Wow, this season has flown by as I feel like I was just working on the Week 1 write-up a couple of weeks ago. I also feel like I came into this season like a bright-eyed young Skywalker from Tattoine and am now a grumpy and greying Luke. Either way, we are now at the part of the season where a lot of players don’t have anything to play for anymore other than pride… and individual contract bonuses. Over the next two weeks, I highly recommend focusing on 3 groups of players:
- Players on teams who are still playing for something whether that is a playoff berth or seeding
- Players with lucrative milestones in their contracts as coaches will generally give them the shot to earn these bonuses (ESPN wrote a great article about this that I will be referencing throughout this piece)
- Young players who will get a bigger workload as coaches want more tape on them so that they can better evaluate them in the offseason
So, now that we have these pieces identified, I’m going to break this week’s article down differently than I have for every other one this year. Please feel free to send me feedback on this, positive or negative, as I’m always happy to hear from my readers.
Section 1 – Teams That Are Playing for Something
ATL – The Falcons will clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Saints and will clinch the division if they win their final two. They will also eliminate both Dallas and Detroit if they win here.
BAL – The Ravens will get vaulted into the 6th seed if they beat the Colts, regardless of what the current #6 team, the Bills, end up doing.
CAR – While it will be hard for them to clinch the division, they will clinch a playoff berth with another win.
DAL – If ATL loses, the Cowboys still have a shot at a wildcard berth.
DET – If ATL loses, the Lions still have a shot at a wildcard berth.
JAX – While the Jags don’t even have their own division secured yet – they will get this with either a win or a TEN loss – they still have an outside shot at the overall #1 seed in the AFC regardless. Thus, they have a lot to play for here as they go up against the 49ers.
KC – The Chiefs will clinch their division with either a win or a Chargers loss and, since they are playing concurrently, we don’t have to worry about their mindset changing midway through Sunday afternoon.
LAC – If the Chiefs lose, the Chargers still have an outside chance of clinching this division, but they have to win this game.
LAR – Surprisingly, the Rams have still not won the NFC West division, but they can lock that up if they win this week.
MIN – The Vikings still have a shot at the #1 overall seed if they win out.
NE – They are still fighting with PIT and JAX for the #1 seed and/or a first round bye, the latter of which they will secure with a win and a loss by either of the other two aforementioned teams, so they have a lot to play for here.
NO – On the flip side of my notes about ATL above, the Saints will clinch a playoff berth with a win over Atlanta. If they lose, however, not only does ATL secure a berth, but NO also cannot win the division.
PHI – The Eagles are potentially playing for the #1 overall NFC seed, but if the Vikings lose, they lock it up anyway. This game is also not on the main slate, so I’m going to ignore it here.
SEA – The only way that they have any kind of shot is if either ATL or LAR lose, but it will still be a difficult road ahead for them. If both the Falcons and the Rams win, they will be eliminated.
Section 2 – Offensive Players with Big Bonuses
Adam Thielen – He needs 7 catches over his last 2 weeks for an additional $250,000
Gronk – Based upon how the ESPN article was written, it sounds like Gronk will receive another $2 million in bonuses with either an additional 16 catches or 183 receiving yards.
Mark Ingram – This will be a long shot, but if he gets first-team All-Pro honors, his contract will void a year early.
Orleans Darkwa – Needs about 170 yards and to keep his YPC unchanged over this period to get $200,000.
Jermaine Kearse – With his existing season line of 55-709-5, he has an opportunity for some big bonuses moving forward. He has multiple steps for both receptions and yards, and they top out at 75 and 1,000 respectively.
Part 3 – Putting it All Together
CLE (15.75) @ CHI (22.25)
This is one of those games where the coaches will want to get more film on some of their young players. Specifically, I won’t be surprised to see Trubisky throw it around 35 times. He had his first 300+ yard week last week against the Lions and easily his most passing attempts with 46, but a lot of this came in garbage time and he had 3 INTs on the day as well. Overall, I’m not that excited about the passing game.
