The NFL Handbook – Week 17

May the new year bring you a fantasy championship (if you’re in one of those ridiculous Week 17 inclusive leagues), and hoards of cash from your favorite sportsbook!

To help you with both, I’ve broken down each game on this week’s schedule, and provided some statistical “analysis”, fantasy predictions, and betting picks.

For the fantasy portion, I’ve broken each team’s fantasy relevant players into four categories:

  1. Ballers –  Either the guys you just aren’t benching, or the ones with favorable match-ups. Either way, they should be in your lineups.
  2. Under the Radar – Guys who you may not start regularly, or have what appear to be tough matchups, but have a good opportunity to produce. Good for dfs (DraftKings, Fanduel, etc.) as they should have low(er) ownership.
  3. Temper Expectations – Proceed with caution. May be players you’d normally start, or guys who’ve been playing well in recent weeks/have a plus matchup, but might not put up the numbers needed to justify a start this week.
  4. Bums – It’s a good idea to just avoid these guys in your lineups.

Complete Week 17 Fantasy Football Rankings

For the betting side, I used the opening spread and over/under totals from sportsinsights.com. The lines have moved in reaction to the money, injury updates, etc., but picking and choosing which current odds to use felt a bit too arbitrary.

Green Bay Packers (7-8, 7-8 ATS) at Detroit Lions (8-7, 7-7-1 ATS)

Spread: DET -7.5

O/U: 42.5

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
GB 16.99 (23rd) 19.33 (21st) 22.80 (27th) 5.97 (6th) 8.20 (22nd) 8.87 (26th)
DET 15.56 (13th) 20.97 (30th) 19.11 (14th) 8.43 (23rd) 7.93 (20th) 7.40 (11th)

The year was 1991, cell phones were about the size of bricks, Mark Whalberg was known as Marky Mark, R.E.M. was losing their religion, and George H. W. Bush (pops to the Bush many know) was POTUS.

Fast forward to 2017. November 6, 2017 to be exact. It was a cold Monday night in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Lions of Detroit marched into Lambeau Field and smacked the Packers 30-17 in the 1st of the two regular season matchups between these two division rivals. Now this beat down offered very little significance in the grand scheme of things – the Packers were without Aaron Rodgers, neither team looked to be a legitimate contender, and the Vikings pretty much had the division on lock already – but Matthew Stafford threw the Lions one step closer to accomplishing something they hadn’t done since he was three years old…

The year was 1991, and it was the last time Detroit swept their season series over Green Bay. Translation: A Lions W Sunday will end nearly three decades of impotence. In order to make that happen, Detroit will need to do something they also haven’t done in quite some time – stop the run.

Brett Hundley has been a decent stop gap for this Packers offense, but statistically, he’s been one of the worst passers in the league. In fact, his 166.4 passing yards per game trail every QB this season with the exception of Brian Hoyer. Making matters worse, Davante Adams is unlikely to play in this contest, and Jordy Nelson is listed as doubtful.

The good news? No team has allowed more rushing TDs to the running back position than these Detroit Lions, and the 4.22 yards per carry they’ve allowed the position are the 8th most. The bad news? Ty Montgomery hasn’t played since Week 10, Aaron Jones is doubtful, and the Packers backs have combined to go over 100 yards in just four of their 15 games this season.

Still, you have to like Jamaal Williams as a RB streamer this week given the matchup, his QB, and the fact that the Packers WR corps will likely consist of Michael Clark, Trevor Davis, and Jeff Janis – three guys no one outside of Green Bay (or their hometowns) have heard of.

It is worth noting that Lance Kendricks has seen an average of seven targets over Hundley’s last two starts – catching six for 47 yards. And while those numbers don’t exactly jump of the page like a Magic Eye book (those things never worked for me), the Lions have allowed a TE to score in two of their last three games and have been rather liberal with the yardage.

That said, if you’re looking for a high risk/reward play, Kendricks is your guy. Excluding his one pass outing off the bench in Week 4, Hundley is averaging about 32 passes per game. Someone has to be on the receiving end.

Passing shouldn’t be as much of an issue for this Lions offense, though – just four QBs have more attempts than Stafford with just three putting up more than his 4,123 yards. Thing is, Green Bay has actually been respectable against the pass in recent weeks. Over their last four games, QBs have averaged just 216.3 yards through the air, and no WR has gone over 70 yards receiving (a list that includes Mike Evans, Adam Thielen, and Stefon Diggs).

At the same time, they’ve allowed 10 passing TDs over that four-game stretch, QBs have averaged 19.2 fantasy points, and four receivers put up double-digit fantasy performances (standard scoring)…

You’re starting Stafford, Golden Tate, and Marvin Jones.

Same too for Eric Ebron; who’s been targeted 26 times over the Lions last three games catching 20 passes for 210 yards with 2 TDs. It only took 12 games, but the preseason optimism I had for EE is finally coming to fruition, and while the Packers have been one of the best against the TE position on the season, all four of the TDs they’ve allowed to the position have come over their last five games. TEs have also put up 58.4 yards per game over that stretch.

So seeing how the Lions rank dead last in rushing yards, their offensive line is a mess, and the Packers haven’t allowed a RB to score on the ground in five-straight games, you can expect the Lions offense to continue to come and go with Stafford’s golden arm.

Plus, Young Metro doesn’t trust the Lions backs.

Now there aren’t many matchups which favor this injury-ravaged Packers offense, but a porous Lions run D definitely presents one of them. Unfortunately, it’s just not likely they’ll be able to put up enough points to prevent the Lions from picking up the W. Nonetheless, they should be able to find enough success on the ground to keep this one within striking distance.

