Into the Unknown: Week 17 Stacks


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Into the Unknown: Week 17 Stacks

The year is 2014.

I have just returned early from my first combat deployment after “only” four and a half months of a nine-month tour on the USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) in the Persian Gulf. I’m only two months removed from the smell of that doctor’s office in Bahrain, from the two doctors huddled around my CT scans and MRIs, discussing my cancer diagnosis in Arabic.

But I’m home now – and today is my daughter’s first birthday. Resonating sounds of children scampering through the house feel louder than normal, the lights seem brighter, the moisture-filled summer air in Virginia settles heavier on my skin. Nothing else matters on this day.

I hear an indistinct sound from across the room. It grows louder.

“I wanna watch Frozen,” the three-year-old girl exclaims.

My daughter was too young for our family to have seen what I would soon grow to know as a staple in my family’s life.

“Of course, we can watch Frozen,” I reply.

I settle onto a stool and watch, slowly drifting back into the state of euphoric calm that had previously engulfed my senses. The next hour is a blur, until the same little girl turns to me and emphatically bellows, “Hans is the bad guy.” I chuckle aloud as my wife beckons the party to the highchair, where my infant awaits her first-ever taste of homemade cake.

The year is 2019. It’s almost Christmas and I’ve just had my last flight in the F/A-18F Super Hornet for the Navy. My family is preparing to move across the country to where my wife and I grew up – beautiful (and hot) Phoenix, Arizona. I was fortunate enough to find a short-term rental in the area, having already successfully sold our house of the last seven years. The days are long and the nights short as we ensure everything is in order for the big move.

But this afternoon, we’re escaping to the cinema to catch Frozen 2 in theaters. Life as the designated child-chaser has made it so my time at the movies is largely spent running after littles on the move, and this afternoon was no different. I catch glimpses of the flick from the aisles when I can, but end up missing most of the movie.

Quite honestly, my mind wasn’t there to begin with. I’m fighting to stay afloat for my family. The Navy is all I’ve ever known. I went off to the United States Naval Academy when I was just 17. I remember my parents signing me away on my first day of indoctrination. Life has been so simple these previous 14 years – but no longer. Now, we’re packing up and leaving that life behind, heading west as the pioneers once did with little more than a dream of what life could be like in the future.

“Just have to make it there and we’ll figure it all out,” I would tell myself. “At least I don’t have to move in with my mother-in-law when we arrive.” (I lied to myself about that second part. I did have to move in with my mother-in-law.)

The year is 2020.

I think back to that party years ago when I first saw Frozen, as my wife queues up Disney+ for the first time. It’s finally here. Emily rests her feet, now five months pregnant with our fourth child. She hands me the remote. The kids gleam with excitement.

It’s crazy to think that just six years ago, the doctors told us we might not be able to have any more biological kids due to a highly invasive surgery to remove the lymph nodes immediately surrounding the cancer. But here we are, three healthy kids and a fourth on the way. And today, we’re watching Frozen 2 again.

The movie starts, and a tranquility I haven’t seen in weeks settles over the children. The COVID lockdowns have begun to take their toll, but today, they immerse themselves in a cinematic adventure unlike before. And I get to escape the PTSD that has taken hold in a time when most people were left alone to their thoughts for far too long.

Olaf is back! Everyone’s favorite mischievous little snowman scampers around the screen. And then it happens.

“Ah ah ah ahhhhh. Ah ah ah ahhhh.”

Elsa begins to sing.

“There’s a thousand reasons, I should go about my day,

And ignore your whispers, which I wish would go away.

Everyone I’ve ever loved, is here within these walls.

I’m sorry secret siren, but I’m blocking out your calls.

I’ve had my adventure; I don’t need something new.

I’m afraid of what I’m risking if I follow you…

Into the unknown! Into the unknown! Into the unknow-ooooooo-own!”

Holy crap.

The PTSD has begun to drive a wedge between me and the love of my life. My second deployment was “busy.” But I did my job. I dropped my ordnance to protect those men on the ground. And it was a lot of ordnance. Over 80 bombs and countless 20MM cannon rounds.

I’ve struggled to find work after leaving active duty, and my family has been living off the proceeds from the sale of our last house. What the hell am I going to do? All the jobs I had lined up for life after the Navy evaporated as COVID lingers.

But a lifeline emerges. A few months ago, I reached out to Jordan Tohline at One Week Season, offering to write a game theory piece for free. I’m proud of myself for reaching out. I’m even prouder that they loved it.

After that piece, Jordan hired me for the upcoming NFL season. But new anxieties emerge.

Is that going to materialize into anything? Can I really support my family through fantasy football?

Elsa continues.

“What do you want? ‘Cause you’ve been keeping me awake.

Are you here to distract me, so I make a big mistake?

Or are you someone out there, who’s a little bit like me?

Who knows deep down, I’m not where I’m meant to be?

Every day’s a little harder, as I feel my powers grow.

Don’t you know there’s part of me that longs to go…

Into the unknown! Into the unknown! Into the unknow-ooooooo-own!”

I’ve never failed at anything I’ve put my mind to — I can do this, too.

It was in that moment that I decided to get help with my mental struggles. Time stood still. A damn Disney movie had helped me find my way. What in the hell?

“Where are you going, don’t leave me alone.

How do I follow you, into the unknown!”

Woof. That song, man.

The year is 2024.

I’ve developed my understanding and mastery of game theory to new levels. I’ve studied human psychology and learned that human beings loathe the unknown. We prefer comfort, stability, certainty. We like driving the same way to work every day. We like to sit in the same spot on the couch.

This is something that has been passed down from generation to generation, literally wired into our DNA. It has served us well as a species, kept us alive. And yet, comfort in the known can make life static and monotonous.

I crave adventure, the uncertainty of a new challenge. The feeling of triumph when you make it through the other side. Hilow (Home in Lieu of Work – yeah, from that time I left a combat deployment early due to cancer), my callsign from my time strapped to an ejection seat, has made it through the unknown.

I’m now working for four major fantasy outlets and continue to hone my knowledge and skills in the field of game theory. I’ve come to understand that uncertainty is everywhere in life. I’ve drawn the correlation between that uncertainty and the variance found in best ball, DFS, and season-long fantasy football. I’ve come to embrace uncertainty and variance for what it is. I teach others how to harness that uncertainty through Game Theoretic reasoning atOne Week Season.

It is now Week 17 of the 2024 NFL season.

Let’s jump into the future — the unknown, if you will.

It’s Christmas Eve. Each kid (there are five of them now) gets to open one present on the morning of Christmas Eve. It’s always the same gift — anew pair of Christmas pajamas and a movie. We sit on the couch, snuggled tightly in our new threads. A movie is in the queue. The smell of popcorn fills the room.

The movie starts … as I open up the DraftKings app. Yeah, it’s Christmas Eve, but these showdown lineups for tomorrow aren’t going to set themselves.

“I wonder what I would have thought about this coming weekend’s slate back in June,” I think to myself. “I wonder what lessons I could have been ahead of, which predictions fell flat. I wonder if going through all the potential outcomes of this season back then could have provided me with a different perspective on the year. I wonder if anyone else had taken the time to access the areas of the game tree we’ve seen play out.”

Hmmmm. Maybe we should do that?

The game of best ball carries a borderline infinite number of potential outcomes. It also involves a borderline limitless amount of variance. But remember, humans crave stability and control. We try to control a game that can’t be controlled. We try to find comfort in a perception of the known. And yet, we know nothing about what will happen this season. We know nothing about what will transpire in Week 17. So, what can we do? We must be honest with ourselves.

We must utilize sound theoretical reasoning to boost the expected value (EV) of each roster put into play in these best ball contests, to maximize the EV of our portfolio. The rest is out of our control. The rest is up to variance. The rest is our journey into the unknow-ooooooo-own.

We’ll take the time in the rest of this offering to examine the Week 17 matchups through the lens of DFS, paying particular attention to each player's complete range of outcomes under the assumption of complete health.

Although the analysis will mirror that of a DFS slate, examining a slate seven months in advance is most beneficial to us as it pertains to the game of best ball, giving us a valuable glimpse into the most important round of playoff-style best ball tournaments – Week 17.

We’ll also take a quick aside for each game to scrutinize the unknown, to methodically think through the potential outcomes of a grueling 18-week NFL season and its associated variance.

One final note before we jump in – in case you couldn’t tell already, this is not a short offering. You can skim through and find bulleted primary targets and secondary targets from each game to save some time.

The 2024 Week 17 NFL Slate

Chiefs (-4.0) @ Steelers, Wednesday, 25 December

42.5 Over/Under (15th of 16)

The macro aspects of this matchup yield a more strength-on-strength (Chiefs offense versus Steelers defense) and weakness-on-strength (Steelers offense versus Chiefs defense) outlook, with the retooled Chiefs likely returning to form after a down year in scoring in 2023 with their new offensive weapons and the battle-tested Steelers grinding games into the fourth quarter primarily through their veteran defense.

