Happy New Year everyone! I told you I'd still be here this week! Week 17 is still championship time for fantasy football, even if most leagues hold their finale in Week 16. I'm going to fit a public service announcement in here and advise everyone that if your league plays through Week 17, then you should think seriously about changing your championship game to Week 16. Playing a fantasy football match-up in the final week of the NFL regular season is just too risky, mostly because there is a long history of teams who have nothing to play for at the end of the year being more cautious with their players. Especially those teams going into the playoffs who have their seed locked up. This year has unfolded in a such a way that most of the playoff teams still have something to play for, such as a first round bye or the #1 overall seed in their conference, but that's not the case everywhere. The Washington Redskins, for example, have clinched their division and are locked into the #4 seed in the NFC, giving them no reason to risk playing fantasy friendly guys like TE Jordan Reed, WR DeSean Jackson and QB Kirk Cousins. Last week, Cousins and Reed won fantasy championships for many and this week they may not even see the field. That's the kind of issue you're looking at if you wait until Week 17 to have your Super Bowl. I'm telling you, just do it!
Alright, back to your regularly scheduled fantasy advice portion of this program. There aren't a lot of exciting offensive match-ups this week and some potentially critical fantasy relevant players could be looking at a "pitch count" or be sat down all together if their teams think it's for the best, as the season is coming to a close for many and the playoffs are set to begin next weekend. Keep that in mind when you set your starting lineup.
Also, remember that although the fantasy season is coming to a close in seasonal leagues, Daily Fantasy Sites will still have games available through the NFL playoffs, so if your thirst for fantasy football has not yet been quenched this season (it never really is, right?) or if your championship game leaves a bad taste in your mouth, there are ways to keep playing. On to the best fantasy games of the week!
The usual rules and caveats apply. The games I flesh out here are ones that I believe present good opportunities for all or most of the fantasy relevant players on both teams. There will be great fantasy days for players not involved in these particular games, but these match-ups should provide particularly enticing situations for everyone involved. Let's do it. Good luck to everyone playing for a championship in Week 17 and once again, Happy New Year!
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons - Jan. 3 1:00 p.m. ET, Over/Under: 53
Saints: Well there you go Drew Brees owners. Coming into last week's game, Brees status was up in the air, as he was fighting through a plantar fascia injury. Not only was he able to suit up against the Jaguars, but he threw for 412 yards and 3 TDs! He's been on fire for the past four weeks, totaling at least 2 passing TDs, 282 passing yards and 24 fantasy points in each game to go along with just 1 INT in that timeframe. The Falcons have a decent pass defense and are Top-10 in fantasy points allowed to QBs, but I'll take Brees' hot streak over their mediocre pass defense. Start him as a Top-5 guy this week.
The main target for Brees has been WR Brandin Cooks, who has shown the ability and promise we all saw in the preseason here in the second half of the season. Here are Cooks' fantasy totals since Week 8: 20, 13, 22, 3, 16, 2, 18 and 19. Only two games with less than double digit points. He's now the #9 WR in standard leagues on the season and there's no way you can keep him anywhere near the bench in this game, despite the fact that the Falcons are 2nd in fantasy points allowed to WRs. He should be suiting up for your championship teams. While Brandin Cooks has had bigger numbers, Willie Snead has been a consistent possession type guy for this offense. He's has double digit fantasy points only four times this season, but he's had at least 5 points in all but two games (not including Weeks 10 and 13, in which he was injured in some form or fashion). I believe he's a solid flex or WR3 this week.
TE Benjamin Watson had an off game last week, putting up only 1 catch on 2 targets for 5 yards, but that was an extreme outlier, as Watson has been a big part of the offense since Week 5. Watson is the #8 TE in standard leagues on the season and the Falcons are 27th in the league in fantasy points allowed to the position. Don't let last week's performance scare you away from starting Watson in your championship game, he's a Top-8 guy.
To say Tim Hightower has been a pleasant surprise to both the Saints and fantasy owners is quite an understatement. Hightower has put up 15, 8 and 28 fantasy points in the three games since he took over the starting RB job when Mark Ingram was placed on IR. He had his best game yet last week against the Jags, finishing with 27 rush attempts for 122 yards and 2 TDs. The dude didn't even play football for a few years prior to this stint! That's crazy! Atlanta is 27th in fantasy points allowed to RBs and they are middle of the pack in overall rush defense. Hightower has played well for the owners that picked him up going into the playoffs and if you have him, you're not sitting him down after last week's performance. He's a Top 5-10 RB.
Falcons: If you haven't noticed the trend by now, let me give you a hint: start everyone against the Saints! New Orleans vs. [Enter Team Name Here] has been a staple of this series for much of the season and that continues right up until the end. I mean, did you see the Jaguars-Saints game last week? I know QB Matt Ryan hasn't exactly been the poster for fantasy goodness this season and he hasn't had a multi-touchdown game since Week 11...but this defense is just so bad. They've given up 41 points and 9 passing TDs more than any other team in the league. I get that you've been disappointed by Ryan this season if you've had to rely on him at any point, but if you're in your championship because you've been streaming QBs, then this is the week to use him. He's a Top-10 option.
You all know to start Julio Jones, but let me talk about him a little anyway. After going five games without a receiving TD, Julio has two straight with one and just put up 9 catches for 178 yards against the Panthers' defense. A large chunk of that came on a 70-yard bomb for a TD from Ryan, but still, what do you think he's going to do to the Saints? He's likely the #1 WR on the week. The only other pass catcher that you might consider using in Atlanta is TE Jacob Tamme. He is by no means a reliable option and he isn't a TE1 this week, even in a match-up against the 32nd ranked defense in fantasy points allowed to the position. If you have nobody else, he's a good shot in the dark as a Top-15 type guy, including in DFS tournaments.
