No matter how much work we devote to our pre-Week 17 preparation we will still see unexpected, impact performances leaking from the woodwork. Between teams with playoff bids secured resting their starters and others on the outside looking in resting their star players with sights on next season, priceless playing time opportunities will be available for the taking. Looking to previous seasons, here is a list of receivers fitting within these criteria:
As you can see for yourself, some players were able to capitalize with DFS difference-making performances. The Week 17 revolving door at RB is also one packed with historical precedence. If you had a crystal ball in your corner pointing you toward exposure to some of these unexpected FPs, your pockets would’ve been lined with green paper. For the rest of us without mystical powers, we must trust in the analytical process to guide our way.
Before we proceed to the research, I feel it’s always best to lay out some guidelines toward utilizing this information. This passing game analysis should be used as a guide centered around playing the percentages to divulge the matchups at both ends of the spectrum. Whenever you see those FPG numbers, remember they are calculated using PPR scoring. This article is written each Wednesday, so it is very important to take note of all defensive back and other difference-making defender inactives if you plan to tail any of my recommendations, ATS selections, and/or over-under picks. I’ve provided my record in predicting games ATS, game totals provided by Vegas in parenthesis. While the expectations on many of those previous games were altered due to the player inactives, I’ve kept my reported record accurate to my initial predictions. Make sure you adjust to the inactive list each week before wagering any cash. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me onTwitter.
It’s simply vital that we adjust for defensive inactives. QBs and receivers can see their fortunes flip as a result of these absences. Another extremely important factor: sheer target volume is monumental toward overcoming expected fantasy scoring downside due to struggles facing the various coverage scheme/s. The same is true for positive game scripts reverting passing attacks to clock-killing ground games, and negative scripts massively increasing pace of play in garbage time. If I mention weather as an impacting consideration -- ever-important during these later weeks, make sure you check the updated gameday forecast. Specifically for Week 17, games in Orchard Park, Cleveland, Tampa, East Rutherford, and Philadelphia are currently forecasted with at least a 40 percent chance of precipitation. The Steelers at Browns, Saints at Panthers matchups may possibly see winds of 10 MPH-or-more. Finally, the temperatures in Philadelphia, Chicago, Orchard Park, and Cleveland could fall below freezing at game time.
With all of that out of the way, let’s jackknife into our Week 17 analysis.
Against the Spread Picks (25-20 ATS)
Miami Dolphins (+1.0) at Buffalo Bills
Dallas Cowboys (-3.0) at New York Giants
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-6.5) vs. Atlanta Falcons
Green Bay Packers (-5.5) at Chicago Bears
Las Vegas Raiders (-2.5) at Denver Broncos
Tennessee Titans (-7.5) at Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts (-14.0) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Los Angeles Chargers (-3.5) at Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Rams (-4.5) vs. Arizona Cardinals
Washington Football Team (-1.5) at Philadelphia Eagles
Total Wagers (12-13)
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (Under 44.5)
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (Over 44.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (Under 42.0)
New York Jets at New England Patriots (Under 40.0)
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (Over 47.5)
Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos (Under 50.5)
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (Over 56.5)
Matchup of the Week
DeAndre Hopkins, ARI ($7.9K DK | $8.2K FD) vs. Jalen Ramsey, LAR
Easily one of my very favorite two-game head-to-heads each season, Jalen Ramsey has been defending DeAndre Hopkins multiple times each year for as long as he’s been in the NFL. The NFC West pair previously dueled as members of the Texans and Jaguars of the AFC South. Hopkins has even made it public that it is also his favorite matchup:
In three career games against the Rams, Nuk is averaging 14.7 FPG from 32 total targets. We obviously need to dig a little deeper since Ramsey didn’t join Los Angeles until Week 7 of last season. In head-to-head matchups with Ramsey dating back to the beginning of 2017, Hopkins is averaging a receiving line of 4.2/53.7/0.33 on 7.8 targets, and 11.5 FPG. Overall when facing Ramsey’s teams, he’s averaging 17.6 FPG from a 6.5/70.7/0.67 line on 11.3 targets. Not counting his rookie (2013) season, Hopkins is averaging 18.0 FPG. While his 2017 season when Ramsey took Jacksonville to the AFC Championship -- losing to New England 24-20 -- might be regarded as his best season as a pro, we simply cannot look past how dominant he’s been this season.
