Week 17 Sunday Late Slate Fantasy Preview

  • 49ers (-460) @ Raiders (+9.5), O/U: 42


    Pregame Stories/What to Watch For

    These two former Bay Bridge counterparts meet in Sin City for the very first time. And just like how they were located on opposite sides of the Bay Area, these two franchises also seem to be going in vastly different directions. The biggest news this week in this matchup is the shocking benching of Raiders QB Derek Carr for the rest of the season, which could save the Raiders $33 million in guaranteed salary next year if Carr were to get seriously hurt at some point in the final two regular season games. In fantasy, the insertion of Jarrett Stidham under center puts the ceilings of other Raiders fantasy assets in serious doubt for the finals. Stidham, the fourth-round pick in 2019 from Auburn, has thrown 61 career passes in the NFL with an awful QBR of 52.8. The bottom line is that if you are vying for a fantasy title this week and have any Raiders at all, you’re in trouble.


    Top Starts


    RB Christian McCaffrey

    Could head coach Kyle Shanahan scale back McCaffrey’s workload somewhat to keep his star running back fresher for the playoff run? Sure, it’s possible. However, Shanahan has also publicly said recently that he thinks resting starters has a negative impact on their playoff performances. So, even if CMC’s workload is less than it normally is, fantasy managers should expect enough volume for him to boom in the finale against a Raiders defense that has given up the 7th-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. In terms of rushing yards allowed per game, the Raiders are actually just better than league average (18th-most allowed). But for whatever reason, home cooking has made things considerably worse since they give up 136.8 rushing yards per game (6th-worst) at Allegiant Stadium this year.


    TE George Kittle

    When the iron is this hot, you just have to keep striking. Kittle is on an epic two-game bender while totaling 50.3 fantasy points, and the party is bound to keep rolling through in Vegas against a Raiders defense that has given up the 9th-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends this year. One of the things that makes Kittle so dangerous is that he hasn’t needed elite accuracy from the quarterback position to thrive. Kittle’s catchable target rate of 79.2% ranks just 19th-best at the position, and yet he ranks 3rd-best among tight ends in fantasy points per game (13.0). The Raiders actually blitz at the 12th-highest rate in football (25.9% of dropbacks), so it’s possible that Purdy may struggle with accuracy (60.0% completion percentage vs man, 73.9% vs zone). Regardless, Kittle is showing how his skillset is matchup-proof and he should be able to make the most of whatever Purdy gives him. Start Kittle with confidence.


    Boom/Bust Dart-Throws


    QB Brock Purdy

    Would you trust a rookie with 115 career pro pass attempts to anchor your fantasy championship lineup? On one hand there is the inexperience, but on the other hand are two TD passes in four straight games and over 210 passing yards in three of four. Therein lies the boom/bust part of plugging Purdy in as a potential starter on a title lineup. I just told you that it’s highly possible that the Raiders throw a lot of man coverage at the Niners, which could mean a less effective Purdy (72.8 passer rating vs man, 122.6 vs zone). However, the Raiders have given up the 6th-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks on the season, so it’s also very hard to resist. It’s entirely possible that there are teams heading into the fantasy playoffs who managed to ride the mediocrity of Carr all the way to the finale, so in situations like that, Purdy becomes a very viable alternative. How bold are you feeling?


    Jets (-130) @ Seahawks (+2), O/U: 42.5


    Pregame Stories/What to Watch For

    This is a matchup of two 7-8 teams both on the playoff bubble with long shots to grab a wild card spot. Mike White (ribs) finally returned to a full practice on Wednesday and will reclaim the starting QB job with Zach Wilson expected to be inactive. There’s a lot of pressure on White’s shoulders, but his return will be a welcome sight for any fantasy manager with Jets in their championship week lineups. On the other side, we get to see an exciting revenge game from Geno Smith, who will get to potentially crush the playoff hopes of one of those teams who “wrote me off, but I didn’t write back.” Something that fantasy managers will be very nervous about leading up to this game is the practice status of Ken Walker III, who continues to deal with a lingering ankle injury that has kept him out of practice all week so far. Managers should definitely have a viable alternative waiting on their bench as an emergency spot starter.


    Top Starts


    WR Garrett Wilson

    With Mike White back under center, Wilson immediately returns to his upside WR2 status. While the Seahawks have actually surrendered the 4th-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts this season, Wilson’s projected individual matchups in this game inspire confidence. Wilson projects to have the best matchup when lining up in the slot with CB Coby Bryant (73% catch rate allowed). Though Wilson has lined up wide more with White than in the slot (27.5% slot rate with White, 39.0% with other QBs), that will also present a solid matchup with fellow rookie Tariq Woolen. Expect Wilson to look to his favorite target early and often in this must-win game for the Jets.


    RB Zonovan Knight

    In three games with White under center, Knight has averaged 13.6 fantasy points per game. That’s night and day from the 4.1 total fantasy points he’s accumulated over the past two games with White sidelined. On the season, the Seahawks have yielded the 2nd-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. They’ve also been particularly bad at home in giving up YPC (5.2 at home, 4.6 on road). Everything points to this shaping up to be Bam’s big bounce-back game when the Jets need it most. Fantasy managers at this stage need to have a short memory and focus on how they expect Knight to do in this game and this game only. Expect high-end RB2 numbers from the hard-hitting rookie.


    Boom/Bust Dart-Throws


    TE Will Dissly

    While the Jets are a nightmare for wide receivers (2nd-fewest fantasy points allowed), they’ve actually been pretty beatable against tight ends (13th-most fantasy points allowed). With Noah Fant (knee) not practicing and Tyler Lockett (finger) also not practicing despite coach Pete Carroll saying he participated fully in the team’s Wednesday walkthrough, Smith could be in dire need of a second target. Enter Dissly, who definitely carries plenty of bust potential (season-low nine routes run in Week 16) along with boom (scored three touchdowns in first four games of the season). If you’ve been someone relying on the likes of Chig Okonkwo, the loss of someone like Ryan Tannehill may force you to pivot in another direction like Dissly.


