynch who has apparently looked so bad in Broncos practices across the last couple years that he has started only three games in spite of the team investing a first round pick into him in the 2016 draft (and in spite of the poor QB play the Broncos have suffered through the last two seasons). In Lynch’s limited time on the field, he has averaged 5.55 yards per pass attempt. Where would that put him among 2017 NFL quarterbacks? Dead last – behind Brett Hundley (5.70) and DeShone Kizer (5.79). Good luck jumping on board with Broncos receivers.

With the Broncos likely able to control this game against a coasting Kansas City unit, we should see them lean fairly heavily on C.J. Anderson once again, which leaves him as the one bright spot in this game. Anderson has seen recent touch counts of 23, 30, 24, and 19, while finding himself on the field 40 or more snaps in each game along the way (after playing 30 or fewer snaps each of his previous four games). The Chiefs have allowed the ninth-most rushing yards and the fourth-most rushing touchdowns to running backs, while ranking 31st in DVOA against the run and 24th in yards allowed per carry.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

You will not find any Chiefs players on my roster this weekend. Outside of tight ends, I have not rostered players vs Denver all year, and that will not change with a rookie quarterback making his first career start for a team that is just trying to keep their key players healthy before the playoffs.

You will also not find me relying on Broncos pass catchers with Paxton Lynch under center.

The one place I may go in this game: C.J. Anderson. His price has climbed a bit higher than what I want to pay – but it’s also important to realize this means his price has climbed higher than what others want to pay as well. In spite of seeing a strong workload in four consecutive games (while performing well in three of those), Anderson is going to pull extremely low ownership. This makes him a strong tourney play, given his potential for 20+ points this week.

Saints at Buccaneers

Vegas-Implied Total: Saints 29.0, Buccaneers 21.5

KEY MATCHUPS:

Buccaneers Run D – 21st DVOA / 25th Yards allowed per carry
Saints Run O – 1st DVOA / 2nd Yards per carry

Buccaneers Pass D – 29th DVOA / 30th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Saints Pass O – 7th DVOA / 2nd Yards per pass attempt

Saints Run D – 26th DVOA / 27th Yards allowed per carry
Buccaneers Run O – 26th DVOA / 26th Yards per carry

Saints Pass D – 4th DVOA / 16th Yards allowed per pass attempt
Buccaneers Pass O – 10th DVOA / 8th Yards per pass attempt

______

LEVEL I – The Research

We close out what has turned into one of the lengthiest and most intensive NFL Edges in history (Merry Christmas Work Week!) with the game that offers the most explosive potential on the slate. This game pairs a Saints team (second in the NFL in yards; fourth in the NFL in points) that needs a win in order to lock up their division with a Buccaneers defense that has allowed the second-most yards and the ninth-most points in the league. Even with this game taking place on the road, this is a great spot for the Saints’ offense to explode into the postseason with one more big effort.

As always, the Saints are one of the easiest teams to break down as well, as their entire offense is centered around Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and Michael Thomas.

Thomas has the best matchup against a Bucs pass defense that ranks 29th in DVOA and 30th in yards allowed per pass attempt, and has allowed the most catches, the most yards, and the sixth-most touchdowns to wide receivers. Last week, Thomas was a game-time decision, and he proceeded to play only 41 of 64 offensive snaps, seeing fewer than eight targets for only the second time all year. There is no reason to fear that this is a trend. Thomas ranks sixth in the NFL in targets per game and sixth in percentage share of team air yards, and he ranks seventh in receiving yards and fourth in receptions. As long as reports indicate later in the week that his hamstring is healthy and ready to go, he should be viewed as the highest-floor wide receiver on the slate, with plenty of ceiling in tow.

As the Saints have jockeyed for playoff position the last couple weeks, they have leaned on Alvin Kamara a bit more than normal, giving him a season-high 12 carries in back-to-back games, while feeding him 16 combined targets (the first time all year he has totaled 16 targets across a two-game stretch). Earlier in the year, I made the results-based mistake of largely avoiding Kamara, as his price kept climbing due to incredible efficiency (particularly in the touchdown department) – leading to a higher price (and higher ownership) than the workload justified. Now, he is coming off his largest two-game workload stretch, and because he has scored only one touchdown in those two games, he may see a little less attention from the field. Tampa is a below-average run defense, and they appear to be one of the least-motivated teams in the league right now. With the Saints seemingly set to lean more heavily on Kamara, it’s a great time to hop on board.

