The vast majority of season-long leagues were completed in Week 16, so this is an abbreviated version of "Matchups" with an emphasis on daily fantasy ideas for the final 16-game slate of the season. My goal in this column is to focus on team motivation and critical situations and/or players in each Week 17 game.
1:00PM ET Games
NY Jets @ Buffalo
The Jets will be one of the most motivated teams on Sunday's slate. Coach Todd Bowles' club will clinch a playoff berth with a win over Buffalo, or hit the couch if they lose and the Steelers beat the Browns. The best matchups on New York's side go to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker against a Buffalo defense that lost RCB Stephon Gilmore (shoulder) to injured reserve two weeks ago and is likely to be without impressive rookie LCB Ronald Darby (groin). Marshall will do battle with fill-in CBs Mario Butler and Leodis McKelvin on the boundaries while Decker runs routes at toastable slot CB Nickell Robey. Marshall will look to atone after having his worst game of the season in these clubs' Week 8 meeting, wherein Marshall managed 23 yards on ten targets with three drops. Decker capitalized (6-85-1) in Week 8. With his receivers in great spots, Ryan Fitzpatrick is an underrated DFS play this week.
Friday Update: The expected absence of Bilal Powell (ankle) increases Chris Ivory's fantasy outlook against a Bills run defense that ranks second to last in Football Outsiders' DVOA. Ivory's touch counts in the four games Powell has missed this season are 19, 18, 26, and 20 with increased passing-game involvement. With Powell on the shelf when the Jets and Bills played in Week 10, Ivory peeled off 135 total yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Karlos Williams has a worst-case-scenario matchup on paper, but Buffalo's high-octane running game did drop 148 rushing yards on the Jets in Week 10, while Williams remains underpriced on DFS sites. Despite Mike Gillislee's superior fantasy stats, Williams out-snapped (62%) and out-touched (19) Gillislee (35%, 11) in last Sunday's win over Dallas. More trusted by the coaching staff in pass protection with a better chance to become Buffalo's running back of the future, Williams is likely to remain the Bills' lead back against New York.
New England @ Miami
There is lots of motivation on New England's side with Bill Belichick's team one win from clinching the AFC's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. There is little to no motivation on Miami's end, where the Dolphins have allowed 30 or more points in three of their last five games. The sub-30-point exceptions came against Matt Schaub's Ravens, and in last week's 18-12 loss to Indianapolis where Matt Hasselbeck (shoulder) left in favor of Charlie Whitehurst in the second quarter. This is a prime spot for Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Gronk shredded Miami for a 6-113-1 receiving line in Week 8. The Dolphins gave up 8-101 to Chargers tight ends in Week 15 and lost WLB Jelani Jenkins to an ankle injury last week. Julian Edelman (foot) won't play, while Danny Amendola's (knee) availability and role are unclear.
New Orleans @ Atlanta
In the comfortable confines of Atlanta's Georgia Dome, this is a green-light game with a week-high 53-point total and both teams still playing hard at the tail end of lost seasons. The Falcons are coming off a Week 16 upset of the previously undefeated Panthers. The Saints beat the Jags 38-27 last Sunday and are averaging nearly 31.8 points over their last four games.
The Week 17 chalk on Atlanta's side will be Julio Jones against New Orleans' swiss-cheese pass defense. Devonta Freeman, however, may be the strongest bet against a Saints team that's hemorrhaged a combined 102-569-5 rushing line (5.58 YPC) to running backs since Dennis Allen replaced Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator. Freeman finished as the overall fantasy RB1 when these teams met in Week 6. Despite a string of brutal matchups (@ TB, @ CAR, @ JAX, vs. CAR) in the last month, the Falcons have fed Freeman 24 touches per game during that span. There's a case to be made that Freeman is the top running back play on the board this week. I also believe Freeman may go undeservingly low owned in DFS because so many people will be on Julio and to a slightly lesser extent Matt Ryan. Freeman's ownership has plummeted since early in the year.
