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2021 Fantasy Football: Week 17 Loves & Hates

It doesn’t get much better than this. We’re built for this moment—we’ve put in hours of research, days of sweating matchups, and made calls on players for months to get to this point. This is championship week. This is decision week one final time in 2021. Welcome back to my Fantasy Football Weekly Loves & Hates.

In this series, we identify the best and worst value plays at each skill position for fantasy football purposes. We take into account matchups, game scripts, advanced statistics, and any other relevant news. This won’t be your spot for trying to rank the top players at each position or suggesting deep waiver wire digs every week. Rather, whether you are playing DFS or season-long formats, your start/bench/cut decisions can be informed based on the players that stand out the most at each position—the ones that could go off (loves) and the ones that could disappoint and lose you a matchup (hates).

We will review the previous week’s picks and grade our performance before giving out picks for the upcoming week. I firmly believe that the most important part of the process of winning is to evaluate your winning and losing decisions. We’ll do exactly that in our evaluations of the previous week’s picks.

Week 17 Rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE | Kicker | D/ST | PPR | Flex

Week 16 Review

My Week 16 loves and hates can be viewed here. Here are self-evaluations of those picks, with grades for me in parentheses.

Quarterback (A+)

It was a bold prediction clinic for the Fantrax staff. I called a touchdown for D.K. Metcalf and he got it done for the first time in eight weeks. Mike took Allen Lazard to score a touchdown and he did just that to help Aaron Rodgers make history. Finally, Lauren and I both called out Joe Burrow as the Week 16 candidate to explode at quarterback. In fact, Lauren’s call of a trio of touchdowns for the former #1 overall pick ended up being a tad conservative. In both her explanation and my love/hate column, it was clear the Ravens’ secondary isn’t exactly on our trust list this holiday season. They allow explosive pass plays, they allow touchdowns, and they don’t turn the ball over like they once used to.

That continued in the bright lights of the fantasy football playoffs in Week 16 when Burrow finished the game with a staggering 525 passing yards via 37 completions (46 attempts), including four touchdowns and no turnovers. Unsurprisingly, this was good enough to earn the honors as the QB1 of Week 16. Somewhere out there, there are people who don’t read the Fantrax columns who benched Burrow. Tough look.

On the other hand, Cam Newton was an easy fade for me in Week 16 and a top candidate to simply drop in redraft formats entering the week. With uncertainty surrounding Newton’s role in the quarterback platoon for Carolina, it made no sense to start him in any league, facing a Buccaneers defense that can contain Newton’s one strength—the ground game. Indeed, even though Newton produced decently on the ground (5 rushes for 42 yards), it was for little fantasy relevance as he only played 37% of the Panthers’ offensive snaps, going 7/13 through the air for 61 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. Sam Darnold has now officially replaced Newton as the Panthers starter for Week 17—whatever the Panthers’ plans seem to be for offense, fantasy managers can just ignore the Newton experiment and move on with their lives for now.

Running Back (B)

Some people really benched Rex Burkhead even after being aware of my running back love pick for Week 16. It’s me; I’m people. If you have already read my Twitter rant about being a little conservative with my own take, you already know what is going on. Targeting the rush defense of the Chargers has proven to be a valuable strategy throughout the 2021 season and that trend continued in Week 16 with Burkhead running wild in an upset victory for the Texans. With David Johnson on the league’s reserve/COVID-19 list, Royce Freeman served as Burkhead’s sole backup and his puny contributions of 12 rushes for 34 yards weren’t enough to distract from Burkhead’s league-winning fantasy performance.

The veteran back carried the ball 22 times for 149 yards (both season-highs) and recorded his first two-touchdown game of the season, finishing as the PPR RB3 of Week 16. If that’s not a value spot start, I don’t know what is.