Packers 17 – Lions 24

GB +7.5

UNDER 42.5

Ballers: Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron

Under the Radar: Jamaal Williams, Lance Kendricks, Theo Riddick

Temper Expectations: Randall Cobb, Ameer Abdullah, Tion Green, Kenny Golladay

Bums: Geronimo Allison, Michael Clark, Trevor Davis, Jeff Janis

Houston Texans (4-11, 7-8 ATS) at Indianapolis Colts (3-12, 7-8 ATS)

Spread: IND -4

O/U: 41

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
HOU 19.06 (30th) 17.42 (12th) 24.49 (31st) 9.09 (27th) 9.47 (27th) 10.00 (31st)
IND 17.70 (26th) 20.11 (27th) 22.41 (26th) 8.43 (23rd) 10.40 (30th) 8.73 (24th)

The Colts have lost six-straight games. The Texans have lost five-straight. The Colts haven’t won at home since October 8th. The Texans haven’t won on the road since September 24th. Neither team has their starting QB or even the slightest chance at a playoff berth. Both squads are trash, and DeAndre Hopkins – the one exciting, must-watch guy – will miss the first game of his five-year career.

Hopefully Jadeveon Clowney saved some of those trash cans for this game.

However, if you’re looking for a sneaky matchup to target for a DraftKings contest this week, it’s not likely that this one will be a defensive battle.

Only one team has allowed more points per game than the 26.1 given up by the Colts. That one team is the Texans at 27.6. Houston has allowed five passing TDs over their last two games, and on the season just six teams have allowed more passing yards. One of those teams is the Colts. After allowing just one rushing TD to the RB position through their 1st 10 games, the Texans have now allowed nine over their last five. Just three teams have allowing more rushing yards to opposing RBs than Indianapolis.

See what I mean…

Thing is, while it may not be a defensive battle, there’s a pretty damn good chance it’ll be an offensive struggle. The Texans have T.J. Yates at QB (possibly Taylor Heinicke again), DeAndre Hopkins has been responsible for nearly all of their offensive production sans Deshaun Watson (again, he’s not playing), and they’ve had next to zero offensive consistency. I just don’t think they have the horses to take advantage of this dreadful Colts D.

Meanwhile, only the Giants and Browns have scored fewer points per game this season than the Colts, but Jacoby Brissett, Frank Gore, T.Y. Hilton, and Jack Doyle make a surprisingly interesting (also cheap) dfs stack this week. At least Indy has been a cohesively bad offense, more than can be said for the Texans.

Texans 13 – Colts 19

IND -4

UNDER 41

Ballers: Frank Gore, T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle

Under the Radar: Alfred Blue, Stephen Anderson, Jacoby Brissett, Marlon Mack

Temper Expectations: Lamar Miller, Will Fuller, Chester Rogers

Bums: Braxton Miller, DeAndrew White, Kamar Aiken

Chicago Bears (5-10, 7-7-1 ATS) at Minnesota Vikings (12-3, 11-4 ATS)

Spread: MIN -12.5

O/U: 40

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
CHI 13.30 (7th) 16.63 (7th) 19.57 (16th) 6.11 (8th) 9.07 (26th) 8.60 (23rd)
MIN 11.99 (3rd) 13.26 (1st) 17.77 (10th) 5.14 (1st) 2.80 (4th) 7.27 (10th)

The Vikings have one objective Sunday – make it out of the game unscathed. Sure, they need a win (or tie) to lock up a 1st round bye, but there are a few other scenarios which would make that a reality and if the bye was to come at the expense of a key starter, it would kind of defeat the purpose.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the starters just saw a half of action in this one (if any at all). Even if they do play the full 60, this Bears defense hasn’t exactly been the one to target in your fantasy leagues.

Only four quarterbacks have thrown multiple TD passes against Chicago with five failing to even throw a single one. Chicago hasn’t allowed a RB to find the endzone on the ground in six-straight games, and just two backs have topped 75 rushing yards against them – none have reached the 100 yard mark. Antonio Brown is the only receiver to go over 100 yards against them, and they’ve held tight ends to the 9th fewest yards per game…

This Bears D has been stout.

So if your fantasy championship comes down to Week 17, I’m sorry. But, more importantly, it’s probably in your best interest to err on the side of caution if you’ve been riding Case Keenum, Latavius Murray or Jerick McKinnon, and/or Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs (assuming you have viable alternatives).

Now if you find yourself in your fantasy championship, and it comes down to this week, odds are you don’t have any Bears on your roster. The one exception would be Jordan Howard, who ranks 9th in fantasy points (standard scoring), but this Vikings D has been one of the stingiest against the run this season.

So again, no thanks.

I think Minnesota will do enough to win this game, but at the same time, until we know what their plans are with their starters there’s really no telling. Regardless, only three of the Bears ten losses have come by more than 12 points with their average margin of loss being 10.9. They’re not likely to score much against the league’s #1 scoring defense, but the Vikings aren’t likely to light up the boards either.

Bears 10 – Vikings 20

CHI +12.5

UNDER 40

Ballers: N/A

Under the Radar: Teddy Bridgewater, Jerick McKinnon

Temper Expectations: Jordan Howard, Kendall Wright, Case Keenum, Latavius Murray, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph

Bums: Mitch Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Josh Bellamy, Dontrelle Inman, Daniel Brown, Dion Sims, Michael Floyd, Jarius Wright

New York Jets (5-10, 9-5-1 ATS) at New England Patriots (12-3, 10-5 ATS)

Spread: NE -16

O/U: 46

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
NYJ 18.39 (28th) 18.97 (20th) 21.45 (21st) 8.64 (25th) 8.33 (23rd) 6.40 (7th)
NE 17.99 (27th) 17.97 (15th) 23.45 (29th) 6.05 (7th) 1.73 (2nd) 5.93 (2nd)

The Jets travel to Foxborough once a year. The Jets haven’t won in Foxborough since 2011. If there ever was a time for them to end the streak it’d be in Week 17 when the Pats had already clinched the division and a 1st round bye. Well guess what? It’s Week 17 and the Pats have already clinched the division and a 1st round bye. Thing is, New England needs a win to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Sorry Jets fans.