The Mansory Vivere Bugatti Veyron of NFL zone shadow CBs, Ramsey has limited his WR1 responsibilities to 0.57 yards per coverage snap (YPCS, third-best among 91 qualified outside CBs), 0.14 fantasy points per coverage snap (FPCS, third), and 0.097 air yards per coverage snap (AYCS, first). More than anything, his 0.097 AYCS highlights the magnitude of respect he receives from opposing QBs. Even with a Ramsey travel, Hopkins is more than capable of using switch routes to shake Ramsey into the coverage of another defender -- exactly how he was able to collect his Week 13 four-yard TD. If Hopkins were priced outside of the top-15 WRs, maybe. Priced as the WR5/WR6 at $7.8K/$8K, not with my cap dollars.
Others matchups fit for primetime:
➥The only factor separating this from the Hopkins-Ramsey matchup is doubt surrounding how much, if at all, the Bills’ starters will play. When these teams met in Week 2, Stefon Diggs somehow drew the coverage of Noah Igbinoghene. If we receive word that Buffalo will field their starters in an attempt to claim the No. 2 seed, Diggs would see enough of Xavien Howard that expecting anything close to the 31.1 FPG he’s averaged over his last four games. Howard has equally been playing out of his mind since Week 10. We would truly have an unstoppable force that meets the immovable object collision if all of the stars align.
➥Yes, Amari Cooper played very well last week against the Eagles with an anticipated shadow of Darius Slay. That said, Slay did not exclusively travel with Cooper. He split his time between Cooper (1/35/0 receiving line) and Michael Gallup (1/5/0). Cooper shredded Avonte Maddox’s replacement, Michael Jacquet III, for 2/80/0. I’m avoiding Cooper with an expected James Bradberry shadow.
Matchups to Target
Kirk Cousins, MIN ($6.3K DK | $7.7K FD) vs. Lions’ Cover 1 | 2
All set to feature Kirk Cousins as THE QB1 for Week 17, news broke that the father of Dalvin Cook and Georgia RB James Cook died tragically and unexpectedly at the age of 46. The absence of Cook will in no way be a positive for the Vikings’ passing attack, but they just so happen to be facing the Lions. Let’s get the fact that the Detroit defense has moved into the overall lead for allowing the most FPG to entire opposing offenses overall (110.5), during their last four games (130.9), and their last two (152.8). The “Cardiac Cats” most recently surrendered 48.1 combined FPs to Tom Brady and Blaine Gabbert in Week 16.
It’s being reported that Matthew Stafford is expected to play after leaving that 47-7 destruction at the hands of Tampa Bay during the very first possession with an ankle injury. Some offense in opposition of a potential Minnesota stack would be nice, but the Bucs’ game provided more than enough reasons for exposure even without it. Cousins will face a Detroit secondary featuring the second-highest rate of Cover 1 shells, fourth-highest of Cover 2 this season. It just so happens that Captain Kirk ranks first among 48 qualified QBs over the last two seasons with 0.63 FPs/dropback (FPDb). That 39 percent hike to his overall FPDb (0.46) against the man coverage is accompanied by the NFLs top mark of a 123.6 QB rating -- an 18 percent jump, also ranking first.
Cousins also ranks first overall against Cover 1 with a 25 percent increase in YPA. When facing Cover 1 over the last two seasons, he’s thrown for 17 TDs to only a single INT while collecting the second-highest completion percentage (68 percent). In addition to Cook, the Vikings could also be without starting LT Riley Reiff due to either testing COVID-19 positive or tracing. Their defensive omissions are also concerning. All the same, Cousins should have zero issues approaching 30 FPs to end his team’s three-game losing streak.
Ryan Tannehill, TEN ($7.0K DK | $8.2K FD) vs. Texans’ Cover 1 | 3
In the four games since Bradley Roby was suspended, the Texans’ defense is allowing 31.5 PPG. In the nine games prior with their shutdown corner, Houston permitted 26.3 PPG. A five-point swing due to the loss of a single non-QB player is remarkable. Whereas the Texans were able to somewhat hide Vernon Hargreaves III across the field from Roby, Hargreaves’ shortcomings are now being relied upon as their top corner. Phillip Gaines, Roby’s initial replacement, is questionable after missing the last two games, and forcing Keion Crossen into the starting lineup.
The Titans enter Week 17 with a plethora of outcomes toward claiming a playoff spot. One of those is a victory over Houston. Since this game will be played early on Sunday, Tennessee is not afforded the luxury of watching the other scenarios unfold to collect their spot. With that in mind, we can expect to see the Titans fielding their entire roster of playmakers. It just so happens that Ryan Tannehill is another QB who simply loves to face Cover 1. The reason Tannehill slots in as my overall QB2 for Week 17 is that he also destroys Cover 3. The “Bulls on Parade” feature a Cover 1 at the 11th-highest rate, and a Cover 3 at the ninth-highest.
