Fantasy Football Intelligence: The Final Countdown

Here we are. This is it. For most fantasy leagues, this is championship week. Some leagues combine weeks 16/17, and a few even play the finals in week 17 (a harrowing proposition we will cover next week), but even in those weeks, week 16 is a money week and congratulations to all fantasy teams still playing meaningful games.

FFI’s recommendations were pretty solid last week, 14/17 trusted plays delivered usable performance. Among the three that didn’t, one got hurt (Cook), one ran well but didn’t score (Henry) and the other, Golladay, laid an uncharacteristic egg. We also named the two biggest surprise performers, Kenyan Drake (137 yds/4 TDs) and Breshad Perriman (113 yds/3 TDs) as optional plays. Our game analyses were largely on target with Jacksonville surprising Oakland and Minnesota’s blowout as our only misses (though we correctly called a down game for Cousins).

Heading into the final, before determining your lineup, consider the following: are you favored in the game? If both sides perform as expected, do you walk away with a championship? If you are favored by 8+ points, you want to play for high floor. Err on the side of consistency, play for doubles, not home runs. As an example, that would mean play your regular RB2, a Philip Lindsay or Marlon Mack type with a decent matchup rather than roll the dice on Kenyan Drake in Seattle. If you are an underdog, a play like Drake makes sense.

As a real life example, after falling behind Thursday night, I made the call to pull Aaron Rodgers after seeing the cold weather in Green Bay and knowing that Rodgers has put up only one score in eight of his 13 games prior and has only thrown for 300 yards three times this year. At 12:30 I chased the upside of Baker Mayfield who was not great, but ultimately delivered four more points than Rodgers and I managed to salvage a win. NB: There is a good chance I will go back to Rodgers @MIN next week and 0% chance I will use Mayfield vs. BAL. In fact, Baker will be off my roster by Wednesday.

The point is, don’t take reckless chances, but if you are an underdog, don’t be afraid to make a calculated gutsy move. You may need it to get over the top. It is what fantasy legends are made of. My fantasy biography includes a championship I won with Sam Bradford as my QB – no guts, no glory.

With that, here are the recommendations for the most important fantasy week of the year. No Thursday game this week, so you have until Saturday to set your lineup. As always, check the weather forecasts before game time.

Saturday

Houston @ Tampa Bay – At this time, it looks like both Evans and Godwin will not play for TB. The Bucs have won four straight and 5/6 so this game could be very interesting, though the Bucs will surely miss their weapons. Winston is playing through a hairline fracture in his thumb, but he has been over 400 yards two weeks in a row.

Trust: Watson, Hopkins

Start: Godwin if he plays, which is doubtful. He’d be a “trust”, but if he plays, he is liable to pull up lame at any moment as Thielen did when he came back too soon from a hamstring pull. Perriman is a start if Evans and Godwin are both out. Winston is also a cross your fingers start.

Options: Hyde, R. Jones, Fells, (Stills & Fuller are both too inconsistent to be relied on in finals unless league is very deep.)

Buffalo @ New England – Both teams are in the playoffs and even if the Bills win, the Patriots would have to lose to Miami in week 17 for them to overtake the Pats in the AFC East. The Patriots are battling for a bye so this game is meaningful for them and they are still trying to figure out their offense. Buffalo can play. Expect a low score.

Trust: Patriots Defense

Start: White (PPR)

Options: Allen, Singletary, Edelman, Bills Defense

L.A. Rams @ San Francisco – The loss to Dallas effectively ended the Rams season, but they are a well run organization that is unlikely to pack it in for the year. I’d be nervous about Gurley’s usage in this game, though he is hard to sit out. San Francisco now needs to win out in order to secure the top seed, so I like them here. If SF is still missing defensive personnel the Rams could score some points on them. Keep an eye on the over/under before you set your lineup.

Trust: Kittle

Start: Woods, Kupp

Options: 49ers Defense, Mostert, Garoppolo, Sanders, Higbee, Gurley. Deebo Samuel is too inconsistent to start in a final. We also don’t yet know how Jalen Ramsey will be used. There is risk with any 49er receiver other than Kittle.

Detroit @ Denver – If the weather is decent, this game could yield some production. Denver probably wins at home, but both teams have options.

Trust: Golladay

Start: Sutton, Lindsay

Options: Fant, Jones (if healthy) It is possible that Kerryon Johnson will be activated off IR; I would not play him in a championship game unless absolutely desperate.

Oakland @ L.A. Chargers – A disappointing year for the Chargers while the Raiders have over-achieved. Both are out of the playoffs and both looked bad in losses this week. I expect a nasty divisional game as both coaches are likely to be very unpleasant at practice this week. There are viable fantasy players in this game who will be used, but nobody is trusted. The Chargers have a wide usage tree with Gordon, Ekeler, Henry, Allen and Williams all viable.

Trust: Nobody

Start: Jacobs (he’d be trusted if healthy, but he isn’t), Gordon, Ekeler, Henry, Allen, Waller

Options: M. Williams, T. Williams

Jacksonville @ Atlanta – Both teams playing out the string, but remaining professional. Both had solid upsets last week and will feel reasonably good this week. Expect a fair amount of scoring here with Atlanta likely winning at home. Early reports are that Chark may get back in the lineup.

Trust: Jones, Fournette

Start: Hooper, Chark (if he plays), Ryan

Options: Freeman, Minshew, Westbrook or Conley if Chark is out.

Baltimore @ Cleveland – Full disclosure, I’m facing Jackson, Ingram and Andrews in a final this week so I am dreading this game. Baltimore is the hottest team in football and the Browns are imploding before our eyes (as predicted in this space many times). Cleveland beat Baltimore earlier in the season and a reckoning is probably coming in what is likely Freddie Kitchens’ second to last game.

