Shade will be tossed around everywhere in Week 18 with coaches calling for the potential of resting starters or playing to win. The approach I’ve used in Week 17 of previous seasons is in taking notes on all of the coach-speak, and being prepared to pivot when the inactive lists are released. I’ll be presenting all of the matchup data as per usual. Just understand that the final week of the NFL season is not on where lineups should be set and forgotten. It’s going to take a bit more work, but the profit levels are higher than in normal weeks for those who dedicated themselves to the news wire.
Another decent week of deep-passing efficiency. But nothing remotely close toward correcting the considerable issue the league has faced with scoring on the decline. You heard it here first, plan on the NFL rules committee making some adjustments to kick-start the longball for next season. And adjusting the rules to assist QBs in passing deep in general will result in the elite ball distributors posting some ridiculous numbers in response. As for Week 17, you can check out the data for yourself:
Modern NFL rules are in place to support vertical passing games. And a valid argument can be made that the current crop of WR, TE, and even RB professionals are more talented as receivers than at any point in league history. The finger can be pointed directly at two parties:
- Refusal by certain coaching staffs to spread out their detached offensive personnel, failure to implement analytics into their draft strategies and gameplans, and dragging their franchises behind in the dark ages with a preference for a run-heavy, “Pro Style” approach
- While much of this issue is carried on the shoulders of front offices for their appalling draft scouting, half of the league’s offenses are equipped with a level of QB quality that would even draw ridicule back in the 1970’s
As always, how can we use all of this information toward actionable lineup construction?
Targeting struggling qualified defenders will always be at the forefront of the process. And targeting late-week replacements in the secondary that have yet to play significant roles this season (the unqualified) is another profitable approach, in the proper situations, of course. Receiver target share reliability should continue to be held in very high regard – particularly in Cash/Single-Entry (SE) games. DFS success has always been dictated by the players receiving the opportunities. And those opportunity shares are even more important without the deep passing reliability to bust a particular slate.
As always, the following chart provides the full names for the acronyms and the defensive coverage performance numbers for each position group holding coverage importance through Week 17:
To magnify their importance toward processing the matchup data, familiarity with these abbreviations are key. The full names of the data points in the headers of the data table above will not be written out in full within the specific matchups. You’ll find the following acronyms frequently used whenever referencing defensive coverage statistics:
Yards Allowed Per Coverage Snap = YPCS
Fantasy Points Allowed Per Coverage Snap = FP/CS
Air Yards Allowed Per Coverage Snap = AY/CS
Targeted Passer Rating (i.e., Passer Rating on Targets into Coverage) = TPR
Offensive abbreviations used when referring to the performance of QBs/RBs/WRs/TEs:
FPs/Dropback = FP/Db
FPs/Route = FP/Rt
FPs/Touch = FP/Tch
Yards/Route Run = YPRR
Air Yards/Attempt = AY/Att
Air Yards/Target = AY/Tgt
Yards/Target = YPT
Targeted Passer Rating (i.e., QB Passer Rating When Targeting Receiver) = TPR
If you’d like to learn more about/refresh yourself with each of the defensive coverage shells and other relevant schematic details mentioned throughout this series, utilize the following resources:
- Fantasy Shells: Coverage Glossary
- Fantasy Shells: Cover 1
- Fantasy Shells: Cover 2
- Fantasy Shells: Cover 3
- Fantasy Shells: Cover 4
*98-90 (52%); 9-7 in Week 17
Kansas City Chiefs (-11.0) at Denver Broncos
Philadelphia Eagles (+7.0) vs. Dallas Cowboys
Pittsburgh Steelers (+5.0) at Baltimore Ravens *Assuming Lamar Jackson plays
Cincinnati Bengals (-3.0) at Cleveland Browns
Green Bay Packers (-2.5) at Detroit Lions
Houston Texans (+10.5) vs. Tennessee Titans ()
Indianapolis Colts (-15.0) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Chicago Bears (+2.5) at Minnesota Vikings *Assuming Justin Fields plays
Washington Football Team (-7.0) at New York Giants
Seattle Seahawks (+7.0) at Arizona Cardinals
New Orleans Saints (-4.0) at Atlanta Falcons
Buffalo Bills (-16.5) vs. New York Jets