Furthermore, these two offenses will be playing on extremely short weeks, considering the NFL wanted to grab a piece of the Christmas pie this year, leading to a game on a Wednesday (WTF?). While offensive production is historically hindered with teams playing on short weeks, the reality is that short weeks give each team less time to prepare, which theoretically widens the potential range of outcomes from the game environment itself.

The speed of rookie wide receiver Xavier Worthy likely translates to greater offensive efficiency for the Kansas City offense as it opens up the middle and intermediate areas of the field for Rashee Rice and Travis Kelce to operate. Hollywood Brown also gives this offense a veteran presence with elite speed to play on the perimeter. Picture 4.32 (Brown) and 4.21 (Worthy) speed streaking down the field while utilizing the standard Andy Reid layered route trees.

Think about what that likely means for Rice (4.8 aDOT in his rookie season) and Kelce over the middle of the field. The Kansas City backfield is highly likely to devolve into a two-headed attack, split between Isiah Pacheco and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. After the team’s Week 10 bye in 2023, Pacheco saw snap rates of 61, 78, 70, 57 (first game back from a two-game absence due to injury), 93, 70, 72, and 79 percent in his eight healthy games leading up to the Super Bowl, which translated to opportunity counts of 20, 20, 22, 15 (57 percent snap count game), 25, 25, 16, and 28. He then saw 24 opportunities in the Super Bowl win over the 49ers. In other words, it is highly likely that Pacheco is set up to approach or surpass the 19 running back opportunities per game he averaged over the second half of the 2023 season.

Even so, the matchup is far from ideal against a Pittsburgh team that held opponents to 19.7 points per game a season ago behind a sixth-ranked 47.17 percent red zone touchdown rate allowed. That said, the Steelers struggled on defense outside of the red zone, yielding a 21st-ranked 343.6 yards per game, 16th-ranked 224.9 pass yards per game, and a 21st-ranked 118.6 rush yards per game. The current 41.5-point game total likely rests on Pittsburgh’s ability to stop Mahomes and company in the red zone as they are unlikely to fully put a clamp on Kansas City between the 20s.

Patrick Queen’s addition to the heart of the Pittsburgh 3-4 defensive shell adds yet another veteran piece to an already potent unit. He joins Elandon Roberts, T.J. Watt, and Alex Highsmith to form one of the better second levels in the league. Watt's ability to generate disruption in the backfield likely leads to quicker time to throw and shorter depth of target for Mahomes and the Chiefs, likely benefiting Kelce, Rice, and Pacheco the most.

Volume should be there for all three players, with touchdowns ultimately dictating which of the three emerges as the most fantasy-relevant player in a more difficult matchup than the public likely accepts. Pacheco, somewhat quietly, saw 50 red-zone touches (seventh), a 61.2 percent snap share (13th), a 72.4 percent opportunity share (eighth), and finished 11th in breakaway run rate a season ago. He gets the early nod for the player likeliest to emerge from this game with a meaningful fantasy score.

As for the Steelers, the likely split in backfield work in conjunction with one of the more difficult matchups against a stout Chiefs defense leaves little to be desired from a fantasy perspective in this spot.

Primary Targets
  • Isiah Pacheco
Secondary Targets
  • Travis Kelce, Rashee Rice, George Pickens
Into the Unknown

Both Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren stayed healthy for the entirety of the 2023 season. Warren, however, missed two games in 2022. In the first game Warren missed in 2022, Harris handled a ridiculous 92 percent snap share and 26 running back opportunities. He then saw 11 first-half opportunities in the second game before leaving at half with injury. In other words, it is highly likely that either Harris or Warren would serve as a borderline workhorse back in the case that one of them is injured at any point in the coming season, which could be enough volume to matter against a Chiefs defense the ceded over 113 yards per game on the ground in 2023 (of the 298.9 total yards of offense allowed per game).

The target pecking order in Kansas City is likely to collapse on itself in case of injury rather than expand to additional assets. As in, it is more likely that we see the remaining primary contributors amongst Kelce, Rice, Brown, and Pacheco pick up the slack than it would be for Worthy or other secondary pieces to suddenly see a massive uptick in opportunities. The one caveat to that statement would be the case of injury to Pacheco, upon which we should expect Edwards-Helaire to operate as the primary running back. That elevates the weekly upside case for all primary pass-catchers and Edwards-Helaire.

Finally, the Steelers offense would look a lot different should Justin Fields find himself under center in Week 17, which remains a distinct possibility. As we’ve grown accustomed to over the previous few seasons, Fields carries elite mobility and arm strength but lacks pocket presence, something that has led to turnovers and sacks in addition to a boost to targets for intermediate options who can separate quickly as a first read.

For the Steelers, that is likeliest to be tight end Pat Freiermuth, which leaves an interesting upside case for the veteran tight end when paired with Fields.

Ravens (-1.5) @ Texans, Wednesday, 25 December

46.5 Over/Under (4th of 16)

Another Wednesday game? The same discussion that we had above holds true regarding the wide range of outcomes of the game environment.

Both of these defenses are good. That said, offensive environments in the NFL are oftentimes shifted drastically by one play or one spark of athleticism, which typically requires elite playmakers to ignite (think back to the eruption game two years ago between the Dolphins and the Ravens – Devin Duvernay returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, immediately shifting that game environment to one of offensive fireworks). These two teams are not short on elite athleticism or playmakers.

This year, the Ravens had one of the busiest offseasons in the NFL. No less than five defensive starters from the 2023 season are no longer with the team (LB Patrick Queen, EDGE Jadeveon Clowney, CBs Ronald Darby and Rock Ya-Sin, and S Geno Stone), there’s a new defensive coordinator in Baltimore in former NFL linebacker and linebacker coach Zachary Orr, who is getting his first crack at defensive coordinator duties at the NFL level. Tight end Mark Andrews enters the season coming off a gruesome injury at the hands of the infamous hip-drop tackle. Derrick Henry joined the fray as one of the more durable running backs of the past decade, and three secondary receivers departed in the offseason (Odell Beckham Jr, Duvernay, and Laquon Treadwell). Nothing like a good wide range of outcomes to get the juices flowing, eh?

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken did little to buck the recent trend of elite rushing volume in his first year in control of the offense, averaging just 29.1 pass attempts per game after the team finished the 2022 season at just 28.7 pass attempts per game. Much of that can be attributed to a defense that led the league in points allowed, sacks, and takeaways – the first time a team has managed to lead the league in all three categories in NFL history. Quarterback Lamar Jackson averaged 9.25 rush attempts per game in 2023, which, combined with Henry's hefty rush rates and presence in the backfield, should cap overall pass volume in 2024.

The Texans were considered a pass-funnel defense a season ago, having allowed 230.0 pass yards per game (20th) and just 101.5 rush yards per game (eighth). The fact that Houston brought in 13 new faces on the defensive side of the ball after an offseason that brought significant personnel change matters less considering we’re in Week 17 and the core of the secondary remains intact, spearheaded by Derek Stingley, Jimmie Ward, and Desmond King. This is a more difficult matchup on paper for the Ravens than many will realize coming into the season.

Houston offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik hails from the Kyle Shanahan and Mike McDaniel coaching trees, and we saw many of those characteristics present in this offense last season. Although the design of his individual plays is on par with the best offensive minds in the league, his situational play calling was, at maximum, bottom half of the league, likely closer to bottom 10, last season. He would go through long stretches where his plays were predictable and inefficient, most notably traversing two chunks of the season with the highest first-down rush rate in the league.

He will need to improve upon those tendencies in his second year as offensive coordinator in Houston if this team is going to make a leap to the next echelon in 2024. But damn, does his offense look pretty on paper. Houston signed running back Joe Mixon and traded for wide receiver Stefon Diggs, giving this offense one of the most skilled assortments of skill position players in the league for the 2024 season. But this matchup is far from ideal against the Ravens. Both sides of this matchup very much present strength-on-strength matchups.

Primary Targets
  • Game stacks/correlations
Secondary Targets
  • Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, Derrick Henry, Zay Flowers, C.J. Stroud, Nico Collins, Stefon Diggs, Tank Dell, Joe Mixon
Into the Unknown

One of the primary reasons the Ravens were able to continue to play with slow pace and elevated rush rates in 2023 was their defense, something that never really forced Monken and head coach John Harbaugh into elevated rates of aggression. They were able to control the flow of games and coast to victory in most instances. That could change in a hurry with mounting injuries to the primary players on the defensive side of the ball (like what happened two seasons ago) or against an opponent that pushes them early on the scoreboard. Either of those potential outcomes could transpire here, considering the opponent.