On the other hand, my lack of faith in Alexander Mattison was not so well-served. In Dalvin Cook’s absence, Mattison was clearly going to get the priority of backfield touches for Minnesota in Week 16. Still, I was afraid about the tough matchup and losing narrative spelling “bust potential” for Mattison in the fantasy playoffs. Instead, he was good enough on the ground to produce 41 yards on 13 rushes but also sprinkled in relevant pass-catching action, making 3 receptions (4 targets) for 29 yards. Add in his touchdown and that made Mattison the PPR RB13 of Week 16. Oops, I hope you started him.

Wide Receiver (B+)

I might have cheated on this one because I was quite literally at the game in the snow to ensure this call came through—a touchdown from D.K. Metcalf for the first time since Week 8 is what I had in the cards for my wide receiver love of the week. Granted, I didn’t know the Seahawks were going to play in a snowy run-heavy narrative in Week 16. Luckily, Metcalf was still an okay start because he found the end zone on a 43-yard bomb from Russell Wilson on another secondary worth targeting these days: Chicago.

Indeed, Metcalf was quiet after that score, finishing with only two receptions on the day. The third-year athletic standout continues to be underutilized given his talent and let down by his quarterback given the potential. The second half of the season hasn’t been kind to Metcalf’s value but he poses immense upside again in Week 17 against an incapable Detroit defense.

On the other hand, it was a safe call to stay away from Donovan Peoples-Jones at wide receiver in all Week 16 lineups. Facing a Packers defense that has been stout at containing explosive pass plays, the boom-or-bust wideout was a risk not worth taking in the fantasy football playoffs. Indeed, the second-year speedster was targeted six times but only hauled in one reception and it was a measly 5-yarder, making Peoples-Jones completely irrelevant in the fantasy game. He faces the roller-coaster Steelers defense in Week 17, making him a tough case-by-case call in fantasy lineups for championship week.

Tight End (A-)

I used my tight end love of the week on a man who has been trustworthy on targets with his new team in Jacksonville. However, Dan Arnold was not activated in time for Week 16 action and I won’t be grading myself based on that pick. Notably, I did take to Twitter to help fantasy managers who were desperate at tight end, especially if they needed a replacement for the inactive Travis Kelce on Sunday morning. All my picks saw some success, but of course those clutch calls won’t be part of the love/hate column report.

Dawson Knox, however, will be part of my self-assessment. The third-year tight end with a tight relationship with Josh Allen was looking like an immaculate pick for my hate at the position until about 150 seconds left in the game when he scored a touchdown to salvage an otherwise abysmal fantasy day. Knox finished the game with 2 receptions on 3 targets for just 11 yards. That yardage was a season-low for him and despite finding the end zone, he was the PPR TE14 of Week 16. While Knox wasn’t a complete bust on the week, the call to fade for higher upside was a solid one.

Luckily for Knox owners, he gets a much better matchup in Week 17 in the Atlanta Falcons and should be viewed as a TE1-tier player, likely plugged into your starting lineup with your season on the line.

Week 17 Loves & Hates

After putting on a clinic of calls to find value in Week 16, we are back for one final dance in the 2021 season. Fire up these love picks in your championship matchups, stay cautious about the hate picks, and continue to follow the oscillatory news around the NFL and how they affect fantasy football via our other Fantrax writers and Twitter. Good luck and may the fantasy gods be with you.


Love: Justin Fields (CHI)

Just a couple of weeks ago, I named Justin Fields as a league-winner for the fantasy football playoffs. I am doubling down on that take here and safely starting Fields in all formats for Week 17. In Week 15, despite finishing his “Primetime” game with only one touchdown and a fumble, Fields used his legs to create 35 yards on the ground and attacked a mediocre secondary in the Vikings to gain 285 yards through the air, allowing him to finish as the QB12 of Week 15. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to back that up with another QB1-tier performance in Week 16 as he missed the contest with an ankle injury. However, Fields was back at practice this week and is trending towards returning against a Giants defense that ranks #17 in the NFL in pass DVOA and #27 in the NFL in rush DVOA. While the Bears have had issues in pass protection this year, flustering Fields repeatedly, the Giants are a perfect matchup to hide those flaws as they rank #31 in the NFL in pass rush win rate as a defense.