RT3 -- his full name is Ryan Timothy Tannehill III -- ranks third among QBs the last two seasons with 0.55 FPDb when opposed by Cover 1. On 29 percent of dropbacks over that stretch, Tannehill has compiled 33 percent of yardage (fifth-best), and 41 percent of his TDs (fifth). Against Cover 3 over the same time, he ranks fifth with 0.53 FPDb, fourth with a 24 percent boost to his YPA, and fourth with a 110.6 passer rating. The Texans are approving the second-most pure passing TDs to opposing QBs (18.4). Side note: it would be preferable for Deshaun Watson to be 100 percent to face the “Flameheads” since he is so vital to his offense’s success.
Justin Jefferson, MIN ($7.6K DK | $8.0K FD) vs. Tramaine Brock Sr., DET
Without Dalvin Cook on Sunday, it appears that Alexander Mattison will lead the backfield after practicing on Wednesday. In 25 career games, Mattison has garnered 24 targets. To truly define the difference between Mattison and Cook, consider that Cook has averaged 4.2 targets over his 43-game career. An additional 3.3 targets may not seem like much, but the Vikings only rank 18th in pace of play (66.9 plays/game). With the history of success from Cousins I’ve already detailed, 3.3 targets in the right hands could land us them Benjamins.
Detroit’s secondary has dealt with a ton of injuries this season. They are currently rolling with a rotation of Amani Oruwariye, Tramaine Brock Sr., Darryl Roberts, and Justin Coleman. In no stretch of the imagination are any of these CBs skilled enough to make any attempts at shadowing either Justin Jefferson or Adam Thielen. DC Cory Undlin is no doubt aware of this fact. If he is simply able to close out the game without losing another CB to injury, it would likely be a positive outcome.
That path toward closing out the game will not be pretty. If one was tasked with building a franchise around a single WR -- sans Davante Adams -- with the ability to obliterate a Cover 1 defense, Jefferson would need to be mentioned at the very top of the list. Over his 15-game career, JJ ranks second among all WRs with 0.87 FPs/route (FPRt), and first overall with 4.93 yards/route run (YPRR). That insane FPRt average is a 72 percent inflation to overall (0.51, second-highest increase) and, not to be outdone, his Cover 1 YPRR average is a 90 percent upturn to overall (2.59, third).
It may come across as though this analyst is simply force-feeding numbers to prove a point. To that thought, I recently watched something on TV where an investigator detailed the very worst mistake toward uncovering the truth. That being to have an outcome in mind, collecting the needed details to get you to that desired goal. Instead, we should follow the relevant details to the actual truth. Living my life upon a set of ideals in the pursuit of truth, you can always count on my work allowing the metrics to decide every player recommendation. That’s not to say that my work is better than any other on the planet, only to define the path followed. Case in point, on only 19 percent of career routes against Cover 1, Jefferson has tracked down 38 percent of yardage, and 29 percent of TDs. The facts point out Jefferson as the unavoidable truth in Week 17.
A.J. Brown, TEN ($7.2K DK | $8.4K FD) vs. Vernon Hargreaves III, HOU
To tail a Kirk Cousins-to-Ryan Tannehill tout, we’ll go from Justin Jefferson-to-A.J. Brown. Since I’ve passed along so many references to a Cover 1, I may as well explain the actual scheme. Within Cover 1, CBs must remain extremely disciplined with their eyes always locked onto their assignment. If they look back to the QB, even for a moment, their coverage assignment can adjust their route to pick up large gains. Whereas you’ll see “holes” open up in zone coverages, those gaps will usually have multiple nearby defenders able to clean up the easy completion. Sans Cover 0, man coverages will also have at least one assigned defender stationed deep. But they will not have the benefit of those additional nearby defenders. Many of the longest TD passes in the NFL on short-to-intermediate targets are the result of man coverage busts.
You’ll see Cover 1 CBs with both feet parallel, slightly to the outside of their coverage responsibility in order to force them into the middle of the field toward the single-high safety help -- referred to as having outside leverage. The best of receivers will recognize, attack by attempting to cut across the CBs body to take the outside route toward the sideline. A Cover 1 savvy QB -- i.e., Cousins, Tannehill, etc. -- will recognize his receiver has defeated his coverage’s leverage, and target him on go’s and post-corner combos between that CB and the FS. But the single-high free safety can only be in one place at a time. If he is forced to help the CB to one side of the field, that will open up receivers on the other side running a variety of routes.