As a quick aside, it’s crazy how quickly the industry forgets what Jackson is capable of when playing from behind. That could turn this game environment on its head in a hurry, which makes all primary skill position players intriguing upside bets. Theoretically, primary options from each offense are better served to game stacks and correlations as all would likely require an outside spark to truly take off. Finally, the Ravens have very little depth behind Zay Flowers and Henry, with Isaiah Likely still waiting in the winds behind Andrews. Jackson + Likely + a correlated bring-back or two from the Texans could be a true difference maker in Week 17, as well as one of Justice Hill or Keaton Mitchell should Henry go down with injury.

Seahawks @ Bears (-3.5), Thursday, 26 December

45.5 Over/Under (tied-7th of 16)

The Seahawks cleaned house with their coaching staff this offseason, parting ways with one of the longest-tenured coaches in recent history (Pete Carroll) in favor of the defensive-minded Mike Macdonald, former Washington Huskies offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, and defensive coordinator Aden Durde. We expect Macdonald to have control over defensive play-calling duties after he served as the defensive coordinator for a Ravens team that set records a year ago.

We also expect Grubb to install an entirely new offensive scheme, likely rooted in the classic West coast spread-based design. The “air raid” nature of his offense at Washington is unlikely to fully translate to the NFL level, but the basics of the scheme are designed to get players in space with the ball in their hands by stressing an opposing defense on the lateral plane. The key to success, to me, will be how Grubb exploits opposing defenses in the vertical. The good thing with that notion is that Grubb has elite vertical threats in DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba with which to build in those exploits. That said, the only thing we know for certain with this offense is that it is going to be extremely different from what we’ve seen in recent history in Seattle.

The same thing can be said of this Bears offense after the team traded former starting quarterback Justin Fields, traded for Keenan Allen, and drafted the unquestioned top quarterback and one of the top wide receivers out of the 2024 class in Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze this offseason. They also signed free agent running back D’Andre Swift to a lucrative three-year, $24 million contract. In summary, this team went all in this year to build a capable offense around their new franchise quarterback.

Interestingly enough, first-year offensive coordinator Shane Waldron comes to the Bears from the Seahawks, where he served in the same position for the previous three seasons. The Seahawks finished those seasons ranked 16th, 10th, and 17th in points per game while under Waldron’s tutelage, but much of the heavy lifting of those units was left up to the players to win in one-on-one situations. The emphasis of Waldron’s recent pass offenses has been to generate one-on-one matchups in different areas of the field, leaving the quarterback to process the information in a timely manner and deliver the ball on time and to the right spot. That’s an interesting proposition for a rookie quarterback to handle.

The fact that both head coaches are defensively oriented likely means neither is going to fully push the pace of play and aggression unless otherwise prompted, leaving the likeliest scenario here one that requires outside influence to erupt. Said another way, the game environment is likeliest to behave similarly to a tightly contested, moderately scoring affair rather than including multiple paths to eruption.

Primary Targets
  • None
Secondary Targets
  • DJ Moore, Keenan Allen, Rome Odunze, DK Metcalf
Into the Unknown

The fact that Waldron and the Seahawks have significant history with each other, paired with the new-look offense in Seattle, widens the range of outcomes from this game environment.

Furthermore, both teams have legitimate playmakers who can turn a game on its head in the right situation. If Waldron can create those one-on-one situations effectively for the likes of Moore, Allen, and Odunze, we could see this game break open sooner rather than later. That would likely force the “air raid” Seahawks offense into increased rates of aerial aggression, further pushing the game environment towards something worth getting excited about.

That scenario does not represent a large portion of the range of outcomes here, but it is very well within reach. In that instance, tight game stacks make sense.

Cardinals @ Rams (-6.0), Sunday, 29 December

48.0 Over/Under (2nd of 16)

This game is one of only two games currently projected for a game total north of 48 points in Week 17 (joining the game of the week, Lions @ 49ers).

It will also be the second time these two teams will have met in 2024, widening the potential range of outcomes from the game environment further. Both teams maintain the same offensive coaching staff as they had in 2023, providing us with a solid glimpse into what to expect for the coming season. The lone change is with the Rams and their defensive coordinator after Raheem Morris left for the head coaching gig in Atlanta and was replaced by Chris Shula, grandson of the legendary Don Shula. Shula recently intimated that his defense will look a lot like Morris’ three-four base but that he will look fluid based on his players' capabilities.

That said, there’s nothing inherently “special” with that statement, and a lot of what made the Rams such a surprise last year on the defensive side of the ball was Morris' coaching abilities, which are now gone. After a largely up-and-down, inconsistent season in 2023, I expect the Rams to struggle a bit more on the defensive side of the ball in 2024. This is a plus – for us, at least. Expect the Rams to be in more shootouts than they were involved with a season ago.

The Cardinals understandably struggled on the defensive side of the ball in head coach Jonathan Gannon’s first year with the team (31st-ranked 26.8 points allowed per game), and they’ve encountered fairly significant personnel overhaul over the previous two years. Gannon’s defensive scheme is in a league of its own in the current state of the NFL, utilizing a shallow two-high base designed to increase quarterback processing time and force disruptive errors.

The biggest problem is that design requires above-average pressure in the backfield. The Cardinals generated a lowly 6.12 percent sack rate, leading to a disgusting 7.1 average yards allowed per pass attempt. The team drafted athletic EDGE Darius Robinson in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft to help address those issues, but we’re going to need to see the defensive front win at a higher rate before we change our view of this defense.

Boosting the chances for regular shootouts from this team was the emphasis on the offensive side of the ball this offseason with the arrival of the top wide receiver from this year’s class, Marvin Harrison Jr. Kyler Murray has struggled through inconsistency and injury the previous three seasons but finally appears to be fully healthy, while third-year tight end Trey McBride offers tantalizing upside over the middle of the field, particularly against zone coverages.

Second-year wide receiver Michael Wilson should continue his development into a more consistent X-type wide receiver while Greg Dortch continues to put up gaudy metrics against man coverage during his career. Finally, James Conner has been one of the most efficient backs in the league during his time with the Cardinals and now gets a solid change-of-pace option behind him in third-round rookie Trey Benson. In all, this team has the requisite tools to make some waves on offense this season.

Primary Targets
  • Kyren Williams, Puka Nacua, Cooper Kupp, Marvin Harrison Jr, Trey McBride
Secondary Targets
  • Demarcus Robinson, Blake Corum (contingency value), Greg Dortch, Michael Wilson, James Conner, Trey Benson (contingency value plus), Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford
Into the Unknown

Or… Murray could just be trash and unable to support elite fantasy production for any of his skill position players (I’m of the opinion that is closer to the truth than the field generally accepts).

Sean McVay has demonstrated a propensity to reduce his offensive aggression in games his team controls throughout, which could end up being the case here. That keeps the primary targets from the Rams in consideration while removing all secondary targets. Either way, it is highly unlikely the Rams fully fail here.

Chargers (-2.5) @ Patriots, Sunday, 29 December

41.0 Over/Under (16th of 16)

Most of the talk around the industry surrounding this Chargers team revolves around the offseason departures of much of their skill position cadre. Keenan Allen. Gone. Austin Ekeler. Gone. Mike Williams. Gone. Jared Cook. Gone. We assume the new coaching staff in Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman will place increased emphasis on the run after the Chargers spent the previous three seasons near the top of the league in situation-neutral pass rate.

We know that during Harbaugh’s stint as head coach of the 49ers (2011-2014), the team finished top 10 in rush attempts per game in all four seasons, finishing top five in all but his final year. His Michigan team attempted 37.3 rushes per game in 2023 after 42.9 per game in 2022. Finally, we know the Baltimore Ravens finished each of the 2019 through 2022 seasons in the top six in rush attempts per game, while Greg Roman served as the offensive coordinator, leading the league in rush attempts per game in two of those seasons. What has gone largely overlooked is the fact that the Chargers drew one of the more favorable schedules this season with games against the four NFC South teams, Cardinals, Titans, and these Patriots (Sharp Football Analysis gives the Chargers the second easiest strength of schedule for the 2024 season).

That is likelier to lead to more opportunities for this team to approach game planning and management in their preferred manor. In other words, the Chargers might be able to control more game environments than they’re being credited for heading into the season, and this game presents one of those opportunities.

As for the Patriots, woof. This team likely has the worst on-paper offense in the league. Drake Maye is a young, mobile quarterback with borderline elite arm strength, an archetype that has proven to be fruitful for fantasy purposes of late. That said, the talent of his supporting cast is not for the faint of heart. We saw new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt side with team “establish it” during his time in Cleveland, which should have significant overlap in New England considering the stark contrast in talent between the team’s offense and defense (the Patriots defense is actually one of the better units on paper this year).

