Welcome to the FanDuel Week 17 Primer, brought to you by RotoGrinders. This column will highlight a number of our tools that we feel are the best predictors of success on any given week. With this being the last week of the regular season, make sure to keep a close eye on injury news through Sunday afternoon. There are quite a few teams that need to pull out a Week 17 victory, but a big chunk of the league’s fate has already been decided and those teams will be a little harder to forecast. Some intriguing value may emerge from the number of teams who are already looking towards the 2015 regular season.
Before we get into the analysis, I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this column at any point during the season. I hope I’ve helped you win some money along the way. Without you guys, I wouldn’t be able to do what I love for a living. On behalf of the entire RotoGrinders team, we wish you all the best in the regular season finale.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $2.5 Million Fantasy Football league for Week 17's games. It's only $25 to join and first prize is $300,000. Starts Sunday, December 28th at 1pm ET. Here's the link.
Let’s start the primer with the RotoGrinders Defense vs. Position page, which gives you an idea of how well certain teams defend a particular position. It’s still worth taking each team’s opponents into account when evaluating DvP ranks, but this is one of the tools I value the most, especially this late in the season with as healthy a sample size as we can hope for.
Cam Newton vs. Atlanta (22nd vs. QBs) – In Week 17, there is plenty of value in targeting players who are still competing for something. Newton fits the bill perfectly, as the winner of Sunday’s Panthers/Falcons game will take the NFC South crown and host a playoff game, while the loser will likely end up picking in the top third of the 1st round (not a bad consolation, to be honest). Superman didn’t show any signs of injury in Week 16 against the Browns, racking up over 23 FanDuel points, including 63 yards and a TD on the ground. Carolina will rely heavily on Newton against an Atlanta defense that grades out with the fourth-worst pass rush and third-worst pass coverage (per PFF), and he’s an option in any format on Sunday. According to the NFL Vegas odds, this game is expected to be close (ATL -3.5) and high scoring (total of 47.5), which should lead to fantasy goodness on both sides.
C.J. Anderson vs. Oakland (31st vs. RBs) – CJA still isn’t getting the respect he deserves from the FanDuel pricing algorithm, as the NFL’s leading rusher over the past five weeks is tied as the 8th most expensive back on the board. He’s been the Broncos bell-cow late in the season, and with Denver needing a Week 17 victory, expect Anderson to once again be the focal point of the offense. With Peyton struggling mightily late in the year, the Broncos have turned into a run-first team, and it’s paid huge dividends for Anderson’s owners. He’s had fewer than 26 touches just once in the past five games and he was able to gash this Oakland defense on just 17 touches back in Week 10 (163 total yards and a TD). Fire him up at a very reasonable $8,300 on FanDuel.
Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Philadelphia (30th vs. WRs) – I’m not sure anyone has ever burst onto the scene quite like Odell Beckham Jr. has this year. Even after missing the first four games of the year, he’s posted one of the best statistical seasons at the WR position and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. He deserves to be the most expensive option at the position this week (which he is) against an Eagles secondary that has had boatloads of trouble stopping the pass this year. Philly continues to leave corners Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams in single coverage against No. 1 WRs (Dez Bryant and DeSean Jackson have exploited that the past two weeks) and if they do the same with Beckham, expect another big performance from the rookie. Even if the Eagles shade some extra coverage Beckham’s way, I don’t expect him to be slowed too much. He lines up on the outside almost exclusively and will operate against either Williams or Fletcher all afternoon. The Eagles will undoubtedly address the issues in the secondary this offseason, so this may be our last shot to pick on the current Philly CB tandem.
We’ll transition into the RG Targets page, where you’ll find a breakdown of touches, targets, red-zone targets and percentage of workload, among other stats. It’s an invaluable tool that can help you find players who are in the best positions to succeed; it’s no secret that you want players on your fantasy team who are heavily involved in the offense, especially those that are also key cogs in the red-zone.
Julio Jones ($8,700 on FanDuel) – His red-zone usage still leaves something to be desired, but Jones is a bonafide target monster when he’s healthy. Through 16 weeks, Jones is third in the NFL in total targets (155), third in targets per game (11.07) and eighth in percentage of workload (26.91%). Carolina’s defense has improved some as the year has progressed (losing Antoine Cason and Charles Godfrey was a step in the right direction), but they still have some major weaknesses in the secondary. They were able to hold Jones in check when these teams met in mid-November (6-59-0), but this is a do-or-die situation for Atlanta and I’d expect them to feed the ball to their best playmaker. Prior to his Week 16 return, Jones had seen at least 11 targets in his last five starts. He should see at least that many with the Falcons’ playoff hopes on the line; this game being played indoors on Atlanta’s fast track provides a small boost to the aerial attack.