Looking back at my pre-draft notes collected on Vernon Hargreaves III, it was clear that Hargreaves would need to overcome deficits in size -- 5-foot-10 (14th percentile), 204 lbs. (89th), and 30 5/8 inch arms (21st) -- by developing his footwork. In spite of the press he received while at the University of Florida that resulted in a laughable first-round selection by Tampa Bay, he proved to be vulnerable deep to faster WRs. He tested with average speed (4.50 seconds in the 40), but did show some explosiveness with a 39-inch vertical, and 3.98 shuttle. Fast forward to today, I am shocked that Hargreaves’ option was picked up this season. He played in a zone-heavy scheme under former DC Geoff Collins at UF that protected him from being exploited deep.
With that background in mind, consider that Hargreaves is currently allowing 1.43 YPCS (67th), 0.32 FPCS (67th), and with a 105.8 QB rating when his coverage is targeted (65th). Unfortunately, the Texans are currently forced to “protect” him by avoiding anything resembling a shadow. His veteran presence should allow their young CBs the chance to learn on the fly in low profile matchups. Since traveling Hargreaves with playmaking WRs is simply not an option, those developing CBs are left out to dry in snaps defending No. 1’s. It should be clear that writing Hargreaves’ name across from A.J. Brown’s is far from an indication of a shadow.
Both Brown and Corey Davis enter Week 17 in smash spots with plenty of incentive to blow up. Rather than chasing data points on Davis’ breakout ‘20 campaign, I’ve allowed the numbers to bring me to Brown. He’ll obviously provide the more significant cap hit, but Davis’ salaries have risen significantly in recent weeks. When Brown has been defended by a Cover 1 scheme on 29 percent of career routes, he’s earned 40 percent of his receptions, 42 percent of yardage, and 50 percent of TDs. He ranks seventh with 0.66 FPRt, 11th with 3.04 YPRR, and his air yards per target increases by 15 percent.
When we combine his Cover 1 production percentages with those from Cover 3, the metrics go far beyond compelling. On 49 percent of career routes versus those schemes, Brown’s brought in 70 percent of receptions, 70 percent of his yardage, and 67 percent of TDs. I should also add that he ranks seventh with 0.56 FPRt opposite Cover 3. Facing a patchwork secondary, a bottom-10 pass rush, and overall defense missing tackles at a top-three rate, the most significant threat to Brown blowing up is Derrick Henry. Even if Henry goes for another 200 yards, I am still confident Brown will produce in excess of value.
Emmanuel Sanders, NO ($5.5K DK | $6.2K FD) vs. Panthers’ Cover 3
As I’ll cover in the quick hitters, Drew Brees is set up for a productive Week 17. We would normally tail after Michael Thomas opposite any Brees exposure. Since Thomas is off the table, as well as Tre’Quan Smith, the New Orleans WR options dwindles down to Emmanuel Sanders and Marquez Callaway. As a deep dart in a milly-maker, Callaway holds plenty of intrigue. We only need to look back to Week 7 to see that he already threw down an 8/75/0 line supplied by 10 targets from Brees facing a Cover 3. While 15.5 FPs is not going to force your hand to write a letter home … at his previous $3K salary, it’s essentially the equivalent of 31 FPs at a salary of $6K.
However, Callaway injured his knee in Week 9, only returning last week. He was welcomed with a 14 percent target share. That does provide optimism for secondary exposure. What has me on Sanders is his performance from Week 5. “Madball” wound up missing the following two games with COVID-19, but he wrecked the Chargers’ Cover 3 for 12/122/0, and 27.2 FPs prior to that positive test. Nobody plays as much Cover 3 as LAC, but Carolina falls in closely behind at 46 percent. That rate for the Panthers is a full seven percent more than third on the list. The jump from Baylor DC to the same position with Carolina has not gone as smooth as Phil Snow had envisioned. The two groupings that have stressed Snow out the most are opposing TEs and outside WRs. His Cover 3 will look to contain Sanders from outside routes on 70 percent of dropbacks.
Richie James, SF ($3.1K DK | $4.6K FD) vs. Seahawks’ Cover 3
To say it’s been a forgettable season for the 49ers would do the reality zero justice. After losing 31-20 to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, injuries have derailed an extremely talented squad to a 6-9 record. Rather than resting players with nothing to play for, injuries have forced San Francisco to dip into the furthest depths of its roster at QB, RB, WR, D-line, and in the secondary. Since this recommendation is only viable under the premise of controlled exposure, I’ll keep this brief. Without Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk, expect to see plenty of Richie James, Kendrick Bourne, and even River Cracraft at WR.
