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Getting Defensive

Getting Defensive: Week 17

by Gary Davenport
Updated On: December 24, 2019, 3:48 am ET

We have reached the absolute end of the line. In most fantasy football leagues, the matter is decided—a champion was crowned in Week 16. But for some fantasy football enthusiasts, 16 weeks aren't enough. They want to take things down to the wire.

Some leagues hold their championship games in Week 17—a decision that creates its own problems and challenges. The biggest of those challenges isn't hard to pinpoint—it's the possibility of important contributors for playoff teams sitting out a meaningless game at the end of the year.

On defense, that can potentially wind up a blessing—as could be the case this week in Baltimore.

For the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are leading the AFC with 51 sacks and tied for the NFL lead in takeaways with 31. Linebacker T.J. Watt, defensive end Cameron Heyward and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick have keyed a defense that ranks fourth in yards allowed, fifth in points allowed and third in fantasy points.

All those stats are well and good—but given how Lamar Jackson and the Ravens Offense is playing right now, the Steelers would have been a risky fantasy play in the season finale.

That is, if Jackson were to play. The thing is, there's no real reason for him to. The Ravens have already sewn up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Even if Baltimore's starters do start the game, there's little chance the team needlessly risks injuries by having them finish it.

That leaves a Steelers team desperately trying to cling to the No. 6 seed in the AFC fighting for their lives against Robert Griffin and a bunch of reserves.

If you've ridden Pittsburgh this far, might as well give them one more start.

Now, on to the final week of Getting Defensive—a week heavy on good matchups for the "big names" at the position.

THE NO-DOUBTERS

New England Patriots (vs. Miami Dolphins)

The New England Patriots are in the playoffs as champions of the AFC East for the 11th year in a row, but in a relative rarity the Pats have something to play for—the AFC's No. 2 seed and Wild Card weekend off. That means than fantasy football's No. 1 defense will have its foot to the floor in Week 17 against a Dolphins team that ranks third in fantasy points surrendered to defenses in 2019. Back in Week 2, the Patriots racked up seven sacks, four interceptions and two defensive touchdowns in a 43-0 rout in Miami.

New Orleans Saints (at Carolina Panthers)

At 12-3, the Saints are one of a number of teams tied for the best record in the NFC. One of the others (the San Francisco 49ers) doesn't play until Sunday night. That means that the Saints have to pull out all the stops in an effort to procure a first-round bye and/or home field advantage throughout the playoffs. To say that the Panthers are reeling is an understatement—the Panthers are now seventh in fantasy points given up to defenses, first in the NFC in sacks allowed and haven't won since the first week of November. Oh, and Will Grier threw three picks in a blowout loss to the Colts in his NFL debut last week.

Minnesota Vikings (vs. Chicago Bears)

Like most of the teams at the top of this week's "No Doubters" list, the Vikings will be playing on after Week 17, but since the matter of where and against whom remains unresolved the Vikings should be at full strength defensively Sunday at home against the Bears—at least in the early-going. The rival Bears, on the other hand, are just playing out the string on a bummer of a year that saw Chicago go from 12-4 in 2018 to 7-8 and out of the playoffs. In last week's home finale against the Chiefs, the Bears had just 234 yards of total offense and scored three points.

Green Bay Packers (at Detroit Lions)

Like the New Orleans Saints, the Green Bay Packers are in a dogfight for playoff seeding in a stacked NFC. The Lions, on the other hand, are…um…not. In the season finals, a Lions team that has dropped eight straight games will once again trot out an undrafted rookie third-string quarterback and skill-position talent that has been ravaged by injuries. This isn't going to be a repeat of Week 6, when the Lions gave the Packers all they could handle at Lambeau Field. Over the last month, only three teams have allowed more fantasy points to defenses than the Lions.

Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Los Angeles Chargers)

Were the Chiefs playing at 4 PM Sunday, this game might present a problem—and even with an early start there's a chance the Chiefs could pull some players in the second half if the Patriots are pounding the Dolphins. But so long as that contest isn't settled, the Chiefs still have an outside shot at securing the AFC's second seed (and the bye that goes with it). Over Kansas City's current five-game win streak the Chiefs are allowing just 9.6 points per game, and the AFC West champions haven't surrendered a touchdown since back in Week 14.

Los Angeles Rams (vs. Arizona Cardinals)

It's been a disappointing season for the Rams, who became just the latest Super Bowl loser to miss the playoffs entirely the following year. With that said, blame for that backslide can't really be laid on the Rams Defense—the team has hovered near the top-five in fantasy points much of the season. This week the Rams will attempt to close the season on a high note and finish with a winning record against an Arizona Cardinals team that leads the league in fantasy points allowed to defenses over the last month—and a Redbirds team that may well play without starting quarterback Kyler Murray.

Buffalo Bills (vs. New York Jets)

Of all the Week 17 "No Doubters," the Bills carry more risk than most—the Bills are locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs win or lose. But even short a player or two the Buffalo defense should fare well against a Jets team that leads the NFL in fantasy points allowed to defenses, ranks second in sacks allowed with 50 and inside the top 10 in giveaways. The Bills rank seventh among team defenses in fantasy points for the year and had a good outing against the Jets (four sacks and a takeaway) when these teams met in Week 1.

Baltimore Ravens (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)

Yes, the Ravens have nothing to play for. Yes, the Ravens may well rest players in Week 17 as a result—including veteran defenders like safety Earl Thomas. But the Baltimore defense isn't included here because of the Ravens themselves. They get ink in this last week of the season because the Pittsburgh offense has been the pits the last couple of weeks. If Mike Tomlin had a choice, Devlin Hodges wouldn't be his quarterback after tossing half a dozen interceptions over the last two games. But Tomlin doesn't have a choice with Mason Rudolph's season likely over with a shoulder injury.

STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Atlanta Falcons (at Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

What the heck has gotten into the Atlanta Falcons? After a miserable 1-7 start, the Falcons came off their bye and looked like an entirely different team, peeling off five wins in seven games. Since Week 10, the Falcons have quietly been third in fantasy points among defenses after beating up on the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars last week. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can score points and chew up yardage without a doubt. But there's a reason the team ranks fifth in fantasy points given up to team defenses in 2019 - that reason being a league-leading 38 turnovers. That's six more than the next-closest team.

Indianapolis Colts (at Jacksonville Jaguars)

If you followed my advice last week and used the Colts as a streaming option in a prime matchup against a Panthers in Week 16, you likely either won a championship or advanced to the title game—Indianapolis rode a pair of punt return scores from Nyheim Hines to the top score of the week at the position by a large margin. That's not going to happen again in Week 17—or ever. But the Colts do get another excellent matchup against a floundering team led by a rookie quarterback. In a Week 16 loss in Atlanta, the Jaguars had under 300 yards of offense and just one touchdown.

Cleveland Browns (at Cincinnati Bengals)

This recommendation is made with a tad of trepidation. OK, maybe a little more than a tad—injuries and suspensions have taken a lot of the punch out of the Cleveland pass rush, and the Bengals put up 35 points last week in a loss to the Miami Dolphins that guaranteed Cincinnati the first overall pick in the 2020 draft. However, while the Bengals are better offensively with Andy Dalton under center, the team is still sixth in fantasy points given up to team defenses over the past four weeks—and trail only the New York Jets in that category for the season.

LOOKING AHEAD

There's nothing to look ahead to, silly. The fantasy football season is over.

I know, it's a bummer.

I hope that Getting Defensive was at least marginally useful to you this year, and I hope to see you all back here in 2020.

Happy Holidays!

Gary Davenport

Gary Davenport is a Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks, an NFL and Fantasy Football Analyst at Bleacher Report and a contributing author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Gary was the winner of the 2017 and 2019 FSWA awards for Football Writer of the Year. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.