If Chicago does end up leading this one, Howard should see his normal 20+ carries, but if they are losing, all bets are off. Overall, I might have some exposure to him as I can absolutely see John Fox running him a lot, and I just don’t think that the Browns run D is as good as their DVOA says they are.
For the Browns, Hue Jackson continues to alienate his players, so either they will play for pride this week or just completely check out. While rostering Gordon didn’t work out last week, he still saw 11 targets, so he has gone into double-digits in 2 out of his 3 weeks. While CHI hasn’t given up any big receiving games recently and the Browns have little to play for, it’s hard for me to imagine that Gordon won’t continue to try hard.
ATL (23.25) @ NO (29.25)
Here we have our first game that really matters to both teams, and they just played each other recently, so I have no idea what will happen here. My gut says that Vegas is correct and the Saints will win though.
Michael Thomas just got added to the injury report, and this is never a good sign. If he cannot play, I’m not sure who the de facto WR1 will be for the Saints. Snead hasn’t seen more than 3 targets in a single game all year and Ginn lifts the lid off of a defense, so I would hazard that Coleman gets a bigger role here. I don’t think I can really trust Coleman to win repeatedly as a WR1, but he does only cost $3000 and has the potential to see around 6 targets. I suppose I have some interest in Ginn, but I don’t really expect him to have heavy involvement since I think the Saints will win. If Thomas can play, he will be very popular as he just put up 10-117-1 on the Falcons two weeks ago, but I’m happy to stay away between the injury, his popularity, and that line coming the week that Kamara went down early with a concussion.
Speaking of Kamara, in that game two weeks ago, he had 5.7 points on the first drive alone before he left with his concussion. It really looked like he was going to be a focal part of that game plan, so I think it makes a lot of sense to go back to him here. I also don’t hate going Ingram here, and we could see both RBs finish top-10 on the week as we have seen this several times already. In general, I expect the Saints to just try and punish Atlanta on the ground, especially if Thomas sits.
While the Saints are more susceptible to the rush than the pass, Coleman will return for this one, so that makes Freeman much less appealing. Freeman is tied for 13th in the league with 27 RZ rushes, so he is always capable of a couple rushing TDs, but I will probably stay away from this ground game.
As we know, the Saints are incredibly strong on the outside, so I like attacking them through the slot. Between this and the projected game script, I think Sanu makes a lot of sense here. He has also seen at least 5 targets in 7 out of his last 9, so he should see volume. His recent RZ usage is concerning especially since he is priced up at $5700, but we have to take our best available options this week.
DEN (18.75) @ WAS (21.75)
Smart money is on Denver here as the line has swung their way by a whole point even though they have only received 40% of the bets.
Perine seems truly questionable here as he tweaked his groin late in the week. Based on Gruden’s comments, it sounds like he will probably go, but I feel like the risk of re-injury is pretty high, and I’m not going to get excited about Bibbs here.
In general, I’m probably going to ignore the Washington offense here. If Davis wasn’t so consistently disappointing, I could see going there, but he has just looked awful.
The DEN offense is another that doesn’t excite me all that much. CJA and Booker both had double-digit rushes last week, and CJA has 52 carries over his last two weeks combined, so the volume should be there, but the WAS run D is pretty good. The one place I might look here is D-Thom. Sanders is highly questionable, and Thomas consistently seems to be Osweiler’s favorite target regardless. Finally, he runs 51% of his routes on the left side (i.e. the side the Norman does not cover).
TB (17.75) @ CAR (28.75)
Carolina cares a lot about this game, so there are a lot of options to like on that side of the ball. The Bucs have given up 21+ point games to RBs in each of their last 4, and they have also given up 7 rushing TDs to them during this stretch. J-Stew has seen double-digit carries in each of his last 8, and has the 11th-most RZ carries on the year with 29. He also only costs $3700. No one really loves rostering him, but I strongly recommend considering it. You could also pay up to CMC as he is starting to get more touches and obviously has a pretty safe floor with his passing game involvement. Cam’s running ability against this D also obviously makes him a likely candidate to get a running TD, and he is one of my favorite QBs on the week.
