WATCH: LEVITAN’S BIG SLATE LINEUP STRATEGY
Week 17 is a different beast for a few reasons. First, we have a massive 16-game main slate for the only time all season. Second, we have four playoff teams with nothing to play for as explained in this motivation article. And finally, we’re not sure exactly how dead teams are going to handle playing time. Some of these dead teams will want to get a look at younger players, some veterans will want to sit to avoid injury and anyone who’s been carrying a nagging injury is a candidate to take it easy. Of course, other teams (like JAX and PHI) have been dead for a while and nothing will change for them this week. Balancing motivation and playing time on non-playoff teams will be a key to the week.
The point of this column is to use the news, snap counts, usage, matchups and trends to both be a little contrarian and avoid whiffs. Note that I am discussing the DraftKings main slate only, aka the 16 Sunday games.
SITUATIONS TO CAPITALIZE ON
1. Travis Kelce Grossly Underpriced
The pricing gods have blessed us with an error this week. Travis Kelce was $5,600 back in Week 10 and is $5,000 for Sunday’s game in San Diego. In the six games between those weeks, the dominant Kelce has ripped off five 100-yard games and is averaging 9.5 targets per game. It’s clear the Chiefs have finally figured out how to best use his freakish size/athleticism combo after grossly underutilizing him through the first two years of his career. On top of that, the Chiefs will be going all-out to win this game as they still have a realistic shot at the AFC’s No. 2 seed and the bye that comes with it. Furthermore, the Chargers lost their tight end defense when Eric Weddle left for Baltimore as they now rank 16th DVOA vs. the position and have given up at least 78 yards to tight ends in four of their last five games. Add it all up and Kelce should be at least $6,500, not $5,000.
2. Blood and Guts Game for Steve Smith Sr.
I don’t believe in weak narratives such as “revenge games” and “friends/family games.” It burned me back in 2014 when Steve Smith Sr. faced the Panthers for the first time since his ugly release and said there would be “blood and guts everywhere.” I didn’t believe the narrative, didn’t roster Smith and he went absolutely ham for 7-139-2.
However, this week is a perfect storm for Smith. It’s likely his last NFL game, the Ravens are out of the playoffs and he’s facing a Bengals’ CB unit he’s feuded with. After Smith was caught on camera calling the secondary trash in 2015, Kirkpatrick fired back after their Week 12 meeting. “89 said I was trash. If I’m trash, what did he do today? Who was trash today?” Since the Ravens have nothing to play for, ensuring Smith goes out on a high note against a rival following a sparkling 16-year career figures to be a priority. Under normal circumstances, I’d project Smith for around six targets. Given this unique spot, I’m projecting him for eight – a high number for a player priced at just $4,900.
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
1. J.J. Nelson Against the Rams Secondary
Michael Floyd’s dismissal has allowed J.J. Nelson to spread his wings. Over the last two weeks, he’s played on 73.9 percent of the snaps, is averaging 9.0 targets per game and leads the team in red-zone targets with three. He’s always going to have elite deep ball and big-play ability thanks to world-class 4.28 speed, but over the last two weeks he’s had a reasonable 16.8 average depth of target. So the floor is significantly raised here heading into a plus matchup against a Rams’ defense which has given up the seventh-most fantasy points to WRs and is 21st in pass defense DVOA. Nelson will see a lot of E.J. Gaines, who is PFF’s No. 109 corner among 120 qualifiers. Nelson’s $4,600 tag does not reflect his floor/ceiling projection in this matchup.
2. Kirk Cousins Against the Giants Backups
The Giants are locked into the NFC’s No. 5 seed and therefore have nothing to play for on Sunday. I’m expecting a lot of their defensive starters to play sparingly, if at all. That includes star CB and team defensive MVP Janoris Jenkins (back). Meanwhile, the Redskins are in a win-and-advance situation. So it sets up a spot where one of the league’s most potent pass games will be at home facing a bunch of backups. As discussed many times in this space, Kirk Cousins has always shown one of the highest ceilings in the league. He’s been over 300 yards in 7-of-15 games this year and he has three 400-yard pass days in just 40 career starts. The NFL record is held by Drew Brees, who has 15 400-yard pass days in 231 career starts. DeSean Jackson continues to smash in his contract year, posting four 100-yard games in his last five outings.
CONTRARIAN GPP STACKS
1. Matthew Stafford, Marvin Jones and/or Golden Tate
Most of the quarterback ownership will likely be centered around expensive options in Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. An easy way to differentiate our lineup is to pay down for a high-ceiling quarterback in a possible shootout against a leaky pass defense. Matthew Stafford fits that description perfectly as he’s at home, indoors and facing the secondary which has allowed more fantasy points to wideouts than any team in the league (yes, even more than the Titans). When Stafford faced the Packers in Lambeau back in Week 3, he torched them for 385 yards with three TDs and Marvin Jones erupted for 6-205-2. It’s been all downhill for Jones since then, but he has had a lot of difficult matchups lately: DAL, NYG, MIN, JAX, MIN, HOU in the last seven weeks alone. In a matchup with a white-hot Aaron Rodgers and everything on the line, Stafford will have to keep his foot on the gas and put the team on his shoulders. And with Anquan Boldin (finger) banged up and Theo Riddick (wrist) still out, Jones’ role is secure as he’s averaging 7.0 targets per game over the last month. Tate is $2,400 more and has the the far higher floor – he’s averaging 10.0 targets per game during the last month.
GPP LEVERAGE PLAYS
1. Chris Hogan Against the Dolphins
This Dolphins’ secondary is extremely beat up. Top CB Byron Maxwell (ankle) is highly questionable, SS Reshad Jones (shoulder) has been out for a couple months and every-down FS Isa Abdul-Quddus (neck) is out after going down in Week 16. Meanwhile, Malcolm Mitchell (knee) is doubtful for the Patriots, Michael Floyd is still getting settled in the offense and Martellus Bennett (ankle) is a candidate to have his snaps limited. Chris Hogan is just three weeks removed from a 5-129-1 eruption and has played on 81.1 percent of the snaps over the last month. Given the injuries to both the Patriots and Dolphins, it’s fair to expect his target share to rise this week. So at just $3,900, in a green-light matchup with Tom Brady at quarterback, Hogan is the kind of low-owned, high-ceiling, wide-outcome wideout play who is worth a flier.
CASH GAME CONSIDERATIONS
(No particular order)
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford
RB: David Johnson, Rex Burkhead, Jacquizz Rodgers, Mark Ingram, Ty Montgomery, Devonta Freeman, Chris Ivory
WR: Jordy Nelson, T.Y. Hilton, Doug Baldwin, Cam Meredith, DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith Sr., J.J. Nelson, Brandon LaFell, Eli Rogers
TE: Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Kyle Rudolph, Eric Ebron, Jimmy Graham
D: Seahawks, Redskins, Cardinals, Patriots, Chiefs, Bills
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is AdamLevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.