The last time we saw the ‘9ers this starved for bodies at receiver, James threw together a 9/184/1 receiving line on 13 targets, and 36.4 FPs vs. Green Bay in Week 9. Should we expect anything close to that output in Week 17? Hardly. But we can expect him to receive a target share around half of what went his way in Week 9 (44 percent). We’ll obviously see plenty of running from SF to go along with a big chunk of that target share to their stud TE. Since we already saw James go for 33 percent over value in Week 17 of last season, we have plenty of precedent supporting “Sensei Spunk” as a viable GPP dart.
George Kittle, SF ($6.0K DK | $6.8K FD) vs. K.J. Wright, SEA
Speaking of the 49ers’ star TE, George Kittle returned to the field in Week 16 following a six-game stay on IR with a foot injury. As indicated prior to facing Arizona, the coaching staff limited him to running routes on 62 percent of dropbacks. Kittle’s return was felt in areas well beyond his 4/92/0 line. His blocking paved the way for Jeffrey Wilson Jr.’s 183 rushing yards. In spite of the Cardinals being in must-win mode for a shot at the playoffs, Kittle willed his team to a 20-12 victory.
You should not need to be persuaded on the elite viability of Kittle. Health permitting, Kittle should have no problem collecting a green jacket at the conclusion of his career. In 2020 alone, Kittle ranks first among all TEs with an overall 0.082 FPRt, and with 2.80 YPRR. K.J. Wright has had a phenomenal season for Seattle, but Kittle is simply on another plane of explosiveness when healthy. Simply looking at the final line from last week does nothing to explain what he provided. Kittle compiled receptions of 18, 24, and 27 yards toward leading San Francisco in targets, yards and receptions. You are either paying up for Kittle priced as the TE3/TE4, Darren Waller, the pair of TEs about to be mentioned, or deep-diving after one of the many TE punts looking at added snaps.
Mike Gesicki, MIA ($4.2K DK | $5.9K FD) vs. Matt Milano, BUF
Another TE returning from injury, Mike Gesicki originally injured his shoulder in Week 13 before landing on it again the following week. Gesicki would only miss one game before reemerging to lead the Dolphins to their 10th victory over the Raiders in Week 16. It’s actually very good news for Gesicki’s upside that Tua Tagovailoa will start Week 17 after he was benched in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick to finish off Las Vegas.
In Weeks 13-14, Gesicki materialized into Tagovailoa’s No. 1 target with an average of 23.7 FPG. Since he “only” led team receivers in targets, receptions, and yardage last week, Gesicki’s salaries actually dropped for Week 17. The upside for Gesicki in a game where Miami can dictate their fate would improve should the Bills rest their defensive starters, but Buffalo was already tolerating the seventh-most FPG to opposing TEs (14.6).
Irv Smith Jr., MIN ($3.9K DK | $5.6K FD) vs. Tracy Walker, DET
With secondaries doing everything within their abilities to contain Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, Irv Smith Jr. has been left to roam with the additional snaps from Kyle Rudolph’s season-ending injury. With five TD receptions in his last five games played, Smith has displayed his useful ability to attack man coverage. Four of those TDs were amassed facing two teams with man coverage rates in the top-10 (Lions and Saints). Since Smith will have another chance at production against Detroit in Week 17, we should follow suit with exposure.
Other matchups to consider:
Deshaun Watson, HOU ($7.7K DK | $8.7K FD) vs. Titans’ Cover 1 | 2
Justin Herbert, LAC ($7.1K DK | $7.6K FD) vs. Chiefs’ Cover 2 | 4
Tom Brady, TB ($7.2K DK | $8.4K FD) vs. Falcons’ Cover 1 | 2 | 3
Nick Keizer, KC ($3.2K DK | $4.5K FD) vs. Chargers’ Cover 3
Matchups to Avoid
Kyler Murray, ARI ($7.5K DK | $7.8K FD) vs. Rams’ Cover 4 | 6
No matter how I spell it out, the decision to look elsewhere at QB is not rocket science. The LA Rams have the most dominant secondary in the game, hands down. As if that weren’t enough, the Rams tackling fundamentals are elite-level, and their pass rush ranks within the top-five with more than 20 QB pressures generated per game. The run game is where Los Angeles has improved the most to bring it in line with the other phases of their game. If we take a step back, view the defense as a whole, no other in the NFL can compare.
