Every week, I write this column over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday. Except this week, when instead of spending all day Wednesday in front of a computer, I spent it with my wife, kids and 23 other members of my extended family celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah.
All of which is a long way of saying there’s no opening story this week. Hey, it’s Week 17.
Since it is the end of the year, I will wrap up a few things. The final “Fantasy Football Now” of the season airs Sunday at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2 and goes all the way up to kickoff. It’s also my birthday, so you can literally watch me get even older in front of your eyes. We will do a final 06010 podcast on Monday night. Please check out @fantasyfocus on Twitter for details there.
As for myself, because people seem to care, I will tell you that I played in 14 leagues this year, made the playoffs in 10, the finals in six, and won the title in two, with two finals still to be played this week. By the way, my two finals losses were among the most painful I’ve ever had.
I found 14 leagues way too much to handle this year and definitely need to cut down next year. Just not enough time to do waiver claims each week for so many leagues, to respond to trade offers, look for trades, etc. It definitely affected my performance in some of them.
Most importantly, however, I was able to raise $8,000 for The Jimmy V foundation as part of playing in the Agbo Superhero League. You can view the league by clicking here. I finished fourth, as Dalvin Cook’s injury in the semis crushed me and Jameis Winston’s egg in the finals did me in. Live by the Jameis, die by the Jameis.
Also, as he does every year, my friend Michael Gehlken has posted his list of charities supported by NFL players. If a player has helped you win a title, Michael suggests donating a portion of your winnings to a charity that player supports. You can see the list as my pinned tweet on my Twitter or on Michael’s twitter, @GehlkenNFL.
Below is my Love/Hate for the week, where the “hates” are pretty thin. It’s the result of some teams not playing their best players. Do you really need me to tell you to bench Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen? I didn’t want to force names in here during such a critical week.
This is my last column for a long, long time, so I’d like to take a moment to thank “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe and “The Stat-a-Pillar,” Damian Dabrowski, for their help with this each week, as well as “Not Cool” Keith Lipscomb for his editing prowess. And thank you all so much for continuing to read, react and engage. It’s truly a privilege and one I don’t take lightly.
So, for one last time in 2019 … let’s get to it.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 17
Carson Wentz, Eagles (at Giants): Don’t look now, but the only QB to have been a top-12 play at the position each of the past four weeks is … Carson Wentz. Even if tight end Zach Ertz is out for this game, I don’t care. You had me at “Giants.” A brutal secondary that has allowed multiple passing touchdowns in four consecutive games (including a combo of Dwayne Haskins and Case Keenum last weekend), opponents have the fourth-highest passer rating versus the Giants this season. Ten times a QB has scored at least 20.5 points against the G-Men. Wentz makes it 11 on Sunday.
Ryan Tannehill, Titans (at Texans): With multiple touchdowns in six straight games, TanneTHRILL is ready to lead you to a fantasy title. He was the fourth-best QB in fantasy the previous time he faced the Texans (24.2 points in Week 15), and Houston is an inviting matchup, having allowed 300-plus passing yards in three of its past four games. Tannehill is second-best in the NFL in red zone completion percentage and red zone touchdown percentage. It’s worth noting, as no defense is worse in the red zone than the Houston Texans’.
Jared Goff, Rams (vs. Cardinals): Credit where credit is due. The Cardinals’ defense has played a lot better recently. But so has Goff, who over the past four weeks is second in passing yards, seventh in passing touchdowns and 10th in fantasy points. That run includes a Week 13 game against these Cardinals, in which he went 32-for-43 for 424 yards and two scores. As has been much discussed, Goff is much better when not being pressured, and since Week 8, the Cardinals are just 19th in the NFL in pressure rate.
Others receiving votes: With multiple touchdown passes in five of his past seven games, Baker Mayfield is on the streaming radar against a Bengals squad allowing the second-most yards per pass attempt this season and the eighth-most fantasy points to QBs this season. … You know I think Wentz lights up the Giants, which means Daniel Jones is going to have to keep chucking the ball. When trailing this season, the Giants pass at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL, and since Week 7, Jones is top-seven among quarterbacks in both completions and attempts per game. Interesting stat: The only QB with more four-touchdown passing games than Jones this season is … Lamar Jackson. Even after the Dallas game, the Eagles are a bottom-10 pass defense the past four weeks. …You don’t often think of Tom Brady as a sleeper, but at home in an important game against a Miami team that has allowed multiple passing TDs in six consecutive games, I like TB12. Brady has thrown at least 30 passes in each home game this season, averaging 37.3 attempts per game in Foxborough. The Fins allow a TD on 7.2% of passes this season (highest in the NFL).
