Seven Stats & Expectation Trends for Week 17 (Fantasy Football)
It all comes down to this.
The offseason analysis, the carefully concocted trades, the draft preparation, the waiver wire wonders, the start/sit decisions…everything culminates this weekend in the Fantasy Football Championships. For most leagues, that is; and if that’s not the case in your league, change it for next season!
Maybe you’ve been dominant up to this point. Maybe you’re undefeated, hundreds of points ahead of the 2nd place team. None of that matters. It’s a one-game playoff now, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Here are seven things I saw to help you take home those titles; all data is from nflfastR.
Take Nothing for Granted
Bask in the sadness of this tweet:
Imagine this lineup:
Justin Fields (QB5)
Josh Jacobs (RB2)
Aaron Jones (RB9)
Tyreek Hill (WR2)
Davante Adams (WR3)
Ja'Marr Chase (WR11)
Mark Andrews (TE4)
From Weeks 1-15, this lineup would average 117.4 points. In Week 16, it put up 50.5 points
— Matt DiSorbo (@datavizuals) December 30, 2022
The lesson is clear. You just can’t blindly trust your studs to continue to carry you to a fantasy championship. These are certainly extreme examples, but Week 17 projects to be quite the hectic one. We’ve already seen Derrick Henry miss his game due to injury, and Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams will both have backup quarterbacks throwing them the ball. Don’t be stuck following what has worked all season long. Fantasy production this week is all that matters!
To reflect the one-off nature of Week 17, let’s consider which defenses are most susceptible to big performances. This can be done with ELO rankings, which give a sort of ‘now-cast,’ or current tier for players. They take into account player performance and defensive strength, and we can get ratings for both players and the defenses they faced. Here are the best defenses against the running back position:
I’ll be honest: I’m worried about Josh Jacobs. He faces an elite 49ers defense – by far the best against the run – with Jarrett Stidham at the helm for the Las Vegas Raiders. It hurts, but you might have a better option than the RB2 on the season. Don’t go crazy, of course; Jacobs is still a fine start. I would just rather have players like Jerick McKinnon who, while less productive on a season-long basis, are in the midst of a hot streak.
The Seahawks have been Sieve-hawks against the run of late, which is great news for the backfield of the New York Jets in Week 17. Mike White is set to return to the starting lineup, much to the disappointment of Zach Wilson and absolutely no one else. Zonovan Knight, although he has totaled 4.1 points in the last two weeks, had solid outings in Weeks 12-13 with White at the helm, and gets to face a terrible run defense in a must-win game for the Jets. There’s sneaky upside with ‘Bam’ Knight; just to level-set, though, I would start Josh Jacobs over Zonovan!
Here are the best defenses against the quarterback position:
The Footballers have mentioned this on the show: hilariously, the Houston Texans are the third ‘best’ defense against the QB position. This isn’t because they are actually good at defending; it’s because they give up a ton of points fast, and the opposing QB takes the rest of the night off. Just be aware of this if you plan on rolling with Trevor Lawrence, who has been excellent (24 PPG) since his Week 11 bye. Oh, and if you even thought for a second about starting Jarrett Stidham against the top-ranked 49ers’ defense, think again.
Here are the worst defenses:
Justin Fields may have lost your semifinal matchup when he failed to garner 10 points in Week 16. If you managed to survive, then let bygones be bygones: he draws the Detroit Lions, who have been absolutely putrid against the position. Not to mention that Fields torched the Lions to the tune of 39.4 points in Week 10. If you’re really desperate, rising star Brock Purdy faces the reeling Las Vegas Raiders defense. Still, Purdy is best left as a QB2: despite his on-field success, his best fantasy performance was the QB8 in Week 14.
Finally, let’s consider the toughest opponents to the tight end position:
The New Orleans Saints have been veritable TE stoppers of late, which is bad news for Dallas Goedert in Week 17. Although Goedert feels like an auto-start (he put up 10.2 PPG until his injury in Week 10), I would caution against false confidence. He’ll likely be catching passes from Gardner Minshew again, and that arrangement was only good enough for 8.2 points in Goedert’s return last week. The TE landscape is a wasteland, so he’s not the worst start, but you might have better options.
Here are the softest defenses against the position:
I built a simple model that takes into account targets, air yards, and defensive prowess and predicts what we expect WRs to score on the week. Then, we can see which wideouts score more, in a sense overachieving given their workload. Here are the leaders:
No surprise to see Shane Zylstra here: the Detroit Lions‘ TE turned five targets into 26 yards and three scores, a feat that he isn’t likely to repeat again in his career. He’s best left on the bench in fantasy championships. George Kittle, on the other hand, also outperformed (120 yards and two scores on eight targets), but is a must-start this week. We know he’s an above-average player and appears to have unlocked some excellent chemistry with QB Brock Purdy (213 yards and four touchdowns in the last two weeks). Keep riding the lightning!
Here are the ‘underachievers’:
It was an incredibly sad week for DeAndre Hopkins: he saw a whopping ten targets but hauled just one in for four yards. Putting up less than a point in the fantasy semifinals makes it easy to leave Hopkins in the rearview, but the truth is that he’s averaging 10.7 targets per game since his Week 13 bye. There’s a bit of uncertainty behind his playing status right now but, if he goes, talent plus volume should equal some sort of fantasy performance, regardless of who is at quarterback.
So much of fantasy football goes unseen. For example, I like to track players that ‘almost scored’: they were tackled inside the five-yard line on drives that they didn’t eventually score on. Here are the rushing leaders through the past three weeks:
Three backs have nearly thrice scored: Ezekiel Elliott, D’Onta Foreman, and Travis Etienne. Zeke already proved the trends prescient with a touchdown on Thursday Night Football. Foreman is an interesting name to mention: he was the RB3 last week with 22.5 points although he faces a stout Tampa Bay run defense. Then there’s Travis Etienne, who I consider a ‘start with confidence’ against a putrid Houston Texans run defense.
Here’s the same chart for receiving options:
You’re starting A.J. Brown, the leader in this category, but it’s important to note Tyler Higbee as well. The ‘Higbeast’ went off in Week 16, hauling in two touchdowns for 25.9 fantasy points and a TE3 finish (insane that it was just third-best on the week!). And yet – he almost scored twice more in the last three weeks. He’s got double digits in his last two outings and should be started with the hope for more upside in your championship matchup.
The seventh stat is less of a stat; indeed, not a stat at all. I wanted to leave a quick note of thanks for reading this column all season long! It’s been my great pleasure to look into these analytics each week and, hopefully, bring valuable insights to your fantasy decisions. I’m hoping that you lift your fantasy trophy this week, and looking forward to making more memories come next season. In the meantime, I’ll see you in the Twitterverse.