As Kamara has seen his workload spike, Mark Ingram has seen his workload dip – with only one more carry than Kamara across the last two weeks, and with fewer targets and receptions. Ingram has three touchdowns to Kamara’s one over this stretch, and as such, he may draw a bit more ownership attention. He has played 71 snaps during this stretch while Kamara has played 69, so they are best viewed through the lens of a fairly even workload distribution at this point, with Ingram slightly more likely to see goal line work, and with Kamara likely to see two or three more receptions. The upside is monstrous on both guys. The floor is a bit lower on Ingram.

Ted Ginn has topped five targets in only four games all year. He has topped six targets only twice. This matchup sets up nicely for an explosive play, but the work is spotty; he is best viewed as the number four option in this passing attack – behind all three guys detailed above.

Drew Brees is very much in the conversation this week, though he has only three games all year of 300+ passing yards, and his last 10 outings have yielded six games of one or zero touchdown passes, compared to only four games of two touchdown passes. With Ingram and Kamara soaking up so many touchdowns on the ground, Brees has only one game all season of three touchdown throws.

The matchup is tougher on the other side, where Mike Evans will likely be shadowed by stud rookie Marshon Lattimore, who has earned PFF’s number five coverage grade this year out of 121 qualifying corners. Lattimore has allowed the third-lowest passer ratting in the NFL on throws into his coverage, at 43.2. Evans has gone four consecutive games without topping eight targets, and he is best viewed as a low-floor play with a solid touchdown-driven ceiling.

Lattimore’s counterpart Ken Crawley has earned PFF’s number 22 coverage grade this year, and has been a steady force on the other side of the field. DeSean Jackson (who continues to let his “friends” use his car, stay in his house, get in trouble for him, etc.) appears likely to make it back onto the field this week, and he will resume his downfield role that has seen him post four games north of 60 receiving yards, with two games north of five catches and three touchdowns on the year. DeSean is a low-floor, moderate-ceiling play as well. If DeSean is out, Chris Godwin should see another six or seven targets. Cameron Brate has another tough matchup against the only team in the NFL that has allowed fewer receptions and yards to tight ends than last week’s opponent, the Panthers.

The best way to attack the Saints is on the ground – but much like the Patriots and Rams (whose defenses are the same way), teams don’t usually have the ability to stick to the run deep into the game, with a powerful offense on the other side. If the Bucs are able to stick to the run long enough, Peyton Barber will lead the way. He’ll man the same role that has seen him take on 12 to 13 carries in three straight games, with one to three receptions.

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LEVEL II – Pause For Self-Interpretation

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LEVEL IIIJM’s Interpretation

I can see the case for chasing upside with Mike Evans, but given that he has topped 100 yards only once all season and has one of the tougher matchups a wide receiver can have, I’ll look for my upside elsewhere. DeSean Jackson is an interesting piece in large-field tourneys (though the floor is low). Outside of these guys, there are no strong cases to be made for any pieces of the Buccaneers’ offense.

The Saints, on the other hand, hold plenty of appeal. Michael Thomas (if healthy) is one of the highest floor/ceiling wide receiver plays on the slate. Kamara has a strong floor and a massive ceiling, and Ingram has a decent floor and a massive ceiling. These three players make up the large majority of this entire Saints offense – which could easily be the highest-scoring offense on the slate. Alongside these guys, Drew Brees is viable. He is not the Drew Brees of the past, and given the way the Saints are using him this year, other quarterbacks on the slate have a better shot at reaching their upside. But Brees is a strong piece of a stack if you want to go there, and the matchup sets up nicely for him to post his best game on the year.

See You Saturday!

I am flying on Saturday, so I am not sure what time I will get the Player Grid up, but I am hoping to have it on the site by the normal time (noon Pacific; 3 PM Eastern). I’ll post on Twitter when the Player Grid is live.

