Week 16 wrapped up the traditional fantasy season for many players, and Week 17 this year illustrates why that has become the standard. The cold and possible rain across the northeast is one thing; bad weather starts in November in many seasons, even if it wasn't a major factor this year. But even with the extra wild-card berths, several teams are locked enough into their playoff seeds that they may feel compelled to rest their starters. The Chiefs and Steelers have already announced that Patrick Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger will rest, and their backups seem likely to sabotage the value of fantasy stars such as Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Diontae Johnson, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, even if those players don't join their quarterbacks on the bench. Bucs head coach Bruce Arians indicated he won't rest his starters and Bills head coach Sean McDermott was noncommittal. But they wouldn't be the first coaches to play their normal starters for a series or two and then pull them in similar situations. I made some educated guesses on how much the players in those situations would play, so pay extra attention to player true-talent rankings and not just their projected gains and losses for their matchups this week.
The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him with a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven) -- home and road and dome and outside -- the forecasted weather (Wea), and opponent tendencies (Opp). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than his typical total.
You can see our full weekly projections with projected stats, matchup adjustments and fantasy points by subscribing to FO+.
|Best Week 17 Matchups - Quarterbacks|
As one would expect, the quarterbacks who will or could rest this week are some of the best for fantasy. That leaves an underwhelming set of fantasy options at the position and makes matchup considerations more important than ever. Deshaun Watson and Ryan Tannehill are the two normal starters that should see a further bump. They play each other's defenses, ranked 29th and 30th in pass defense DVOA. As a top-six booster of passing yards and touchdowns per attempt, the Texans are likely the better defense to face -- the Titans are a top-six increaser of touchdown rate but neutral for yards. But I view Watson as the clearly superior choice because, beyond the typical venue tendencies, Watson and Tannehill are extreme examples at the position averaging 1.9 and 8.4 more fantasy points at home than on the road since 2017. In theory, Tannehill should enjoy better success in the dome in Houston than he normally would outside in Nashville. But in practice, Derrick Henry could easily maintain his typical featured role for the team against a Texans defense that promotes run plays by 13%, third-most in football.
If you need to pick up a quarterback to replace your normal starter, Philip Rivers and Kirk Cousins will likely be your best bets. The normal QB2/QB3 options jump into the back end of my QB1s this week facing the Jaguars and Lions, the two worst pass defenses by DVOA. Rivers has the motivation to win to make the playoffs to pair with his opponent's top-three boosting of yards and touchdowns per attempt, but I still favor Cousins slightly. First, the Lions are even bigger increasers of yards and touchdowns per attempt. And second, Dalvin Cook's absence could skew the Vikings' typical run-oriented red zone play calling toward the pass and net Cousins some extra opportunities for passing touchdowns.
|Worst Week 17 Matchups - Quarterbacks|
Justin Herbert, Matt Ryan, and Baker Mayfield project to lose the most points for their matchups among the reasonable fantasy options. But that trio faces the Chiefs, Bucs, and Steelers -- three teams of the four that may prefer to rest their key defensive starters. That seems especially likely for the Steelers since they have already lost blue-chip defenders in Devin Bush and Bud Dupree to torn ACLs, and that at least keeps Mayfield in the QB2 conversation. But keep in mind those losses have not knocked the Steelers off their perch at No. 1 in pass defense DVOA, and they have allowed just five passing touchdowns in their last four games even capturing their three-game losing streak. I'd prefer to avoid Mayfield if I could.
The Packers need to win -- or for the Seahawks to lose -- to lock up the No. 1 seed and NFC bye. And Aaron Rodgers might feel particularly motivated to accumulate stats to support his MVP case. But I subjectively agree with his objective rankings fall to seventh at the position this week. The Bears are a top-10 pass defense DVOA and are top-12 cutters of passing yards and touchdowns per attempt. Rodgers threw for four scores against them in late November, but he had just one passing touchdown in each of their previous two matchups in 2019. And Rodgers has thrown for fewer than 212 yards in all three of those most recent matchups.