As such, I expect this team to be more nuanced and reserved in their offensive approach in 2024, which leaves this game as one played between two teams that we don’t expect to go out of their respective ways to push the tempo, pace, or aggression. That leaves volume a tough sell for players outside each backfield. There isn’t a ton to love from either side here.

Primary Targets
  • None
Secondary Targets
  • Gus Edwards, Kimani Vidal, Rhamondre Stevenson
Into the Unknown

Could the former AP NFL Assistant Coach of the Year, Greg Roman, extract more mobility from Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert? He did work with Lamar Jackson for four years in Baltimore, after all. We expect the Chargers to have one of the largest rush rates in the coming season, but what if we see Herbert responsible for seven to eight of those carries per game? That would significantly boost his weekly floor and simultaneously distend the upper echelon within his range of outcomes. Again, the matchup for Herbert and the Chargers is far from ideal on paper, but a team with so many offseason changes has a lot to iron out in head coach Jerod Mayo and defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington’s first season in New England.

If any of the three running backs at the top of the Los Angeles depth chart find themselves with the lion’s share of backfield opportunities, they would likely become weekly plug-and-play RB2s with touchdown-driven upside for higher. As things currently stand, that appears to be Gus Edwards, but could it be J.K. Dobbins or rookie sixth-round running back Kimani Vidal in Week 17? Or, better yet, could that player not even be on the roster currently? I’m currently of the opinion that the best bets to be that guy are Edwards and Vidal, considering Dobbins’ lengthy injury history.

Could Drake Maye be a rookie revelation for a Patriots team many have written off this season? Could Ja’Lynn Polk or Javon Baker turn heads in their inaugural year in the league? Could Demario Douglas see enough volume to matter on a weekly basis in full PPR? Could Hunter Henry lead the team in red zone targets and back into a multi-touchdown game? I’m not sure about any of those, but they are all worth considering as viable outcomes within each player’s respective weekly range of outcomes.

Broncos @ Bengals (-8.0), Sunday, 29 December

45.5 Over/Under (tied-7th of 16)

The Bengals fell from seventh in scoring in 2022 (25.7 points per game) to 16th in 2023 (21.5), which makes sense considering they played seven games without Joe Burrow, five games without Tee Higgins, and one without Ja’Marr Chase (played sparingly in another). The team saw right tackle Jonah Williams depart via free agency this offseason and replaced him with Trent Brown, then drafted offensive tackle Amarius Mims in the first round of the draft. That should theoretically leave the Bengals in better shape along the offensive line.

Combine that with the offensive-minded head coach and relative health, and this team should have every opportunity to rebound in 2024. Even so, the down year in scoring shouldn’t be fully explained away via the injuries, as the team scored 27 or more points in four of seven Jake Browning starts. In earnest, we’ve been dying to see Zac Taylor buck his trend of predictable play-calling tendencies, which have been a bit head-scratching considering he studied under Sean McVay’s tutelage (an extension of the Gary Kubiak coaching tree). Either way, this offense is set up well in Week 17 against a Broncos opponent that ceded a 27th-ranked 24.3 points per game a season ago. There is also little reason to expect the absurd pass rates to subside moving forward after the Bengals ended the 2023 season with a second-ranked 63.45 percent overall pass rate (fifth-ranked 62.29 percent in 2022).

Pushing the potential for a back-and-forth affair in this one is a Broncos team in its second season under the offensive-minded coaching duo of Sean Payton and Joe Lombardi. Remember, those two coaches were together for five seasons in New Orleans, during which time their teams finished no lower than fifth in overall scoring. That has yet to fully translate on the scoreboard in their time together in Denver, and their current assortment of skill position players is largely underwhelming, but there is something to be said for their combined ability to extract the maximum from their roster.

Even so, this matchup is far from ideal on paper against the aggressive defensive play-calling tendencies of Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. But it is exactly that aggression that sometimes opens the door for opposing offenses to exploit them via explosive plays (Anarumo’s Bengals have allowed the sixth most explosive plays over the previous three seasons – 364). The jury remains out on which player is likeliest to generate explosive plays for the Broncos, but my money is on second-year wide receiver Marvin Mims, particularly considering he should be moving to a heavier slot snap rate in 2024.

As such, the clearest path to increased aggression from the Bengals is for the Broncos to hit them with a few quick strikes that are likeliest to come through Mims, making Mims an important piece to the overall game environment.

Primary Targets
  • Zack Moss, Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Burrow
Secondary Targets
  • Tee Higgins, game stacks with Marvin Mims
Into the Unknown

This game has an extremely wide range of potential outcomes, largely due to the unknowns surrounding a Broncos roster that appears to be in full-on rebuild mode. The departures of Russell Wilson and Jerry Jeudy only scratch the surface of the sheer number of offseason personnel changes in Denver. The team brought in 13 new players after the 2023 season, five of whom are projected to be starters. They did, however, have a relatively quiet draft, with only first-round quarterback Bo Nix expected to serve as a Day One starter. Put more simply, everything from limping to the finish line to turning heads on offense is well within the Broncos’ Week 17 range of outcomes.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has utilized a primary — borderline workhorse —back during his tenure in Cincinnati, which makes sense considering his coaching lineage (an extension of the Gary Kubiak coaching tree). That keeps Zack Moss as a viable upside piece in most expected game environments against this particular opponent, making him the likeliest bet to return elite value against the Broncos.

Chase and Burrow also join the discussion for their elite weekly ranges of outcomes. However, the most interesting path to elite upsides rests in the Broncos’ hands, which is something likely to be overlooked largely by drafters in June and July. As mentioned above, the likeliest path to that outcome is through Mims, although Courtland Sutton and the backfield also offer varying paths to fantasy upside against a Bengals defense that surrendered 22.6 points per game in 2023. Basically, if you’re betting on the Broncos over-performing expectations this season, it makes sense to go out of your way to correlate them to pieces from the Bengals.

Falcons (-2.5) @ Commanders, Sunday, 29 December

46.0 Over/Under (tied-5th of 16)

The defensive-minded Raheem Morris nabbed the head coaching position vacated by everyone’s favorite villain, Arthur Smith. He brought along former Rams pass game coordinator Zac Robinson to serve as his offensive coordinator, who should have full control of the offense considering Morris’ defensive pedigree. Robinson coached under Sean McVay for five years in Los Angeles, meaning we should expect similar schemes and designs built into what he envisions for this offense.

The Falcons were busy this offseason, tampering with, I mean signing, quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receivers Darnell Mooney and Rondale Moore, and numerous defensive contributors. To that end, Morris inherits one of the more solidly built defensive rosters from top to bottom, something that is likely to influence the levels of standalone aggression exhibited by Robinson’s offense. Furthermore, Robinson watched as McVay became a complete game manager during their shared time with the Rams. In other words, efficiency and moderate volume should be expected unless otherwise forced into increased aggression. Something that could help to offset the moderate volume is an offense expected to be one of the more concentrated units in the league, primarily amongst running back Bijan Robinson, wide receiver Drake London, and tight end Kyle Pitts.

Eric Bieniemy lasted all of a year away from Andy Reid in Kansas City, quickly sacked in favor of former Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury. The defensive-minded Dan Quinn takes over the head coach position, his second such title during his coaching career. Quinn shined as a defensive coordinator with the Seahawks and Cowboys prior to his two head coaching stints but failed to fully grasp game management techniques during his time with the Falcons.

The Commanders are coming off a season in which they ranked dead last in points allowed per game (30.5) and now have an offensive coordinator that sides with elevated pace of play and increased, albeit short area, pass rates. That is an interesting dynamic to this team that I don’t see talked about enough – not for what it means for the offense, but for what it likely means for their defense. One of the shortcomings of playing with such pace and pass rates is the added stress it can place on the team’s defense due to the additional plays per game that typically come with it. That is not the best recipe for a defensive turnaround even though significant capital was placed into improving their defensive personnel.

The team brought in free agents Jeremy Chinn, Dorance Armstrong, Clelin Farrell, Michael Davis, and Bobby Wagner to help reverse the recent lackluster performances on that side of the ball. But that doesn’t change the fact that Kingsbury’s offense is likely to place additional stress on the defense, which is typically a bigger boost to Kingsbury’s opponents than it is to the players on his team.

Primary Targets
  • Bijan Robinson, Drake London, Kyle Pitts
Secondary Targets
  • Tyler Allgeier (contingency value), Kirk Cousins, Terry McLaurin, Jayden Daniels
Into the Unknown

The other side of the “elevated pace of play and short area passing” equation from Kingsbury’s offense is what happens to time of possession should they move the ball effectively, which typically serves to limit opposing possessions and plays. If Jayden Daniels can keep drives alive through key third-down conversions, either through the air or with his legs, we could see fewer overall possessions for a Falcons team that we already expect to see lower-than-average volume. In that case, most of the upside dries up from each team. The split backfield in Washington combines with a short-area passing attack to leave very little room for upside in a game the Commanders are able to control.