Even if Fields isn’t supremely productive on the ground due to the ankle injury, he should be able to take advantage of some trips to the red zone to give him solid potential as a streamer in Week 17, making him a safe start if he plays.

Hate: Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)

It might come as a surprise to some that despite the Steelers’ struggles on offense this season, prompting many to beg for Big Ben to hang up the cleats, the veteran quarterback was still the #5 fantasy player at his position during Weeks 11 to 14. Those shortly-lived glory days are gone though. In Week 17, he faces a Cleveland defense that ranks #4 in pass rush win rate as a defense, while the Steelers rank #31 in pass block win rate as an offensive unit. That spells disaster for an aging pocket passer with no ability to get around pressure these days. Add in the fact that this game could be played in brutal conditions in Heinz Field this weekend, possibly involving precipitation, wind, and low temperatures, and that spells drop in all formats for Ben Roethlisberger owners. If you took advantage of his short hot streak in fantasy football this season, good for you. Move on, it’s time to get yourself upside in your lineup.

Running Back

Love: Elijah Mitchell (SF)

How the 49ers’ offense will precisely function in Week 17 without their starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is not exactly a science we all agree on quite yet. Even head coach Kyle Shanahan probably doesn’t have the script all written out yet. What we do know is if Elijah Mitchell returns from injury and plays in Week 17, his upside is worth the start in your lineup, assuming he doesn’t enter the weekend with an advertised snap limit.

This season, the Texans have given up the fourth-most fantasy points per game to running backs, most recently including allowing Justin Jackson to be the overall PPR RB1 of Week 16 just a few days ago. They rank a middle-of-the-pack #15 in the NFL in pass DVOA but a horrendous #26 in the NFL in rush DVOA as a defense. With Trey Lance manning the quarterback position for the 49ers, who already rank as the fifth-heaviest rushing play rate offense in the league this season, expect more holes to open up for Mitchell as his ceiling becomes sky-high when Houston has to worry about the legs of Lance, Deebo Samuel, and that backfield in the red zone. If Mitchell is 100% good to go on Sunday, he should be in your lineup as at least a high-end RB2-tier player.

Hate: Dare Ogunbowale (JAX)

Having the formerly-undrafted running back Dare Ogunbowale on this list as a name even worth mentioning was not on my 2021 fantasy football Bingo card, but this is unfortunately the situation caused by a season-ending injury to James Robinson. Sure, this leaves Ogunbowale as the only running back in Jacksonville that deserves any trust, with backups Ryquell Armstead and Mekhi Sargent only combining for a total of four touches on the season.

Still, Ogunbowale is nothing more than a roster-and-bench in Week 17 and should not be started unless health has created your running back depth into a literal emergency room. While the Patriots have given up their fair share of large-chunk rushing plays this season, Ogunbowale doesn’t threaten with an athletic profile that suggests breaking out for huge plays should be the norm for him. Without any outlier plays, his fantasy floor is dangerously low on a Jaguars offense that might not be friends with the red zone much in Week 17, given Bill Belichick’s track record and shutting down opposing rookie quarterbacks like the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence.

The Patriots are favored by more than two touchdowns in this game and Ogunbowale is likely a candidate to be completely taken out of the narrative early on, unless Lawrence turns on an affinity for spamming checkdowns. Instead of sitting on the edge of your seat hoping for that specific sequence of events, just stay away from Ogunbowale in your Week 17 lineups.

Wide Receiver

Love: Josh Palmer (LAC)

When it comes to league-winners, wide receiver is the position that is often most fun to sift through. It’s more fun when you get it right and ride a boom week into a championship though. Here’s what you need to know about the rookie wideout Josh Palmer. He’s got great hands, featuring a 100.0% contested catch rate in a small sample size this season. He makes the fastball-thrower Justin Herbert look even more brilliant. Herbert has posted a 127.3 QB rating when targeting Palmer, that mark being #8 in the NFL among wide receivers. Finally, that skillset is translating to fantasy production lately; Palmer ranks among the NFL’s best in fantasy points per opportunity over the last four weeks.

