Ah, yes, the final week of the regular season: where we get to guess at the motivation levels of other human beings with our hard-earned buckaroos on the line.
As someone who took "Introduction to the Solar System" his final semester of college, I know a thing or two about mailing it in. NFL players are obviously bigger professionals than I ever will be, but you're also not taking body blows while trying to remember what order the planets are in. I would never blame them for caring a bit less when they're 60 minutes from a flight to Cancun.
But some of those players on eliminated teams will also be slotting into bigger roles in Week 18 than they've had previously. This could open up value, and we still need to operate under the salary cap. We'll happily take under-salaried players if we can find them.
The key is balancing that with players and teams with something at stake. On Sunday's main slate, 9 of 26 teams are in -- effectively -- must-win scenarios. Three more have seeding implications at stake, including a potential first-round bye for the Tennessee Titans. The motivation for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a bigger question mark, and the Cincinnati Bengals -- despite being in play for some seeding movement -- appear positioned to rest some starters this week.
So, what is the proper balance between value and motivation? We can at least get a glimpse at that by looking back at previous final weeks of the regular season and seeing how things played out there. Then we'll dig into which teams have something on the line, what that means for Week 18's main DFS slate, and other situations worth monitoring.
Past Week 17s
Obviously, every regular-season finale is going to have its intricacies. Not all closing sessions are the same, so we're naturally going to get some variance in looking at the past.
Still, it's the best indicator of how to handle a weird situation like this one, so let's go back and see what has happened previously.
To do this, I checked out Week 17 perfect FanDuel lineups from 2017 through 2020. Using 2017 means we have one year with a kicker and without a flex, but I thought the increased sample was a bit more important than that difference.
Then, I looked at playoff and seeding scenarios for players in those perfect lineups to see what their situations were. This gave us a 35-player sample (counting defenses and special teams as players here) to check out.
In all, 19 of 35 players in these perfect lineups were in what I would call highly motivated situations. They either were in a must-win situation or a spot where they needed a win to lock down a bye or homefield advantage. That's 54.3% of the sample.
An additional two players were jockeying for seeding, which would count as middling motivation. That increases the share to 60.0%.
In other words, 60.0% of players in perfect lineups had either big motivation or middling motivation to go out and perform. That's more than half, meaning motivation likely does matter quite a bit.
Additionally, two other players were on playoff teams that were already locked into their seed. They didn't have motivation, per se, but they were on better teams than those who had been eliminated.
In all, this means that 23 of 35 players in perfect lineups (65.7%) were on teams that could be in the playoffs. Only 34.3% were on teams that knew Week 17 would be their final game.
It's also worth noting which kinds of eliminated players made the cut. Most of them weren't random players who came out of nowhere. The two eliminated quarterbacks had salaries in the $7,000 range. All six wide receivers had salaries of at least $5,000. Four had salaries of $6,000 or higher, and three were at $7,000 or higher. One of the lower-salaried options was Chris Godwin in 2018, a hyper-talented receiver sliding into a bigger role due to injuries elsewhere.
To me, this means we should be skeptical of backups on eliminated teams sliding into increased volume. If the team is using a backup at one spot, they're likely using backups elsewhere, too. That dents the team's projected offensive efficiency, and that hurts the upside of everybody involved. We can certainly use these players because value is great, but we should think long and hard about expectations for the entire offense before getting too invested.
As far as which positions were impacted most by motivation, running back stands out. All nine perfect running backs in this time fell into the highly motivated bucket. This doesn't mean we should consider exclusively players with lots on the line. It does mean, though, that we should give those players a big boost as they're more likely to get volume all four quarters on teams that hang big point totals.
Tight end was the opposite. All five perfect tight ends (a tight end was flexed in 2018) were on teams either eliminated or locked into their playoff seed. We don't need as many points at that position to crack a perfect lineup, so this makes sense anecdotally. This is also where we saw two lesser guys pop up (Chris Herndon last year and Tyler Kroft in 2017), though George Kittle and Tyler Higbee also popped up post-elimination with salaries of $6,700 or higher. We can have more leniency at this position than others, especially if you expect the guy to be on the field a bunch.
This is all a long way of saying that, yeah, we should weigh motivation heavily when filling out lineups. It's more true at running back and less true at tight end, but just broadly, players on teams with something on the line are more likely to make it than those rounding out the season.
2021 Motivation Index
Now that we've discussed that, let's break down which teams have something to play for on Sunday. This will not include the Green Bay Packers, who have clinched a first-round bye and are the only team currently locked into their seed.