Finally, Tyler Allgeier’s potential for a borderline workhorse role should not go unmentioned. Allgeier has proven to be a capable back with volume, and he would be in line to see 18-22 weekly touches in any games that Robinson should miss this season. If those happen to occur during the best ball playoffs, look out. That’s massive contingent upside for a modest cost.

Colts (-2.0) @ Giants, Sunday, 29 December

43.5 Over/Under (12th of 16)

Gus Bradley has the privilege of coaching a defense that has one of the top front-seven units in the league, one that also added one of the top EDGEs in this year’s draft in Laiatu Latu. Latu should mix in for certain packages from the jump in his rookie season and also gives this team viable depth on the edge (it’s hard to play the rookie over veterans Kwity Paye and Samson Ebukam in base packages).

The real struggles of this defense came in the secondary, something that allowed opponents to average 24.4 points per game a season ago. Bradley also utilizes heavy rates of Cover-3 (like, the most in the league), a defensive alignment that historically allows high efficiency over the intermediate areas of the field underneath the safeties. This, combined with a modest 1.4 takeaways per game, allowed teams to sustain drives and keep the ball away from their offense. The Colts ranked just 28th in average time of possession a season ago.

Quarterback whisperer Shane Steichen extracted maximum performance from then-rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson during the time he spent on the field, with Richardson scoring seven total touchdowns in just over eight quarters worth of play before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury (amidst two concussions and another shoulder/clavicle scare). The returns of tight end Jelani Woods and RIchardson and the addition of Adonai Mitchell via the draft should do wonders in providing a more well-rounded offense in 2024.

Giants head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka traded offensive play calling duties throughout the 2023 season, an inconsistency magnified by the multitude of injuries their offense had to overcome. Quarterback Daniel Jones appeared in just six games last year, Wan’Dale Robinson fought through injuries, Darren Waller’s season ended abruptly and eventually prompted a retirement this offseason, and the offensive line experienced multiple injuries. In addition to Waller’s departure, the Giants watched as Saquon Barkley signed with the Eagles, replacing him with Devin Singletary.

The addition of first-round rookie wide receiver Malik Nabers gives this team its first elite pass-catcher since the departure of Odell Beckham Jr (prime OBJ). It is likely to be Robinson and Nabers that settle into the vacated passing volume left behind by Waller and Barkley considering the state of the roster. Even after a down season, Daboll remains one of the better offensive play callers in the league, which should allow the Giants to improve upon the 15.6 points per game they managed in 2023.

Primary Targets
  • Jonathan Taylor, Anthony Richardson, Malik Nabers
Secondary Targets
  • Michael Pittman, Josh Downs, Adonai Mitchell, Wan’Dale Robinson
Into the Unknown

There seems to be a consensus around the industry that Jones will not be playing in Week 17 due to the injury clause and potential team out written into his contract following the 2024 season. There has been little to no mention of the other side of that equation – what if Jones remains healthy and doesn’t suck?

I know, I know. That isn’t the likeliest scenario, but it is within his range of outcomes here! And if he’s healthy and doesn’t suck, it likely means the offense is outperforming expectations, which likely means Nabers, Robinson, and maybe even Singletary are outperforming expectations. That would also likely push this game environment into the realm of the other top-expected game environments for Week 17, making correlations from this game amongst some of the higher leverage situations.

Something as simple as Jonathan Taylor plus Nabers plus Jones carries significant upside in this spot, particularly considering the likely low ownership with everyone focused on Richardson and Michael Pittman. I would also push that one step further and lobby for adding Robinson to the mix in addition to Nabers and Jones from the Giants as both pass-catchers should feast against the elevated Cover-3 rates thrown out by Bradley.

Jets @ Bills (-2.5), Sunday, 29 December

45.5 Over/Under (tied-7th of 16)

On paper, this matchup is not overly intriguing, considering the state of these two teams. Both teams ranked in the league's top half in explosive plays allowed, yards allowed per game, passing yards allowed per game, red zone efficiency, and points allowed per game in 2023. We know the Jets under Robert Saleh have not pushed the pace nor aggression on their own, and we know Sean McDermott has recently transitioned to a more reserved offensive stance as the organization has aimed to preserve Josh Allen’s longevity. It wasn’t until the Bills were playing for their postseason lives that we saw that mentality shift, which coincided with the departure of former offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey and the entrance of Joe Brady into the same role.

However, Allen maintained his status as the fantasy QB1 through it all, finishing as the position’s top finisher for the second consecutive season. Much of that was due to his rushing acumen and robust red zone rushing role after surging to 15 (!!!) scores on the ground in 2023 – more than enough to make up for the dip in passing touchdowns a season ago. It would seem to take a lot more than losing his top two pass-catching options to alter that trajectory. In other words, Allen maintains one of the top ceilings in the game within his weekly range of outcomes.

From a fantasy perspective, the biggest problem for this team is figuring out which skill position player is likeliest to contribute to that upside weekly. All we know as we currently sit is that, given current player prices, somebody (or multiple pieces) is likely to pay off their currently depressed cost. Based on drafts to this point in the offseason, the field is expressing a high degree of certainty that the most valuable skill position player from this team is going to be second-year tight end Dalton Kincaid. While that might end up becoming true, the fact that Kincaid played an extremely short-area role (6.0 aDOT) and has yet to fully demonstrate a robust red zone role (two touchdowns on nine red zone targets) leaves a lot to be desired when considering his weekly range of outcomes. As in, his weekly ceiling might not be what most early drafters have in mind in his second season.

Finally, the high expected concentration on the Jets amongst Breece Hall and Garrett Wilson keeps their weekly upside elevated in 2024, although the introduction of Mike Williams to that equation could influence those numbers slightly.

Primary Targets
  • Josh Allen, Breece Hall, Garrett Wilson
Secondary Targets
  • Dalton Kincaid, Mike Williams, Khalil Shakir, Keon Coleman, Curtis Samuel, James Cook, Braelon Allen (contingency)
Into the Unknown

Per 4For4 Football’sMatt Okada, Aaron Rodgers holds the largest career touchdown rate since the NFL merger (6.2 percent). That’s good news for the weekly upside of running back Breece Hall, wide receiver Garrett Wilson, and towering newcomer Mike Williams. Hell, it even raises the weekly upside of tight end Tyler Conklin, a player who has seen exactly 87 targets in three consecutive seasons but has managed just seven touchdowns during his six-year NFL career. That could be enough to force the Bills into continued aggression, which they wouldn’t otherwise have access to considering the known tendencies of McDermott. As we saw last season, the Bills are most dangerous when their backs are against the wall, particularly when considering the fantasy upside of all parties involved.

As for those Bills, you’d be hard-pressed to find a receiving corps with more question marks heading into the season. Will Coleman make a significant impact as a rookie? Will Samuel see schemed targets and work primarily out of the slot or on the perimeter? Will that influence which third receiver the team elects to utilize considering the heavy slot snap rates of Shakir? Will they deploy elevated rates of 12-personnel while utilizing Dawson Knox in a more in-line role? Will Ray Davis supplant incumbent starter James Cook on passing downs after Cook had one of the least efficient seasons through the air in recent history?

That said, within that uncertainty rests immense upside, considering the fact that they are tied to Josh Allen. Even one of Chase Claypool, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, or Mack Hollins could be useful in a fantasy setting late in the season as a downfield threat (all three profile very similarly so we’re completely guessing here). But that’s just it – there is the potential for low-owned and untapped upside within this level of uncertainty. In other words, any one of these pass-catchers would likely garner extreme ownership in a DFS setting, considering current ADP prices translated to DFS salary if we knew how the target dynamics and snap rates worked coming into the week (or season).

Titans @ Jaguars (-4.0), Sunday, 29 December

46.0 Over/Under (tied-5th of 16)

Trevor Lawrence’s career 3.3 percent touchdown rate has kept him from true fantasy utility to this point in his three-year NFL career, something that must change before we view him as more than a mid-tier fantasy quarterback. That said, I’m sure you’ve seen the video montages around X of all his near misses during that time. I’m not sure how much of that has been his fault, how much of that we can attribute to the coaching staff and offensive play-caller, or how much of that blame should rest on his primary pass-catchers’ collective shoulders. Even so, the Jaguars have been in the top half of the league in points per game in consecutive seasons, falling slightly from 23.9 points per game in 2022 to 22.2 in 2023.

