6 Fantasy Football Stars to Start or Sit for Week 17
We're reached the end, friends. It's been a long road. After weeks of trashing Pierre Garcon, loving Danny Amendola, then loving Pierre Garcon, then seeing Amendola get injured, then hating Garcon again, then just completely ignoring Amendola all together - it's been a fun ride, I'd say.
But it's not over, not quite yet. Many fantasy leagues are done, but still are trucking along to the very end of the season.
Those are the guys I'm here to help. I've already given some suggestions of massively underrated players for Week 17, but there's more where that came from.
If you want our full projections, make sure to check out our Week 17 Projections page. But for a more in-depth analysis on some of the guys making fantasy owners scratch their heads one final time, read on to see what Math! has to say.
Knowshon Moreno - Denver Broncos
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 11.78 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 11 Ranked RB (No. 46 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 66.8%
Week 17 Opponent: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Verdict: Start Him
This should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody: Knowshon Moreno has been this year's inductee into the Ryan Grant Wing of the Fantasy Hall of Fame, singlehandedly swinging fantasy playoff matches as a late-season pickup. For that, Mr. Moreno, you get your own plaque. Congratulations. Everybody, how about a hand for Mr. Moreno!
And you can't just go away from a Fantasy Hall of Famer in Week 17, especially when he's established himself as the clear No. 1 option in Denver. On the season, the Broncos have rushed the ball on 44.1 percent of their offensive plays. But recently, that number's gone up even higher: over 50 percent of Denver's plays in both Weeks 14 and 15 were rushes. Ever since he became the starter in Week 12, Moreno has rushed the ball at least 20 times in every single game.
Moreno's only been moderately efficient when running the ball, averaging -0.10 Net Expected Points (NEP) per rush in 124 attempts. Against Kansas City, though, even moderately effective can turn into super effective with ease (what are they, bug type?). The Chiefs have given up 1.94 points under expectation to opposing rushing games this season. That may sound good, but since rushing is less efficient in today's NFL than passing, only three teams have allowed points over expectation to opposing running games. The Chiefs hold the No. 27 opponent-adjusted run defense in the league.
Michael Turner - Atlanta Falcons
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 6.77 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 31 Ranked RB (No. 113 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 72.0%
Week 17 Opponent: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Verdict: Sit Him
For regular readers of numberFire, this one shouldn't come as much of a shock either, but in the opposite direction this time.
Last week, I recommended Michael Turner for the first time since Barack Obama was elected President (for the first time), and look how he repaid me: 13 carries, 41 rushing yards, and five fantasy points. Inefficient backs may have slightly better days against weaker defenses like the Lions, but in the words of the Wise One Denny Green, he is who we thought he is.
So no more. I don't want the guy who has averaged -0.21 NEP per rush this season, second-worst behind Darren McFadden among backs with at least 10 carries per game. I'm disowning the guy who has not had more than 16 carries in a game since Week 9. I couldn't care less about the player on a team that rushes the ball on only 38.8 percent of their offensive plays. Maybe you can help me, but I can't find a single upside.
Well, maybe there's Tampa Bay's No. 23 opponent-adjusted defense as a potential upside, but the problem there isn't the run defense, it's the secondary. The Bucs have given up 51.94 points under expectation to opposing running games so far this season. That's good for eighth in the NFL. The secondary, meanwhile, languishes in 25th. And Atlanta's supposed to go away from Matt Ryan... why, exactly?
Mikel LeShoure - Detroit Lions
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 7.20 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 30 Ranked RB (No. 104 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 50.6%
Week 17 Opponent: vs. Chicago Bears
Verdict: Sit Him
While I called Turner a starting back last week, I called the running back on the other sidelines as a probable flex play at the same time. And while LeShoure had similar stats to the beleaguered Falcons back with 15 carries and 46 yards, he also had the ever-important touchdown to go along with it. 10 fantasy points? I'd take that as a flex.
And what are the chances that he will continue his string of two straight double-digit FP games? Very, very small.
For one, there's LeShoure's own inefficiency. His -0.19 NEP per rush sits right behind Turner and Darren McFadden among the worst marks in the NFL; he's lost the Lions a total of 33.06 expected points on his rushes this season. Joique Bell, meanwhile, has averaged only -0.06 NEP per rush this season and remains a much better pass-catching option out of the backfield.
That's why LeShoure and Bell are essentially splitting snaps 50/50 at this point. LeShoure may have had 15 carries in Week 16's game as compared to Bell's four, which would lead you to believe LeShoure is the main back. But Bell had 12 targets thrown his way, easily second on the team and representing 21.4 percent of Stafford's total throws. With very little else available to Stafford in the passing game, the Lions will want to get as much out of Bell as possible.