New Orleans' weak defense also extends to the running game, as they're 30th in fantasy points allowed to RBs and are the 31st ranked rush defense overall. RB Devonta Freeman has 15 and 14 fantasy points in his last two games respectively after three straight games (not including Week 12 when he was out with a concussion) of under 10 fantasy points. He may have only averaged 3.3 yards per carry last week against Carolina, but if you watched the game you saw a guy who looked really good. Freeman is the #1 RB on the season in standard leagues and he's the #1 RB this week, the last of the regular season. I'd say that's pretty fitting.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants - Jan. 3 1:00 p.m. ET, Over/Under: 51
Eagles: This one is a bit risky. Now former Head Coach Chip Kelly was fired this week, so who knows what really is going to happen with the Eagles in this last week of the season. I'd expect them to run Kelly's offense in this game, just because they've been doing so all season-long and it would be too difficult to make too many changes, but there's guarantee of anything. QB Sam Bradford hasn't been particularly good this season (to be kind) but he's going up against the Giants' defense this week. They're the 31st against the pass and 30th in fantasy points allowed QBs. I'm not advocating trusting Bradford as your starter for the championship, but I think that there are worse options if you're desperate and have been streaming QBs to get to this point, as he should be in the Top-15 range this week.
Bradford's receiving options should be much more reliable, two of them in particular. TE Zach Ertz has been a target monster lately, getting 7, 13 and 17 (WHAT?!?!) in the past three games, respectively. These games have led to 9, 13 and 12 point fantasy games to coincide with them and this week he gets a Giants' defense that allows the 2nd most fantasy points to TEs. You should be able to start Ertz with supreme confidence this week and it's possible he's still on waivers in your league, so if you've been streaming TEs, sprint to the wire and check it out. The other guy is WR Jordan Matthews. Matthews has actually been a disappointment this season overall, as he had high expectations coming into the year. He nickel and dimed his fantasy owners to through the first seven games, but after the Eagles' Week 8 bye, Matthews has had games of 19, 12, 21 and 16 fantasy points, the last two of which have come in the two most recent weeks. The running joke is that Matthews is the master of garbage time stats, but the truth is that those stats count just as much as other do. Also, it doesn't hurt when you're going up against the 24th ranked defense in fantasy points allowed to WRs. It may not happen until the 4th quarter, but Matthews should be a WR2 in this one.
The running game is the shakiest part of the whole equation for the Eagles. Although both Ryan Mathews and DeMarco Murray scored a TD in last week's game against Washington, neither player received more than 5 carries or 8 total touches overall. The Giants' rush defense hasn't been any better than their pass defense, coming in at 25th both against the run and in fantasy points allowed to RBs, but it's a very risky proposition to trust anyone in this backfield, especially in a championship game. With Chip Kelly now gone, it is possible that Murray gets a heavier workload and more rushing attempts that aren't from the shotgun, which would be more suited to him. However, Mathews has been the more effective player for the entirety of the season, even if he hasn't been great since coming back from an injury a few weeks ago. It's also within the realm of possibility that both guys have a good game, especially since the G-Men have such a porous defense. I just don't feel strongly about any of these options. If I had to pick one I suppose it's Murray since he was more effective last week on his limited touches than Mathews was with his, but it's really a toss-up. I wouldn't trust either guy as more than a flex.
Giants: The return of Odell Beckham Jr.! Without Beckham, this would not be nearly as attractive of a game, both from a real life and fantasy perspective. When Beckham was suspended for last week's game against the Vikings, QB Eli Manning had a rough outing, finishing just 15 of 29 for 234 yards, 1 TD and 3 INTs. In the two games prior to that Manning averaged 291 yards passing and 4 TDs and only had 1 total INT. Yeah, Beckham is that good. He returns just in time to help Manning dismantle the 26th ranked pass defense in Philadelphia, which has also allowed the 2nd most fantasy points to QBs. Trust in Eli this week, he's a Top-5 play.
Beckham is an obvious Top-3 WR this week and if you were able to make it to your championship game despite last week's suspension, then kudos to you. This is a rare case in which having your championship in Week 17 could be advantageous, as long as you were able to make it there. The Eagles are 29th in fantasy points allowed to WRs. Beckham should go nuts here. #2 WR Rueben Randle has had a TD in five of the last seven games for the Giants, scoring double digits in fantasy points in four of those five. In a match-up this good, I'd try to find a way to get at least one Giant into my lineup and Randle fits perfectly as a flex. Up until last week when he had just 28 yards receiving, TE Will Tye had been having a nice five game stretch in which he had at least 5 fantasy points in each contest. The Eagles have actually been pretty good against the TE -- 6th in fantasy points allowed -- but that may just be a factor of them being so bad against WRs and they just got shredded by Jordan Reed last week. The pass defense in general doesn't scare me and I like Tye as a low-end TE1.
The most surprising development recently in this offense has been the re-emergence of RB Rashad Jennings. Jennings has had at least 14 carries in three straight games and has put up at least 10 fantasy points in all of them. It looks like the offensive coaching staff finally realized (albeit a little too late) that a four man RBBC just wasn't getting it done and that Jennings is actually a good player when given enough touches. Philadelphia is home to the 29th ranked rush defense in the league and they're allowing the 5th most fantasy points to RBs. Jennings should be up so solid numbers here and I think he actually pushes into the low-end RB1 territory. Trust me, it sounds riskier than it actually is.
Well, that's it for the 2015 NFL regular season and season-long fantasy football goes along with it. Hopefully your season was as enjoyable as mine was, both as an avid fantasy player myself and as a writer and provider of information to those who may need it. See you in 2016!