But before we just write this one off as yet another L, let me say one thing, this Jets D has played surprisingly well over the past few weeks.

Cam Newton, Alex Smith, Trevor Siemian, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers… One of these QBs is not like the other. Sure, Siemian is the only QB of the bunch outside of the Top-20 in passing yards this season (with Smith, Brees, and Rivers all falling in the Top-10), but the real answer is Alex Smith.

How?

Well those are the last five QBs to face this Jets D, and only Smith threw for more than 300 yards. The other four flunkies averaged just 235.8 yards while combining to throw just four TD passes. But, who am I kidding? Tom Brady is a different animal, but the same beast. He’ll likely throw four TDs – in the 1st half alone – so him and his compadres can rest in the 2nd.

A bit exaggerated, but not really when you consider that TEs have feasted on this Jets D and Antonio Gates (no he hasn’t retired) just dropped 81 yards and a TD against them. Excluding his 7-snap, back injury shortened game a season ago, Rob Gronkowski has averaged 92.3 yards per game while bringing in 3 TD passes over his last three against these Jets.

Add that to the fact that just six teams have allowed more receiving yards per game to running backs than the Jets, and the four TD statement might be a bit more attainable than one might think. At the least, you can expect Brady to dissect these Jets with the short/intermediate routes just like he’s done the rest of the league. All season.

Two seems like a pretty safe bet.

Speaking of Brady, his pass catching backs, and the Jets propensity to be beaten by such backs, New York might actually catch a break this week as it looks like James White and Rex Burkhead may both miss another game here.

Question though, if you had to choose between fighting Gennady Golovkin, Daniel Cormier, AND Connor McGregor, or just Connor McGregor, which would you choose?

Any sane person would choose McGregor 1 v 1, but while your chances of success would be slightly higher, more than likely, you’re still gonna get your ass kicked. That said, Dion Lewis isn’t the pass-catcher that White and Burkhead are, but the last time we saw Lewis he was catching 5 passes for 24 yards and a TD against a Bills D which has done a solid job at containing backs through the air.

And, despite holding backs to just 3.7 yards per carry on the season (7th fewest), New York has allowed RBs to pick up nearly 100 yards per game with a total of 4 TDs over their last four games.

Lewis once again finds himself in must-start territory.

Oh, and then there’s that one tiny bit of information I forgot to mention which might be the biggest reason why the Jets don’t stand a chance Sunday… Bryce Petty will be their starting QB.

Bryce Petty who’s completed just 50.8% of his passes for 298 yards with just one TD but three interceptions in his two starts this season. Bryce Petty who will be without starting RG Brian Winters, and may be without his starting RT Brandon Shell, WR Jermaine Kearse, and/or TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

Good luck with that.

There is hope for this Jets offense though, as New England has struggled in defending backs. And by struggled, I mean they’re utterly wack. The Pats have allowed RBs to pick up 4.8 yards per carry (tied for the highest clip) to go with 52.3 receiving yards per game (3rd most). Surely they’ll put 13 men in the box and force Petty to beat them through the air, but they’ve tried that all season… It hasn’t worked in their favor.

Look for Bilal Powell to be the lone bright spot for the Jets offensively. Especially considering Matt Forte has been clearly limited.

… The home winning streak continues for the Pats, and they’ll clinch the home-field advantage in the process. Too many injuries for the Jets, too much Brady, too much Belichick, and too much pedigree. However, at 9-5-1 the Jets are the NFL’s 4th best team against the spread, and while they haven’t won at Foxborough in years, they’ve actually covered the spread in seven of the last ten matchups with the Patriots.

16 is a bit much.

Jets 13 – Patriots 26

NYJ +16

UNDER 46

Ballers: Bilal Powell, Tom Brady, Dion Lewis, Brandin Cooks, Rob Gronkowski

Under the Radar: Elijah McGuire, Brandon Bolden

Temper Expectations: Matt Forte, Robby Anderson, Danny Amendola

Bums: Bryce Petty, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett

Washington Redskins (7-8, 7-8 ATS) at New York Giants (2-13, 6-9 ATS)

Spread: WAS -3

O/U: 40

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
WAS 15.71 (16th) 19.97 (25th) 17.92 (11th) 9.30 (28th) 8.13 (21st) 9.20 (29th)
NYG 19.39 (32nd) 19.37 (22nd) 22.35 (25th) 11.32 (32nd) 8.53 (24th) 8.20 (21st)

Alright, so a loss ensures the #2 pick for these Giants. Coincidentally, their two leading receivers – Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram – will not be playing, and on the season, only the Browns have scored fewer points per game than NY. Sooooo yeah, if you’re waiting on an offensive explosion from the GMen to close out the season, I hope you’re not holding your breath.

Then, there’s troubled DB Eli Apple who Landon Collins called a “cancer” prior to him getting into an argument with the coaching staff this week; he’s been suspended. Oh, and speaking of Collins – the Giants leading tackler this season – he’s got a broken forearm and won’t be playing. Just another addition to the Giants novelesque injury report which includes top CB Janoris Jenkins.

There’s a reason that the Giants have allowed nine passing TDs over their last three games (no team has allowed more on the season), and without three of their best secondary players, you have to figure they’ll give the Bucs a run for their money with regards to giving up the most passing yards in 2017 (the 3,902 yards they’ve allowed through the air – 2.2 miles – currently trail only Tampa Bay by 36).

Needless to say, Kirk Cousins, Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Ryan Grant, and Vernon Davis all make solid fantasy plays this week. Hell, if Santana Moss is available on waivers, pick him up too. As a matter of fact, if he plays for the Redskins (or has ever played for the Redskins) you’ll want him in your fantasy lineups just on principle.