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 17
Matt Ryan, Falcons (at Buccaneers): Don’t look now but, uh, Tampa Bay does not have a terrible defense. The past four weeks, the Buccaneers have been the fifth-best defense in terms of fewest fantasy points allowed and top four in lowest completion percentage allowed. Now, they’ve faced Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Detroit during that stretch, but hey, they also held Deshaun Watson down last weekend. They held Ryan to just 7.6 points in Week 12, and it’s worth noting that over the past five weeks, Ryan has thrown a TD on just 3.3% of attempts. (For comparison, during that stretch, that ranks below Dwayne Haskins (4.0%), Devlin Hodges (3.8%) and Andy Dalton (3.7%). Given that Jameis Winston is usually good for a pick-six or two, there might not be as much of a need for Ryan to air it out as you’d think. Ryan will be fine, but I have him outside my top 10 this weekend.
Kyler Murray, Cardinals (at Rams): As of this writing, the expectation is Murray should play. But even if he plays, will he run as much coming off a hamstring scare? One thing the Rams do well is create pressure; they do so at the third-highest rate in the NFL. When Murray has been pressured this season, he has just a 38.5% completion rate and just one TD along with five interceptions. Murray went 19-for-34 for 163 yards and no TDs (one INT) in Week 13 vs. the Rams (he did run for a score in that one), finishing with just over 13 points for a QB20 finish. All that plus the health concerns and he’s a pass for me, even in deeper leagues.
Running backs I love in Week 17
Joe Mixon, Bengals (vs. Browns): Despite late reports of a stomach bug, Mixon got plenty of work last weekend and now has at least 23 touches in all four of his games this month. That volume should come in handy against a Browns squad that has the NFL’s second-worst run defense the past four weeks and gives up a whopping 3.5 yards per carry before first contact, most in the NFL. It’s no surprise 39.4% of yards vs. Cleveland have been gained via the rush (second most). Mixon has been used more in the passing game — he has at least 20 receiving yards in four consecutive games, the longest streak of his career — making him an easy top-12 play in Week 17.
Marlon Mack, Colts (at Jaguars): With a rushing touchdown in three of his past four games played, Mack has been one of the bright spots in an uneven season for the Colts’ offense. Those past four games played, by the way, include a 14-109-1 effort against these Jaguars in Week 11. In shaking off the rust last weekend, he did what a good running back should do against a bad Panthers run defense: He crushed. Mack had 16 carries for 95 yards and a score in that game, and he once against finds himself with a great matchup this weekend. The Jags cough up 5.14 yards per carry this season and more than 30 fantasy points a game to opposing runners, both second most in the NFL.
Damien Williams, Chiefs (vs. Chargers): Last season’s playoff hero had 16 carries in his return to action last weekend against Chicago, and I believe he has some more late-season heroics in him. It’s a good matchup this weekend, as 11 times a running back has scored at least 15.5 fantasy points against the Chargers this season, including last weekend, when the Raiders’ DeAndre Washington was RB11 for the week. For his career, Williams averages 23.6 points per game when getting at least 15 touches (including playoffs). Even if LeSean McCoy is active in this one, I’m not worried. Facing a Bolts defense that has allowed the sixth-most receptions to opposing RBs since Week 9, I like Williams as a strong, top-20 play for Week 17.
Others receiving votes: You’re already starting Nick Chubb, of course, but I’m back on Kareem Hunt here, as well. Hunt has at least 33 receiving yards in three consecutive games (Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler are the only others who have an active streak of such length), and opponents have completed passes to running backs against Cincy at the eighth-highest rate this season. … In a game the Saints should control easily, I wonder if Alvin Kamara gets a slightly lesser workload. I feel like there’s a decent chance of that and if so, that means more work for Latavius Murray against a truly horrific Carolina run defense. No team in the NFL allows more yards per carry, more red zone trips per game or more fantasy points to opposing running backs this season than the Panthers. … The Titans have allowed at least seven RB receptions in four of their past six games and have given up 6.9 RB receptions per game this season, most in the NFL. Duke Johnson is always a dicey start, but the matchup is certainly right for him to have a flex-worthy game, especially if the Texans decide to limit Carlos Hyde in a game that doesn’t mean all that much to them.