|Best Week 17 Matchups - Running Backs|
Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor, and David Montgomery are top-10 fixtures at the position at this point. In traditional formats, they don't need the help to qualify for your fantasy lineups, although they'll have it this week facing the Texans, Jaguars, and Packers in the bottom half of teams in run defense DVOA. Dalvin Cook was poised to join them and likely treat his fantasy players to a standout day. He hardly struggled in recent weeks. He went for 110, 159, and 85 total yards and scored in each of the last three games. But he had a chance for one of his 200-yard/two-TD type of games with an opponent swing from the Bucs, Bears, and Saints, all in the top four in run defense DVOA, to the Lions at 26th. Detroit is a top-five increaser of run plays, touchdowns per carry, and yards and touchdowns per target for running backs. That matchup is so good that Cook's backup Alexander Mattison made his way into my top 10 for the week. But Mattison is a bit of a risk since his recent appendicitis and concussion have kept him out of practice. He could split time with Mike Boone, or possibly even miss the game entirely.
|Worst Week 17 Matchups - Running Backs|
Ito Smith and Dare Ogunbowale have difficult matchups against the Bucs and Colts this week. Nevertheless, they may be lineup staples in daily formats. Since Week 12, Smith has a 37.5% carry share that is 31st at the position, and he has at least eight touches every game. That makes him a flex option even in a difficult matchup. Still, I'd prefer Ogunbowale. Smith is dealing with a rib injury that could limit his volume, and he was already looking at a reduced workload since the Bucs cut run plays by 20%, the most in football. In contrast, Ogunbowale trailed just Dalvin Cook with an 87.5% carry share in Week 16, and James Robinson has already been ruled out again this week. The Colts are the No. 8 run defense by DVOA and cut yards per carry by 14%, but they have been a small booster of receiving yards and touchdowns per target to running backs. Ogunbowale's versatility raises his floor.
|Best Week 17 Matchups - Wide Receivers|
Subjectively, I don't see Marvin Jones as a WR1. Matthew Stafford may start even after he added an ankle injury to his growing list of maladies, but we saw last week what happens to his skill players if he can't finish a game. Jones himself had just three catches and 19 yards. Still, it's difficult to argue against the benefits of a Vikings matchup. They are a top-two booster of No. 1 receiver yards and touchdowns per target by 24% and 84%, respectively. If Stafford is active, then Jones is an option, at least in DFS tournaments.
Robert Woods won't have his normal starter Jared Goff this Sunday. But despite my ignorance of most things John Wolford, that transition may not mean as much for Woods' value as the Lions will for Jones. For one, Goff has been an inefficient passer with -1.1% DVOA this season. And for another, Woods should offset some potential for decreased efficiency with an increase in targets with teammate Cooper Kupp sidelined by COVID protocols. As such, I would take a gamble on Woods against a Cardinals defense that is a top-10 booster of yards and touchdowns per target for No. 1 receivers.
|Worst Week 17 Matchups - Wide Receivers|
Calvin Ridley, DK Metcalf, and Robby Anderson are too productive to leave on your fantasy benches. But Tee Higgins is a perfect illustration of why Diontae Johnson fell to 38th in my true-talent wide receiver rankings with Mason Rudolph poised to start at quarterback for the Steelers. From Weeks 4 to 11 with Joe Burrow under center, Higgins produced 60 or more yards in six of seven games. But since Burrow was hurt, Higgins has hit 60 yards just once in five games. Ben Roethlisberger is no longer in his prime, but he supported the fantasy success of his receivers in a way that Rudolph couldn't in 2019. I would avoid every Steelers receiver if possible, but Johnson may suffer the most against a Browns defense that is a top-10 cutter of yards and touchdowns per target for top outside receivers.
|Best Week 17 Matchups - Tight Ends|
Perhaps the toughest fantasy decision this week will be what to do with Travis Kelce. The switch from Patrick Mahomes to Chad Henne at quarterback would not on its own knock the game's best and most consistent receiving tight end from lineup consideration. But I've also lessened Kelce's projected target share based on an expectation that, if he does play, it will likely only be for a handful of series. A quarter or two of Kelce would still be better than a lot of tight ends for fantasy, but it does lower him to 16th and therefore outside of my TE1 rankings.