San Francisco 49ers (+4.5) at Los Angeles Rams
Miami Dolphins (+6.5) vs. New England Patriots
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-7.5) vs. Carolina Panthers
Los Angeles Chargers (-3.0) at Las Vegas Raiders
*91-74 (55%); 10-6 in Week 17
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (Under 44.5)
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles (Over 42.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (Under 41.5) *Assuming Lamar Jackson plays
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (Over 41.0)
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (Over 42.5)
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (Under 43.0)
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (Under 44.0)
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (Under 44.0) *Assuming Justin Fields plays
Washington Football Team at New York Giants (Under 37.5)
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (Over 48.0)
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (Under 39.5)
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (Over 43.0)
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (Over 44.0)
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins (Under 40.0)
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Over 41.5)
Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders (Under 49.0)
*121-63 (66%); 11-5 in Week 17
Kansas City Chiefs (-600) at Denver Broncos
Philadelphia Eagles (+250) vs. Dallas Cowboys
Baltimore Ravens (-200) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers *Assuming Lamar Jackson plays
Cincinnati Bengals (-155) at Cleveland Browns
Green Bay Packers (-135) at Detroit Lions
Tennessee Titans (-525) at Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts (-1,000) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Chicago Bears (+120) at Minnesota Vikings *Assuming Justin Fields plays
Washington Football Team (-320) at New York Giants
Seattle Seahawks (+225) at Arizona Cardinals
New Orleans Saints (-210) at Atlanta Falcons
New York Jets (-1,375) at Buffalo Bills
San Francisco 49ers (+170) at Los Angeles Rams
Miami Dolphins (+215) vs. New England Patriots
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-365) vs. Carolina Panthers
Los Angeles Chargers (-160) at Las Vegas Raiders
Matchups to Target
Darrel Williams, KC ($5.9K DK | $7.0K FD) vs. Broncos’ Cover 1 | 6
We all have a difficult decision to make with the life-changing money on the line for the Saturday slate. Do we fade one or all of the Big Three for Kansas City? Personally, I do not like the matchup for the Chiefs’ passing game. Actually, that’s not entirely true. When these teams met on December 5th, KC RBs accounted for 62% of the total yardage. At the time of this writing, Clyde Edwards-Helaire has yet to practice. But KC has mentioned that CEH will have a chance to play.
The expectation is for Darrel Williams being featured, once again. He took on 82% of the RB carries last week. If he does, the significant bump in pricing this week for Williams will render both as fadable. If CEH sits, Williams’ receiving ability will aid him toward claiming the 44.3% of the total FPG the Broncos have allotted to RBs through the air. Williams has manufactured 1.002 FPs/opportunity this season (fourth-most among qualified RBs).
Final notes on Kansas City
Despite the fact that he’s accrued a 7-0 record across from the Broncos during his career, Patrick Mahomes II ($7.5K/$8.5K) hasn’t covered his floor against Denver since doing it twice during his “rookie” season in 2018. In the five games since, he’s averaged 14.8 FPG, and Mahomes has only thrown for more than one TD once. In fact, the Kansas City offense has only exceeded 286 total yards twice during their previous five games against the Broncos.
Eric Bieniemy works his tail off to motion Tyreek Hill ($8.0K/$8.2K) into optimal matchups. But the results have not been there for Cheetah when facing the Orange Crush. In seven matchups, he’s averaging 14.3 FPG, and he’s never eclipsed 100 yards receiving. With the expectation of Hill splitting his time across the formation, since we don’t have an update on Ronald Darby’s status (shoulder), Hill will see coverage from Kyle Fuller, Patrick Surtain II, and Bryce Callahan. We’d be hard-pressed to come up with more than five names at WR with the slate-busting potential of Hill. But assurances on WR6/WR5 pricing would go a long way toward solidifying our trust. And Hill may have most of the position licked in explosiveness, but Denver has proven to be his Kryponite over the last three seasons.