Julio Jones is 16 catches away from Marvin Harrison's 13-year-old single-season NFL record for receptions, and 242 yards shy of Calvin Johnson's three-year-old receiving yardage mark. In another lost season for Atlanta, getting Julio fed enough to at least approach those records may become an in-game goal. If the Falcons put their minds to it, Julio coming close isn't all that unfathomable. Jones has drawn 17 or more targets four times this season and cleared 160 yards in four games. Inherently, Atlanta's passing attack is already built to feed him voluminously.
Although his price tag has begun to catch up, Tim Hightower is one of the highest-floor running back plays in daily fantasy this week. Hightower has logged mammoth touch totals of 29, 16, and 30 over the last three games, while C.J. Spiller's placement on injured reserve eliminates another threat for Saints ground-game work. Atlanta ranks 25th in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA and has allowed 18 all-purpose touchdowns to running backs in 15 games.
The Falcons began using Desmond Trufant as a shadow corner two weeks ago. He proceeded to play a big role in holding Allen Robinson to a 3-57-1 receiving line in Week 15 and previously white-hot Ted Ginn to 1-9-0 last Sunday. If Trufant continues in the shadow role this week, his main adversary figures to be Brandin Cooks. Cooks does move around enough that Trufant is highly unlikely to stay with him on every play. But if Trufant slows down Cooks at all, Willie Snead would figure to become the primary box-score beneficiary. Snead has at least 75 yards in three straight games and is a decent bet to lead New Orleans in receptions this week. Ben Watson's (knee) snaps were cut last week and Marques Colston (chest) is also nursing injury.
Baltimore @ Cincinnati
While the Ravens may have exhausted what they have left in last Sunday's stunning upset of Pittsburgh, the Bengals return from a road loss in Denver with plenty left on the line. Cincinnati can still secure the AFC's No. 2 seed with a Broncos loss to San Diego and a Bengals win over the Ravens. A.J. Green has the best paper matchup on Cincinnati's side, but Jeremy Hill may be the sneakiest DFS tournament option. Baltimore's run defense has broken down late in the year, ceding a combined 97-442-3 rushing line (4.56 YPC) to opposing running backs over the last month. Hill has 40 touches compared to Giovani Bernard's 30 across the last two weeks. Hill has struggled in the Bengals' revised offense and has a scary floor, but he also offers two-TD upside in a game Cincinnati should control as a nine-point home favorite versus Ryan Mallett.
Pittsburgh @ Cleveland
The Steelers will only make the postseason if they beat the Browns and Rex Ryan's Bills upset the Jets. While not favorable from an odds standpoint, it's a non-impossible result. Coming off last week's letdown loss in Baltimore, I fully expect Pittsburgh's best effort in Cleveland. The DFS popularity of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Martavis Bryant will dip based on recency bias and the fact that they burned so many people last week. The running back chalk will be DeAngelo Williams, whose high ownership will further push the field away from the Steelers' passing game. This may be a rare opportunity to get Ben, Brown, and Bryant at relatively low ownership rates with a nearly 29-point team total against a Browns pass defense that ranks 28th in DVOA and has allowed multiple TD passes in 11-of-15 games. When these teams met in Week 10, Big Ben emerged as the overall QB2, Brown the WR1, and Martavis the WR3.
The quarterback move back to Austin Davis is concerning for Cleveland passing-game members, but Travis Benjamin and Gary Barnidge make for sensible targets should the Browns find themselves in trail position. Barnidge posted a respectable 5-59 number in Davis' spot start against the Bengals, and 6-65-1 against Pittsburgh earlier this year. Although it occurred with Johnny Manziel under center, Benjamin went 7-113 when the Browns and Steelers met in Week 10. In addition to Davis' quarterbacking, the biggest concern for Browns pass catchers would be a run-first approach designed to win time of possession and limit the impact of Davis on Sunday's game. That could all go out the window, of course, if Pittsburgh's normally high-octane offense lights up Cleveland's bottom-barrel defense. If you play the Steelers' quarterback or receivers this week, you might want to throw in a Browns pass catcher for a "game stack" approach.