Running backs I hate in Week 17
Devonta Freeman, Falcons (at Buccaneers): I can’t imagine benching him after last weekend, but he will be hard pressed to repeat that terrific performance. The Bucs are allowing a league-low 3.3 yards per carry this season and a league-low 4.3 yards per pass attempt to RBs this season. Freeman has fewer than 55 rushing yards in six of his past seven games, so he’s going to need passing-game usage and a touchdown. He certainly has been used in the passing game, as four of Freeman’s six touchdowns this season have come on catches. The issue is Tampa Bay’s No. 1 run defense has allowed just one receiving touchdown to a running back all season. I have Freeman just outside my top 20 for the week.
Ronald Jones II, Buccaneers (vs. Falcons): I hear you. He was great last weekend, ultimately finishing as RB9. But look closer. He had 14 carries for 77 yards and a score vs. Houston, but 49 of those yards came on a single carry. His other 13 carries on Saturday netted 28 yards, with exactly zero yards after first contact. Only twice this season has Jones scored double-digit points in consecutive games. To wit (something I’ve always wanted to write), in the three games prior to Week 16 he had just 28 carries for 67 yards (2.4 yards per carry). The Bucs ran as much as they did last weekend because Jameis Winston was bad, even for Jameis. But I expect smoother sailing for Winston this weekend against Atlanta, meaning less running will be required. Also, knowing the Bucs, it’s just as likely it’ll be Peyton Barber getting the carries. Jones is merely a cross-your-fingers-and-hope flex for me this weekend.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 17
Tyler Higbee, Rams (vs. Cardinals): Yeah, yeah, start your tight ends against the Cardinals. But can we take a minute to appreciate how great Higbee has been? Since Week 13, Higbee ranks top three among all players — not tight ends, all players — in receptions, yards, targets and red zone targets. Not Tony Gonzalez, not Antonio Gates, not Gronk, but Tyler Higbee is the first tight end in NFL history to have four straight seven-catch, 100-yard games. Yes, Gerald Everett is back. He played four snaps last weekend. Higbee signed a four-year, $31 million contract extension in September. The only non-QB with at least 18.5 fantasy points in each of the past four weeks, Higbee has seen a spike in slot usage since Week 10. Opponents are averaging 9.6 yards per slot attempt vs. Arizona this season (second most). Oh, and you know, tight ends against Arizona.
Allen Robinson II, Bears (at Vikings): After the Vikings couldn’t hold Davante Adams to just 12 receptions or Aaron Jones to just 140 rushing yards on Monday night to cost me a championship by one point, you might think I am using my column in a petty manner to point out how awful Mike Zimmer’s Vikings defense is. You would be right. How the heck do you not show up to play in a prime-time game, at home, with the division on the line, in Week 16? Horrific. Embarrassing. Brutal. And this is coming from a Redskins fan. I know pathetic excuses for play when I see them. I have a lot of practice. Anyway, Robinson is a great start this weekend against a Vikings team that has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to WRs, has allowed opponents to catch targets at the fourth-highest rate and has coughed up 18 touchdowns to WRs this season (tied for the sixth most). The Vikings are bad and they move to the top of my naughty list for 2019, just ahead of LeSean McCoy. So yeah, A-Rob is a top-10 play this weekend.
Courtland Sutton, Broncos (vs. Raiders): With 10-plus targets in consecutive games and at least seven targets in 13 of 15 games this season, it doesn’t matter who is under center for the Broncos. Whoever it is, he is throwing to Sutton. And this weekend, those throws will be successful. Oakland is bottom five in deep receptions allowed, deep TDs allowed and completion percentage on deep passes. In fact, 23.9% of all pass attempts against the Raiders travel at least 15 yards in the air, the fourth-highest rate in the NFL. And in all of Drew Lock’s starts that were NOT at Arrowhead, he has a 73.9% completion rate, six touchdowns and two interceptions on 88 attempts in three games. I have Sutton as a top-10 play this weekend.