I’ll see you then.

And if I don’t see you then, I’ll see you at the top of the leaderboards this weekend! (Then I’ll see you back here next week for some glorious postseason DFS action!)

Week 17 Player Grid

Apologies for getting this up a bit later than usual; crazy travel day today!

With that: let’s get to it.

UPDATED INFORMATION SINCE THE NFL EDGE WAS POSTED:

DeAndre Hopkins is not going to play this week; this leaves Will Fuller as the number one receiver on the Texans in a great matchup against the Colts; he’s still tough to pull the trigger on, as he is used almost exclusively as a downfield threat, and there is no guarantee his role will change with Nuk on the sidelines; but he does carry huge upside.

The Steelers appear set to rest starters; this means Landry Jones under center, with Stevan Ridley and Fitzgerald Toussaint behind him. For me, this is a spot to avoid – simply because there are so many great values this week, I don’t want to chase bottom-tier backups if I can avoid it. This game is against the Browns – which provides some opportunity for success – if you feel compelled to go here yourself.

Matt Forte is out for the Jets. This will leave Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire soaking up all the work against a bad Patriots run D. Powell has gotten (far) more work lately; McGuire is the rookie the Jets may look to evaluate. This type of guesswork leaves these guys out of all three tiers, realistically, but it is likely one of them posts a strong game. As such, I still like the idea of guessing on one or the other in large-field tourneys. I have no idea which will see more work.

HOW TO BEST VIEW THIS PORTION OF THE ARTICLE:

These are the players I am currently gravitating toward in each tier. This should not be taken as a “complete list of the good plays on the slate.” This is, instead, simply a list of who I am gravitating toward, and how I see each guy.

The danger of relying too heavily on this Player Grid: Every week, there are going to be items in the research (laid out game-by-game in this article) that I will misinterpret, or will view incorrectly. If you lean on your own thoughts, and interpret the research on your own, you will never have one of those frustrating weekends in which you “lose because you relied on the thoughts of someone else,” rather than trusting yourself.

The benefit of incorporating this portion of the article into your research: I have over five years of profitable NFL DFS play under my belt. If you rely heavily on this list – building your teams around the players/thoughts below – you will definitely have those frustrating weekends in which you lose and wonder, “Why didn’t I rely on my own thoughts?” but you will also be profitable over time. I can say this with confidence, because I know that I will be profitable over time – and I lean on this list each week myself.

The best way to view this portion of the article: Ultimately, you would use this portion of the article as a balance against the thoughts you have come up with on your own!!!!

TIER 1: SAFE AND SOARING

These are all guys I feel have a safe floor and a high ceiling – with a good shot at hitting their ceiling. I am not particularly concerned about any of these guys ruining an otherwise-strong roster. These are guys I will be considering in cash games, head-to-heads, and tourneys of all sizes.

Quarterbacks

Matthew Stafford – A great QB, with great weapons, indoors, in a great matchup

Kirk Cousins – A great QB, closing out the season against the defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to QBs

Running Backs

Jamaal Williams – Talented running back in a great matchup; he will see all the RB work – through the air and on the ground

Dion Lewis – He’s Tier 1 if James White is out; if White plays, Lewis is a strong Tier 2 play, but his upside takes a big hit

LeSean McCoy – One of the most talented players in the NFL, in a must-win game; the Bills should ride him hard

Wide Receivers

Julio Jones – The talent is there; the matchup is great; the Falcons need this game

Michael Thomas – He has been left off the final injury report; if he had not posted a dud last week, he would be everyone’s favorite play, vs Tampa, in a must-win game; instead, he seems to be going overlooked

Tight Ends

Rob Gronkowski – The best tight end in football, on a Patriots team that is otherwise low on weapons

TIER 2: LESS SAFE; STILL SOARING

These are all guys I feel have a high ceiling – with a good shot at hitting their ceiling – but these guys do carry more risk than the “Tier 1 players” of posting the sort of score that could ruin an otherwise-strong roster. Ultimately, these are still excellent, and mostly-safe plays; I will try to pull as many names from the list above as I can for cash games, but I won’t be surprised to find a couple of these guys on my cash game roster. I like these guys in tourneys of all sizes.

