Fantasy Football Intelligence: Closing Time

Congratulations to all who played week 16, especially those that won. It may not feel like it fresh off a loss, but if you remained fantasy relevant for 16 weeks, you had a successful season. Some folks have something to play for in week 17 and we will offer thoughts below, but for most of us, one way or another, the season is over.

As the song says, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. So what did we learn yesterday that will help us next year and beyond?

Owners that jumped on Baltimore early this year were rewarded. Jackson, Ingram, Andrews and even the defense delivered big results and the defense was usable more weeks than not. There were a few owners who had the courage of their convictions and bet heavy on the Ravens, and they were rewarded all season and in the fantasy championship.

Barkley and Kamara can still play. The top two picks in most drafts disappointed most of the year. Both rose to the occasion on championship week and reminded us what they can do. McCaffrey will be at the top of drafts next year, but both of these guys should still go in the top seven or so picks.

Michael Thomas has the highest floor of any WR in the history of fantasy. He is a top half of the first round pick as well.

Macro trends to think about:

FFI has always weighted matchups more heavily than many others and week 16 showed us that when two weak teams play a meaningless game, offense usually wins. The NYG/WAS and CIN/MIA game gave us three QBs throwing 4+ TDs, the RB1, WR1 and two of the top 5 TEs for the week. Remember this for next season.

Lamar Jackson and Christian McCaffrey drove many league winners because they were essentially like having an extra spot in the lineup with Jackson, who in addition to leading the league in TD passes, gave his owners RB2 production. McCaffrey, in addition to being a top 3 RB, was a WR2/3 in standard, even better in PPR. They are the most extreme examples of a trend away from immobile pocket passers and backs that don’t catch passes.

One of the trends driving this is the change in practice rules, de-emphasizing contact and reducing mandatory practice time. Offensive lines in general are not as dominant as they have been in past years. The Patriots and Rams both turned over more than 40% of their o-lines and have struggled to run all year. Unless you draft your RB from a true power running team (TEN, MIN, PIT, IND, for example), make sure they can catch at least a bit. Even so, RBs such as Marlon Mack that are not used in the passing game become vulnerable to game script and are a dangerous play against high scoring opponents.

Justin Tucker has been a reliable top 3 kicker for his career and may be the best field goal kicker ever. This year though, John Harbaugh has committed to going for it on 4th down. He has converted 16/22 this season and their 72.7% leads the league by almost 10%. Remarkably, they are 3rd in the number of times they have gone for it on 4th (behind NYG and MIA) despite playing from ahead almost all year. Look for more teams that are confident in their offense to start going for it more, and when you are drafting a kicker toward the end of your draft, think about how aggressive the coach is likely to be on 4th down. There are a number of articles on this 4th down trend. Here’s one from early this season.

We’ll do a couple more blogs to wrap up the season and do a post mortem that provides accountability for our choices. We will also continue to look for trends and insights that will help you next year.

For those that still have something to play for in week 17, or for those who play daily fantasy, here are just a few nuggets for week 17:

PIT @ BAL: Pittsburgh needs a win and a lot of help. Baltimore will be resting starters. It sets up for a Pittsburgh win, but without a viable QB, Baltimore’s backups may still be the better team. Steelers D may make some plays, but offense is a crapshoot for both teams in this game. If I need an RB from this game it would be Gus Edwards.

NYJ @ BUF: Meaningless game. Jets playing for pride, Bills locked in at #5.

NO @ CAR: Saints in play for a bye, Will Grier (3 INTs) making his second start. Load up on Saints. Panthers would be silly to run McCaffrey into the ground and the Saints can key on him, especially if Moore is out.

CLE @ CIN: Could be a meaningless shootout. I’d stream offensive players in this game with Dalton likely auditioning for a job somewhere else and Freddie Kitchens trying to save his job.

WAS @ DAL: Cowboys not eliminated so they will play until/unless PHI/NYG becomes a blowout. Redskins QB is a question mark. Dak is hurt, so not sure he finishes if game becomes meaningless. Use Cowboys stars, maybe consider Pollard if desperate. AP has scored in the last 4 games for Washington.

GB @ DET: With their dominating win over the Vikings, Green Bay locked up the division and are the #2 seed. They will need to win to secure the bye so expect a solid performance with the regulars playing until the game is secure.

TEN @ HOU: Titans need to win and get in, Texans already locked in and need to stay healthy. Play Titans, sit Texans.

IND @ JAX: Could be a high scoring meaningless game. Play the skill players, but monitor the inactives closely in case key guys sit.

LAC @ KC: Chiefs can secure a bye if Pats lose to Dolphins, but will likely start pulling guys if they or the Pats go up big. Chargers are playing out a disappointing season. Play skill guys, but again, watch the inactives for the Chargers.

CHI @ MIN: The Bears went backwards this year and the Vikings are locked into a wild card. It is a division game. Mitch Trubisky could be playing for his job, but the Vikings will probably be trying to get out healthy. I like Anthony Miller in this game.

MIA @ NE: Patriots need a win, but Dolphins won’t lay down. Expect New England defense to force mistakes and Miami won’t run well. DaVante Parker may draw Gilmore, so don’t expect a big day. Expect NE to run and continue to work Harry, Meyers and LaCosse into the offense. Brady could be a good play, even if he only plays three quarters, depending on your options.

PHI @ NYG: Eagles need a win to get in. Welcome to the Giants’ Super Bowl. Zach Ertz has a rib injury that is not insignificant. If weather is fair, this could be a shootout. I’d look at skill players on both sides.

ATL @ TB: Meaningless game shootout alert, though either or both QBs could be shut down early. Breshad Perriman and Ronald Jones should continue to produce.

OAK @ DEN: Oakland not yet eliminated, but if this game remains at 4, they probably will be before kickoff. Denver is finishing strong and Drew Lock may do surprisingly well here. If I was the DFS type, I’d look at him if the weather is good.

AZ @ LAR: Henderson got hurt on Saturday, or this could have been his game. Don’t expect much Gurley and whoever plays, Brown or Henderson, will have a good day. Kyler Murray has an injured hamstring and may not play. Rams may run a bit more than usual. Kenyan Drake is finishing strong and playing for a contract. Can’t recommend any other Cardinal without knowing Murray’s status.

SF @ SEA: A division title and a bye for San Francisco will be determined by this game. Seattle lost two more RBs and is beat up heading into the playoffs. It appears the Seahawks will bring back Marshawn Lynch, but don’t expect him to play extensively or be effective until the playoffs. They are also bringing back Robert Turbin, but he was never particularly good. Forced to be one dimensional, Wilson should put up stats. Neither team’s defense is playing well right now, so both should score.