Andre Johnson ($6,300 on FanDuel) – I’m mentioning Johnson here mainly because I think he’s one of the week’s best values at WR at $6,300. Johnson had his fair share of struggles with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Mallett at the helm, but current starter Case Keenum absolutely loves to target #80. With Keenum throwing him the ball last season, Johnson had a couple of multi-TD games and was targeted 17+ times by Keenum twice in his eight appearances as the starting QB. In Week 16, Johnson saw 13 targets, and while his total output was underwhelming (6-65-0), his price certainly isn’t reflecting his workload. Keenum should key in on Johnson yet again with Jacksonville’s defense grading out as the third-worst pass coverage unit. Despite only having two scores this season, AJ is tied for 4th in red-zone targets in 2014. Some late season regression could be in store for Johnson, which would be great news for anyone who pulls the trigger on him at his very affordable price tag.
Greg Olsen ($6,400 on FanDuel) – I have no issues rolling out Jimmy Graham at $6,700 this week, but I love pivoting to Olsen in GPPs this weekend. While his Week 17 matchup isn’t elite (Atlanta has allowed the 7th fewest FPs to opposing TEs), Olsen and the Panthers are fighting for their lives, and you can count on Newton looking to his safety valve early and often. He wasn’t much of a factor this past week against the Browns, but Olsen had seen 9, 11 and 13 targets in the three weeks prior. The former Miami Hurricane is second in total targets at the position (120, 8.0 per game) and is first among TEs in red-zone percentage of workload (28.85%), giving him a nice ceiling considering the price tag. The Saints passing attack has been a mess in recent weeks, so I have no issues rolling out Olsen over Graham in cash games as well. Graham’s matchup isn’t ideal either, as the Buccaneers have only allowed three receiving scores to TEs this season.
Now onto the Market Watch page, which tracks the movement of player salaries week-to-week. It’s a great way to get a sense of who is coming off of a strong/poor performance, but most importantly it allows you to find solid buy-low candidates available at depressed price tags.
Ben Roethlisberger ($8,100 on FanDuel, down $400) – Big Ben and the Steelers will be playing meaningful football on Sunday night in the fight for the AFC North title. The Steelers passing attack has been much stronger at home this year, with Roethlisberger boasting an impressive 21-3 TD-to-INT ratio in Pittsburgh. He’s averaging over 350 passing yards per game at home and now faces a Bengals Defense that he torched for exactly 350 yards and 3 TDs in Week 14. If you can get a productive, high volume quarterback with something to play for in the season’s final week, take advantage. Roethlisberger is one of my favorite quarterback plays in any format this week; pairing him up with Antonio Brown is a handcuff with considerable upside.
Le’Veon Bell ($9,400 on FanDuel, down $300) – If you aren’t on Big Ben or Antonio Brown, you’ll want exposure to Bell. Since LeGarrette Blount left town, Bell has been seeing all the work he can handle and he’s translating it into huge fantasy totals. Week 16 was the first time Bell had seen fewer than 25 touches (he saw 21 total against KC) since Blount departed to New England, but he should get back in the 25-30 touch range against a Bengals Defense that has allowed the 5th most fantasy points to opposing RBs. You may remember what happened last time Bell had a shot at this defense just a few short weeks ago; he finished with 235 total yards and 3 TDs on 32 total touches (26 carries, 6 receptions). If you are paying up at RB this week, spend the small amount of extra cap space it’ll cost to roster Bell.
Charles Johnson ($6,100 on FanDuel, down $400) – Johnson has disappointed in the past few games after a slew of nice performances since becoming a starter, giving us the opportunity to take advantage of his falling price tag against a Bears Defense that has allowed the most TD passes in the league. In Week 16, Johnson finished with just 3-38 on six targets and also left the game briefly with a lower-body injury, although he did return and isn’t expected to be hampered in the season finale. He’s more of a boom-or-bust play since he hasn’t been a factor in the red-zone, but his long-TD upside makes him a more than viable GPP option against a lackluster Bears secondary. Chicago grades out as having the fifth-worst pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus.
Welcome to Value Town, parts unknown. Here I’ll highlight a few players with price tags that don’t add up to their level of talent and/or matchup. You won’t find the Peyton Mannings of the world here, but rather players towards the bottom of the salary chart that have the upside to produce at an elite level. Most of these plays are geared towards GPPs, but some of them will be playable across all game types if the price is right. FanDuel has a relatively loose pricing setup (although it’s tightened up some this year) that doesn’t force you to go cheap at more than a few positions, so hopefully a player or two listed here can help you fill out your lineup.