Quarterbacks

Tom Brady – It feels weird to put him in Tier 2, but with limited weapons and a dip in effectiveness since the achilles injury popped up, there is a slightly higher chance than normal that he could disappoint; still an excellent play in a great matchup, in a must-win game

Tyrod Taylor – He’s highly unlikely to break the slate open, but he’s also unlikely to post a dud; at his price, that’s absolutely worth something

Philip Rivers – Because Keenan Allen is in a tougher matchup, Rivers misses Tier 1 for me – but he’s likely to post a really nice game

Jimmy Garoppolo – Is there any reason to expect a disappointing game against a Rams team that is resting players?

Russell Wilson – He has shown the last two weeks that Bevell can hold him back, and he can post a dud; he has also shown he can top 30 points with ease if the opportunities are there

Cam Newton – He should get 10+ carries, which limits the opportunities for him to completely bomb; along with that floor, he has one of the highest ceilings in the NFL

Drew Brees – This offense does not flow through him, but he should still get his

Running Backs

Isaiah Crowell – With the Steelers resting starters, there is a clear path to a 20-carry game for a talented running back in a good rushing offense – at near-zero ownership (this sets up as a Crowell week, but you know I’m always fine with Duke Johnson as well)

Samaje Perine – Injury issues knock him down to Tier 2, but he’s a 20-touch back in a great matchup

Wayne Gallman – The presence of Orleans Darkwa and Paul Perkins pull him down from Tier 1, but he’s cheap and averaging 6.3 catches per game since McAdoo got fired – in a great matchup

Derrick Henry – Better on FanDuel (where he costs a smaller percentage of the salary cap, and where catches don’t matter as much), but solid on both sites with 20+ touches likely

Kenyan Drake – With the Dolphins simply playing out the string, there is enough uncertainty for me to put Drake here; but the upside is huge vs a pathetic Bills run D

Alex Collins – The best way to beat the Bengals is on the ground, and Collins will soak up much of this work; I expect the Ravens to get him his 105 yards for a thousand-yard season

Marshawn Lynch – I think the Raiders will feed him the ball heavily here to close out his career; if I’m right, the matchup is great

Christian McCaffrey – We are likely overpaying for a score we can get for less – but we should also fully expect a solid score in this spot

Alvin Kamara – Always

Mark Ingram – A lower floor than Kamara, but just as high of a ceiling

Wide Receivers

Marvin Jones – Week 17 brings enough question marks for the Lions that he has to responsibly be placed in Tier 2; but I love him this week

Golden Tate – Whereas Jones is used primarily downfield, Tate is used primarily underneath; tougher for him to hit upside, but YAC ability gets him there

Kenny Golladay – Levitan brought him up on our Friday night show, and he’s a guy I fully overlooked; with the Lions in evaluation mode, it’s a great week for them to get Golladay heavily involved

Josh Doctson – The targets haven’t been there in a major way outside of his 13-target spike last week, but he should get around five to seven looks, with upside for more, in a great matchup

Jamison Crowder – If the targets spike, he could be in for a big game against the dead-on-their-feet Giants

Marquise Goodwin – The targets should bounce back to double digits, and his connection with Jimmy G. makes the upside very real

Tight Ends

Jack Doyle – On an ugly week for tight ends, Doyle is as likely as any to see seven to nine targets and post a strong game

Charles Clay – On an ugly week for tight ends, Clay is as likely as any to see seven to nine targets and post a strong game

Antonio Gates – On an ugly week for tight ends, Gates is as likely as any to see seven to nine targets and post a strong game

TIER 3: EVEN LESS SAFE; STILL STRONG

These are all guys I feel have a strong ceiling – with a good shot at hitting their ceiling – but there are also ways in which these guys could absolutely bomb. I will try to avoid these guys in cash games, but I like them in tourneys of all sizes.