We can start with the teams with the least on the line. That's the Bengals and Bucs. Both teams have won their divisions and, thus, will be at home for the first round. The Bengals will be without Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon, likely in addition to others. That's a big dent to their projected offensive efficiency and hurts the outlook of guys like Samaje Perine shifting into bigger roles.
As for the Bucs, they know they can't claim the 1 seed. However, their path to the 2 seed is more obvious than the Bengals', and getting the 2 seed has a big payoff as it guarantees two home games. Additionally, head coach Bruce Arians has said the team will play its starters this week. As such, we can view motivation as being noteworthy for the Bucs. They were playing for just the 5 seed or 6 seed last year in Week 17, and Tom Brady still played every snap.
The teams that are in the heavily motivated bucket regardless of what happens Saturday are the Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, Tennessee Titans, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens. The Rams, Cardinals, Bills, and Patriots are already locked into the playoffs but still have their respective divisions on the line. They're going to push hard on Sunday, meaning we can treat them as going all out. And the Titans need a win to lock up a first-round bye even if the Chiefs lose on Saturday, so they'll be pushing, too.
This means that 10 of the 26 teams on the main slate will be highly motivated, 1 more will have at least something on the line, 2 are in the playoffs but seem likely to rest starters, and 13 have been flat-out eliminated. Those initial 11 should be our primary focus, and we'll want to be picky with the values we pluck from the other 13.
The Wariness Index
The flip side of the coin is teams that could either pull tricks on Sunday or just not push as hard as they may otherwise. These are teams where we'll want to be a bit skeptical.
That starts with the Bengals, who as discussed, will be without Burrow and Mixon. They'll also be without at least two starting offensive linemen and potentially Ja'Marr Chase. It'll be a bit of a skeleton crew.
This forces us to downgrade Samaje Perine significantly, even with a lot of volume likely going his way on Sunday. It's volume tied to a backup quarterback and a shaky supporting cast elsewhere. Perine's salary is also $6,500, which is lofty for someone in a rough situation. As such, we should be very wary of Perine despite his likely role this week.
The other team to monitor is the Packers. They've said they'll play their starters, but bookmakers are hyper-skeptical; they're favored by just 3.5 against the Detroit Lions. If they were a full go, my numbers would have them favored by 12.0, and even that might be light. You can ride with some Packers if you think they give it a full go, but with even Davante Adams hinting they might not play all four quarters, there are lots of reasons to be wary.
Those two are highest on the list. Other teams worthy of downgrades could be those with lots of draft implications on the line. For example, the Cleveland Browns currently hold the 13th pick in this year's draft. They could move into the top 10 or pick closer to 16th. That's a big range, especially for a team that is already without its starting quarterback and who kept its stud running back's workload in check after being eliminated Monday night. It's not as glaring as with the Packers or Bengals, but it is at least something to consider with teams that are eliminated.
The Bucs' Backups
As mentioned before, I'm expecting the Bucs to give it a full go on Sunday. That's not just for seeding, but they also need to allow Brady to develop a rapport with his new pass-catchers before the postseason. Week 18 gives them a chance to do so, and it presents us with gobs of potential (reliable) value.
That would start with Ke'Shawn Vaughn, depending on the status of Ronald Jones. Jones is reportedly in a walking boot while Vaughn practiced in full on Wednesday and Thursday. That bodes well for Vaughn's workload.
Despite leaving early with his own injury in Week 17, Vaughn had eight carries and three targets. He also had 2 of 10 red-zone opportunities while playing 33.3% of the snaps. This is after Vaughn busted off a long touchdown in Week 16 while playing 35.5% of the snaps behind Jones.
If Jones is out, that would leave just Vaughn and Le'Veon Bell (Giovani Bernard has not yet been designated for return). Bell played plenty down the stretch last week, but that was while Vaughn was dealing with a rib issue. Vaughn would be a lead back on a team that's trying to win and who has a path to a three-down-plus-goal-line role. For $5,900, that's hard to turn down.
With Antonio Brown missing most of the second half last week, we have an idea of what things could look like. Here's the data behind Brady's 29 drop backs in that second half.
|Second Half||Routes||Targets||Air Yards|
These weren't just hollow targets and air yards for Grayson, either. He turned it into 5 catches for 81 yards and the game-winning touchdown. If you want to build trust with a quarterback who relies on it, that'll move the needle.
In a small sample this year, Grayson is at 3.2 yards per route run, and he averaged 2.7 in the preseason. He was a track star in college, and that has translated into production as he has gotten more experience playing football. I'm fine with Johnson -- who has collegiate production and draft capital in his history -- but Grayson is one of the better values at receiver this week.