The most concise way to describe the trajectory of this offense is by inputting a segment from my Jaguars team preview forOne Week Season:

“The Jaguars vastly improved their defense this offseason, something that should keep them competitive throughout the 2024 campaign. That’s also a double-edged sword from a fantasy perspective, particularly considering we’ve seen head coach Doug Pederson adopt more of a “must be pushed” identity in his two years in Jacksonville. In other words, Pederson used to be the one pushing the pace and scoring in his previous coaching stints but has since settled into more of a “let the game come to me” mindset.

The team enters 2024 with significant offensive turnover and there is some parity in their pass-catching corps. Christian Kirk and Evan Engram, the top two pass-catchers on this team, work the field's underneath areas, while Gabe Davis and Brian Thomas both carry similar profiles. After Zay Jones departed this offseason, the team lacks a natural X-type wide receiver on the roster.

We know the league is transitioning to a “zone-based league,” with the average man usage falling in each of the previous five seasons. We also know that the highest coverage shell utilization in each of the previous two seasons was Cover-3. We also know that Calvin Ridley led the Jaguars in most underlying metrics against Cover-3 last year. Enter Evan Engram, who finished in the top-24 pass-catchers in fantasy points per route run against Cover-3 in 2023. Furthering the bull case towards upside for the veteran tight end is a wide receiver corps that is either unproven or ineffective against Cover-3 to this point in their respective careers.

Running back Travis Etienne ranked sixth in snap share (74.3 percent) and opportunity share (75.7 percent) a season ago under the same coaching regime, finishing as the RB7 in fantasy points per game in PPR formats.”

New Titans defensive coordinator Dennard Wilson was quoted this offseason saying that his defense “will blitz, will play coverage, play man-to-man, and plans to be multiple in everything we do.” Wilson, formerly the Ravens’ defensive backs coach, should theoretically build his defense from the back-forward, presenting unique coverage alignments and schemes while not afraid to get after opposing quarterbacks – the ultimate goal of a scheme as described is disruption, something the Titans struggled with the previous year.

That said, Tennessee led the league in red zone touchdown rate allowed (a ridiculous 37.7 percent red zone touchdown rate allowed), something that is more than likely to regress to the mean considering the changes in coaching and personnel this team experienced this offseason. All of that to say, it is likelier than not that the Jaguars are able to break through here, which should keep the aggression levels high for a new Titans head coach and offensive play caller in Brian Callahan.

The Titans also made significant steps in the right direction to surround Levis with as many playmakers as possible, giving him every chance to continue his development at the NFL level. As you can tell from the robust list of targets below, I’m currently giddy about the chances for this game to outperform current expectations in Week 17.

Primary Targets
  • Travis Etienne, Christian Kirk, Calvin Ridley, DeAndre Hopkins
Secondary Targets
  • Trevor Lawrence, Evan Engram, Tony Pollard, Tyjae Spears, Chigoziem Okonkwo, Brian Thomas, Gabe Davis, Will Levis
Into the Unknown

Or… Will Levis is just bad. I’m of the opinion that isn’t the case, but we really haven’t seen much from the second-year gunslinger to convey much in the way of certainty.

What we do know is that Levis led the league in average intended air yards in his rookie season, something that only adds to the upside from this game environment as it contributes to additional plays from scrimmage (they’re either completing chunk plays or passes are falling incomplete and stopping the clock). But if those passes are falling incomplete more than normal against one of the fastest defenses in the league, it is likely to lead to a game environment where the Jaguars are allowed to assert dominance early and grind out a boring victory.

That leaves Etienne as the top target from this game, as he has multiple paths to fantasy viability.

Panthers @ Buccaneers (-5.0), Sunday, 29 December

43.0 Over/Under (tied-13th of 16)

New Panthers head coach Dave Canales has proven to be somewhat of a quarterback and running back whisperer throughout his coaching career, notably overseeing career years from Geno Smith in Seattle (2022, quarterbacks coach) and Baker Mayfield and Rachaad White (2023, offensive coordinator) in Tampa.

That could not come at a better time for a team that saw its first overall pick stumble out of the gates in his rookie season, finishing with the worst passer rating and second-worst touchdown rate of starting quarterbacks in 2023. Things could not get any worse for Bryce Young. General Manager Dan Morgan brought in pass-catcher help this offseason with the acquisition of Diontae Johnson and the selection of Xavier Legette in the first round of the draft. Johnson continues to operate as one of the truest route runners of this generation, but there is little in the way of proven upside throughout the rest of the roster.

Rookie running back Jonathan Brooks is rehabbing a torn ACL and is likely to either start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list or be eased into action, Legette was one of the wide receivers in this class that I thought would have the hardest time transitioning to the NFL game after being scrutinized for his inability to get off the line of scrimmage well and poor footwork, Adam Thielen appeared to hit the age cliff like Wile E. Coyote running into the side of a mountain in the second half of the 2023 season, and Tommy Tremble is the team’s top tight end.

Considering this is an examination of the Week 17 slate, the worries surrounding Brooks’ health can all but evaporate, giving him a tantalizing upside case to be made considering his skill set and pairing with a Canales offense. Finally, defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero’s defense held opponents to just 293.9 total yards per game in 2023 (third in the league), but continuous pressure and poor starting field position led to his defense allowing a robust 24.5 points per game. If Canales’ offense can sustain more drives and keep the previously insurmountable pressure off the defense, we’re likely to see this unit take significant strides in the new year.

The biggest expected changes in Tampa are the departure of Canales (replaced by Liam Coen) and the likely return to heavy slot snap rates for wide receiver Chris Godwin. Godwin’s slot snap rate sat at a lowly 32.1 percent rate in 2023 after consecutive seasons above 57 percent. His quick-twitch ability in close is best served to routes from the slot, which should provide a slight uptick to his 23.6 percent TPRR rate from a season ago.

Godwin and Mike Evans combined for a 48.3 percent team target market share in 2023, while Rachaad White ranked fourth in weighted opportunities per game (16.1). With the team doing little during the offseason to shake things up on the offensive side of the ball, it’s safe to assume we’re going to see another season of elite concentration from the Buccaneers in 2024. The biggest question mark there is with White, who could see his usage nerfed following the departure of Canales. Finally, the Buccaneers mustered just 21.2 points per game in 2023 after putting up just 18.2 points per game the season prior, meaning this team is not likely to suddenly erupt on the scoreboard in most weeks, particularly when you consider the matchup against Evero’s defense.

Primary Targets
  • Jonathan Brooks, Diontae Johnson, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans
Secondary Targets
  • None
Into the Unknown

There is little room for things to shake out differently, considering the state of these two teams. We’re likely to see each team operate with extreme concentration amongst their primary skill position players, both defensive coordinators helm defenses that appear stout on paper, and both teams have very little depth. The lone player I would consider to have any semblance of late-season contingent upside is the Panthers' running back, Chuba Hubbard. Even then, he’s unlikely to be a piece that makes any real difference in Week 17.

Packers (-2.0) @ Vikings, Sunday, 29 December

45.5 Over/Under (tied-7th of 16)

The Packers dealt with numerous injuries to their primary pass-catchers in 2023, something that eventually led to a four-man to five-man rotation at wide receiver by the end of the season. Head coach and offensive play caller Matt LaFleur also prefers a split backfield, something that is likely to continue forward into 2024 after the selection of MarShawn Lloyd in the third round of this year’s draft. What am I getting at here? Individual weekly volume is going to be extremely hard to predict for a team that ran under 62 offensive plays from scrimmage in each of the previous two seasons.

Even so, LaFleur’s intricate offensive design does a phenomenal job at manipulating opposing safeties, an underappreciated indicator of offensive success in today’s game considering the elevated rates of Cover-3 and two-high alignments in use around the league. That begins to explain why we saw two Packers wide receivers within the top 24 in fantasy points per route run last year (Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks) and helps to explain how this team finished the season with an eighth-ranked 23.8 points per game mark. That said, we’re likely to continue to see low volume on a weekly basis for all primary skill position players moving forward.

Brian Flores’ 2023 version of defense held opponents to 21.3 points and 333.2 yards of total offense per game, which is nothing short of impressive considering the personnel he inherited. The additions of linebackers Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Van Ginkel, and Blake Cashman, defensive end Jonathan Bullard, defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, and cornerback Shaquill Griffin completely transform the defensive side of the ball for the Vikings and should allow this team to improve further upon their solid showing from a season ago.

The improving defense, combined with a massive shift in offensive meta, is to fundamentally alter how this team approaches winning games, most notably induced by the departure of Kirk Cousins. The team is now left with free agent addition Sam Darnold and rookie J.J. McCarthy under center. Furthermore, the Week 16 ACL tear for tight end T.J. Hockenson is likely to further influence the offensive acumen here. The timing of that injury will likely linger into the 2024 season and leave Hockenson with diminished efficiency metrics once he returns.