Quarterback – Mark Sanchez ($7,400 on FanDuel)
Sanchez’s star isn’t shining so brightly after three consecutive losses cost the Eagles a postseason berth, but he’s still a relatively high-volume QB playing in the game with the weekend’s highest total. After throwing it fewer than 30 times in Weeks 13-15, Sanchez aired it out 50 times on Saturday and finished with a very healthy 22.16 FanDuel points against a porous Washington secondary. The matchup here is a bit tougher, but the Giants still allow the 8th most fantasy points to the position and don’t have an overwhelming amount of healthy talent in the secondary. While the Eagles have nothing to play for but pride, Sanchez is still grasping at any hope of holding onto the starting job next year, and he’d dig himself into a pretty big hole with another poor game. He should come out fully motivated with an opportunity to be one of the better $/point plays at the QB position in the season finale.
With the Panthers in a battle for the NFC South, they won’t be shy about feeding Stewart for a fourth straight week. It’s unclear if DeAngelo Williams will reenter the fold on Sunday, but it shouldn’t matter much considering Stewart’s recent play and the fact that Williams won’t be operating at full strength. The Daily Show has seen at least 20 carries in the last three games and now faces off with a Falcons Defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing RBs this year. Stewart is the 21st most expensive back on the board, yet he’s got a nice shot to finish inside the top ten thanks to the matchup and expected workload.
Asiata’s also seen a considerable uptick in usage since his backfield mate, Jerick McKinnon, was ruled out for the year. Ben Tate was cut on Tuesday and Joe Banyard isn’t acting as more than a change-of-pace back, so the large majority of the workload will remain in Asiata’s hands. He’s had at least 18 touches in each of the last four games and acts as his own goal-line back, providing him with major upside in this spot. Chicago has allowed more fantasy points to the position than any other team over the past three weeks, and they’ve been in the bottom third of the league against the run all season. I really like Asiata’s GPP upside at $6,400, but I don’t hate him as a cash game play this week either, even with his volatile output in 2014.
Wide Receiver – Vincent Jackson ($6,500 on FanDuel)
Jackson has struggled in 2014 in trying to find a connection with Josh McCown, so much so that he’s averaged fewer than 10 fantasy points per game despite being tied for 5th in the league in total targets (140, 9.33 per game). He’s averaged 11 looks per game over his past three, and with Jackson and fellow starting WR Mike Evans accounting for nearly all of the production in the passing game, expect another busy day for V-Jax. He’ll likely square off mostly with Patrick Robinson rather than New Orleans’ top corner Keenan Lewis, but Lewis hasn’t played well since a knee injury last month, so both wideouts will be in plus matchups. Dealing with Josh McCown’s poor play and the pathetic Tampa Bay offensive line (they are far and away the league’s worst pass blocking unit, per Pro Football Focus) obviously poses some risk, but this is a nice spot to take advantage of the cheap price tag on Jackson.
Keep an eye on whether or not the Colts decide to rest T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne or Hakeem Nicks. All three are expected to play at this point, but Indianapolis can’t improve its playoff seeding with a win and would be wise to at least limit one or more of those players. If that’s the case, Donte Moncrief would be a very nice option at $5,300. He burned owners in Week 16, but expect him to bounce back in a big way if he’s able to secure the playing time.
Tight End – Martellus Bennett ($5,700 on FanDuel)
Marty B was a non-factor in Jimmy Clausen’s short stint as the Bears starting QB (one game!), but he’ll be relevant this week with Cutler back at the helm. Even with Brandon Marshall missing each of the last two games, Bennett has racked up just five receptions in the two games combined without finding the end zone. In the three games prior to Clausen’s start, Bennett had averaged nearly 11 targets per game and he’s still a key factor in the red-zone (3rd in RZ targets among TEs), so the $5,700 price tag is attractive. The Vikings have allowed the 10th fewest FPs to TEs, so the matchup isn’t great, but that risk is more or less built into the price tag.
Defense/Special Teams – Miami Dolphins ($4,900 on FanDuel)
I like the Colts’ spot against the Titans this week, but they aren’t playing for anything and may opt to rest some guys on the defensive side later in the game. The Dolphins have an equally mouth-watering matchup with the Jets, who basically tried to become the first team to run the ball on every offensive play the last time these teams met. Miami’s D/ST unit has been a disaster from a fantasy standpoint dating back to the beginning of November, but a turnover prone Geno Smith gives them a nice shot at finishing the season on a high note, at home no less.