Yes, that includes Samaje Perine (if he plays).

Now I know, the Redskins haven’t had a back find the endzone on the ground in five-straight games, but only four teams have allowed more rushing yards than New York – who’s allowing backs to pick up over four yards a carry. Combine that with the temperature which figures to be in the teens, a Giants offense which doesn’t figure to put many points, and you now have a situation primed for the ‘Skins backs to be rather successful.

Kapri Bibbs could make an interesting dfs play as well; even if Perine plays.

Back to this Giants offense, they rank 29th in rushing yards, 18th in passing, and as mentioned, they’ll also be without Shepard and Engram. But, it’s not all as bad as it may seem. For starters, TE Rhett Ellison has looked good in limited action this season.

Washington has allowed the 4th most receiving yards to the TE position.

That’s it.

Yeah, the Redskins have struggled to defend the run, but the Giants have been even worse at running the football. Wayne Gallman has seen more touches than any other NY back over the past three weeks, so if you feel like rolling the dice, he’s the guy you’ll want to go with…

But, I wouldn’t trust him outside of a home run dfs play.

I will say that the Giants are the type of team to win this game just to epitomize their disastrous season, but they’re also the type of team to lose by 30…

Redskins 24 – Giants 10

WAS -3

UNDER 40

Ballers: Kirk Cousins, Samaje Perine, Jamison Crowder, Vernon Davis

Under the Radar: Kapri Bibbs, Josh Doctson, Ryan Grant, Jeremy Sprinkle, Wayne Gallman, Rhett Ellison, Jerrell Adams

Temper Expectations: Orleans Darkwa, Roger Lewis

Bums: Brian Quick, Eli Manning, Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen, Travis Rudolph, Hunter Sharp

Dallas Cowboys (8-7, 7-7-1 ATS) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-2, 10-5 ATS)

Spread: PHI -2

O/U: 43

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
DAL 16.93 (21st) 17.00 (9th) 22.34 (24th) 7.34 (17th) 6.73 (14th) 5.87 (1st)
PHI 14.80 (10th) 13.73 (2nd) 20.96 (20th) 6.86 (15th) 3.47 (8th) 6.47 (8th)

With Carson Wentz out for the season, the last thing Philly needs is to lose Nick Foles in a meaningless game. Yeah, Eagles x Cowboys is a heated division rivalry, but the Eagles have clinched the 1st round bye and home field throughout the playoffs.

It’s a meaningless game.

Nevertheless, Eagles coach Doug Pederson has come out and said that he wants all of his starters to go on Sunday. The only question is, how long?

If you want to start Eagles in your fantasy leagues and hope for the best, then you have the marbles of Pedro Cerrano. For the rest of us, they’re better served on the bench. Guys like Corey Clement, Trey Burton, and Mack Hollins figure to see more playing time, but again…

Huevos.

Now the Cowboys don’t have anything to play for either, but seeing how three of Jason Garrett‘s six full seasons as head coach have ended in 8-8 records, a W Sunday would be nothing less than fitting. The only problem is, they’ll have to pick up that W without the services of Tyron Smith – the Cowboys offense averaged six sacks allowed and eight points scored in the two games without Smith.

One being a 37-9 beat down at the hands of these Eagles.

True, Ezekiel Elliott didn’t play in either of those two games, and he should be available in this one. Also true, this Eagles defense has allowed nine passing TDs over their last four games. But, Dak Prescott has been in a funk in recent weeks, so despite potentially playing against the Eagles backups, the questions surrounding this offensive line (La’el Collins is also questionable) are enough for me to stay away from Prescott again this week.

In fact, I’d be leery of this entire Cowboys offense; with Zeke being the lone exception.

Now they say, “scared money don’t make money”, but find me a self-made millionaire who’s also a terrible decision maker. You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, and betting this game would be a terrible decision.

I want no part of it, but since the point of this article is to predict the outcomes…

Cowboys 20 – Eagles 18

DAL +2

UNDER 43

Ballers: Ezekiel Elliott

Under the Radar: Corey Clement

Temper Expectations: Literally everyone else

Cleveland Browns (0-15, 3-12 ATS) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3, 7-8 ATS)

Spread: PIT -6.5

O/U: 36

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
CLE 18.81 (29th) 17.91 (14th) 18.88 (13th) 9.67 (29th) 12.80 (32nd) 8.13 (20th)
PIT 13.12 (6th) 18.61 (18th) 18.17 (12th) 5.68 (4th) 3.07 (5th) 6.00 (3rd)

Here we go again…

At least we know we won’t be seeing Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday. On the field, at least. But for Le’Veon Bell, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the rest of the crew, well, your guess is as good as mine. I doubt we’ll see Bell, though.

On the field, that is.

Thing is, with a Pats loss/tie and a Steelers W, Pittsburgh can still clinch home field advantage. And, seeing how they’ll be playing simultaneously, it’s hard to imagine Pittsburgh just mailing it in without knowing whether the Pats lost or tied.

Quite the conundrum.

It’s the Browns, though. I think the Steelers would be alright if they had to roll with their practice squad guys.

That said, Landry Jones is 2-2 as the Steelers starter with 5 TDs and 4 INTs. Ironically, two of his four starts have come against Cleveland – he’s 2-0 as a starter vs. the Browns (he left the 1st game with a leg injury and Big Ben truly picked up the W).

However, while I think the Steelers will win the game, it’ll be more the result of the Browns offense than anything Pittsburgh does. Cleveland has nearly twice as many turnovers (39) as they do offensive TDs (23) so don’t go thinking Steelers backups = an opportunity to stream the Browns.

Per usual, you can start Isaiah Crowell with a justifiable level of confidence. Only two teams have allowed backs to pick up more yards per carry than the 4.6 allowed by Pittsburgh. But, outside of him, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if DeShone Kizer puts up some decent-ish fantasy numbers by the time it’s all said and done.