The key thing is to not ignore Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski while hunting for this value. Both are chasing contract incentives or milestones and have been massively productive even while playing alongside elite pass-catchers this year. With things thinned out, they could blow up. So we can lean on the Bucs for value, but it's important not to gloss over the established studs in the process.
The Cardinals' Running Backs
The past two months have taught us one key lesson: having one of James Conner or Chase Edmonds active is an elite situation for DFS. We might get that again on Sunday in a must-win spot for the Cardinals.
Edmonds has been the lead guy the past two weeks, but he is yet to practice this week after getting banged up in Week 17. Conner, meanwhile, got in a limited practice last Friday and has been working again leading into Week 18.
Typically, you'd think the Cardinals would want to limit Conner coming off of a multi-week injury. They just might not have that luxury given the importance of this game. And in the spots Conner has played without Edmonds, he has averaged 114.4 yards from scrimmage per game. As such, if we get Conner without Edmonds, he'll be a priority once again.
Whether we get to load up on Conner or not, though, we should be sky high on Christian Kirk and Zach Ertz. Those two have been the focal points of the offense in three games since DeAndre Hopkins' injury. Here's the target breakdown with a "deep" target being at least 16 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
|Past 3 Games||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
With those shares, both Kirk and Ertz are standouts at their respective positions, as is Kyler Murray at quarterback.
The fun thing is that we can have a decent amount of faith in the Seattle Seahawks on the other side. They've been out of the playoff hunt (unofficially, at least) for a while now, but they've still been putting forth good efforts. This means you can actually do some traditional game stacks here, and that's very much a rarity on this slate.
Due to Rashaad Penny's lack of involvement as a pass-catcher, that should primarily be via DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Lockett has struggled the past few weeks while ramping back up from a bout with COVID-19, but he's still getting tons of deep work since Russell Wilson's return.
|Since Bye With Lockett||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Lockett's salary is $6,900, and he's not going to garner as much attention this week after Metcalf scored three times in Week 17. Both are great, but for tournaments, Lockett is very attractive.
As for Penny, he is still firmly on the map. The problem is that his salary has inflated to $7,800, putting him right between Elijah Mitchell and Sony Michel, two guys with great roles on teams fighting for the postseason. Penny is an option, but Lockett and Metcalf stand above him.
Taylor vs. Kupp
The two big studs on Sunday's slate -- Jonathan Taylor and Cooper Kupp -- are in spots where their teams need wins. They're also chasing key milestones at their positions, as outlined on Establish the Run by Anthony Amico.
But with salaries of $10,200 and $10,000, respectively, jamming in both is a little tough. So, if we had to choose, which way should we go?
You can build strong arguments for both. For Taylor, you can point to the fact that he's averaging 141.1 yards from scrimmage per game in 11 games since his snap rate increased. He has also handled 57.7% of the team's red-zone opportunities in that time, a truly jaw-dropping number. No other back on the main slate has a mark higher than 50.0% in their most relevant sample. He can score 20 FanDuel points without a touchdown... but the touchdowns are almost a lock to come.
As for Kupp, three things are in his favor. First, he's facing a secondary that is massively depleted due to COVID-19. Second, he's 12 catches and 136 yards from setting season-long records in both categories. Third, as discussed by my co-host, Brandon Gdula, in this week's Heat Check Fantasy Podcast, wide receiver isn't as deep of a position as running back this week. Those are three key checkmarks.
For me, I have to lean Taylor due to the predictability of running back and just how much of a standout he is in the two areas most critical for fantasy points (yards and touchdowns). The case for Kupp is compelling, though, and you're not wrong if you lean that way. It's just a decision you'll have to weigh heavily before you start to build on Sunday morning.
Two Studs Back at Practice
With the playoffs looming, the Titans and Rams seem prepared to add two massive pieces into their backfields. Derrick Henry and Cam Akers are practicing and seem ready to return soon. Our job is to figure out how that impacts Sony Michel and D'Onta Foreman in Week 18.
We'll start with the Rams given Akers seems very likely to suit up this week. He has been a full participant in practice the past two weeks, and Sean McVay said that Akers has been "full speed" this week. We should expect him to be active.
I don't think that makes Michel less attractive at $7,700. Akers was effectively ruled out last week on Thursday, meaning he wasn't all that close to playing. To go from that to even a 30% snap rate would seem like a stretch.
Michel played 71.0% of the snaps back in Week 15 and still racked up 115 yards from scrimmage with 3 of 4 team red-zone opportunities. If he scales back down to that to give Akers some room for run, he's still a high-quality play. We should bake in more variance to Michel's projection to account for Akers' return, but we should still be fine paying his salary.
