The fantasy season is coming to a close. After months of constantly monitoring the news cycle and making tough roster decisions, we can sit back and enjoy football. Well, most of us can. Some fantasy leagues continue to play into one of the most chaotic weeks of the season. Injuries and COVID-19 have been a constant hurdle throughout the season. Now, we have the playoff picture to consider. The end of the season is the time for honest reflection by both real coaches and fantasy managers. We get to think about the players that helped us during the season while NFL personnel have to look at the future of their team. It’s going to be a hectic week with news already dropping that’s changed the landscape of the week. To help, I reviewed some of the players responsible for our success and which teams may be resting their starters ahead of Week 17.
All of them can’t be the fantasy MVP for 2020, but no one would be surprised to see these guys on rosters that made it into the playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
The popular choice is Josh Allen, but Allen was one of the top quarterback picks throughout the offseason. Aaron Rodgers revitalizing his career is equally as surprising as Allen’s success. Rodgers ended 2019 12th in Expected Points Added (EPA) per Play. His 7.6 Adjusted Yards per Attempt was his worst full-season mark since 2015. But the Packers’ offense has largely been the same in 2020. Their neutral passing rate (61.1%) closely matches their 2019 tendencies (62.9%). Rodgers is even throwing the ball downfield a little bit less (20.1% deep-ball rate down from 23.0%). The biggest change is his touchdowns. He leads the league in TD rate at an absurd 8.8%. Rodgers has the same number of touchdowns from just the 1-yard line as Sam Darnold does all season. With 12 finishes inside the Top 12, Rodgers should at least be in the QB1 conversation for the 2021 season despite not adding much production on the ground.
James Robinson – Jacksonville Jaguars
In a non-pandemic season, maybe we would have seen James Robinson’s breakout season coming. The lack of a preseason obscured his talent. Plus, the Jaguars’ decision to release Leonard Fournette just two weeks before the season started made us all the more unsure. Robinson was the likely leader, but Ryquell Armstead was a dynasty favorite and Chris Thompson’s connection to Jay Gruden was tough to dismiss. However, Robinson couldn’t be denied. Robinson’s season-long rush-attempt share of 89.9% tops the league in terms of workload. Plus, when you tack on 60 targets, he profiles as one of the elites. But his offensive situation was a constant detractor. The Jaguars’ offensive line was eighth in adjusted line yards, but 25th in yards per drive. Breakdowns on multiple drives pushed a lot of meaningless work Robinson’s way, keeping his rushing success rate at a mere 39.2%. Regardless, fantasy managers could find a running back that would wind up as the RB4 in PPR leagues on the waiver wire which likely makes him the fantasy MVP for most folks.
Stefon Diggs – Buffalo Bills
Stefon Diggs (and DeAndre Hopkins) put the focus for our concerns for wide receivers switching teams on the only thing that matters: talent. Diggs left Minnesota, vacating a 22.6% target share, and joined the #BillsMafia. The evolution of Buffalo’s offense cannot be understated. However, Diggs’ singular contributions deserve time in the limelight. In 2019, 30.1% of Diggs’ targets came on deep routes. High variance attempts that led to seven games with less than 50 yards receiving. That same rate has dropped to 21.7% in his first year with Josh Allen and he’s had just four games with fewer than 50 yards. Nevertheless, he scored a touchdown in two of those four games to soften the blow of the low yardage total. If his 158 targets don’t reflect his ascension, his league-leading 1,459 yards (a career-high for Diggs) should be all we need to see to confirm his stardom. After a multi-touchdown performance to seal many fantasy championships, Diggs’ status as a WR1 will be hard to reject moving forward.
Travis Kelce – Kansas City Chiefs
After Sunday, there’s not much to add to the conversation surrounding Travis Kelce’s value. He scored 312.8 PPR points through Week 16. He’d be WR4 with a sizeable lead on the next best receiver (DeAndre Hopkins – 280.3). He had just one game with less than 5 targets and six games with over 100 receiver yards. For a position that typically requires just a touchdown to be in the TE1 discussion, Kelce dominated the competition. He was second in targets inside the 20-yard line and it should be no surprise he led the position in touchdowns from this area of the field. But he was also dominant as downfield threat. Kelce was second in deep targets with an 88.9% catch rate on his catchable targets. It’s one thing to be attached to an aggressive passer like Patrick Mahomes, but another to have the skills to stay on the field regardless of game script or situation. Next season should invite more competition with a healthy George Kittle and continued improvements from Darren Waller and Noah Fant. Regardless, Kelce ran away with the TE1 title in 2020 and carried some fantasy rosters along for the ride.
Motivation in Week 17
Press conferences and beat reports will be critical to putting together the Week 17 puzzle. Leagues still competing in Week 17 or DFS enthusiasts looking for an edge should be hunting for nuggets of info throughout the week. As it stands, here’s what we know for the final week of the 2020 season.
Confirmed Resting Starters – Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers
Andy Reid confirmed that Chad Henne will start on Sunday against the Chargers. The full list of inactives hasn’t been released, but it’s to envision Mahomes being the only starter to get some rest ahead of the playoffs. This move will likely remove Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce from consideration, but elevate ancillary players like Mecole Hardman to alpha status for their contest against the Chargers.
Mike Tomlin also confirmed the Steelers will be resting key starters against the Browns on Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger was specifically named as one of the players out which means we’ll see Mason Rudolph back under center. The remaining starters that will be pulled are yet to be announced, but there’s nothing to suggest the normal pass-catching assets will be available in Week 17.
Possibly Resting Starters – Buffalo Bills
Sean McDermott is yet to announce how the Bills will approach Sunday’s game against the Dolphins. Currently sitting as the No. 2 seed, a drop to the No. 3 won’t change their playoff result given their AFC East title. The betting market is already shifting in that direction and McDermott has a history of resting starters. Regardless, we should at least plan for the worst while collecting more information.
Must Win – Rams, Cardinals, Bears, Football Team, Dolphins, Ravens, Titans, Browns, Colts, Cowboys, Giants
All teams listed above are in must-win situations and have no reason to rest their starters. Fantasy managers should approach each team as they normally would each week.
Special Notes: Jared Goff’s thumb surgery and Cooper Kupp’s positive COVID-19 test will leave the Rams shorthanded, but all other starters are expected to play. Indianapolis has lost Anthony Castonzo (starting left tackle) to a season-ending ankle injury. Rivers took five sacks against Pittsburgh behind a weakened offensive line, but Jacksonville puts up significantly less pressure. A.J. Brown (Ankle) and Corey Davis (Undisclosed) didn’t practice on Wednesday for the Titans. Taylor Heinicke was seen taking the first-team reps in practice for Washington as Alex Smith continues to work through his calf injury.
Must Win* - New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks
The caveat for these two teams comes with their current seeding and when both teams are scheduled to play.
Each team needs to win their respective matchups to stay in the race for optimal seeding heading into playoffs. However, if the Packers were to lose, the No. 1 seed would be up for grabs. The Saints need a win and a Packers’ loss. Seattle needs a win, a Packers’ loss, and a Saints’ loss. All three will be motivated to start their regular personnel, but it’s possible the Packers’ contest (going on at the same time) may sway the outcomes of either game. Should Green Bay run away from the Chargers, Seattle and New Orleans could let up midway through the game with their playoff outcomes essentially locked.