In Travis Kelce’s ($7.0K/$8.0K) first matchup with the Broncos the last two seasons, he’s averaged 8.3 FPs. He’s followed those duds up with averages of 29.4 FPs in the Chiefs’ subsequent games across from Denver those seasons. While Zeus has only covered or exceeded his floor in four-of-15 games (27%), he slapped us all across the mouth with 44.1 FPs in Week 15. The Broncos have only permitted a single TD to opposing TEs this season. As already stated, we all have difficult decisions to make with Kansas City this week. On a final note, with Demarcus Robinson sponging up snaps for whatever reason on the outside, Byron Pringle ($3.9K/$5.4K) has emerged as the clear No. 3 option in the passing game over the last eight weeks. Just a deep punt to keep in mind.
Legion of Zoomers to Avoid:
Derrick Gore ($4.5K/$5.2K)
Mecole Hardman ($3.8K/$5.4K)
Demarcus Robinson ($3.4K/$5.2K)
Josh Gordon ($3.0K/$4.6K)
Marcus Kemp ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Noah Gray ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Blake Bell ($2.8K/$4.4K)
Final notes on Denver
With Drew Lock under center, nobody in the Denver offense interests me. In the last two games with Lock under center, Javonte Williams ($6.1K/$6.0K) and Melvin Gordon III ($5.8K/$6.0K) have rushed for 82 yards on 39 carries (2.1 YPC). From my count, At least 93% of that yardage had to be earned after contact. The opposition is well aware that Lock is not an NFL caliber QB. Defenses are loading up the box and forcing Lock to beat them over the top. But Lock is so shell-shocked that he’ll be benched that he’s leading the offense like he has been gifted a double-digit lead. Hey Drew, check the memo informing you that your offense has been playing from behind for 115 minutes and seven seconds of the 120 minutes you’ve been under center the last two weeks. Is there another franchise that has shown less evidence toward properly evaluating QB talent? Maybe the Jets. And the Browns. The Titans really haven’t drafted QBs well at all sans Steve McNair. Not the list you want to see your favorite team listed.
If you simply must, Jerry Jeudy ($5.1K/$5.9K) has dominated Cover 2 during his career. He’s generated 0.49 FP/Rt (fourth-most), 2.65 YPRR (second-most), and 12.8 YPT (ninth-most). On 17% of career routes, he’s created 25% of his catches, 26% of yardage, and 33% of his TDs against Cover 2. KC is using Cover 2 at the second-highest rate this season. And he’ll work against L’Jarius Sneed on Saturday. To date, Sneed has permitted 1.41 YPCS (fourth-most), 0.33 FP/CS (third-most), and a 102.2 TPR (12th-highest among 35 qualified slot CBs). Just throwing it out there that trusting Lock to feed Jeudy should not be undertaken by the faint of heart. Those experiencing any of the following should immediately be examined by a physician for a potential Lock Attack:
- Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina), or shortness of breath.
- Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts of your body are narrowed.
- Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back.
Outside of the 69- and 72-yard TDs kindly offered up by Daniel Sorenson and Tyrann Mathieu, respectively, Charvarius Ward took the brunt of Ja’Marr Chase’s 11/266/3 game. The 5/104/1 he was responsible for in Week 17 is the first example of Ward providing his responsibilities with greater than 50 receiving yards since Week 1. Regardless, Ward did his version of a “The Griddy” dance after deflecting a pass away from Chase – one of the individuals responsible for growing the popularity of the dance.
Griddy Time @JJettas2 @LAHGRIDDY2x pic.twitter.com/FNd1GDBA6H— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) October 3, 2021
The mocked celebration by Ward did not avoid the attention of Chase. Two plays later, Chase collected this 18-yard, back-shoulder go for a TD, and followed it up with a proper interpretation of the celebration:
Ja’Marr Chase had to teach Charvarius Ward the REAL way to Griddy after mossing him 😭😭😭 pic.twitter.com/ytsdWFVM93— Pickswise (@Pickswise) January 3, 2022
The Chiefs didn’t have Rashad Fenton in Week 13 when these teams last met. But Ward ghosted Tim Patrick ($4.5K/$5.5K) on 27 routes inside his coverage, and 2019 first-rounder DeAndre Baker held Courtland Sutton ($4.6K/$5.7K) to 1/5/0 on two targets. Fenton will be on the field this week. The 0.83 YPCS (13th-fewest), 0.18 FP/CS (eighth-fewest), 0.09 AY/CS (ninth-fewest), and 87.9 TPR (32nd-best) will be an insurmountably-greater challenge for Sutton this week. When the numbers surrendered to WRs by Kansas City the last four weeks (48.5 FPG – third-most) come under the inspection of the field, some carelessly invested bankroll dollars could be tossed around. With Jeudy and Patrick likely returning from the COVID list, the added volume Noah Fant ($5.0K/$5.9K) benefited from last week will not be available.