Despite all of that, the Rams must defeat the Cards in order to secure a playoff spot. Although, should they fail to secure the victory, a loss by the Bears would also do the trick. For Arizona, it’s a win-or-watch-at-home scenario. It’s possible that extreme absences on offense for LAR could give the advantage to the Cardinals. However, Los Angeles is perfectly healthy on defense. They are allowing the fewest passing YPG (192.3), YPA (5.5), fourth-lowest third-down conversion rate (36 percent), and second-lowest rate of both 20-plus (10.4 percent) and 40-plus completions (1.22 percent).
The Rams are also limiting opposing backfields to the third-lowest YPG (94.1), third-lowest YPC (3.8), and the lowest rate of 20-plus runs (0.54 percent). For Kyler Murray specifically, DC Brandon Staley’s crew has licensed the fewest pure passing (10.6) and 12th-fewest pure rushing FPG to opposing QBs (3.11). Perhaps Murray can vulture a pair of one-yard TD plunges off turnovers fueled by his second-highest goal-line attempt average for QBs (0.87/game). If not, we should not expect that production through the air.
Teddy Bridgewater, CAR ($5.3K DK | $5.9K FD) vs. Saints’ Cover 1 | 4
Several headlines stick out from Carolina’s victory over Washington last week. Avoiding the unrelated, the one that stands out is simply coming away with the W. The Football Team’s defense is legitimately one of the top-five in the game. After we digest that unexpected result, we need to highlight the fact that the Panthers were outscored 13-0 over the second half. Looking further, seven of their points -- the same amount toward claiming the game -- came when WFT muffed a punt return that was taken into the end zone by Brandon Zylstra. In spite of the Week 16 result, we continued to see Teddy Bridgewater do nothing of fantasy interest against Cover 3 and Cover 4 schemes.
To be perfectly upfront, I do expect Carolina to put up some points. I also expect that a big chunk of the yardage gained by the Panthers’ offense will be of the penalty variety. N’Orleans’ defense has doubled the league average number of defensive pass interference, holding, and illegal contact flags. Opposing playmakers have their already stacked odds for collecting splash plays exponentially increased by the Saints grabbing hold when defeated. It should come as little surprise to learn that opposing QBs facing New Orleans have averaged the fifth-lowest YPA this season (6.2). With Carolina calling on practice squad RBs this week, we can expect the number of Cover 4 shells Bridgewater will see to increase. Not a good thing.
Allen Robinson II, CHI ($7.7K DK | $7.7K FD) vs. Jaire Alexander, GB
It’s been a great turnaround for Mitchell Trubisky in leading the Bears to three consecutive victories toward a possible playoff spot. Chicago will either need a win over the Packers on Soldier Field, or for the Cardinals to handle the Rams. We already have a recent example of the Bears facing the Packers. That was actually Trubisky’s first game back under center after being benched earlier in the season. Green Bay trounced Da’ Bears 41-25, but Trubisky found Allen Robinson II for an 8/74/2 line, and 27.4 FPs. As much as I would like to root for a repeat of that performance, it seems unlikely.
Without those TD grabs, AR12 falls 20 percent below value. Taking a look at the footage, hisfirst score was taken on a wide-open hitch in Christian Kirksey’s coverage. An obvious bust. Thesecond came on another route opposite Kirksey in, yet again, a busted zone coverage assignment. Kirksey’s role on defense was already dwindling, reaching a season-low of 14 snaps last week. Although, the Packers’ most significant weakness in their zone defense remains its LB unit. So much so that it seems DC Mike Pettine is attempting to limit the number of LBs snaps played.
I should clarify that Robinson’s ability to spot the holes in zones is not the problem whatsoever. He’s actually one of the best. The overriding factor forcing me to list Robinson as a fade is Trubisky. Those two TD passes on clear coverage busts stand as 40 percent of Trubiskey’s career TDs when facing Green Bay (five games). His 74.7 QB rating during those games would rank behind 38 other QBs this season. To that end, a repeat of the 13 targets it took for Robinson to put together his 74 yards is entirely likely. Another pair of TDs on coverage busts are not.
