WATCH: ADAM LEVITAN BREAKS DOWN STRATEGY FOR UNIQUE WEEK
Week 17 is more about information than matchups or talent. We need to understand which teams will be going all-out to win, which ones will be resting starters from the opening whistle and which ones will ease off their stars later in the game. We also need to be aware of non-playoff teams who may want to get a look at some younger players in real-game situations.
Of course, all this won’t be entirely clear as NFL coaches are notoriously tight-lipped. Our job is to assemble as much information as possible and then make decisions. Here is the playoff picture from a Week 17 DFS standpoint. Note that all six playoff spots in the AFC have been decided while there are eight teams in the mix in the NFC:
1. Patriots (13-2): New England must win at Miami to lock up the AFC’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If they lose then Oakland would earn the top seed with a win at Denver. The Patriots play at 1pm and the Raiders play at 4pm, so there won’t be any scoreboard-related adjustments. All Pats should be full-go.
2. Raiders (12-3): Oakland needs Sunday’s game against the Broncos. If the Patriots win at 1pm, then the Raiders would not be able to earn the AFC’s top seed at 4pm. But they’d still go all-out because they could fall to the AFC’s No. 5 seed if they lose and the Chiefs beat the Chargers. On top of that, it’s imperative that the Raiders get as many game-situation reps with Matt McGloin at quarterback as possible. He’s attempted 55 regular-season passes over the last three seasons. So the Raiders are a full-go.
3. Steelers (10-5): Pittsburgh is locked into the AFC’s No. 3 seed and therefore won’t have a Wild Card Weekend bye, making them a serious candidate to rest players. Even Ben Roethlisberger said “I think a lot of guys should get healthy.” I’d be very surprised if Big Ben or Antonio Brown played and Le’Veon Bell deserves a break after averaging 31.8 touches per game(!) over the last six weeks. Look for Landry Jones, Fitz Toussaint, Cobi Hamilton and a bunch of Steelers’ backups against the Browns Sunday.
Update: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown will all rest. DeAngelo Williams’ (knee) status is unclear and if he’s active I don’t think he’ll play a full game. Expect Landry Jones, Fitzgerald Toussaint and a mix of 2nd/3rd-string WRs.
4. Texans (9-6): Houston is locked into the AFC’s No. 4 seed. I do think they’ll play starters a decent amount against the Titans as they try to get comfortable with Tom Savage under center, but they might not play a full game and anyone banged up will sit. That means Lamar Miller (ankle) likely won’t go, leaving Alfred Blue to be the lead back again. Regardless, we have to tread lightly with all Texans due to a lack of motivation and all their offensive problems.
5. Chiefs (11-4): Kansas City still has a shot at the AFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. All they need to do is beat the Chargers and have the Matt McGloin-led Raiders lose in Denver. With both these games kicking off at 4pm, the Chiefs are a full-go.
6. Dolphins (10-5): Miami has clinched a playoff berth, but they can get to the No. 5 seed if they beat New England at 1pm and then Kansas City loses to San Diego at 4pm. That would be important as they’d face the QB-less Texans rather than Big Ben’s Steelers in the first round. In addition, the Dolphins want to bank some more momentum with Matt Moore at quarterback and a win over a hungry Pats team would do that. There is a little added risk here, but I suspect the Dolphins will be full-go.
1. Cowboys (13-2): Dallas has clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed and therefore has zero motivation in the Week 17 game at Philly. Since they have a bye in the Wild Card round, I suspect they’ll treat this week like a preseason game. In other words, perhaps Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot play a few series and then give way to the backups. That would create a situation where it’s extremely difficult to trust anyone outside of secondary players such as Brice Butler.
Update: The Cowboys continue to insist they won’t be resting starters. However, I still expect them to only let Dak Prescott, Zeke Elliot and other starters play 2-3 series. After that, we’ll see a lot of Mark Sanchez and Alfred Morris.
2. Falcons (10-5): Atlanta can clinch the NFC’s No. 2 seed with a home win over New Orleans Sunday. If they lose and Seattle wins, then the Seahawks would have the No. 2 seed and the first-round bye. So the Falcons will be extremely motivated to win this week and have the highest implied team total on the board at 31 points. The one guy who may take it easy is Julio Jones, who is still working his way through a toe injury and only played on 39-of-63 snaps last week.
3. Seahawks (9-5-1): Seattle has a bit of motivation this week as they still have a shot at the NFC’s No. 2 seed and the coveted first-round bye. They need to win at San Francisco and they need Atlanta to lose at home to New Orleans. Both games are at 4:25pm ET. However, we should note that the Seahawks can’t finish any worse than the No. 4 seed and therefore will at worst host a Wild Card game. So it’s possible they ease off some starters in the second half if the Falcons have the game in hand. Overall though, the most likely scenario is that the Seahawks are a full-go until the game gets out of hand.
4. Packers (9-6): On paper, this one is simple. The winner of Sunday night’s Green Bay at Detroit game wins the NFC North and is guaranteed a playoff berth. However, there are scenarios that could play out earlier on Sunday that would affect the importance of this game. For example, the Packers could lose and still get into the playoffs if the Redskins and Bucs both lose. But by far the most likely scenario here is the Packers go all-out to win with their playoff lives on the line. I would not hesitate to roster Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery etc.
5. Giants (10-5): New York is locked into the NFC’s No. 5 seed and therefore have no motivation in Sunday’s game against the highly-motivated Redskins. Look for Eli Manning to start so his consecutive game streak continues and then quickly give way to backup Josh Johnson. Odell Beckham may not play at all and a ton of defensive starters may rest. It’s great news for the Redskins’ offensive players as their starters will likely be up against a preseason-caliber defense.
6. Lions (9-6): Detroit can win the NFC North by beating Green Bay on Sunday night. They could get in with a loss and a Redskins loss, but they’d be the No. 6 seed. The bottom line is that this is Detroit’s Super Bowl, a home game in primetime against their rival with the division title and a playoff berth on the line. They’ll be a full-go.
7. Redskins (8-6-1): Thanks to Detroit’s loss on Monday night, Washington now controls its own destiny. If they beat a Giants team likely resting a ton of starters Sunday, they are in the playoffs as a Wild Card. If they lose, they are out. It’s a nice spot to roster Redskins players given the situation.
8. Buccaneers (8-7): Tampa Bay needs a lot to happen to get into the playoffs. They need to win and have the Redskins tie along with a Packers loss. Plus they need the 49ers, Titans, Colts and Cowboys to all win. In other words, they have a 0.0016 percent chance of getting in (via ESPN). That said, the Bucs will likely be going all-out to win thanks to the sliver of hope and a young team that’s growing. I suspect anyone fully healthy will be playing a full game, but there’s some added risk here.
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.