Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 17
With the gift-giving holidays coming to a close, I'm sure plenty of you experienced the, "Hey, this gift is super cool and I really appreciate the thought, but when in the world am I ever going to use it?"
That was a yearly occurrence for my siblings and me when we'd receive a gift from my late great aunt, Betty. She was a wonderful person, but with age, her gifts became more and more irrelevant -- when I was 23 years old, she got me a maroon-colored turtleneck. It was sweet that she'd think to go out to Kohl's and buy me the gift, but I don't think I actually utilized one of her presents over the final 11 years of her life.
(For the record, my family now refers to hilariously-bad presents as "Aunt Betty" gifts. She was the best.)
I view Week 17 of the NFL season the same way I used to look at an Aunt Betty gift -- I'm glad it's there and exists, but it does lack usefulness.
Season-long fantasy football just doesn't matter in Week 17, but I'm glad football will still be on my television.
To be fair, some leagues still play into Week 17. I'm not entirely sure why, but they do. So to appease that demographic -- or maybe you're just trying to avoid your in-laws and need an article to read for a mental escape -- the weekly start-sit will live on for one more week.
This one will be formatted a little differently, though. With Week 17 seeing teams rest their starters, rather than listing the start-sit options by position, I tried to take a more logical approach that'll be more helpful.
Godspeed, Week 17 players.
Studs to Sit
With the Steelers locked into the 3 seed in the AFC, the Steelers could (and should) be sitting their dynamic trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. And there's a similar situation with the Cowboys, who clinched the top seed in the NFC -- you shouldn't be starting Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, or Dez Bryant.
Odell Beckham (at Washington): As much as we'd love to see Beckham face off against Josh Norman for an entire game, that may not happen this weekend. Yes, reports are out there that say the Giants are going to be playing their starters in Week 17, but this story has played out many times before -- they start the game, play a few drives, then are taken out. The G-Men have a locked-in seed in the playoffs, and there's not a lot of reason to risk OBJ's health in a meaningless game. If they're smart, at least.
Emmanuel Sanders (vs. Oakland): With the Broncos out of the playoffs, Denver will more than likely move to Paxton Lynch at some point in their Week 17 contest against the Raiders. Oakland has been average against opposing wide receivers this year, but they've also given up just two top-20 PPR performances to the position since Week 5. And in the three games where Lynch has had significant playing time this year, Sanders has ranked 8th, 24th, and 69th in weekly wide receiver scoring while teammate Demaryius Thomas has been the more consistent player, finishing 10th, 19th, and 37th. The volatility with Sanders is a little scary, making him a risky option given the quarterback who'll be throwing him passes.
Melvin Gordon (vs. Kansas City): The Chargers' backfield is decimated, but that doesn't mean a probably-playing Gordon is a good bet this week. He's just three yards shy of 1,000 yards, and has only had two weeks off from a hip and knee sprain. Considering he won't be 100 percent, it wouldn't be shocking at all to see the Chargers get him to 1,000 rushing yards on the year -- an important milestone -- before giving the workload to a bottom-tiered option. It'd be incredibly hard to trust him with anything on the line.
Jordan Reed (vs. New York): Washington is playing for a playoff spot, and Reed has been practicing this week despite his shoulder injury that's kept him in and out of the lineup over the last month. The matchup is a good one, and a perfectly healthy Reed would be a great play, but optimistic reports bring back Week 15 memories where he just didn't look right, later being ejected in the contest. In that game -- about a half of play -- he was on the field for just 19 snaps. That low count is something you may have to live with if you roll him out this week.
5 Strong Starts
Blake Bortles (at Indianapolis): Bortles' 2016 is the classic case of how fantasy football doesn't always translate to real football. Because, on the year, Bortles is actually averaging 17.1 standard fantasy points per game, which is just one point away from fantasy's QB8, Tyrod Taylor.
As our own Jacob Gibbs pointed out in his daily fantasy tournament pivots article, against bottom-10 pass defenses (in terms of fantasy points against) this season, Bortles has averaged over 21 points per game. That falls to 16 outside the split. This week, he'll get just that -- the Colts not only have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to the quarterback position this year, but they also rank sixth-worst against the pass according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. And, for what it's worth, Bortles has traditionally done well against the Colts. In his last three games against them, he's averaged 251.67 yards per contest while throwing 6 touchdowns to 0 picks.
Jacquizz Rodgers (vs. Carolina): With Doug Martin suspended and Charles Sims now on the IR, Jacquizz Rodgers bounces back to fantasy relevancy. If you recall, the Bucs weren't afraid to ride him earlier in the season when both of those backs were out: in three games from Weeks 5 through 8, Rodgers ended up seeing 30, 26, and 19 carries while tallying 8 total targets. In those games, he played no fewer than 64% of the Bucs' snaps.