Trust: Jackson, Andrews, Ingram

Start: Ravens Defense, Chubb

Options: Hunt, Landry, Hollywood Brown, Beckham

Carolina @ Indianapolis – The Colts have played themselves out of playoff contention, but will likely give a good effort at home. The early word from Ian Rapaport is that Carolina will start rookie 3rd rounder Will Grier. If this is the case, it may cause a few more stacked fronts for McCaffrey, but you are starting him. D.J. Moore becomes a more problematic start, and I would consider sitting him for the likes of Emmanuel Sanders or Breshad Perriman. Monitor the talk out of Carolina this week to understand what the offense will look like with Grier. He’s a Charlotte native, Heisman finalist who has an NFL arm, but he was erratic in the preseason. While Kyle Allen wasn’t great, Moore has been more targeted than anyone other than Michael Thomas in the second half of the season. He goes from a locked in starter to the WR2/3 line. Consider reasonable options. Mack has a great matchup, but hasn’t looked good since returning from a broken hand.

Trust: McCaffrey, Hilton (if he plays)

Start: Moore (see above)

Options: Mack, Doyle, Pascal (if Hilton is out)

Cincinnati @ Miami – We’ve talked about this game as a potential championship winner for Mixon owners back at the trading deadline and low and behold, I’m facing MIxon in the same final I face all those Ravens studs. While I hope against hope that Miami will make a stand, this game will likely hurt those facing Mixon. DaVante Parker is also on quite a roll and should produce a good line.

Trust: Mixon, Parker

Start: Boyd

Options: Desperate owners could look at Fitzpatrick or Dalton for a blowup, Laird, Eifert or Gesicki in the deepest leagues

Pittsburgh @ N.Y. Jets – The Steelers need to win out and I don’t see the Jets matching their intensity. For the second week in a row, I am avoiding all Jets. The Jets run defense gives up the 8th fewest points to fantasy RBs, but I think Conner owners may get some return this week if they got this far.

Trust: Steelers Defense

Start: Conner

Options: Darnold, Bell, Crowder (PPR), Smith-Schuster if he plays.

New Orleans @ Tennessee – An important game for both teams, I’m a little worried about New Orleans here. With injuries in the front seven, expect Tennessee to batter them with Henry. The opposite side of the coin is that if New Orleans gets ahead and Tennessee has to pass, we may see a shootout where Henry sees less action, hence he is a start, but not a trust. New Orleans was near perfect on Monday, but this is a tough road game on short rest against a well coached, desperate team. I’m a bit worried about the Saints.

Trust: Thomas

Start: Kamara, Henry, Cook, Brees, Tannehill

Options: Brown (I suspect he sees Lattimore)

N.Y. Giants @ Washington – The complexion of the game may depend on whether Daniel Jones or Eli Manning plays for the Giants. Washington has battled Green Bay and Philly before losing; the Giants were winners last week. There should be some fantasy points scored in this one, even though the teams have only been playing for pride most of the year. Haskins played his best game last week, which makes Terry McLaurin viable in this game. McLaurin is back to 73% owned after dipping when Haskins first entered the lineup.

Trust: Barkley

Start: Shepard

Options: McLaurin, Peterson, Jones if you really need to roll the dice. Even if active, I wouldn’t rely on Engram to finish the game.

Dallas @ Philadelphia – If Dallas wins, they will win the NFC East, if Philly wins, they will control their destiny with only the Giants between them and a playoff berth. The Eagles are beat up at receiver but have been getting production from the RBs and TEs to hang in there. Dallas looked strong against the Rams and the Eagles struggled to get by the Redskins. Dallas is the early favorite here, but they have shown an inability to rise to the occasion.

Trust: Prescott, Elliott

Start: Cooper (against Philly’s weak corners – he’s due), Ertz (lack of weapons will have a lot of attention on him), Sanders

Options: Gallup, Wentz

Arizona @ Seattle – If Seattle takes care of business, they will face SF for the #1 seed in week 17 with the loser settling for a wild card. This game sets up brilliantly for Chris Carson. Seattle has not been as good defensively at home as they have been in years past, but I would not want my championship fate to ride on Arizona performing well in this game.

Trust: Carson, Wilson

Start: Lockett (he seems healthy again)

Options: Seahawks defense, Metcalf, Murray (if you have to roll the dice), Drake, Kirk

Kansas City @ Chicago – Patrick Mahomes lit it up in a blizzard, so Chicago doesn’t worry me too much. KC’s defense is also playing better. The dynamic at work here is that the Chiefs may not have much to play for. If the Patriots beat the Bills, the Chiefs would need Miami to beat the Patriots in New England to secure the bye and they have already won their division. The Bears are out of the playoffs.

Trust: Mahomes, Kelce

Start: Hill, A. Robinson

Options: Montgomery, Miller, Trubisky, Chiefs defense

Monday NIght Football

Green Bay @ Minnesota

This game, and fantasy titles, may hinge on the availability of Dalvin Cook. We will know more in the coming days, but in addition to heavily impacting this game flow, if Cook is out, Alexander Mattison (also injured) or Mike Boone could determine fantasy championships. Final determinations on this game may not be known before Friday, but assuming Cook does not play (he’s a “start” if he does), expect a high score and many championships to be determined on Monday night. Schefter reported late Monday that Cook may not play again until the playoffs, a tough blow to owners that have ridden him to the finals.

Trust: Nobody

Start: Cousins, Diggs, Thielen, Rodgers, Jones, Adams

Options: Mattison or Boone if Cook is out

On a final note, while we led with Europe’s The Final Countdown, this song that came out earlier was less commercially popular but very much appreciated by Jack Black, Paul Rudd and many other fans, as well as NASA.