Breshad Perriman, Buccaneers (vs. Falcons): Here’s the entire list of players with at least 70 receiving yards in each of the past four weeks: Tyler Higbee and Breshad Perriman. That’s it. That’s the list. In those games, Perriman has 20 catches for 372 yards and four TDs (81.5 fantasy points), and it should have been at least five touchdowns, if Jameis Winston didn’t completely overthrow him against Houston, which likely cost someone — I don’t know, maybe someone nice who already lost a one-point heartbreaker in another league — a finals victory in one of his most important leagues. #BitterBerry. I digress. With Chris Godwin and Mike Evans out, it’s no surprise Perriman had a 25.5% target share in Week 16. The Falcons have allowed a player to reach 100 receiving yards seven times this season, and on Sunday, I say Perriman makes it eight.
Others receiving votes: As mentioned in the Carson Wentz section, the Giants’ secondary is really struggling. The unit has allowed multiple passing TDs in four consecutive games, including four touchdowns to tight ends in that span. With Zach Ertz less than 100 percent, it’s clear Dallas Goedert (still available in 58% of ESPN leagues) will be seeing targets early and often. … Michael Gallup is going to get a really-banged-up Redskins secondary that wasn’t great to begin with. The Skins allow a touchdown on a deep throw at the fourth-highest rate in the NFL. And with double-digit targets in two of the past three, this is a potential blowup spot for Gallup, who saw a career-high six deep targets last weekend. … In that same game, Steven Sims Jr. makes a return to the love list. He was mentioned in this section last week and, well, that worked out. He now has 21 targets and three touchdowns in the past two weeks; Sims has been targeted on 34.4% of his routes during that stretch (for context, that’s a higher rate than Travis Kelce). In a game where Washington figures to be trailing and with Terry McLaurin currently in the concussion protocol, Sims should be a popular DFS play this weekend.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 17
DeVante Parker, Dolphins (at Patriots): If there’s a positive here, it’s that John Brown showed last weekend you can score on Stephon Gilmore. Of course, that was the only time this season, but still, it’s possible. Just unlikely. As great as Parker has been this season, remember he was shut out in Week 2 against the Pats (no catches on six targets and 43 routes). Now, in fairness, much of that was with Josh Rosen at quarterback, but still. DeAndre Hopkins, Tyreek Hill and Odell Beckham Jr. are all big-play threats who have been the focal point of Bill Belichick’s defense; they averaged 12.9 fantasy points per game against New England. That average would be good for WR32 for the season and that sounds about right for expectations for Parker in this one.
Mike Williams, Chargers (at Chiefs): Any time you have to go into Arrowhead it’s not ideal, but this is an even tougher matchup than you might think. Opponents are completing deep passes this season vs. Kansas City at the third-lowest rate and completing red zone passes at the fifth-lowest rate. More than 78% of Williams’ points this season have come when lined up out wide. I bring that up because that is a particular area of strength for the Chiefs. They give up the lowest completion percentage and the seventh-lowest touchdown percentage this season to perimeter wide receivers.
Darren Waller, Raiders (at Broncos): As you know, I have long loved Waller the Baller, talking him up since the NFL combine. The problem, however, is Hunter Renfrow. You see, when Renfrow is off the field, Waller averages 14.5 yards per catch (and 8.9 air yards per target). However, when Renfrow is on the field, those numbers drop to 9.7 yards per catch and 4.9 air yards per target. Renfrow was on the field for 46.8% of snaps last weekend, his first action in nearly a month. His nine targets (seven catches and 107 yards) on 24 routes would indicate that he is going to be on the field more this weekend, as the Raiders chase their slim playoff dreams. As those with Waller on their roster are painfully aware, he has just one red zone target over the past five weeks. And then you get to the matchup, where Denver has allowed just three tight end TDs this season (tied for second-fewest) and the 13th-fewest points to opposing tight ends. You most likely have to start Waller, and I sure hope I am wrong. I have a lot of Darren Waller this season, but I would lower expectations for this one.
Matthew Berry — the Talented Mr. Roto — wishes you good luck in your championship quest.