On the Pittsburgh side of things, Stevan Ridley was resurrected last week, and while I have no idea where he came from, he’s likely to see a gang of work this week. Thing is, Cleveland has held backs to just 3.3 yards per carry (fewest in the league), so should Ridley draw the start, he’ll have some tough sledding ahead of him. Don’t go thinking Browns = an opportunity to stream the Steelers backups.

Vance McDonald would be one to consider an exception, though (although he’s not truly a backup). Despite barely being utilized for most of the season, McDonald now has 11 targets over the Steelers last three games – catching 8 passes for 104 yards. Cleveland has been one of the worst teams at defending the TE position this season, and with a backup QB at the helm, you have to figure he’ll be busy early and often (only the Giants have allowed more passing TDs to tight ends than the Browns).

I really wouldn’t trust anyone else on this Steelers offense.

Now Cleveland took this Jones-led Steelers team to overtime in Week 17 last season, and find themselves in an almost identical predicament here. The main differences being that the Browns are much improved on the defensive side of the ball this season, and they’re down to their last breath in the search for that coveted 1st win of the season.

… I just don’t that either factor will be enough to get the job done.

Browns 13 – Steelers 17

CLE +6.5

UNDER 36

Ballers: Isaiah Crowell

Under the Radar: DeShone Kizer, Stevan Ridley, Eli Rogers, Vance McDonald

Temper Expectations: Duke Johnson, Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Landry Jones, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant

Bums: Rashard Higgins, Ricardo Louis, David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Jesse James

Carolina Panthers (11-4, 9-6 ATS) at Atlanta Falcons (9-6, 6-9 ATS)

Spread: ATL -3

O/U: 47

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
CAR 15.11 (11th) 14.47 (3rd) 23.31 (28th) 6.50 (11th) 6.27 (13th) 7.47 (12th)
ATL 17.04 (23rd) 16.59 (6th) 19.11 (14th) 6.67 (13th) 4.53 (10th) 8.27 (22nd)

What do you mean there’s a game in which both teams have something to gain, shouldn’t feature backups, and may cause me to cut my afternoon nap short?!

This is an abstrusity!

Well, with a win, the Panthers (potentially) would claim the NFC South crown (Saints need to lose/tie as well). And with a loss (and Seahawks win), the Falcons would find themselves among the Super Bowl cursed.

A.k.a they’d be watching this year’s playoffs from Playa Del Carmen, their couches, or Buffalo Wild Wings. Ok, I made that up. I have no idea where they’d be watching (or if they’d even watch). But I do know, if they lose this game, there’s a pretty damn good chance they won’t be participating in the postseason festivities.

They’ll need to contain Cam Newton if they’d like to participate in the festivities.

Newton has averaged 60 rushing yards over his last three games, 62.9 over his last seven, and 46.3 on the season. His 695 rushing yards this season would make him the #23 RB – ahead of guys like Alvin Kamara, DeMarco Murray, and both of his own RBs, Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey.

He’s also added six rushing TDs – which would put him tied for 12th among RBs.

No news here, Cam has been one of the best dual-threat QBs since he came into the league. Thing is, just five teams have allowed more rushing yards to the QB position than these Atlanta Falcons, and the three rushing TDs surrendered to QBs are tied for the 4th most. Not to mention, in 13 career games vs. the Falcons, Cam has found the endzone seven times with his legs while averaging 51 yards per game.

The Falcons have also allowed at least two passing TDs in three of their last four games.

… Yeah.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, Cam isn’t the only dynamic guy to deal with as the Panthers have this RB who goes by the name of Christian McCaffrey. Now McCaffrey hasn’t done much in his rookie campaign. He’s just racked up over 1,000 all-purpose yards, ranks 5th among RBs with 611 receiving yards, and is tied for 2nd at the position with five receiving TDs.

No big deal.

Making matters worse, Atlanta has allowed backs to pick up 48.5 yards per game through the air this season; which is more than all but nine teams.

Not a good look, but the Falcons D has limited opposing backs to just 3.9 yards per carry (9th fewest), and 81.4 yards per game (7th fewest). They’ve also held all but two WRs under 100 yards, and excluding Kelvin Benjamin – who now plays in Buffalo – the Panthers have just one 100-yard receiver this season. Oh, and the six TDs Atlanta has allowed the TE position? Yeah, they’re tied for the 6th fewest and only three TEs have gone over 55 yards receiving against them.

So again, the Falcons will need to contain Cam Newton (and CMC) if they’d like to continue playing past Sunday, as neither Jonathan Stewart, Devin Funchess, nor Greg Olsen figures to beat them.

You have to start Olsen in your fantasy leagues on the strength of him being Greg Olsen, though. Don’t be that “I benched Greg Olsen and he went off” complaining guy.

Nobody likes that guy.

Another thing which might help the Falcons odds at making the postseason? Scoring more points than Carolina.

After leading the league in scoring a season ago at 33.8 ppg, Atlanta ranks 15th this season with 22.1. One of the biggest reasons for this drop in production has been the play of reigning MVP, Matt Ryan, who has thrown 1 or fewer TD passes in five-straight games and has nearly a 1 to 1 TD:INT ratio over that stretch.

Ryan will need to capitalize on a mediocre (at best) Panthers pass D, and take advantage of the fact that Carolina has been lit up by #1 WRs all season. In fact, the Panthers have allowed the opposition’s #1 WR option to either gain 100 yards or catch a TD in seven-straight games. A streak that began with Julio Jones‘ 6 catch, 118 yard performance in Week 9. That game also happened to be the best of the season for Ryan who put up 313 yards with 2 TDs.