Quarterbacks

Jacoby Brissett – While most people seem comfortable putting him in Tier 1, I prefer to roster good players; the matchup is great and the ceiling is there, but there is still room for a dud

Running Backs

Carlos Hyde – He could easily be put in Tier 2, but with Hyde likely gone after the season, the 49ers could feature Matt Breida, which introduces risk; that also makes Breida a worthwhile dart throw in large-field tourneys

C.J. Anderson – Things get iffy in this game, with KC resting some starters and the Broncos starting Paxton Lynch; but if the workload is there, there is opportunity for another nice game

Wide Receivers

T.Y. Hilton – He has as much upside as any receiver on the slate; he’s also receiving passes from Brissett, so while I expect a big game here, I’m also acknowledging the risk

Josh Gordon – Much like Hilton: if you are going to take on a low floor, you may as well do it with a guy who also has the upside to break the slate wide open with a monster game

Brandin Cooks – Much like the two guys above: the floor is lower than most want to admit, but the ceiling remains through the roof with a limited cast around him, in a matchup that sets up well for the Patriots to throw

Keelan Cole – Because the Jags have zero to play for, Cole has to be slotted down here, but he’s the #1 receiver right now in a good matchup, with plenty of upside

A.J. Green – The matchup is unfriendly against Baltimore, but Green is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL; as with the guys above: the time to take on a lower floor is when the guy in question can also post a monster score

Keenan Allen – I do not like the matchup against the Raiders – who have been strong vs wide receivers down the stretch – but the upside remains; he’s in the same category as the guys listed above

Doug Baldwin – He has disappeared from the game plan in recent weeks, but if the Seahawks wise up and get him more involved, Baldwin is capable of a monster outing

Larry Fitzgerald – Playing at Seattle is never fun, and catching passes from Drew Stanton lowers his floor; but the big upside remains

Tight Ends

Rhett Ellison – It feels downright dirty to go here, but who else is Eli Manning going to throw to? – at a tough position to fill, Ellison is in the conversation this week

TIER 4: BIG TOURNEYS ONLY

This empty space serves as a reminder that in large-field tourneys – with top-heavy payout structures and tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of entries – you often need one or two bold moves to take down first place. This can be full game stacks, or a player no one is talking about who you feel has a clear shot at a huge game. Boxing anyone in with a “list” in this section would be doing a disservice. If you’re trying to take down a large-field tourney, go out there – and be bold!

About the Author

  • JM Tohline (JMToWin)

  • JM Tohline (Tuh-lean) – DFS alias JMToWin – is a novelist and a DFS player who specializes in high-stakes MLB and NFL tourneys, with a strategy geared toward single-entry play in multi-entry tourneys. He joined the DFS scene at the beginning of the 2014 MLB season, and has since won five DFS championship seats and two separate trips to the Bahamas. His tendency to type a lot of words leads to a corresponding tendency to divulge all his DFS thoughts, strategies, and secrets…which is exactly what he does in his RotoGrinders articles and RotoAcademy courses. You can find JM on Twitter at JMToWin.

Comments

  • obmonk

    JM,

    Good morning, thanks for your insight, the foundation, and mechanics for developing a successful process. 2017 marks my 3rd year playing DFS, but my 1st year taking it seriously (working on an intentional process). I have seen my winnings dip then pick back up incrementally as I develop my process. However, that’s no different than Ex. A successful pitcher changing his pitch because long-term he will get better results. Initially, his stats will drop, but then it will pick back up and go further. I’m not even close to where I want to be (lol), but I’m starting to develop and read the map better. I will continue to read, research and fine tune my process in preparation for next season. Going forward, hopefully, I can continue to reach out to you for insight and not so much picks (because I need to understand for myself). You’re the best. #trusttheprocess Thanks, obmonk

  • doink09

    JM,

    I’ve really enjoyed your lineup review. It helps me to rethink my decisions and where I may have been thinking wrong the previous week. Quick question about my Week 16 cash lineup. I locked in on Joe Mixon last week. I felt his volume, value and matchup made him a great cash option. He seemed well on his way to a big day before getting hurt. I noticed in your review that you didn’t have him in your lineups. Is there anything specific that you saw that kept you away from him or did he just not seem to fit with what you were working with? I truly believe if he doesn’t get hurt he gets to 20 DK points and my cash lineup is profitable in all matchups. Instead I end up on the edge of most of my 50/50 contests. Just trying to see if I may have missed an angle that you saw. Thanks again for all you do.