DJ Chark Jr., JAX ($4.9K DK | $6.0K FD) vs. Xavier Rhodes, IND
Before we get too excited about DJ Chark Jr. after he secured 16.2 FPs in Week 16, he’ll first need to clear a shin injury:
If Chark is able to gain clearance for Week 17, he’ll face a tough Xavier Rhodes assignment on over half of his routes. Rhodes has limited his coverage responsibilities to 0.90 YPCS (15th), 0.19 FPCS (19th), and 0.132 AYCS (19th). Indianapolis has been bleeding FPs to WRs over their last four games (45.5). However, HC Doug Marrone’s insistence on starting Mike Glennon will leave a lasting impression ending with him losing his job after the offense falls flat on its face this week.
Christian Kirk, ARI ($4.2K DK | $5.3K FD) vs. Darious Williams, LAR
You can likely tell from the significant difference in quality of the WRs I’ve listed for exposure compared to those to avoid. Since so many WRs have already been removed from the equation, those we do have available are mostly heading into positive matchups. Just as in the case of DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk will face insurmountable odds toward production. If we compare Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams from a PFF grading perspective, Williams actually comes out on top:
Some factors do come into play that provide the more targeted CBs to potentially earn the higher PFF coverage grade, but that’s no longer my job to explain. That said, a CB is not simply going to fall into an 82.1 grade after 16 games. Williams has been lights out this season. He’s only recognizing 0.79 YPCS (10th-best), 0.16 FPCS (fifth), and 0.138 AYCS (23rd). A 30 percent higher AYCS in Williams’ coverage over that of Ramsey provides ample evidence that QBs are forcing the ball to Darious’ side to avoid Ramsey. That’s exactly why Williams has intercepted five passes to one for Ramsey. Should Kyler Murray follow that pattern in targeting Kirk, his team’s playoff chances could slip through the young QBs fingers.
Evan Engram, NYG ($3.7K DK | $5.4K FD) vs. Joe Thomas, DAL
Trips to the trainer’s table are not very rare for Evan Engram. He’s missed nearly 25 percent of his team’s games over his four-year career. Engram is currently attempting to clear a calf injury in order to face the Cowboys. With less than 10 FPs in nine-of-15 games, the 14 FPs scored at Baltimore last week might compel some to add him against the Cowboys.
Looking back to Week 5 at Dallas, Engram salvaged his day with a rushing TD. Even with the score, he fell 31 percent under value. Judging him on his receiving work in that game (1/16/0) leaves him with a basement floor. To complicate the matter, a Cowboys’ defense that has suffered the 10th-fewest FPG to TEs overall (11.8) has battened down the hatches over their last four (8.75, third). Moving on.
Austin Hooper, CLE ($3.8K DK | $5.2K FD) vs. Vince Williams, PIT
It’s been a late-season resurgence for Austin Hooper with 15.1 and 14.1 FPs over the last two weeks, respectively. Unfortunately, we simply have no idea how far HC Mike Tomlin will take his word on resting starters. It may only involve absences from skill positions, or it may extend toward the defense, as well.
If we receive some clarification -- which I highly doubt, Hooper’s value could inflate. We will most likely need to wait for the official inactives. As it stands, Hooper is set to face a Pittsburgh defense that has closed off production to opposing TEs (8.6 FPG, second-best). We have scores of better alternatives.
Other matchups to avoid:
Russell Wilson, SEA ($7.3K DK | $7.5K FD) vs. 49ers’ Cover 3 | 4 | 6
Cam Newton, NE ($5.5K DK | $7.3K FD) vs. Jets’ Cover 2 | 6
John Wolford, LAR ($4.9K DK | $6.5K FD) vs. Cardinals’ Cover 1
Jalen Hurts, PHI ($?K DK | $?K FD) vs. Washington’s Cover 3 | 4
Alex Smith, WAS ($?K DK | $?K FD) vs. Eagles’ Cover 1
Lamar Jackson, BAL ($8.0K DK | $9.0K FD) vs. Bengals’ Cover 1
➥With Cincinnati collecting back-to-back wins, don’t expect to see the Ravens hold back any punches. Jackson is likely to garner in excess of his QB leading 20.3 percent carry share. He’ll cost you, but he has plenty of motivation to blow up.
Drew Brees, NO ($5.9K DK | $7.4K FD) vs. Panthers’ Cover 3
➥Brees ranks first overall with 0.58 FPDb against Cover 3 over the last two seasons. The Panthers play Cover 3 at the second-highest rate. Hmm.
Matt Ryan, ATL ($5.9K DK | $7.5K FD) vs. Buccaneers’ Cover 4
➥We just saw Ryan lead Atlanta to a 17-0 lead to open Week 15 against Tampa Bay. However, we also saw Ryan and Co. outscored 31-10 over the rest of that game. Which Ryan will we get this Sunday?