In addition to Michel and Kupp, we can give long thought to Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham, and Van Jefferson, as well. Stafford's main appeal is the matchup and the fact that his salary is just $7,400. If you want to get to both Taylor and Kupp, he makes that path easier.
Beckham and Jefferson have both had muted ceilings of late. They have decent workloads, though, specifically in the high-leverage department. Here's the target distribution in the four games they've played with Tyler Higbee since Beckham's snaps increased.
|With Beckham and Higbee||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Beckham has been paying off exclusively based on touchdowns, but they keep feeding him targets in close. As for Jefferson, he's getting long balls, and his salary is just $5,800. After accounting for salary, I'd rank the four Rams Michel, Kupp, Beckham, and Jefferson, but all four are worthy of being in your player pool.
As for Henry, ESPN's Dianna Russini said earlier this week that Henry was "a longshot" to suit up this week. Unlike Akers, Henry still needs to be activated from injured reserve, a move that would have to happen by 4 pm Eastern on Saturday. In all likelihood, we'll find out then that Henry's return won't happen until the playoffs. If he is activated, we'll know to avoid Foreman.
If Henry isn't activated, Foreman is in play for tournaments though preferably not cash games. The cash-game hesitancy comes from the fact that they do still play Dontrell Hilliard and Jeremy McNichols, and it led to Foreman's netting just 17 yards from scrimmage in Week 16. His floor stinks.
The ceiling is very nice, though, for $6,900. He has topped 130 yards from scrimmage twice in 4 games since McNichols' return, and his 66.1% snap rate in Week 17 was his highest by 26 percentage points. If he gets that again against the Houston Texans, he can pop off. That's enough to keep us on him for tournaments even if he's best suited for just that format.
Similar to the Rams, we can also go at the passing game here. In this instance, the passing game just means "use AJ Brown." He and Julio Jones will be playing in their seventh game together. In the previous six, Brown has dominated targets.
|With Jones and Brown||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
Brown's salary is just $7,400. That may seem high, but for his workload, it's not. If you want cash-game exposure to the Titans in a high-leverage spot, Brown is firmly the more optimal route.
The 49ers' Quarterback Situation
As such, this thing is still up in the air, and we should prepare for both Garoppolo and Trey Lance to start.
If it's Lance, last week was a big plus for his expectations. The team had a 50.0% early-down first-half pass rate with him, equal to the mark they've had in Garoppolo's starts. Lance also had a +4.7% completion percentage over expectation and averaged 0.28 EPA per drop back, per Next-Gen Stats. He was efficient as a passer.
That means that even if Lance starts, we should at least give a look to the pass-catchers. Brandon Aiyuk actually set a new season-high in receiving yards at 94 in Week 17. Part of that is variance, but it's also because Lance's average depth of target is a leap and a bound above Garoppolo's (10.5 versus 7.4). We're certainly lower on Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle than we'd be if Garoppolo were to start, but the downgrade likely isn't as big as perception.
If it's Garoppolo and we have confidence that he's healthy, that's where we get to Aiyuk and Kittle being borderline core plays. They're both low-salaried and have the potential to snag massive target shares. They'd be great both as standalone plays and as bring-backs in lineups where you use Stafford or other Rams.
The most likely scenario with Garoppolo, though, is that he's starting and still dealing with some pain. He was brutal in Week 16 while playing through the injury, and this isn't likely an injury that's fully healed. We'd still be able to use the pass-catchers, but the range of outcomes here would be similar to if Lance were starting.
The one guy we might be able to trust regardless is Elijah Mitchell. Mitchell is no bargain at $8,000, but he jumped right back into his old role in Week 17 with 130 yards from scrimmage. That's the third time he has hit at least that mark, including a 168-yard outing in Week 12. The Rams' rush defense is typically stout, but Mitchell still grades out as a solid rotational tournament play.
The only thing that could crumble expectations here is left tackle Trent Williams. He missed practice Wednesday and Thursday due to an elbow injury. Williams sprained his elbow in Week 17, so it's unlikely they're merely conserving him for Sunday. Keep tabs on Williams' status through the weekend, and if he's out, we should downgrade everyone here across the board.
Devin Singletary: Featured Back
For most of the potential value backs this week, they're dependent on injury news coming out on Friday. The one exception is Devin Singletary.
Because Singletary doesn't typically blow up, his salary has been slow to rise and is still just $6,700 this week. But in four games as a legit featured back, Singletary is averaging 93.3 yards from scrimmage per game. He got to 110 there last week while handling 9 of 23 red-zone opportunities. Yardage and touchdowns were the two reasons we always avoided Singletary in the past. We no longer need to do that.