    Vikings (+3.5) @ Packers (-180), O/U: 47.5


    Pregame Stories/What to Watch For

    Somehow, some way, the Packers are still on the playoff bubble. They’d still need to win out and get a lot of help with other bubble teams losing, but fantasy managers can’t complain because this will keep their Packers skill players afloat for the finale. They’re actually favored in this game, which should be plenty competitive and high-scoring. The Vikings, meanwhile, have already won an NFL-record 11 games by one possession this year, and could be looking at a dozen if the Packers can hang tough as the spread indicates.


    Top Starts


    RB Dalvin Cook

    Somewhat quietly, the Packers actually lead the league in limiting opponents to the lowest passing yards per game at Lambeau Field (by a whopping 22.2 yards ahead of the Eagles). Kirk Cousins may have a long day ahead of him against Jaire Alexander and company, so it’s highly likely that head coach Kevin O’Connell will try to ground and pound his way to victory with Cook instead. The Packers are giving up the 9th-most fantasy points to opposing running backs on the season. Cook has alternated good games with disappointing ones in each of his last five games, and the boom game is up now.


    RB AJ Dillon

    Would you believe it if I said that Dillon has outscored Aaron Jones in the past four games by a total of nearly 20 fantasy points (68.1 vs 47.9)? Despite carrying the rock at just a 3.2 YPC clip in back-to-back games, Dillon has been able to bring home the fantasy points with a very active red zone role that has netted him five splashes in that four-game span. Dillon has definitely developed a tendency to be much more effective in the second half (53% more total yards per game) than the first, and has an insane split of nine total touchdowns in 16 career second-half games compared to just a pair of scores in 23 first-half games. The Vikings have allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to opposing running backs, and with Jones only practicing in a limited capacity all week due to knee and ankle maladies, Dillon could easily be looking at his fifth-straight game with double-digit touches.


    Boom/Bust Dart-Throws


    WR Christian Watson

    Now, this has to be prefaced with the fact that as of Thursday, Watson (hip) had not practiced yet this week. If he in fact cannot play, then substitute Romeo Doubs in this spot because of the early season rapport he had with Aaron Rodgers. It’s no secret that the Vikings defense is a pass funnel (most fantasy points allowed to wide receivers), but it’s the home run nature of what they give up that makes Watson such a juicy start. The Vikings give up the 4th-worst road YPR mark (11.6) in the league while Watson ranks 19th-best in that category with a 14.2 mark. Rodgers hasn’t been particularly accurate with his deep-ball completion percentage (34.8% — 20th-best), but could find more success if they execute some play-action (65.1% completion percentage — 13th-best) deep shots to Watson. The high ceiling that Watson possesses is exactly the kind of player you want starting in your championship lineup. I’m putting him in the boom/bust category because of the risk he carries if the hip is far from 100%.


    Rams (+6.5) @ Chargers (-275), O/U: 42.5


    Pregame Stories/What to Watch For

    The battle of Los Angeles will take place at SoFi stadium for the very first time (their previous meeting in 2018 was at the Memorial Coliseum). Two significant pieces of defensive news could make a big impact on this game: first, Chargers safety Derwin James reportedly won’t be suspended for the hit against Colts WR Ashton Dulin in Week 16 that got James ejected. Second, DE Joey Bosa (groin) was designated to return from IR, opening up the door just a crack that he might be playing in Week 17. This could have a major impact on Baker Mayfield and the Rams offense. Mayfield is coming off his finest game as a Ram (230-2-0), and has another chance to make a case for his 2023 job if he can finish hot down the stretch.


    Top Starts


    RB Cam Akers

    I go in-depth in my final Buy/Sell of the season here about why I am buying high on Akers, so I’ll keep this one short and sweet. He represents a strong start in the fantasy finals not just because of the hot streak he’s been on lately, but because the Rams seem to want to give him every opportunity possible to stake a sizable claim on the 2023 job as well. Head coach Sean McVay said this week that he sees Akers as “a big part of what we want to do moving forward.” Akers has a real opportunity to even have fantasy managers forgive him like the way McVay has if he can come through big when it matters most in Week 17.


    RB Austin Ekeler

    The essential shutdown of Rams All-Pro DT Aaron Donald (ankle) has had a considerable impact on the team’s overall run defense effectiveness. Donald has not played at all in December, and despite allowing the 5th-fewest opponent rushing yards per game (104.5) on the season, the Rams have been gashed for the 11th-most (135.7) over their last three games. They are also allowing the 10th-most receiving yards to opposing running backs on the season, which all adds up to a very favorable matchup for Ekeler. The lone area of concern is that the Bolts star back has only averaged 3.5 targets per game over his last two contests, less than half of the 7.4 he averaged per game prior to those two games. I would expect that to be corrected, especially given the Rams’ vulnerability to pass-catching backs like Ekeler.


    Boom/Bust Dart-Throws


    TE Tyler Higbee

    Just when you start to write Higbee off with that brutal four-game stretch between Weeks 11-14 in which he averaged a pathetic 2.7 fantasy points per game, he comes right back and rattles off a TE12 and TE3 finish. What are we supposed to do with that?! After years of having one of the deepest and talented tight end rooms in the league in Cleveland, Mayfield has clearly found his new favorite target. The Chargers are just middle-of-the-pack in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, so like Akers, Higbee has a prime opportunity to erase memories of early season mediocrity with a league-winning finale.

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