If you want to sit Kelce or just need a body at the position for the week, Jack Doyle, Jordan Akins, and Irv Smith all enjoy favorable matchups. Doyle likely has the best of those against a Jaguars defense that is a top-10 increase of yards and touchdowns per target to tight ends. But he also suffers the most competition from his own depth chart with Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox involved. As such, he ranks the lowest at 17th at the position. Akins and Smith have traditionally split time with teammates, as well. But the former has asserted his preference over Darren Fells with a 14.1% versus 3.0% target share since Will Fuller's suspension in Week 13. And the latter has enjoyed a promotion with Kyle Rudolph's foot injury that finally landed him on injured reserve this week. Smith's 16.5% target share the last three weeks is 13th-best at the position, and I rank him 10th this week facing a Lions defense that boosts tight end touchdown rate by 70%.
|Worst Week 17 Matchups - Tight Ends|
In December, Cole Kmet has snap and target shares that suggest he's the new No. 1 tight end for the Bears. But that hasn't translated to fantasy production, where Jimmy Graham has maintained his lead on the strength of three touchdowns in his last three games. I'm not sure I can unpack that. Typically, I follow the lead of the former metrics since their bigger sample sizes make them more predictive. But Graham is also one of the best touchdown-scorers in NFL history, and he could continue to outscore his teammate with touchdowns and little else. Frankly, I'm glad I can set the issue aside this week as the Bears host the Packers. The Packers are stronger against the pass (No. 14 DVOA) than the run (No. 19) and stronger still against tight ends (No. 10 in DVOA). Look for the Bears to rely on their ground game to target a defensive weakness and control the clock, a strategy that makes Kmet and Graham bad TE2 options at best this week.
|Best Week 17 Matchups - Kickers|
Motivation means less for kickers than it does for skill players since the former tend not to have active backups and face lesser risk of injury when they play in any case. But motivated teams should tend to move the ball better than their resting counterparts. You can count on the Colts to try their best against the Jaguars this week, and that should lead to plenty of opportunities for their kicker, Rodrigo Blankenship. In addition to the boost of his home dome, his opponent promotes short and long field goal attempts by 6% and 14%, respectively.
Among the other matchup-boosted kickers, Matt Prater and Nick Folk may require a bit more homework. Their teams have no playoff scenarios to concern them. But the former will likely only earn his top-10 status if his normal quarterback Matthew Stafford can play, and the latter may benefit from his Jets opponent only if he dodges rain. Boston has a 63% chance of rain on Sunday afternoon.
|Worst Week 17 Matchups - Kickers|
Fantasy players may have had difficult decisions with kickers Chris Boswell and Tyler Bass, whose offenses could suffer with their teams poised to rest or potentially rest starters. But I think their bad matchups make it easy decisions to sit them. The Browns and Dolphins are top-10 cutters of long field goal attempts, tendencies that will likely be exacerbated by forecasted temperatures in the 30s in Cleveland and Buffalo and a chance of rain in the former. Look for other options among the teams that need to win this week.
|Best Week 17 Matchups - Defenses|
I won't tell you to avoid the defenses facing resting starters. But if you'd prefer to, there are several plus options that do not have that downside risk. Washington is up to second in pass defense DVOA and sixth in adjusted sack rate, and they face an Eagles offense that is a top-two increaser of sacks per pass attempt and tackles for losses. Meanwhile, the Patriots and Ravens face Jets and Bengals offenses that are far from inspiring even at full strength. The Ravens racked up seven sacks in their first game against the Bengals, and that was against Joe Burrow. Brandon Allen will likely spend some time on his back and could commit turnovers. Those big plays boost Baltimore to fifth at the position this week.
|Worst Week 17 Matchups - Defenses|
The Cardinals, Chargers, and Falcons would typically face difficult opponent matchups in the Rams, Chiefs, and Bucs, but those offenses may not live to their usual standards this week. The Rams are starting an unknown at quarterback in John Wolford with Jared Goff dealing with a thumb injury, and the Chiefs are starting a known but underwhelming quarterback in Chad Henne with Patrick Mahomes resting. With those changes, I could risk the Cardinals and Chargers if I were desperate. But I'd prefer to avoid the Falcons in any case, even though I consider theirs the best defense of the bunch. The Bucs may be locked into a wild card, but a win this week guarantees their first playoff game will come against the NFC East winner. From my perspective, that is enough of a reward for me to trust Bruce Arians' suggestion that his normal starters will play this week. And with Tom Brady under center, the Bucs cut sacks by 36% per pass attempt, the third-highest rate in football.