TB is also pretty bad against the pass, so I don’t hate either Funchess or Olsen here as well. Funchess did just have his worst game of the year and saw his fewest number of targets since Week 1, but he still ran the same number of pass routes that he has been seeing, so he seems like an ideal bounce-back candidate this week.
On the Bucs side, we have one of those young players that I talked about earlier – Chris Godwin. D-Jax has already been ruled out, so Godwin will start opposite Evans in this one and I’m assuming that he will see around 5-7 targets here. At only $3000 and in a good match-up against the 82nd-ranked Daryl Worley, he is very intriguing. You could also just go with Mike Evans who gets an even better match-up on the other side, and he finally started riffing with Winston last week. If he didn’t have a second TD called back due to a very dubious offensive PI call in that one, he would have had a very big line. I also cannot remember the last time he was this cheap on DK, and the price history on Labs only goes back to 11-Dec-2016.
MIA (16.5) @ KC (27)
KC is another team that is incredibly motivated here, and they get a very soft defense. Kelce continues to see heavy involvement and we have seen TEs beast all over MIA so far this year – Gronk put up 5-82-2 on them when they faced off back in Week 12 – so I’m predicting that Kelce ends his 2-game TD drought here. Overall, he is my TE1 on the week. Kareem Hunt is another excellent option here as he now has back-to-back games of 24+ carries, 3+ targets, 130+ all-purpose yards, and 25+ DK points. Miami just gave up 20-50-1 rushing and 4-46-1 receiving to Shady, so I expect more of the same here.
Drake saw his carries drop dramatically last week in their loss, but saw a compensatory spike in targets. Overall, I’m going to avoid him now that he is priced all the way up at $7100 in a non-divisional game where they aren’t playing for anything. I’m actually just going to ignore all of the Dolphins here except maybe Landry who gets the 96th-ranked Steven Nelson out of the slot.
LAR (26.75) @ TEN (20.25)
Even with the positive game script in front of him, Gurley will face tough sledding in this one as the Titans run D is underrated (they haven’t allowed a 20+ point game to a back since Week 4). It also just feels like chasing points after his 4 TD game last week. Instead, I’m just going to roster Woods against a very bad secondary who will potentially be without their top CB. Last week, we saw Woods come right back with 7 targets, which he parlayed into a 6-45-1 line, and I expect more of the same here. He also gets a great match-up that we just saw Goodwin exploit for 10-114-0 last week.
The Rams have been most vulnerable across the middle, and Delanie has a combined 19 targets over his past two weeks. I expect them to trail early and then for Mariota to look Walker’s way often. Delanie has been incredibly consistent as he has double-digit fantasy points in 7 out of his last 8 and somehow he only costs $4900 this week.
DET (23.75) @ CIN (20.75)
While it is unlikely that the Lions will make the playoffs, they have to come out swinging in this one. While Riddick did leave last week early with a wrist injury, he isn’t on the final injury report, so we have to assume that he will be heavily involved. This sets up extremely well for him as the Bengals have allowed 100+ yards receiving to a RB in 2 out of their last 3 weeks (114 to JET last week and 106 to Bell three weeks ago). Both Jones and Tate only saw 5 targets each last week, but they had that game against the Bears in hand the whole time, so neither really had to do much other than be a warm body out there. Before that, we saw Tate seem to take the receiving lead, and we saw Kendall Wright rough them up for 10-107-0 out of the slot two weeks ago, so I think Tate is a logical option this week.
Detroit has a not great defense at this point as they have allowed at least 21 points in each of their 5 games before the toothless Bears last week. I don’t know how I feel about Mixon and AJG here as this is a lame duck team with their HC on the way out. I think small exposure to both is probably in order, as $6700 is too cheap for AJG and likewise for Mixon at $5100. Slay has been pretty good recently and, as we unfortunately saw last week, AJG won’t necessarily get fed in a tough match-up, so Mixon looks like the better option.