When both Ryan and Jones exceed those numbers Sunday, remember you heard it here first. They have no choice but to ball out as the Panthers have one of the best run defenses in the league. Like Olsen, you’re starting Devonta Freeman on talent alone – he’s put up less than 75 total yards in just 5 of his 13 games this season and he left one due to a concussion –  but the obvious weakness of this Carolina defense is the secondary.

Ryan and co. will take advantage.

Panthers 24 – Falcons 27

ATL -3

OVER 47

Ballers: Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, Greg Olsen, Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones

Under the Radar: Russell Shepard, Mohamed Sanu

Temper Expectations: Jonathan Stewart, Devin Funchess, Tevin Coleman

Bums: Brenton Bersin, Damiere Byrd, Kaelin Clay, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Austin Hooper

Kansas City Chiefs (9-6, 9-6 ATS) at Denver Broncos (5-10, 4-10-1 ATS)

Spread: KC -3

O/U: 41

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
KC 17.23 (25th) 17.31 (11th) 23.55 (30th) 6.50 (11th) 2.07 (3rd) 6.00 (3rd)
DEN 15.60 (13th) 16.23 (5th) 16.54 (4th) 9.93 (31st) 11.13 (31st) 7.87 (16th)

The long awaited debut of Patrick Mahomes is upon us!

Listen, I don’t care that he ranks 8th all-time in the Big 12 in passing yards. Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury also played for the Red Raiders, and both put up more yards at the collegiate level. One was Mahomes’ coach at Texas Tech, the other is the offensive coordinator at the University of North Texas.

They combined to put up 37 passing yards in the NFL.

In fact, Chase Daniel, Colt McCoy, and the aforementioned Landry Jones, all rank ahead of Mahomes on Big 12 conference’s all-time passing leaders list…

Crickets.

Yes, I believe Mahomes is a more gifted QB than any of these guys I’ve just mentioned, but the point is Big 12 defenses are not NFL defenses. Hell, they’re not even JuCo caliber defenses in some cases. So again, his numbers in college – though impressive – really don’t mean much. He’s still a rookie, making his first career start, in Denver.

Oh, and Tyreek Hill won’t be playing and there’s a pretty good chance Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt will be joining him. Simply put, the Chiefs could be without the four guys who are responsible for 78% of their rushing/receiving yards this season.

All of this stands independent of the fact(s) that this Broncos D has allowed the 4th fewest passing yards on the season to go with the 3rd fewest on the ground.

Excited about Mahomes yet?!

Meanwhile, Paxton Lynch draws his 2nd start of the season against a Chiefs secondary which has been vastly improved since signing Darrelle Revis. He’ll also be without two of the Broncos top four receivers in yards this season as neither Emmanuel Sanders nor Cody Latimer will suit up for the season finale.

If you enjoy aerial attacks, avoid this game at all costs. When the Broncos have the ball, it’s likely to be an abundance of C.J. Anderson, and when the Chiefs have the ball, well, who’s their punter?

Chiefs 10 – Broncos 23

DEN +3

UNDER 41

Ballers: C.J. Anderson

Under the Radar: Demetrius Harris, Orson Charles, Devontae Booker, Bennie Fowler

Temper Expectations: Kareem Hunt, Akeem Hunt, Charcandrick West, Albert Wilson, Travis Kelce, Demaryius Thomas

Bums: Patrick Mahomes, Paxton Lynch, Jordan Taylor, Isaiah McKenzie, Austin Traylor

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-5, 9-6 ATS) at Tennessee Titans (8-7, 7-7-1 ATS)

Spread: TEN -3

O/U: 41

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
JAX 10.60 (2nd) 17.88 (13th) 15.38 (1st) 6.43 (10th) 3.67 (9th) 6.20 (6th)
TEN 16.92 (21st) 16.92 (8th) 21.80 (23rd) 7.47 (20th) 6.93 (16th) 10.60 (32nd)

The Jags are locked in as the 3-seed in the AFC, but they’re a young team, facing a division rival which needs a W (or a gang of luck) to make the playoffs. A division rival which also happened to straight mollywhop them earlier in the season.

I doubt we’ll see Jacksonville rest many players.

The Titans are one of those teams which aren’t quite as good as their record might indicate. Five of their eight wins have come against losing teams, they rank 21st in total offensive yards, and at 23.1, they’ve allowed the 13th most points per game.

I also doubt we’ll see Tennessee magically become a good football team.

What we will see is Derrick Henry finally get the lead back role; as DeMarco Murray won’t play due to a knee injury. However, as mentioned last week, that could actually be bad news for Marcus Mariota and this Titans offense.

There’s a reason Murray has remained the lead back all season, and it’s largely due to his pass-blocking/catching ability. Tennessee is now forced to give Henry the passing down work (or David Fluellen), and guess what? The Jags lead the league in sacks, and Henry ranks 70th at the RB position with just 10 receptions on the season.

Dalvin Cook has 11 catches this season. He played in just four games.

In other words, Mariota could find himself under duress for much of the afternoon with no escape valve. And if that wasn’t enough, Jacksonville has allowed the fewest passing yards per game, while giving up just one rushing TD to a QB all season.

You’re probably going to see a fairly one-dimensional Titans offense on Sunday.

Much like we’ve seen most of the season.

Thing is, that one-dimension is pretty good, and the Jaguars have allowed RBs to pick up nearly 4.5 yards per carry this season. The one concern, however, lies with the fact that the seven rushing TDs Jacksonville has allowed to RBs are tied for the 4th fewest in the league. So while there’s a pretty good chance that Henry will find some success moving the ball on the ground, the objective is to score more points than the other team.

That said, I just don’t see where Tennessee’s points come from, and just five teams have allowed more passing TDs than the Titans 27 this season. Blake Bortles might be trash, but he has at least two passing TDs in four-straight games, and should also have Allen Hurns back from injury this week.

… Expect the Jags to look more like the Jags after an embarrassing outing last week in San Fran.