Jacksonville @ Houston
Relative to price, Brian Hoyer is arguably one of the top quarterback plays on the board this week taking on a Jacksonville pass defense that ranks 31st in Football Outsiders' DVOA. After torching these same Jags for 10-148-2 in Week 6, DeAndre Hopkins is a top-three Week 17 receiver play along with Julio Jones and Odell Beckham. Hoyer is a lower-cost way to get exposure to Nuk, while Nate Washington and Jaelen Strong warrant consideration as WR3/flex punts. Cecil Shorts (groin) is out for this game, and Washington's three stat lines are 9-127-2, 4-74-1, and 3-42-1 in games where Washington has played but Shorts has not. Third-round rookie Strong logged nearly as much playing time (71%) as Washington (78%) last week, and they drew equal target counts (5). The plus matchup combined with the ability of numerous quarterbacks to post valuable fantasy production in Bill O'Brien's system (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Hoyer, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden) make Houston's pass game one to target in Week 17.
Tennessee @ Indianapolis
Their head coach fired and franchise quarterback hurt, the Titans called it a season several weeks ago, allowing point totals of 42, 30, 33, and 34 to the Jaguars, Jets, Patriots, and Texans, respectively, over the last month. Tennessee has been outscored 64-19 in Zach Mettenberger's three starts. The Josh Freeman- or Ryan Lindley-quarterbacked Colts passing game doesn't figure to capitalize on the caved-in Titans, but Frank Gore might. Gore has benchmarks to consider 109 rushing yards short of 1,000, while Indy figures to control this game as a six-point home favorite. Gore showed he still has some juice in his legs during last week's 95-total-yard, two-score effort against Miami. After Wednesday's practice, coach Chuck Pagano mentioned the Colts' top Week 17 priority will be getting the win, and their second priority will be getting Gore to 1,000 rushing yards. With Freeman or Lindley at quarterback, my guess is the Colts will determine their best chance to meet their first goal will coincide with the second.
Gore also correlates well with the Colts' D/ST as a low-cost punt. Indy has generated 12 sacks over its last three games. Mettenberger has taken nine sacks and committed six turnovers in his three starts. Mettenberger may play Sunday's game without LT Taylor Lewan (concussion).
Delanie Walker is the best bet for fantasy production on Tennessee's side, drawing 30 combined targets in Mettenberger's three starts. Walker stung the Colts for 7-68 on ten targets in Week 2. Indianapolis has permitted the seventh most receiving yards in the league to tight ends.
Oakland @ Kansas City
Although there was early-week concern about Kansas City resting players based on Andy Reid's history of doing so in Week 17s, the Chiefs have plenty to gain by going all out. Kansas City has a better division record than Denver and could pass the Broncos for the AFC West title should Reid's team win and Gary Kubiak's club lose to San Diego. While Oakland's run-tough defense and Kansas City's possible backfield committee render Charcandrick West a trickier investment, the passing game has a bright green light. Jeremy Maclin ripped up the Raiders (9-95-2) when these clubs met in Week 13. Travis Kelce has a good-looking matchup on paper against an Oakland defense allowing the seventh most receptions, sixth most yards, and an AFC-high 11 touchdowns to tight ends. I still think West is squarely in play in DFS tournaments. The fantasy output did not cooperate, but West logged an 89% snap rate in last week's win over Cleveland and appears to have resumed clear-cut lead back duties over Spencer Ware.
Washington @ Dallas
Finishing fast down the stretch of an otherwise lost season for Dallas, Darren McFadden quietly enters Week 17 as one of the NFL's hottest running backs. He's averaged 7.05 yards per carry the past three weeks with touch totals of 18 and 20 in his last two games. Sparingly used change-of-pace back Robert Turbin's touch counts in that timeframe are 3 and 5. Not only has Washington played sub-par run defense this season -- DC Joe Barry's unit ranks No. 23 in Football Outsiders' DVOA -- but the Redskins may pull their starters early or rest many altogether. Washington is locked into the NFC's No. 4 seed with nowhere to go. My guess is the starters will start, but be pulled from the game gradually. By the second half, McFadden could be running behind Dallas' powerful offensive line against a bunch of Redskins backups. If Washington does rest, it really would not shock me if the Cowboys won this game outright.