In last week's piece, we discussed pairing Josh Allen with Singletary as a stacking partner due to the heavy spread. When the Buffalo Bills have blown teams out this year, Allen has had massive FanDuel outputs, but the receivers really haven't. The running backs and Dawson Knox had provided the better return on investment. Knox dropped a donut, but both Allen and Singletary went off. A similar approach is viable for this week, making Singletary a focal point whether with Allen or as a standalone play.
The other value on the Bills is Gabriel Davis. Emmanuel Sanders missed another practice Thursday and seems likely to sit. In three games with Sanders either out or leaving early, Davis has gotten more high-leverage work than your typical $5,200 receiver.
|Weeks 14, 15, 17||Overall Targets||Deep Targets||RZ Targets|
High winds seem likely in Buffalo, which lowers the desire to splurge for Stefon Diggs and prevents Davis from leapfrogging Cyril Grayson among low-salaried receivers, but Davis is still a solid rotational tournament play.
Monitoring Damien Harris
Most likely, Damien Harris is all right. He has been limited in practice this week, and typically a limited session on Wednesday means you're good to go. However, Harris was also limited all three days leading into Week 15 due to his hamstring injury and ultimately sat there. So, it's at least worth discussing what we'd do with Rhamondre Stevenson if Harris were to sit.
Stevenson has had a snap rate of at least 40% in 4 games this year. In those, he has topped 100 yards from scrimmage twice, averaging 18.3 carries and 1.5 targets per game. He has also handled 37.2% of the team's red-zone opportunities.
The Patriots can still win the AFC East, so they're going to push this week. The Miami Dolphins have been eliminated and just got shredded by D'Onta Foreman last week. If Harris is out, Stevenson will grade out as a quality play at $6,500.
The Depleted Ravens and Steelers
Technically, this is one of just two games where both teams are highly motivated. The odds of making the playoffs are slim, but they're gonna give it a go.
That's about the only thing working in this game's favor.
On the Ravens' side, Lamar Jackson seems likely to sit after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday. That would put Tyler Huntley in line for his fourth start and his fourth total game alongside Marquise Brown. Unfortunately, Brown hasn't had more than 43 yards in any of those despite averaging 10 targets per game. He's off the map.
The one guy who has produced has been Mark Andrews. However, Andrews' salary is $8,500. That means there is a big opportunity cost as using him would make it tougher to get to Taylor and Kupp. You could go to Andrews and hope his tear continues, but those two are absolutely going to grade out above him.
In theory, Johnson's absence bumps up Chase Claypool and Ray-Ray McCloud, who are second and third on the team in targets since McCloud became a starter. McCloud, though, has maxed out at 35 receiving yards despite an 18.1% target share. Claypool has topped that three times, including a 93-yard showing in Week 14. Claypool is certainly one of the better value options at $5,800, but there are still obvious paths to failure with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
Joining Johnson on the COVID-19 list was center Kendrick Green. This hurts the outlook for Najee Harris following his big showing on Monday Night Football. The offensive line is already rough, and they're now facing the third-ranked schedule-adjusted rush defense. Even though Harris' team has big motivation, I'd still take Dalvin Cook over Harris in the same salary range due to the expected offensive ineptitude of the Steelers.
Searching Within the Saints
Similar to the Steelers, the Saints should be attractive in a must-win game. The list of usable options here is thin, though.
The one guy you can feel decent about is Taysom Hill. This game has a similar setup to the Saints' matchup with the New York Jets when Hill ran for 73 yards and 2 touchdowns, helping him score 26.3 FanDuel points. He'll need two rushing scores to top guys like Allen and Murray, but that's within his range of outcomes. Although Hill isn't a must, he's a consideration.
How you view Alvin Kamara depends on what you think the Saints do here. Mark Ingram is likely back after logging limited sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. In games Ingram has played, Kamara's role has decreased significantly.
|Kamara's Workload||Carries||Targets||Yards From Scrimmage||RZ Share|
On a typical slate, you could cross Kamara off with Ingram back.
But this isn't a typical slate. The Saints desperately need a win, and their best route to that could be riding Kamara as an every-down player. We've seen teams up their running backs' snap rates significantly in the playoffs previously, and this is effectively that for the Saints. If they fully feature Kamara in a plus matchup, he's worth $9,000.
That means Kamara's out of cash-game consideration, but we can keep him in our player pool for tournaments. He's similar to Cook: their workload could be great, but there are high-probability paths to disappointment. I'd put both Kamara and Cook above Harris, but it's tough to put any of them on the same tier as Taylor even after accounting for salaries.
Source : https://www.numberfire.com/nfl/news/41779/daily-fantasy-football-sannes-situations-to-monitor-in-week-186568