Jaguars 24 – Titans 13

JAX +3

UNDER 41

Ballers: Blake Bortles, Keelan Cole, Derrick Henry

Under the Radar: T.J. Yeldon, James O’Shaughnessy

Temper Expectations: Leonard Fournette, Allen Hurns, Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Delanie Walker

Bums: Dede Westbrook, Corey Davis

San Francisco 49ers (5-10, 8-7 ATS) at Los Angeles Rams (11-4, 9-6 ATS)

Spread: SF -4

O/U: 46

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
SF 19.22 (31st) 21.17 (31st) 21.58 (22nd) 7.19 (16th) 7.20 (18th) 8.80 (25th)
LAR 13.65 (8th) 20.23 (28th) 16.93 (6th) 7.52 (21st) 3.13 (6th) 6.13 (5th)

When you spend your days predicting the outcomes of sporting events, being wrong is something you just get used to.

Rather quickly.

Well, a few weeks back I stated that Jimmy Garoppolo would not have an immediate impact on this 49ers offense.

I was wrong. Jimmy Garoppolo has had an immediate impact on this 49ers offense.

Since handing the keys over to Jimmy G, the previously 1-10 49ers have won four-straight games, and currently look like the 2nd best team in the NFC West. But, like JoJo said, it’s just too little, too late.

In any case, San Fran will take on the NFC West’s unquestioned leader on Sunday, and while a W would put them at five-straight Ws to close out the season, it would also come against Sean Mannion. Kind of like confusing salt with sugar when making lemonade. Technically, you’d still have lemonade. It probably wouldn’t taste as good, though.

But sometimes you just have to play the hand that you’re dealt, and the Niners are being dealt a Rams team which will not feature Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, Alec Ogletree

You get the picture. What could be a huge win to close out the season, and give the squad a huge confidence boost heading into the offseason, is instead salted lemonade.

49ers 28 – Rams 17

SF -4

UNDER 46

Ballers: Jimmy Garoppolo, Carlos Hyde, Marquise Goodwin, George Kittle

Under the Radar: Matt Breida, Malcolm Brown, Josh Reynolds

Temper Expectations: Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, Sean Mannion, Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Pharoh Cooper, Tyler Higbee

Bums: Louis Murphy, Aldrick Robinson, Tavon Austin

Buffalo Bills (8-7, 8-6-1 ATS) at Miami Dolphins (6-9, 5-8-2 ATS)

Spread: BUF -2.5

O/U: 42

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
BUF 12.45 (5th) 22.99 (32nd) 16.75 (5th) 7.37 (18th) 7.60 (19th) 9.13 (28th)
MIA 16.72 (19th) 20.09 (26th) 17.68 (8th) 9.67 (29th) 9.53 (28th) 8.00 (19th)

There are a few remaining scenarios in which the Bills can clinch a playoff berth. None of them can be realized with a loss at Miami Sunday, and if the Bills 24-16 victory over these Dolphins just two weeks ago is any indication of things to come, it’s a wrap for the Bills playoff chances.

Sure, Buffalo won that game, but it took a zero TD, three interception performance from Jay Cutler to do so. Now Cutler has been much maligned over his NFL career, but that’s not a stat line which is likely to be repeated. There have been 480 games played to this point in the season, just 10 times has a QB failed to throw a TD while throwing three or more INTs. Cutler has just three such games over his 12 year career.

Now no, that doesn’t mean Cutler is due for good game in round 2. And yes, I’m a Jay Cutler fanboy. But considering he played one of the worst games of his career, and only lost by eight?!?!

Yeah, that’s not a good look for Buffalo.

Neither is their run D which has allowed RBs more yards/TDs on the ground than any other team in the league. In the aforementioned prequel, Kenyan Drake picked up 78 yards on just 16 carries (nearly five yards per), added a TD on the ground, and picked up an additional 35 yards through the air.

Imagine what his numbers would look like if the Dolphins weren’t down 18 points for much of the 2nd half.

The good news for the Bills is that this Dolphins D has struggled a bit with mobile QBs this season. Small sample size, but Cam Newton rushed just five times managing to pick up 95 yards, and Tyrod Taylor racked up 42 yards and a TD on just six carries in the 1st meeting. Having LeSean McCoy doesn’t hurt either, and despite being held in check on the ground the 1st time around, Shady wound up with 96 yards from scrimmage and added two TDs for good measure.

It’s not likely this below average Dolphins run D will limit McCoy to 2.5 yards per carry this time around either.

The bad news for the Bills is that they rank dead last in passing yards, and their leading WR Deonte Thompson is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury. Making matters worse, this Dolphins D has allowed just three passing TDs over their last four games despite facing both Tom Brady and Alex Smith.

Thing is, just two teams have allowed more receiving yards to the TE position than Miami, and the nine TDs they’ve allowed are also the 3rd most. So it really doesn’t matter how good Miami has been against WRs because TE Charles Clay has been the Bills most productive receiving option.

He’s a top-tier fantasy play this week.

This has all of the makings of one of the better games of the week. I just wish there was more motivation on the Miami side of things. Still, they should be ready to go in their season finale, at home, with the chance to prevent their rivals from extending their season.

I think they’ll do just that.

Bills 21 – Dolphins 23

MIA +2.5

OVER 42

Ballers: Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay, Kenyan Drake, Jarvis Landry

Under the Radar: A.J. Derby

Temper Expectations: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Jay Cutler, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills

Bums: Mike Tolbert, Jakeem Grant

Oakland Raiders (6-9, 5-8-2 ATS) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-7, 7-7-1 ATS)

Spread: LAC -9

O/U: 44

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
OAK 16.09 (17th) 18.19 (17th) 17.74 (9th) 8.89 (26th) 7.00 (17th) 9.87 (30th)
LAC 12.42 (4th) 18.96 (19th) 17.45 (7th) 5.89 (5th) 3.27 (7th) 6.47 (8th)

Like the Bills, the Chargers can get in the dance, but it’ll take some finagling at the door. First and foremost, they’ll need a W. Everything else will be left to chance.