Although Kellen Moore's under-center presence gives him a scary-low floor, Cowboys WR Brice Butler is worth a Week 17 look as a near-minimum-price punt play. Starting in place of Dez Bryant last week, Butler logged an 84% snap rate against Buffalo and his nine targets ranked second on the team behind Terrance Williams (10). Butler has plus size (6'3/214) and ran 4.37 at the San Diego Aztecs' 2013 Pro Day. He's averaged over 15 yards on 38 career catches.
Philadelphia @ NY Giants
Having fired Chip Kelly and turned over interim duties to milquetoast Pat Shurmur, it's fair to wonder if the Eagles will lay down in this road finale at the Meadowlands. Whereas Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, and Rashad Jennings will look to finish on a high note after their OBJ-less Week 16 blowout loss to Minnesota, the Eagles' motivation is a legitimate question mark for a team that's already allowed 27-plus points in all but two games since its Week 8 bye. Vulnerable all over, Philadelphia got stampeded by Cardinals running backs (37-232-3) in Week 15, then flamed for four touchdown passes by Kirk Cousins last Saturday night. In DFS, Jennings might be the top value play on the board this week. Clearly taking over as the Giants' lead back, Jennings has touch totals of 24, 17, and 16 over his last three games. The cap room Jennings saves could be used to pay up for OBJ, Julio Jones, or DeAndre Hopkins, who are all in premium spots.
Eli Manning appears to be one of the highest-floor, highest-ceiling Week 17 quarterback plays against a pathetic Eagles defense that can't rush the passer and hemorrhages passing-game numbers. These are the last eight quarterbacks to face the Eagles with their weekly fantasy finish in parentheses: Kirk Cousins (QB1), Carson Palmer (QB23), Tyrod Taylor (QB12), Tom Brady (QB3), Jameis Winston (QB2), Matthew Stafford (QB2), Ryan Tannehill (QB16), and Matt Cassel (QB6). That's six top-12 finishes in eight weeks, with a 24:4 TD-to-INT ratio allowed since Philadelphia's Week 8 bye. "Angry" Odell should also be a tremendously popular receiver play this week.
The standout play on Philadelphia's side is Zach Ertz, who's led the Eagles in targets three straight weeks (7, 13, 17) and is the No. 3 tight end in PPR scoring over the last month, behind only Jordan Reed and Delanie Walker. Very clearly Sam Bradford's go-to guy at this stage, Ertz has a gorgeous Week 17 matchup against a Giants defense allowing the second most catches, second most yards, and fifth most touchdowns to tight ends. The game total on Eagles-Giants is 51 points, second highest of the week. The surrounding noise in Philadelphia is a concern, but Ertz is a high-volume tight end in a gorgeous matchup and a potentially high-scoring game.
Due to the lofty 51-point total, Eagles-Giants would be an interesting game to stack banking on the possibility of a high-scoring result. I like the G-Men to win, but garbage-time production could follow on Philadelphia's side. As noted by The Fake Football's Rich Hribar, all six of Jordan Matthews' touchdown catches have occurred in the fourth quarter or overtime this year. Sam Bradford will obviously want to show well in the final game of his contract year, while Matthews has hit pay dirt five times since Philadelphia's Week 8 bye. Matthews' matchup is juicy against Giants fill-in slot CB Trevin Wade. Nelson Agholor, Riley Cooper, and Josh Huff will deal with stingier boundary corners Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara. Although he only caught six for 59 yards, Sam Bradford targeted Matthews 11 times in these clubs' October meeting.
DFS Players: Eagles at Giants is the RotoGrinders Matchup of the Week. Some of RotoGrinders' top NFL minds break down this game from every angle and help prepare you to set winning lineups this weekend in daily fantasy football.