  • ChiHawks28

    Excellent article. I don’t know why I haven’t read it for most of the year. Suggestion for next season- break up each game into separate pages so members can find individual game analysis quickly.

  • Oldschool92

    Thanks for all your hard work and have a great holiday. Have really appreciated your insights this year even if I have had my worst gpp year to date. Cash came early though in cash games and i’m set again with RG and JM2Win help.

  • nevershower

    @ChiHawks28 said...

    Excellent article. I don’t know why I haven’t read it for most of the year. Suggestion for next season- break up each game into separate pages so members can find individual game analysis quickly.

    ….we wouldn’t want you to have to scroll down for 2-3 seconds to get to the next game. Sheesh

  • Chazemclean

    JM-

    As always, you and Silva are my must reads. Thank you! Will you help me with something I am not quite getting – why would a guy who is suitable for a small field tourney not be appropriate for a large field tourney? Is it simply because a guy who might go mostly overlooked in a small field will almost certainly not go overlooked in a larger field, or is there some subtler nuance?

  • JMToWin

    • x2

      2014 DraftKings FBWC Finalist

    • 2016 FanDuel WFBC Finalist

    @Chazemclean said...

    JM-

    As always, you and Silva are my must reads. Thank you! Will you help me with something I am not quite getting – why would a guy who is suitable for a small field tourney not be appropriate for a large field tourney? Is it simply because a guy who might go mostly overlooked in a small field will almost certainly not go overlooked in a larger field, or is there some subtler nuance?

    Great question! To clarify:

    For me, cash game plays are viable in ALL tourneys. Plays I categorize as good for “small-field tourneys” are good for ALL tourneys. It’s just large-field tourney plays that are exclusive to one category. Those are higher-risk guys who I would not play in smaller-field stuff (though with my style of play, I generally leave guys like that alone altogether).

  • JMToWin

    • x2

      2014 DraftKings FBWC Finalist

    • 2016 FanDuel WFBC Finalist

    @doink09 said...

    JM,

    I’ve really enjoyed your lineup review. It helps me to rethink my decisions and where I may have been thinking wrong the previous week. Quick question about my Week 16 cash lineup. I locked in on Joe Mixon last week. I felt his volume, value and matchup made him a great cash option. He seemed well on his way to a big day before getting hurt. I noticed in your review that you didn’t have him in your lineups. Is there anything specific that you saw that kept you away from him or did he just not seem to fit with what you were working with? I truly believe if he doesn’t get hurt he gets to 20 DK points and my cash lineup is profitable in all matchups. Instead I end up on the edge of most of my 50/50 contests. Just trying to see if I may have missed an angle that you saw. Thanks again for all you do.

    Mixon wasn’t on my teams simply because I went another direction. He was a great play, as evidenced by what Gio did after he left. Just one of those unfortunate instances that occur sometimes in NFL. Sucks when injuries strike!

  • Smoeller16

    Omg so long but so informative. You da bomb – the manning whisperer

  • Chazemclean

    Got it! Thanks! Travel safely!

  • tin8shusd

    JM, fantastic article as always! Would you please elaborate a bit on this?

    “but I tend to focus more heavily on tourneys in Week 17”

    On such a humongous slate I’d assume your volume in cash to be at least the same if not more than usual.

    Thanks!

  • rlub

    JM,
    I want to like the Detroit passing game (Stafford and Jones in particular), but am concerned about the motivation factor. This is their last game of the season and their first game playing with nothing truly at stake. Shouldn’t there be significant concerns as far as 60 minute effort by the Lions (despite the players liking their coach)? On the other hand, isn’t there some reason to look towards a play like Golladay as a player that they want to give more time on the field while he’ll be giving maximum effort? Thoughts?

  • gouofi

    Any idea when the Grid is coming out?

  • domsaq

    Ctrl-F

  • Jsgiles79

    JM, what do you think about the Cleveland Defense at only $3k on Fanduel?? I would really, really, appreciate your insight here.

  • Thecowboy23

    Ctrl-F works wonders my friend! :)

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