Considering this is a Week 17 piece, those concerns could be resolved by the time this matters. Finally, Aaron Jones comes over from the Packers to serve as the lead back in a backfield that lacks depth behind the veteran anime fan.

The Packers find themselves with a new defensive coordinator for 2024 after the departure of Joe Barry. Jeff Hafley has a long history of coaching at both the collegiate and NFL levels, primarily serving as a defensive backs coach during his career. It remains unclear whether the Packers will shift to heavier dime integration (six defensive backs) or if they will stick to a 3-4, dime base, but we should expect Hafley to extract the most from a secondary that has long underperformed their talent.

The respective states of these two teams leave this game likely to be controlled by the Packers throughout, which saps a lot of the upside from the game environment itself.

Primary Targets
  • None
Secondary Targets
  • Justin Jefferson, Jayden Reed, Dontayvion Wicks, Josh Jacobs, T.J. Hockenson
Into the Unknown

Brian Flores has all but gone away from man coverage in recent history, placing a solid cap on the upside of Christian Watson (a player who has excelled against man coverage and struggled against zone throughout his career) and boosting the expectation of Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks for the Packers.

That said, any one of the four to five weekly contributors at wide receiver could theoretically rattle off a multi-touchdown game in this system. Furthermore, a team stack that includes multiple Green Bay pass-catchers can work when combined with quarterback Jordan Love, although it does not represent the likeliest scenario. And since the Packers are more likely to revert to a game-control mindset in games they control, there likely is an outside factor pushing them to remain aggressive in this instance. As such, Packers double stacks should also include a member of the Vikings – most notably Justin Jefferson or T.J. Hockenson.

Raiders @ Saints (-2.5), Sunday, 29 December

43.0 Over/Under (tied-13th of 16)

The Raiders are another team best described by what I wrote for them earlier in the offseason. From my preview of their team dynamics:

“Antonio Pierce led the Raiders to a 5-4 record as interim head coach to end the 2023 season, most notably beating the Chiefs on the road and playing the Dolphins and Vikings to narrow defeats within that span. During that stretch, what was most telling to me was the jolting shift in player demeanor under Pierce, both on and off the field of play. As in, the players in Las Vegas bought into Pierce, and how he ran the team is very much like Mike Vrabel's smashmouth style of football.”

The addition of Christian Wilkins in free agency should also not go understated as this team has long had difficulty keeping attention off of the animalistic Maxx Crosby on the edge. Pair the newfound athleticism along the left side of the defensive line with one of the better linebacking units in the league. You’re left with a defensive front that should generate significant disruption in 2024, assuming their veterans can remain healthy.

Now consider the return of Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, and Michael Mayer, paired with the additions of rookie tight end Brock Bowers and quarterback Gardner Minshew, and this team appears to have enough leg to remain competitive in what has now become a rather weak division behind Kansas City.

While the front seven in Las Vegas is nothing short of elite, legitimate question marks remain in the secondary — none of which were addressed through free agency or the first two days of the draft. The team also saw two starters on the interior offensive line depart via free agency and lost their former workhorse running back, the same back who led the league in rushing just two seasons ago.

Newcomer offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s Bears finished each of the previous two seasons ranked 19th or worse in points per game and 21st or worse in total offense, and it felt like it took him a solid year and a half to figure out how to maximize the talent he had on the field in Chicago. We have to take the previous two seasons at face value with Getsy, leading to the conclusion that he is likely slow to tailor his version of his offense to the personnel he has on the roster. That’s particularly interesting considering the team’s draft this season after they selected yet another athletic specimen tight end early in the first round.

That exploration effectively boils down to “this team has enough to remain competitive this year, but they aren’t necessarily elite in any one area, leading to a situation where we’re likely to see the Raiders in tightly contested games throughout the year.” Vegas largely agrees with that sentiment, particularly considering a game total for Week 17 that falls well short of mean expectations around the league.

As for the Saints, this will be the first season since I was in high school (2009) that there will be a new offensive coordinator in New Orleans. The 37-year-old Klint Kubiak spent just one season serving as the passing game coordinator for the 49ers before accepting the offensive coordinator job for the Saints. He also previously served as the offensive coordinator for the Vikings for one season in 2021, during which time the team ranked 13th in points per game (25.0) and 11th in yards per game (347.8).

Early reports out of New Orleans indicate that queen chess piece Taysom Hill is likely to see a slight uptick in involvement in the offense, which is jolting considering he has continued to troll fantasy gamers for what feels like half a decade. Quarterback Derek Carr continued to struggle with deep ball accuracy in 2023 (33rd-ranked 4.8 deep ball accuracy rating) and red zone production but excelled against man coverage (first-ranked 62.6 percent completion rate and third-ranked 117.3 passer rating against man), the latter of which seems a dying statistic considering the shift to a zone-based league over the previous five seasons. So, while this team has tantalizing on-paper upside due to the presence of a dynamic skill position corps, there are reasons to subdue offensive expectations for 2024. Those concerns are only heightened by a matchup against an Antonio Pierce-led Raiders team.

Primary Targets
  • Davante Adams
Secondary Targets
  • Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed, Jakobi Meyers, Brock Bowers, Gardner Minshew, Zamir White, Taysom Hill
Into the Unknown

While this game is highly unlikely to devolve into a back-and-forth offensive eruption, there is enough individual skill present to provide that spark here. Pierce remains highly unlikely to fully push a game environment on his own, leaving the likeliest path to such an occurrence in the hands of Klint Kubiak’s Saints offense. That leaves Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed as vital additions to any game stack to come from this one, as each can rip off quick-strike scoring. In other words, this game is largely a stay-away unless game stacks include one of Olave or Shaheed.

Cowboys @ Eagles (-2.0), Sunday, 29 December

47.0 Over/Under (3rd of 16)

Mike Zimmer joins the Cowboys to serve as their defensive coordinator after spending the previous two years coaching at the collegiate level. His previous NFL stop was as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings (2014-2021), during which time his defense ranked 11th, fifth, fifth, second, 10th, sixth, 29th, and 24th in points allowed per game. In other words, this man knows how to coach (and call) a defense.

Departing defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s defenses ranked sixth and ninth in points allowed per game over the previous two seasons with Dallas, reinforcing the notion that this team has the requisite pieces to return yet another top-10 finish in points allowed per game. On the other side of the ball, head coach Mike McCarthy’s offense led the league in points per game in 2023 (30.1), amassing a ridiculous 36.8 points per game at home versus 23.3 per game on the road, the largest home-road scoring split in the league.

They also led the league in pass attempts per game a year ago (37.4), something that shouldn’t drastically change considering the state of their backfield entering the new season. The oft-injured Tony Pollard departed this offseason and was replaced by the triumphant return of Ezekiel Elliott, while holdover plodder Rico Dowdle (his 3.4 percent breakaway run rate ranked 39th in the league in 2023 – on that note, Zeke ranked 57th in breakaway run rate a season ago with a putrid 0.5 percent mark).

Reading the tea leaves here leaves significant passing upside, considering this organization’s offseason moves. That’s music to Dak Prescott’s ears as he enters a contract year and should be enough to propel CeeDee Lamb to another season near the top of the league in volume. That also should benefit the secondary pass-catchers in Brandin Cooks, Jake Ferguson, and Jalen Tolbert, with Cooks the likeliest to see a slight uptick in weekly volume considering the areas of the field Lamb primarily works in (slight overlap with Ferguson).

The Eagles retained head coach Nick Sirianni while welcoming Kellen Moore as the new offensive coordinator and Vic Fangio as the new defensive coordinator. It will be interesting to see how Moore integrates with this offensive unit after working with the Cowboys and Chargers the previous two seasons. Most pertinent to that discussion is the extreme levels of concentration we’ve seen from those two teams under Moore’s direction, which should directly translate to an Eagles team that has three elite-level talents (A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Saquon Barkley), an above average tight end in Dallas Goedert, and then almost nothing in the way of depth behind them. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see how the departures of former offensive coordinator Brian Johnson and center Jason Kelce affect the efficacy of the “Brotherly Shove” in Philadelphia.

Was quarterback Jalen Hurts so efficient in short-yardage situations because Kelce was the top center in the game, or was it primarily due to Hurts’ elite lower-body strength? Either way, consideration should be placed on the latter, which would drastically improve the red zone upside of the primary skill position players on this team. Hurts became the full-time starter for the Eagles in the 2021 season, after which the team has ranked 12th, second, and seventh in scoring. There’s no reason to expect that trend to reverse heading into his fifth professional season.

Primary Targets
  • CeeDee Lamb, Dak Prescott, Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, Saquon Barkley
Secondary Targets
  • DeVonta Smith, Brandin Cooks, Jake Ferguson, Dallas Goedert
Into the Unknown

While this game carries the third-highest game total of the week, we do have to acknowledge the drastic home-road splits the Cowboys exhibited last season. Furthermore, the strength of the Philadelphia defense is its front seven – a dangerous proposition when you consider new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s 2023 Dolphins ranked second in the league in sack rate, primarily attributed to his unique blitz packages and stunt-heavy approach up front.