On paper, Carolina, his opponent this week, looks a little tough -- they've allowed the 12th-fewest fantasy points to the running back position this year, and they have a top-10 rush defense according to our numbers. But since linebacker Luke Kuechly's injury in Week 11, Carolina has surrendered about 4.2 yards per carry to opposing running backs. In the 11 games prior to the injury, the Panthers allowed 3.6 yards per rush.
Given the probable workload for Quizz to go along with the fact that the Bucs are 4.5-point favorites -- they could see a nice positive script -- Rodgers makes for a nice play.
Thomas Rawls (at San Francisco): What's the best way for a running back to fix his woes? Play the 49ers, of course.
It sounds like Rawls will go on Sunday, which is good news for fantasy owners who are still playing in Week 17. Because San Francisco has the absolute worst rush defense in the NFL -- both according to our numbers and fantasy points against -- and they've faced 523 rushing plays this season, by far the most in the league. The volume part is key -- even if Rawls doesn't see a strong market share in the backfield due to his injury, the slice of the pie that he'll receive should be enough to warrant RB2 consideration this week. And if he ends up seeing a monster workload? Watch out.
Davante Adams (at Detroit): Adams has now scored fewer than 20 PPR points over his last two games, something he hasn't done very often over the second half of the season. The good news, though, is that he's still very clearly Aaron Rodgers' second-best (and most popular) option, having seen 13 targets in those two contests.
The Packers are in Detroit to face the Lions on Sunday night in what's kind of a big game (it's a big game), and Vegas has pegged Green Bay with the third-highest team total on this week's slate. You can attack Detroit in a lot of ways, but they're especially bad in the secondary, ranking third from the bottom in pass defense efficiency this year, per our numbers. Jordy Nelson is obviously still the Packer wide receiver to play this week, but with Darius Slay returning to practice this week, Adams could see looks funneled his way.
Dennis Pitta (at Cincinnati): You'll probably want to play Steve Smith this week because of the narrative (he's supposedly retiring after this season is over, making this his last game), but the matchup dictates that this could be a Pitta game. The Bengals have defended the perimeter well this year, allowing the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Tight ends are a different story -- they've given up the third-most receptions to the position and the fourth-most fantasy points per game. With Pitta's generally high floor of targets (he's seen five or more in all but three games this year), he makes for a strong play.
5 Easy Sits
Philip Rivers (vs. Kansas City): The Chiefs are a top-10 team when it comes to stopping quarterbacks from scoring fantasy points, but they've been even better of late, holding Marcus Mariota, Derek Carr, and Trevor Siemian to a combined 15.74 fantasy points over the last three weeks. The Chiefs are playing for something in this game, while the Chargers aren't. And San Diego will be without, more than likely, a strong running game given the injuries to the team's backfield, as mentioned earlier. San Diego's implied team total is south of 20 this week, too, which doesn't give me much confidence in Rivers.
Jameis Winston (vs. Carolina): Though I'm bullish on Quizz Rodgers this week, Winston is another story. The Panthers' secondary has been improving all season long, and they currently rank ninth against the pass according to NEP. The boost in effectiveness has really come since the team's Week 7 bye: before it, we had the Carolina secondary ranked 21st.
Since their bye, the Panthers have allowed just one top-10 performance, and that came all the way back in Week 8. Only Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Derek Carr have ranked higher than 19th in weekly quarterback scoring over the team's last nine games, too.
Long story short, this game could easily be a run-heavy one for Tampa Bay, especially when you consider Winston's thrown the ball more than 35 times in a single game just once since Week 10.
Todd Gurley (vs. Arizona): What's a final start-sit column without reference to sitting Todd Gurley? While owners may want to play him after finishing with two RB1-esque performances over his last three games, his contest against Arizona is a much tougher task, as the Cardinals are a top-10 team against the run from pretty much any way you look at things. And let's not pretend he was great last week: against the aforementioned lowly 49ers, Gurley could only muster up 67 yards on 23 carries. Arizona is a 6.5-point favorite on the road in a game with a severely low 40.5-point over-under -- without a good game script, Gurley could be really bad in this contest.
Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree (at Denver): Maybe -- maybe -- you'd play one of Oakland's stud wideouts in a game against Denver with a healthy Derek Carr, but you're definitely not doing it with Matt McGloin under center. Denver's allowed the fewest points per game by far to opposing wideouts this year (five fewer points per game than the second-best team, Cincinnati), and Oakland has just a 19.75 implied team total according to Vegas. And did I mentioned Matt McGloin will be quarterbacking? Matt McGloin will be quarterbacking.
Jeremy Maclin (at San Diego): One of the biggest breakouts this season has come in San Diego, and it's not in their backfield -- it's cornerback Casey Hayward. Because of him, the Chargers' secondary hasn't missed a beat after Jason Verrett's season-ending injury, and they actually are going to -- more than likely -- finish the year as a top-10 unit. Hayward's crushed top receivers this year from a fantasy perspective, and over the Chargers' last five games, we've seen opposing number-one options DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Amari Cooper, and Terrelle Pryor combine for just 13 receptions. Jeremy Maclin is next.