Luckily for them, the Raiders have lost three-straight, and aren’t a very good football team. Unluckily for them, this Raiders pass defense has done a 180 in recent weeks while Philip Rivers has failed to complete at least 60% of his passes in three-straight games, and has a 1:1 TD/INT ratio over that stretch.

Now if we were to compile a list of negatives from Rivers’ performance this season, it wouldn’t be much longer than that. However, Oakland has held three-straight QBs (Alex Smith, Dak Prescott, and Nick Foles) under 275 yards while limiting each of them to one or fewer passing TD. On the micro level, the Raiders have allowed just one passing TD over that stretch, have four interceptions to their name, and held two of those three QBs under 220.

The list could grow after this one.

Especially when you factor in that Melvin Gordon will likely be at less than 100%, and Rivers may be without starting LT Russell Okung. Regardless, Rivers trails only Brady and Roethlisberger in passing yards, and his 25 TDs rank 9th. You have to give him the edge in this matchup.

His counterpart, Derek Carr, though? Not so much. Not only is he behind Eli Manning and Blake Bortles in passing yards, but his 86.0 passer rating puts him behind guys like Andy Dalton and Tyrod Taylor. Calling it a down season for Carr would be massively understating the obvious.

Not to mention, the Chargers boast one of the top pass defenses in the league. So if your fantasy season comes down to it, don’t touch any part of this Raiders passing attack. They’ve disappointed all season; why go down in a blaze of glory?

It’s not all depressing news for this Oakland offense, though, as Marshawn Lynch finds himself just 210 yards away from the 7th 1,000 yard rushing season of his career. Will he get there? No. But, the Chargers have allowed back-to-back RBs to go over 140 yards on the ground, and backs have gained 4.8 yards per carry (tied for the most) and 112.9 yards per game (2nd most) against them this season.

So, I’m saying there’s a chance.

There’s also a chance that the Raiders win this game outright (I’m really confused as to why this spread is so high). After all, the Chargers haven’t exactly been the most clutch team in recent memory.

Raiders 17 – Chargers 20

OAK +9

UNDER 44

Ballers: Marshawn Lynch, Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen

Under the Radar: Antonio Gates

Temper Expectations: Derek Carr, Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper, Melvin Gordon, Tyrell Williams

Bums: Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, Seth Roberts, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jared Cook, Brandon Oliver, Travis Benjamin

*Speed Round*

Arizona Cardinals (7-8, 5-9-1 ATS) at Seattle Seahawks (9-6, 6-8-1 ATS)

Spread: SEA -10

O/U: 41

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
ARI 16.51 (18th) 15.71 (4th) 19.93 (18th) 6.83 (14th) 10.27 (29th) 7.80 (15th)
SEA 13.55 (8th) 17.29 (10th) 20.87 (19th) 6.21 (9th) 4.73 (11th) 7.93 (18th)

This is a must-win for Seattle.

Arizona is good at defending the run, but Seattle can’t run the ball so it doesn’t matter. Russell Wilson will light them up, and it’s Drew Stanton vs. the 12s.

Cardinals 13 – Seahawks 17

ARI +10

UNDER 41

Ballers: Larry Fitzgerald, Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham

Under the Radar: Paul Richardson

Temper Expectations: Kerwynn Williams, Jermaine Gresham, Mike Davis, Tyler Lockett

Bums: Elijhaa Penny, John Brown, Jaron Brown, Thomas Rawls, J.D. McKissic

New Orleans Saints (11-4, 9-6 ATS) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11, 5-9-1 ATS)

Spread: NO -7.5

O/U: 50

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
NO 15.13 (11th) 17.99 (16th) 19.74 (17th) 5.43 (2nd) 1.67 (1st) 7.47 (12th)
TB 16.74 (19th) 19.59 (24th) 25.10 (32nd) 5.43 (2nd) 6.73 (14th) 7.87 (16th)

This is kind of a must-win for the Saints. They’re in the playoffs regardless, but a win or Panthers loss would make them NFC South Champs and would affect their seeding.

Tampa has been surprisingly alright against the pass recently, but it won’t matter. Too much Kamara. Too much Ingram.

Saints 27 – Buccaneers 17

NO -7.5

UNDER 50

Ballers: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Michael Thomas, Mike Evans

Under the Radar: Adam Humphries

Temper Expectations: Drew Brees, Ted Ginn, Jameis Winston, Peyton Barber, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate

Bums: Willie Snead, Josh Hill, Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers, Freddie Martino, O.J. Howard

Cincinnati Bengals (6-9, 8-7 ATS) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6, 8-6-1 ATS)

Spread: BAL -10

O/U: 41

FANTASY POINTS ALLOWED BY POSITION
QB RB WR TE DST K
CIN 15.58 (13th) 20.41 (29th) 16.10 (3rd) 7.44 (19th) 8.67 (25th) 8.93 (27th)
BAL 10.27 (1st) 19.46 (23rd) 15.92 (2nd) 7.52 (21st) 5.27 (12th) 7.67 (14th)

This is a must-win for the Ravens unless the Bills or Titans lose.

It’s going to be cold and windy in Baltimore, and both teams have stout secondaries. The Ravens have the better rushing attack, and run D. Ravens win, but it’s close.

Bengals 13 – Ravens 16

CIN +10

UNDER 41

Ballers: A.J. Green, Alex Collins

Under the Radar: Joe Mixon, Tyler Kroft, Ben Watson

Temper Expectations: Andy Dalton, Giovani Bernard, Javorius Allen, Danny Woodhead, Mike Wallace

Bums: C.J. Uzomah, Joe Flacco, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro, Breshad Perriman, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams

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