Mitchell Trubisky, CHI ($5.6K DK | $7.3K FD) vs. Packers’ Cover 6 | 2 | 3 | 4
➥If Trubisky intends to remain Chicago’s starting QB, he’ll need to put together some W’s against Green Bay. Over his career, he’s gone 1-5 versus the Packers.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, MIA ($5.3K DK | $6.8K FD) vs. Bills’ Cover 1 | 3 | 4
➥HC Brian Flores may have passed along that Tua Tagovailoa will start Week 17, but don’t think he’ll hesitate even for a second to replace him with Fitzpatrick if he’s ineffective. If it happens early enough, coinciding with Buffalo resting key defensive starters, Fitzpatrick could end up busting the slate.
Mason Rudolph, PIT ($4.3K DK | $6.5K FD) vs. Browns’ Cover 3 | 4
➥It would be a fool's errand to take a stand on Rudolph as the future at QB for the Steelers. That said, Rudolph did do a serviceable job as the starter for much of last season. Since he’ll face a skeleton crew of a secondary from the Browns playing the fourth-highest rate of Cover 3, the fact that he ranked ninth with 0.49 FPDb against Cover 3 last season is intriguing.
➥Pretty sure it’s a terrible idea to fade Evans this week. In fact, all of Tampa Bay’s receivers have a plus matchup.
➥With Cooper Kupp sidelined, expect to see a ton of targets to Woods. With an untested QB under center, many of those could come on designed screens to the flat. Easy points.
➥Finally a sign of life from Cooks! We can expect to see a true shadow on Cooks this week. Most likely from Butler.
➥It pains me thinking about the game Jones could’ve had last week if Matthew Stafford hadn’t been injured. While Minnesota doesn’t quite offer the same level of smash as the Buccaneers could’ve, if Cameron Dantzler is unable to play and Stafford stays on the field, things could get interesting.
➥I love Brown defended by Phillips. I hate Brown shadowed by William Jackson III. Check that injury report.
Mecole Hardman, KC ($4.2K DK | $5.3K FD) vs. Chargers’ Cover 3
➥It’s finally here. Hardman’s opportunity to shine. He’s priced just right. He’s facing a zone-heavy defense. He just needs Chad Henne to find him. I’m still on Hardman.
➥Perriman draws the best matchup from the Patriots, and has a history of success against Cover 1.
➥Should Stefon Diggs sit, Davis will draw Howard. A rookie WR against the top man coverage shadow in the game. Yikes!
Jerry Jeudy, DEN ($4.2K DK | $5.1K FD) vs. Raiders’ Cover 2 | 6
➥Las Vegas has hemorrhaged FPs to WRs out of the slot all season.
➥Unfortunately, it didn’t happen last week. Will it be this week?
➥Check the Colts’ injury report. If Michael Pittman Jr. is unable to clear the protocol, Pascal would see near-featured targets.
➥Miami traded Ford to the Pats, then they dropped him, and the Phins resigned him. Just in time to help a desperately thin wideout unit with a playoff spot on the line.
Jalen Reagor, PHI ($?K DK | $?K FD) vs. Washington’s Cover 3 | 4
➥As I’ve passed along numerous times, in order to defeat Washington’s insanely stout defense, you must do so deep down the sidelines. If Jalen Hurts is able to identify that Cover 3, while avoiding the safety shift to a Cover 4, he’ll be able to splash Reagor or DeSean Jackson with the long ball.
➥It’s being passed around that the absence of Cooper Kupp will benefit Josh Reynolds. Reynolds was already seeing starting reps with more than his share of targets. Those available snaps/targets are gonna be provided to Jefferson. Watch.
➥When Rudolph isn’t focusing on Washington, McCloud will be dead in his sights.
Marquez Callaway, NO ($3.2K DK | $5.0K FD) vs. Panthers’ Cover 3
➥See Emmanuel Sanders above.
➥The only TE worthy of consideration over George Kittle is Waller. Another 35-plus percent target share could flip the slate.
➥Don’t forget that Arnold has scored deep TDs in back-to-back games against a Rams defense focusing all of their efforts toward eliminating deep TDs.
➥At the time of this writing, Hunter Henry appears unlikely to return for Week 17. A faceoff with a defense already vulnerable to TEs with the potential for defensive starters resting could pay off big. Parham will just need to get over the ominous illness he’s experiencing.
➥Don’t look now but Asiasi ran every TE snap for New England in Week 16. He’s yet to secure any of his four targets over his last three games, but he’ll face the worst TE defending unit in the league from the Jets.