In other words, the Eagles could force this environment into a game of keep-away, methodically marching the field while causing enough disruption on the defensive side of the ball to nerf the upside away from a Cowboys team we expect to be near the top of the league in drop backs per game.

The other side of what is a rather wide range of outcomes from this game environment revolves around the secondary players from this game, all of whom are completely capable of a slate-breaking box score in this environment. Smith and Cooks are both capable of 125-150-yard, multi-touchdown games, while both tight ends can back their way into multi-touchdown games under the right conditions. All of that to say, don’t leave yourself overly exposed to the primary stacks from each team without also considering the considerable upside of the secondary pieces.

Dolphins @ Browns (-2.0), Sunday, 29 December

44.5 Over/Under (11th of 16)

Save the intricate discussion on the home-road splits of the Dolphins over the previous two seasons (below), this is still a team with a generational head coach and talent and speed at every meaningful skill position. This is still a team that can score from anywhere on the field. This is still a team that cannot be written off by something as menial as home-road splits.

Something that could help propel this game environment is the potential (hopeful?) improvement of the Cleveland offense in the second full season with Deshaun Watson under center. The Browns’ offseason acquisitions put them in a better position to be a more dynamic offense, with Jerry Jeudy adding a level of explosiveness through the air that this team has been missing in recent years. The improvements to the linebacking corps via Jordan Hicks and Devin Bush also make the defense a more balanced unit. I expect big things from both teams in 2024.

I’ve spoken a lot in the past about the likeliest paths to a game environment’s eruption coming through the individual talent on the field. Coaches can do their best to place their players in the most optimal position to succeed, but it’s ultimately up to the individual to provide that spark. That’s important when discussing any game involving the Dolphins, as their team is littered with upside up and down the roster.

Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, De’Von Achane, Raheem Mostert, Jonnu Smith, and Jaylen Wright are all capable of scoring from almost anywhere on the field, while Odell Beckham Jr. and Malik Washington offer intriguing upside, albeit for different reasons.

On the other side, Amari Cooper remains one of the top pure route runners in the league, Jeudy brings the potential for elite per-target efficiency out of the slot, David Njoku offers elite athleticism for his size at tight end, and the Browns’ offensive line is likely the top unit entering the 2024 season. Elijah Moore and the backfield stable also carry the potential to return elite fantasy production under the right conditions. Suffice it to say, this game has the required ingredients to erupt.

Primary Targets
  • Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, De’Von Achane, Raheem Mostert, Amari Cooper
Secondary Targets
  • Jonnu Smith, Jaylen Wright (massive contingency value), Jerry Jeudy, David Njoku, Browns RBs, both QBs in game stacks
Into the Unknown

If Jared Goff is the poster boy for home-road splits at the quarterback position (like, it’s ridiculous how much of a contrast there is between Goff at home and on the road over the previous two seasons), Tua Tagovailoa is slightly offset in the background. Tua’s home-road splits have been drastic in their own right over the previous two years. He threw for a 17-to-six touchdown-to-interception ratio at home in 2023 compared to a 12-to-eight touchdown-to-interception ratio on the road, checking in at 0.52 fantasy points per drop back in Miami versus 0.44 on the road. It was a similar tale in 2022, with a 17-to-five ratio and 0.59 FP/DB at home versus eight-to-three and 0.49 on the road. Miami scored 31.9 points per game at home in 2023 versus 24.0 on the road.

To put that into context, they effectively transformed from the Cowboys (league-leading 30.1 points per game in 2023) to the Packers (eighth-ranked 23.8 points per game in 2023) when moving from the comfortable confines of their own backyard to hostile territory. I normally don’t put too much stock into home-road splits in the NFL, but there are a select few exceptions to that rule – Tua and the Dolphins appear to be in that discussion.

On the other side, Deshaun Watson had an offseason to forget leading up to the 2023 season, full of off-field distractions amidst a change in scenery. He then appeared in just six games before an injury cut his season short. Furthermore, he looked downright atrocious during his six healthy games, ranking 29th in FP/DB of the quarterbacks to appear in three or more games. But that largely hasn’t mattered for a team built behind their absurdly talented offensive line, a line that maintains its cohesion moving into the new season (Jedrick Wills, Joel Bitonio, Ethan Pocic, Wyatt Teller, and Jack Conklin all return for 2024). Both Conklin and Wills played sparingly in a season marred by injury last year. Now fully healthy, Alex Van Pelt’s offense should revert back to a heavy emphasis on the ground game, with elevated rates of play action and pre-snap motion designed to capitalize on too many men in the box behind it.

That exploration leaves this game with a disturbing bottom 50 percent within its range of outcomes, something that the field should not overlook as we prepare for Week 17. Look, I’m not sitting here saying this game is likely to disappoint; I’m just highlighting the very real possibility that it falls short of its lofty expectations if the Dolphins struggle to put up points early.

Lions @ 49ers (-4.5), Monday, 30 December

49.5 Over/Under (1st of 16)

There are currently two games on the Week 17 schedule with a game total north of 48 points – the Cardinals at Rams, and this one. This game carries the top expected game environment during the penultimate week of the 2024 season. It’s a similar discussion to the one we had in the previous game. Elite playmakers drive the potential for game environments to erupt, and this game is not short on elite playmakers. Furthermore, both offensive play callers are amongst the best in the league at this point in their respective careers. There isn’t much more that needs to be said regarding the upside case to be made in this one – the likeliest outcome is an offensive masterclass between two teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

Primary Targets
  • Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk (assuming he remains with the 49ers), George Kittle, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Sam LaPorta, Jahmyr Gibbs, David Montgomery
Secondary Targets
  • Jameson Williams, Kalif Raymond, Elijah Mitchell (contingency value), Ricky Pearsall
Into the Unknown

The 49ers somewhat quietly remained elite in the points suppression column a season ago, allowing opponents to score just 18.8 points per game (fourth) a season after leading the league with just 17.2 points allowed per game. That has led to lower-than-average volume for the 49ers in recent history, something they have more than made up for via extreme efficiency and elite talent.

That said, the same ability to suppress scoring against provides the potential for game environments involving the 49ers to disappoint, distending the lower 50 percent within the range of outcomes. Adding to that is the significant road struggles of Lions quarterback Jared Goff. Goff surged to a robust 0.59 FP/DB at home in 2023 but turned into a pumpkin on the road to the tune of a putrid 0.38 FP/DB. Those numbers were 0.58 and 0.34 in 2022. The dude had a 23-to-three TD-INT ratio at home in 2022 compared to a laughable six-to-four ratio on the road. In 2023? 19-to-six at home and 11-to-six on the road. There is a potential outcome here where the Lions struggle to put up points, allowing the 49ers to control the game environment from start to finish.

As previously discussed, the 49ers are no longer looking to maximize scoring with each possession, instead taking a more conservative approach to games they can control. All 49ers skill position players maintain their lofty ceilings in such a scenario but would require extreme efficiency and touchdowns to return elite fantasy production. That scenario would all but eliminate the efficacy of the secondary Lions pieces in addition to the running backs, leaving Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sam LaPorta alone as viable correlation due to the likelihood of elite volume.

Finally, I think we need to stop pretending that Brandon Aiyuk will play for another team in 2024. It makes absolutely zero sense for a team built to make another run at the Super Bowl to move one of their primary skill position players for anything less than a King’s ransom. As in, the likeliest scenario we see Aiyuk not playing for the 49ers in Week 17 would be if they are out of playoff contention at the trade deadline, something that is highly, highly unlikely. That also is a direct representation of my level of interest in Pearsall. It is much more likely that he was drafted as a developmental player for the future. As of this writing, Pearsall has yet to sign his rookie contract.

Don’t Fear the Unknown, Embrace It

This thought exercise was designed to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones. Exploring a team’s (or player’s) complete range of outcomes can help identify outliers, place leveraged bets, and access areas of the game tree seed lying dormant to much of the field. I challenge you to push yourself beyond your own comfort level in the game of best ball, just as it is often healthy to do in other aspects of everyday life.

Try something new, tinker with varying hypotheses, reassess, and grow. Learn from what fails, and relish in your successes. Marvel at what you can accomplish with a little nudge in the right direction. As Elsa so eloquently put it…

“Don’t you know there’s part of me that longs to go, into the unknown!”

Mark “Hilow” Garcia is a medium to high-stakes GPP grinder specializing in SE/3-Max and Game Theory. He joined Fantasy Points in 2024 and also serves as the head of DFS, BB, at One Week Season.