There are a few things you look for when picking out fantasy options in Week 17 of a season. In addition to the things you want in any given week - home teams, favored teams, good matchups, all the same stuff we normally look for - you want players from teams with something to play for.
In some cases, it's that last one that can make or break your Week 17. Even if it isn't always as simple as the Patriots sitting someone like Rob Gronkowski in Week 17, teams with nothing left to play for - especially playoff teams whose seedings are locked - are more likely to give their studs only cameo roles in Week 17, and cameo roles just aren't enough to make a fantasy week.
Heading into Week 17, the Cowboys, Giants, Steelers and Texans are the only playoff teams who are locked into their seeding. The Falcons could play themselves out of a bye, while the Seahawks could play their way into one. The Patriots, Chiefs and Seahawks could scramble up the order of home-field advantage, but then the Chiefs could find themselves as far down as the six seed. Green Bay, Detroit and Washington are all still hunting just to find a playoff spot.
As we try to work through those situations, check out our wealth of fantasy tools at Pro Football Focus to help you make those final decisions, and check below for a look at some of the best and worst fantasy situations for Week 17.
Tom Savage, Houston Texans: The Texans don't have a lot to work out as they enter the playoffs. They're going to be the No. 4 seed in the AFC and, with Savage under center, are likely to be underdogs against just about anybody. For a team that has started Brian Hoyer, Matt Schaub and T.J. Yates in playoff games, this has to be particularly deflating. But with Lamar Miller already ailing, and the Texans locked into their seed, there's not much reason for the Texans not to open Savage up and just see what he can do. Let Savage throw the ball as much as he can against a Titans defense that has allowed the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks on the season (albeit much improved since its Week 13 bye), and maybe the Texans can get some confidence under the backup's belt heading into the playoffs, and get some confidence for 2016 bust DeAndre Hopkins as well. It's a punt play in DFS formats, but from here, it makes sense that the Texans would want to see if there's anything to Savage once and for all.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons: At a glance, it's easy to look at Freeman's 2016 season as a big disappointment compared to 2015. After all, he was the No. 1 running back in both standard and PPR scoring last year, but is eighth and sixth, respectively, in those this year. On the other hand, look at his raw numbers. Freeman had 1,639 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns in 15 games last year; he's at 1,364 and 12 in 15 games this year. A good game in Week 17 and he's effectively the same guy as last year; an incredible one and he could actually exceed those numbers. In Week 17, the Falcons play a Saints team that let Falcons running backs put up 52 fantasy points in Week 3 and gives up the third-most fantasy points to running backs on the season, in a game the Falcons need to win to hold on to a playoff bye. Meanwhile, the team will want to keep Julio Jones healthy for a playoff run. Expect a big dose of Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
The Seattle Seahawks' starting running back: It's early in the week yet. Maybe the Seahawks get Thomas Rawls back healthy for Week 17, or maybe Alex Collins has to be the primary ball-carrier for the Seattle team. Keep an eye on practice and injury reports throughout the week. But whichever running back starts for Seattle makes for a good fantasy play in an excellent matchup. The 49ers were competent against running backs until they lost NaVorro Bowman early in the season; since then, they've been painful to watch, giving up the most fantasy points to opposing running backs my more than 60 across the season. The Seahawks need a win and a Falcons loss to get back in line for a playoff bye, and running the ball is their easiest path to victory. If Seattle goes with Rawls or Collins as the primary running back, either one makes for a strong play. If they go with a split, either one could be an interesting play even then.
Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers; Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions: The biggest upset of Week 17 would be the Sunday prime-time game between Green Bay and Detroit finishing up as a ho-hum 17-14 affair. No, for this game, we expect, and should receive, fireworks. The Packers allow the most points to opposing wide receivers this season by almost a full point per game. The Lions are middle of the pack, but have been struggled mightily the last three weeks, to the tune of 29 fantasy points a game allowed to the position. And with the way Aaron Rodgers has played this season, and with both teams likely needing a win to make the playoffs, this games feels like the most obvious home for Week 17 fireworks. Any DFS lineup that doesn't include at least one Detroit/Green Bay pass-catcher is just doing it wrong.
Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills: The Bills have already made a change at head coach, and are rolling out a new starting quarterback for Week 17 in a "guard against Tyrod Taylor injury" save-money move. Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy, Buffalo's top two offensive weapons, are both notoriously brittle. Meanwhile, EJ Manuel, who has shown little-to-nothing as an NFL quarterback, will get the start, and if the team shies at all away from McCoy and Watkins (as it probably should), Manuel is left with . . . the No. 1 fantasy tight end over the last three weeks, in Clay. The last three games, Clay has four touchdowns (his first four of the season) and 209 receiving yards, and this week the Bills play a Jets team that has allowed seven touchdowns to tight ends over its last four games.
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs: There's a route to the Chiefs having a first-round bye that involves the Raiders losing to the Broncos (totally plausible, given Oakland's reliance on a backup quarterback) and the Chiefs beating a Chargers team that has to be maximally frustrated with how this season has shaken out. Given the Chargers just suffered an embarrassing loss to the Browns, they'll want to end the season on at least a little bit of a high note. With Casey Hayward one of the league's best cornerbacks (he is PFF's fifth-ranked CB on the season with a grade of 89.5), the path for the Chiefs really needs to be on the ground, either with Spencer Ware or the suddenly all-over-the-field Tyreek Hill. Either way, Smith doesn't promise big performance in Week 17.
Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins: Sometimes, a "boom-or-bust" player can be worth it, if a matchup looks particularly combustible. DeSean Jackson, for example, has been a recommended play in this space multiple times. But Ajayi is an extreme example. Per PFF Fantasy's Scott Barrett, Ajayi, who ranks fifth-best among qualifying running backs in yards per carry, would rank fourth-worst in that metric if you removed his three 200-yard games. Ajayi has week-winning potential, but against a Patriots team allowing the third-fewest fantasy points to running backs this year, Ajayi seems primed for one of his down games.
Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders: There will be fantasy players out there who see an eliminated Broncos team facing a Raiders team needing a win to ensure a first-round playoff bye and think the Raiders receivers will be a better play than they might be in a normal week against Denver. And in a world where Derek Carr hadn't just been lost for the season to injury, it's possible this would make sense. But with Matt McGloin under center, going against the leagues' best pass defense (even if it is eliminated) and a middling run defense, the Raiders' path to a playoff bye lies in the legs of Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington and Jalin Richard, not in the hands of Cooper and Crabtree.
Ladarius Green, Pittsburgh Steelers: Green is dealing with yet another concussion, which has been a problem in his career. At this point, no one is allowed to be even slightly surprised in any given week if news comes out that Green is retiring, like Sidney Rice and others before him, to protect against further head injury. Even if he returns in Week 17 - which at this point seems possible, if not likely - the Steelers can't possibly want to push him. A healthy Green is obviously a big part of the Steelers offense (he averaged better than eight targets a game the last three times he was active), and whatever reassurance the Steelers might want that he can contribute in the playoffs will be more than counterbalanced by a desire not to tax Green any more than necessary in a game that won't mean much.
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Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus.
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