Mile High Fielders to Fade:
Drew Lock ($5.3K/$6.5K)
Mike Boone ($4.0K/$4.5K)
Seth Williams ($3.1K/$4.6K)
Kendall Hinton ($3.2K/$4.7K)
Travis Fulgham ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Diontae Spencer ($3.0K/$4.5K)
Albert Okwuegbunam ($2.9K/$4.5K)
Eric Saubert ($2.5K/$4.1K)
Matchups to Target
NOTE: It’s entirely possible both the Eagles and Cowboys rest starters in this game. The Cowboys have said they will not, but the Eagles have been less definitive.
CeeDee Lamb, DAL ($6.8K DK | $7.4K FD) vs. Steven Nelson, PHI
The knee injury suffered by Michael Gallup pushes CeeDee Lamb back to a featured role on the perimeter. It’s an adjustment that should not be overlooked. When he’s worked from the outside, Lamb has benefited from a 13% increase in target share, 28% in YPRR, 27% in yards after the catch/reception, and 17% in YPT. On 54% of his routes, he’s assembled 57% of receptions, 62% of his yardage, and 67% of his TDs. A lot has changed with the Philadelphia defense since these teams met in Week 3. One of those has seen the return of Darius Slay in shadowing opposing No. 1s. With a TD in three-of-four games for Amari Cooper and zero for Lamb since Week 10, as I’ll address later, Slay is absolutely going to focus his attention on Cooper this week.
Lamb is going to do his most work across from Steven Nelson. As the eighth-most targeted outside CB, Nelson is granting his coverage with 0.99 YPCS (28th-fewest), 0.22 FP/CS (27th-fewest), a 109.7 TPR (14th-highest), and the 35th-highest completion rate on 20-plus targets among 77 qualified perimeter corners. However, we must remember that Nelson has benefited from Slay locking onto opposing WR1s. For most teams, eliminating their top option at wideout is a death sentence. Not the case for Dallas with Lamb and Cooper.
The Cowboys trampled the Eagles 41-21 in Week 3. And it was a time when much of Philly’s offense was carried on the legs of Jalen Hurts. Philadelphia has been playing infinitely better with seven of their nine victories earned over their last nine games. But they’ve played so well that a playoff spot has already been clinched. It appears the defense will be without Fletcher Cox, Avonte Maddox, Rodney McLeod, Genard Avery and Marcus Epps after they were all placed on the COVID list on Monday. The Cowboys have struggled on offense in recent weeks, so it’s very unlikely that we’ll see them rested.
Dalton Schultz, DAL ($5.3K DK | $6.1K FD) vs. Eagles’ Cover 2 | 4 | 6
When the Eagles’ defense is 100%, targeting opposing TEs is a profitable business. Philly is handing out 6.38 receptions/game (the most), 62.4 YPG (seventh-most), 0.75 TDs/game (the most), 1.13 red zone (RZ) targets/game (the most), and 17.2 FPG (second-most) to the position.
Nick Siriani has already hinted at resting starters, and he will likely avoid pushing the players added to the COVID list on Monday – the defenders listed above – after missing some-or-all of practice this week. Dalton Schultz posted a 6/80/2 line (26.0 FPs) in a season-best performance across from the Eagles in Week 3. It’s for this compelling series of reasons that results in top-three upside for Schultz in Week 18.
Matchups to Avoid
Amari Cooper, DAL ($6.5K DK | $7.0K FD) vs. Darius Slay, PHI
Darius Slay held Amari Cooper to a 1/35/0 receiving line combined in two games last season. Cooper managed to collect 69- and 11-yard receptions inside the coverage of Michael Jacquet III when Slay was dealing with a collection of injuries during their Week 16 game. Slay has been playing at a top level all season. Considering he’s been opposing the best WRs each week, his numbers are all-the-more-impressive.