Detroit @ Chicago
With Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) on injured reserve, the Week 17 fantasy play who stands out on Chicago's side is TE Zach Miller. Since Martellus Bennett (ribs) hit I.R. a month ago, Miller has logged consecutive snap rates of 95%, 100%, and 93% while leading the Bears in targets (8), receptions (7), and receiving yards (69) with Jeffery inactive for last Sunday's win over Tampa Bay. Miller came up just short of a touchdown when he was tackled at the three-yard line in the second half. The Lions have allowed a league-high 12 touchdowns to tight ends and rank 30th in Football Outsiders' DVOA against the position. They gave up 5-61-1 on seven targets to 49ers TE Vance McDonald last week.
Keep an eye on Matt Forte's (back) availability. He's been limited in practice this week and doesn't appear to be in Chicago's 2016 plans as an impending free agent. On the off chance Forte is inactive against the Lions, midseason stud Jeremy Langford would take over as the Bears' lead runner, with sometimes goal-line vulture Ka'Deem Carey mixing in. Langford's DFS cost is way down and he has maintained a steady role even with Forte in the lineup, logging at least 12 touches in nine straight games. Langford piled up a team-high 19 carries in last Sunday's win over Tampa Bay. In all likelihood, however, Forte will play in what could very well be his final game at Soldier Field.
Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson tore up the Bears when these teams played in Week 6, but Chicago's pass defense has improved significantly since the first meeting, and Detroit's pedestrian 22.5-point team total is a bit of a Week 17 concern. Megatron had been a high-floor play all season until Weeks 14-15, where he showed one-catch downside. Calvin rebounded last week (6-77-1) and Golden Tate (4-59-0) suffered. In my opinion, Stafford, Johnson, and Tate are solid-not-spectacular Week 17 fantasy investments.
4:25PM ET Games
Tampa Bay @ Carolina
Injuries to Jonathan Stewart (foot) and Fozzy Whittaker (ankle) could force rookie Cameron Artis-Payne into a feature back role versus Tampa Bay. Although the Bucs have played fierce run defense this year, they have given up substantial fantasy production since MLB Kwon Alexander went on suspension in Week 14. In the ensuing three games, Tampa Bay has ceded rushing lines of 32-87-1 to Saints running backs, 26-69-1 to Rams running backs, and 37-153-1 to Bears backs last week. Last Sunday, Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford combined to average 4.57 yards per carry against the Bucs. We shouldn't pretend that Tampa Bay poses anything better than a below-average matchup, but Artis-Payne has a chance at 17-20 touches in a game where Carolina is at home and favored by 10.5 with the NFC's No. 1 seed hanging in the balance.
The Cam Newton-Greg Olsen stack has been a moneymaker throughout the season, and I've tried to have daily fantasy exposure to it almost every week. This is a great week to revisit that well in an important game for Carolina against the NFL's 25th-ranked pass defense by DVOA. As the Panthers tend to use a more up-tempo approach when they play games in Carolina, these are Cam's weekly fantasy finishes at home this year: QB4, QB3, QB14, QB12, QB1, QB1, QB5. As a stack candidate along with Cam, I prefer Olsen to Ted Ginn this week because Tampa Bay ranks 19th in DVOA against tight ends compared to 16th against No. 1 receivers, and the Bucs have allowed the NFL's second fewest pass plays of 20-plus yards, which are speed burner Ginn's bread and butter.
San Diego @ Denver
The Broncos have secured a playoff spot, but they have not clinched a first-round bye and could still lose the latter with a loss to San Diego combined with a Bengals win over the Ravens. I've still had a difficult time pinpointing a great individual play in Denver's offense. C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman are involved in an equal timeshare, while Jason Verrett primarily matched up with Emmanuel Sanders rather than Demaryius Thomas when these teams met earlier in the year. Despite Sanders' superior recent production, I think the best fantasy bet would be Demaryius. But I do not have a high confidence level in Thomas "going off" this week.