BUF (17.75) @ NE (29.25)
Burkhead is going to miss this one, so Lewis should have an absolutely massive role and the Pats will probably also activate Gillislee for this one. Depending upon how many lines you enter, I think that having some exposure to Gill is warranted here as I’m concerned that he will reprise Burkhead’s goal line role. We saw him have this role early in the year and he punched in 3 TDs in Week 1 alone, and it just feels like something the dark Sith lord would do. White is intriguing as he averaged 7.4 targets per game in Weeks 2-6, when Burkhead sat earlier in the year, but I don’t truly love him here. All in all, I’m going to have a lot of Lewis, but I’m definitely going to hedge that with some Gill as well. Due to Gronk’s performance bonuses, I think he will see heavy usage here, so he is my preferred receiving option.
Shady has big numbers against the Pats and has looked as capable as ever this year, but I just don’t feel great about him with the other top-end options out there. I’m not going with any of the receivers since the Pats have proven capable against mediocre to bad offenses.
JAX (23) @ SF (19)
Sharp money is on SF as the line has gone their way by a full point with only 36% of the bets.
As previously noted, the Jags have a lot to play for, so expect them to go claws to the wall here (I’m not sure if that really works, but I’m going to roll with it). Marqise Lee will miss this one and, with the promotion of Jaelen Strong, I’m not sure if Hurns will return either. Cole saw 9 targets last week while Westbrook only saw 2, but I’m not sure if that stems Cole actually passing him on the depth chart or what. Either way, they get an incredibly soft secondary that just allowed 6-95-1 to Rishard Matthews last week and 11-149-2 to Nuk the week before. It kills me to say this, but Cole might be better than Westbrook (at least this year). Either way, I don’t hate the idea of stacking Bortles with one or both of them. Even if Fournette is back, which seems likely, as I have said time and again, the 49ers are surprisingly stout against the run.
While Jimmy G has been a revelation for SF – and NE fans are probably looking on aghast as they have maybe 1 year left in Brady – I doubt he will fare all that well against the Jags. We did see Russ pass deep against them a lot, so maybe SF will follow the same game plan and I don’t hate the idea of Goodwin because of that, but this feels very risky to me. The sharp money has me scared, but I’ll stick to my guns on this one and call that JAX covers the spread.
NYG (18.5) @ ARI (22)
While Darkwa does have some incentives to work towards, this game isn’t all that interesting in general, and McAdoo hasn’t really played Darkwa all that much recently. That’s not to say that this won’t change, but this is the lame duck end to a bad HC stint. I don’t see myself playing anyone here.
While Kerwynn Williams has had a lot of runs over the previous 3 games, he isn’t involved in the passing game, is on a pretty bad offense, and is pretty banged up as he missed most of this week with rib and quad injuries. Everything here feels very speculative as well, so I’m going to ignore the Cardinals too.
SEA (21.25) @ DAL (26.25)
Like I mentioned earlier, this game might not matter to either team and they will know it either way. Assuming that it does, let’s take a look at what we have. Zeke is back and, even after a 6 game suspension, he has the 5th-most RZ carries in the league with 35. This is obviously insane. The Seahawks have imploded defensively as they have given up back-to-back games of 24+ points to RBs with 4 rushing TDs over that span. Sign me up for all of the Zeke as this feels like a revenge game regardless of whether DAL is eliminated or not. While his return will also open up the passing game, we haven’t seen Dez see more than 7 targets in any of his last 4, and he just hasn’t looked like the same receiver this year.
Richardson is a pretty excellent cost-saving option this week. He only costs $4300, but has seen 7 or more targets in 4 out of his last 5. I’m not looking at either Graham or Davis with Lee back, and because Graham in particular has looked #bad recently. I’m not sure if he is injured or what, but he has consistently disappointed over the past several games. I would much rather have Walker in the same price range.