Slay is limiting his responsibilities to 0.84 YPCS (14th-fewest), 0.19 FP/CS (13th-fewest), 0.09 AY/CS (ninth-fewest), and a 76.1 TPR (17th-lowest). The decision on Cooper will come down to the news passed along from the news passed along by the Eagles and from the inactive list released an hour-or-so prior to gametime. Keep your ear to the ground on Slay’s status.
DeVonta Smith, PHI ($6.1K DK | $6.0K FD) vs. Trevon Diggs, DAL
A matchup against Trevon Diggs is a very unique encounter, indeed. He has granted his responsibilities with 1.68 YPCS (second-most) and 0.31 FP/CS (sixth-most). However, with 11 INTs and 11 pass breakups, Diggs is only allowing a 71.7 TPR (11th-lowest), and he’s only been targeted at the 25th-highest rate – much lower than expected for a corner distributing that level of production. In other words, the potential for success is there, but the substantial risk is also prevalent.
Considering that his coverage is only averaging 3.25 catches, 34.25 yards, and 0.25 TDs (8.2 FPG) over the last four weeks, it shouldn’t surprise that the targeting rate is on the decline. With 10.1 FPs-or-less in five of his last six games, DeVonta Smith exposure was already a considerable risk. Provided with the 18th-highest target share (23%), Smith has responded with the 44th-most FP/Rt (0.349). Diminished offensive personnel, single-digit FPs in 50% of his starts, and Diggs in coverage are all compelling reasons to pivot off Smith’s WR20/WR29 pricing.
Final notes on Dallas
I love the matchup for both Lamb and Schultz, so it doesn’t require much of an imagination to assume quality numbers for Dak Prescott ($6.8K/$7.7K). On the Saturday-only slate, QB8/QB8 pricing leaves Prescott as my go-to leverage play over Mahomes. Depending on the extent of defensive personnel absences for Philadelphia, Ezekiel Elliott ($6.7K/$7.6K) and Tony Pollard ($6.0K/$5.9K) could skyrocket up the upside board. Choosing featured RBs on the Saturday-only slate is easily the most difficult challenge to overcome. And answers will not be available until we have a better idea on who will be available. Without Gallup, Cedrick Wilson Jr. ($4.2K/$5.6K) will shift into a featured role on the inside. In addition, Avonte Maddox is unlikely to play. As long as we temper the expectations, Wilson is an excellent source of salary relief.
Give a wide berth to the following Team Americaners:
Noah Brown ($3.3K/$4.7K)
Malik Turner ($3.2K/$4.6K)
Sean McKeon ($2.5K/$4.2K)
Jeremy Sprinkle ($2.5K/$4.3K)
Final notes on Philadelphia
A lingering ankle injury for Jalen Hurts ($6.3K/$7.7K) has sapped his ground game, and the potential for Gardner Minshew II ($5.4K/$6.1K) splitting reps in a meaningless game makes for an avoidable situation. The catalyst for the passing offense has been Dallas Goedert ($5.2K/$6.3K) all season. Both Goedert and Jack Stoll ($2.5K/$4.2K) are unlikely to play after being placed on the COVID list. Needless to say, the passing game for Philly is not going to be in a good place. However, Tyree Jackson ($2.5K/$4.1K) might see enough reps to be an excellent dart throw.
Dallas’ run defense has overcome permitting the second-highest rate of 20-plus runs (3.54%) to only allow the third-fewest FPG to RBs (20.1). Miles Sanders ($5.2K/$6.4K) doesn’t sound as though he’ll play and Boston Scott ($5.3K/$6.4K) and Jordan Howard ($4.4K/$5.4K) were also added to the COVID list. Even in a considerably difficult matchup, Kenneth Gainwell ($4.1K/$4.8K) could enter a featured role with RB40/RB30 pricing. But word will drop early enough in advance that the entire field will be all over him. If Sanders, Scott, and Howard are indeed out, Gainwell will need to be locked into everyone’s Cash/Single-Entry lineups.
Steer clear of these Birds:
Jalen Reagor ($3.0K/$5.0K)
Quez Watkins ($3.8K/$5.2K)
Greg Ward ($3.3K/$4.7K)