All of this is even before the main reason I wouldn't let LeShoure anywhere near my starting lineup this week: the matchup. Not only are the Bears numberFire's No. 1 opponent-adjusted defense, allowing 113.02 points under expectation this season, but they are particularly stout against the run game. Their -67.03 NEP allowed to opposing running games is the second-best mark in the league, less than a point behind the first place San Francisco run defense.
Miles Austin - Dallas Cowboys
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.42 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 33 Ranked WR (No. 89 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 42.3%
Week 17 Opponent: vs. Washington Redskins
Verdict: Sit Him
There are two schools of thought concerning receivers like Miles Austin. The first says, "Oh, Dez Bryant should be drawing more coverage now! Austin should thrive as the No. 2 receiver." And then the second school of thought, influenced by the numbers, smacks the first one upside the head and says, "Are you nuts?"
It isn't the targets that are the problem for Austin; he's gotten 28 looks in his past three games combined, amounting to roughly 22 percent of Romo's throws over that same span. It's what he's done with those throws that has been the issue. Austin's never been a great pass-catcher, but his current 56.9 percent catch rate is his lowest in four years as a Dallas starter. He hasn't been a preferred red zone target - his game-tying catch against New Orleans was his second TD since Week 7 - and he hasn't gained more than 79 yards in a single game since Week 8. The long pass plays that defined his early part of the season haven't been coming.
Washington represents an average matchup for Austin; the Redskins hold numberFire's No. 21 opponent-adjusted defense and have allowed 82.14 points over expectation to opposing passing games this season. But will that be enough to allow scores to multiple receivers? Our analytics don't think so, and Austin's third in line. Bryant has 0.56 projected TDs, Jason Witten has 0.40 projected TDs, and Austin has 0.35. If Austin doesn't score a TD, he's not worth the play, and that safety's not guaranteed on Sunday night.
Antonio Brown - Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.65 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 18 Ranked WR (No. 64 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 28.4%
Week 17 Opponent: vs. Cleveland Browns
Verdict: Start Him
For those outside Pittsburgh and Cleveland, you may not understand how hated the Browns/Steelers rivalry is. Think Hatfields and McCoys, except that people outside West Virginia actually care. Think Michigan and Ohio State, except that fewer people actually care. numberFire CEO and resident Steelers fan Nik Bonnadio can tell you: a season's not half bad, even at 8-8, as long as the Browns are vanquished. Expect the Steelers to go all out against Cleveland on Sunday. And expect Antonio Brown to be a large part of their gameplan.
Passing's already a big part of the Pittsburgh gameplan; the Steelers have passed the ball on 58.9 percent of their offensive plays this season. Since Roethlisberger has come back from injury, that penchant to pass has been pushed even further, as Pittsburgh has thrown the ball on 62.1 percent of their offensive plays over the past three weeks. And facing a Cleveland defense that ranks 17th in the NFL against the pass as compared to 14th against the run, there's no reason to think those numbers are going to change too dramatically.
The continuation of that trend should be perfect for Antonio Brown. The only Steeler to be in the top two in targets in each of Roethlisberger's three games back, Brown has averaged nine targets per game over that span. Those targets have represented at least 20 percent of Big Ben's throws every single week, and he even reached the 30 percent plateau in Week 15 against Dallas. And unlike Mike Wallace, whose butterfingers have only caught a putrid 53.8 percent of passes thrown his way, Brown sits at an above-average 62.1 percent catch rate on the season.
Danny Amendola - St. Louis Rams
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.23 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 20 Ranked WR (No. 73 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 17.2%
Week 17 Opponent: at Seattle Seahawks
Verdict: Start Him... Probably
Amendola is a Reese's peanut butter cup: you know exactly what you're going to get when you put him in the starting lineup. He'll get his targets, he'll get his yards, but he's not the big play threat that some others around him in the projections (Randall Cobb and Torrey Smith, for two) can provide. How risky do you need to be if you're in the second week of a two-week playoff matchup?
If the answer's not that risky, then Amendola's your guy. Ignore last week's -2 fantasy points; he still had a team-leading seven targets on the game. That goes along with what we've seen from him all season; despite playing in only 10 games, Amendola still leads the Rams with 92 targets. And the two-for-seven catching day is likely a fluke as well, as his catch rate sits at an above-average 64.1 percent on the season. There's a reason he's projected for 6.08 receptions, the eighth-highest mark among all wide receiver projections this week.
But there's also a reason that his TD projection sits at 0.19 receiving TDs, below such names as Jeremy Kerley, Greg Little, and Kevin Walter in that regard. Amendola simply doesn't catch touchdowns. He's only caught one since being injured for the first time... back in Week 5. Sam Bradford himself has thrown multiple TDs in five of his past seven games, but they've gone to all different targets - Chris Givens, Brandon Gibson, Austin Pettis, and Lance Kendricks all have equal or greater TD totals to Amendola's three. Simply put, he doesn't have high upside. Our confidence interval sees him at a reasonable maximum of only 15 points on Sunday.