Seattle @ Arizona
Coming off a smackdown of the Packers, the Cardinals enter this one with a chance to overtake the Panthers for the NFC's No. 1 seed. Should 13-2 Arizona win this game and 14-1 Carolina lose its regular season finale to Tampa Bay, the Cardinals will have a better division record than the Panthers and therefore clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Seattle's defense has struggled against upper-echelon passing games this season, surrendering the fantasy QB4 week to Andy Dalton, the QB9 week to Cam Newton, the QB5 week to Carson Palmer, and the QB10 week to Ben Roethlisberger on the strength of 456 passing yards. Members of Arizona's offense seem likely to go underowned in DFS this week based on the paper matchup and perhaps a misunderstanding that there isn't a ton left to play for. The Cardinals have plenty to play for, however, and the matchup isn't as difficult as it appears. These teams played to a shootout result (39-32) in Week 10 at CenturyLink Field. Another high-scoring game is very much within the range of outcomes in this rematch at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Seahawks have little to play for in Week 17, but it would be unlike a Pete Carroll team whose foundation philosophy is driven by competition to lie down in any game, let alone against a division rival. Seattle is unlikely to rest starters, but does figure to play it cautiously with those who are banged up. Marshawn Lynch (abdomen) certainly won't be pushed to play, and nor will SS Kam Chancellor (pelvis). The Seahawks may also be without LT Russell Okung (calf), RG J.R. Sweezy (concussion), DL Michael Bennett (toe), and TE Luke Willson (concussion). Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin -- who as a slot receiver should largely avoid Patrick Peterson's coverage -- are in play as DFS tournament options. I'm finding it tough to back anyone else.
St. Louis @ San Francisco
The lone Week 17 concern for Todd Gurley is San Francisco's superior home-game defense. Gurley ripped the 49ers for 20-133-1 rushing in Week 8. The 49ers are unlikely to build a big lead on St. Louis, resulting in positive game script for the Rams' high-volume running attack. Despite playoff elimination, St. Louis is still playing hard evidenced by three straight wins. San Francisco ranks 24th in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA. The most popular DFS targets this week will be Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, and DeAndre Hopkins in ideal spots against the Saints, Eagles, and Jaguars, respectively. One way to differentiate from the crowd would be to pay up at running back to be contrarian. Gurley makes sense in that kind of approach.
Friday Update: Gurley suffered a mysterious foot injury late in last week's win over Seattle and spent this week in a walking boot. The Rams signed UDFA running back Malcolm Brown off their practice squad on Thursday, indicating true concern about Gurley's availability. If Gurley can't play against the 49ers, the Rams would likely turn to a committee involving Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham. Mason battled a hamstring injury early in the season and struggled on limited usage before Gurley took over as St. Louis' lead back. My guess for Week 17, however, is that now-healthy Mason would log at least 15 touches should Gurley be inactive at San Francisco.
Sunday Night Football
Minnesota @ Green Bay
Adrian Peterson figures to be the most popular play on Sunday night, but the running back on the other side may offer the most appealing outlook in DFS tournaments. Eddie Lacy has posted rushing lines of 22-100, 25-125-1, and 13-105-1 in his three career meetings with Vikings coach Mike Zimmer's defense. James Starks got benched last week for losing a fumble on the first play of the second half, and did not reenter. Starks has fumbled five times this season, losing two in his last two games. Lacy quietly ranks sixth in the NFL in rushing yards (416) since Week 10 and is averaging 4.57 yards per carry over his last six games. Due to the dysfunction in Green Bay's passing game, it's possible the Packers saddle up Fat Eddie for a heavy Sunday night load.
James Jones is the best bet for receiving-game production in this one. Not only did Jones drop a 6-109-1 line on Minnesota in Week 11, but the Vikings' secondary is most vulnerable on the outside due to Captain Munnerlyn's stingy slot coverage. As noted by DFS analyst Adam Levitan, Jones' targets have been in steady ascent (3, 7, 9, 11) for the last several weeks. Jones appears to be Aaron Rodgers' most trusted passing-game weapon at this stage of the season.