The third-year speedster wideout Jalen Guyton and the veteran Mike Williams have both been activated from the COVID-19 list, but consider this. The Broncos have been fairly good at containing pass offenses, led by cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II and Ronald Darby, but Darby is not healthy at the moment and could miss the divisional matchup. With Surtain’s attention likely veered more in the direction of the veteran Keenan Allen, expect Palmer and Williams to be the guys that eat in volume and produce in PPR formats for fantasy football. Add in the fact that the Broncos rank dead-last in the NFL as a defense in pass rush win rate and Herbert could see a ton of opportunities to get clean looks through the air in his home confines of SoFi Stadium.

The math is simple—give Palmer some opportunities and he holds great value in DFS formats and a steal off the waiver wire in season-long formats for deep leagues, with a 37% rosterage in Fantrax leagues.

Hate: K.J. Osborn (MIN)

The Vikings are fighting for a spot in the playoffs and if you’re reading this, you are probably fighting for a championship yourself. The Vikings have put themselves in a tough spot fumbling games and making every game a must-win. Don’t be the Vikings. Don’t wait for Sunday Night Football for K.J. Osborn’s low floor in hopes of him walking you off in your championship game. You’re likely going to be disappointed.

Firstly, we’re set for maybe the coldest game of the NFL season in this game with temperatures in Green Bay reaching below 10-degrees Fahrenheit entering the weekend. Second, Osborn’s fortune will be in huge part determined by Kirk Cousins, who has been notoriously disappointing in “Primetime” games and has alarmingly little experience in weather conditions like these. In fact, the most recent game played below 35-degrees Fahrenheit for Cousins was in 2017 when he threw 3 interceptions and no touchdowns against the Giants.

Finally, the Packers defense is far from an easy one to target. Only eight teams this season have given up fewer receiving yards to wide receivers than the Packers and as a defensive unit, they rank #14 in the NFL in pass DVOA and #6 (sixth-lowest) in explosive pass play rate allowed. Much of that has, in fact, been without their lead cornerback Jaire Alexander, who could be returning in Week 17 to guard Justin Jefferson, leaving rising star cornerback Eric Stokes ready to contain K.J. Osborn, with Adam Thielen done for the season.

Tight End

Love: Dallas Goedert (PHI)

Just two weeks ago, Dallas Goedert put up 135 yards on 7 receptions via 9 targets. All those numbers were new season-highs for him at the time. While he may not be able to out-do those numbers again, you don’t need him to do that again for Goedert to be a great start and top-tier tight end on the week again. Washington has continued to reel on defense and display their porous nature on the end against tight ends, ranking below average as a defensive group against tight ends in yardage and fantasy points allowed. Most recently, they allowed Dalton Schultz to put up 8 receptions on 9 targets for 82 yards in “Primetime,” all of which season-highs.

The organization in Washington is not doing much to improve the temperament on the field or the skill in defending performances like these; take advantage and utilize the safe volume of Goedert in Week 17 to rack up PPR potential and expect the newly-paid pass-catcher to finish top five at his position this weekend.

Hate: Kyle Pitts (ATL)

One of the fantasy disappointments of the 2021 season, Kyle Pitts was viewed as a generational talent and while he had his huge moments in his rookie campaign, he and Matt Ryan couldn’t connect enough to match the hype. With Calvin Ridley off the field, it is safe to add Week 17 to the list of matchups where a solid defense gets to key in on a star pass-catching talent and contain the offense.

The Falcons draw a tough matchup in Week 17 when they face a Bills defense who, although beaten up, still ranks #5 in the NFL in pass rush win rate as a team and is the third-best fantasy defense against tight ends this season. In response, Atlanta’s offensive unit ranks an abysmal #27 in pass block win rate, doing Ryan and company no favors in producing offense. Pitts poses another low-upside game and will likely finish off the 2021 fantasy season with another dud. The 21-year-old has caught just one touchdown all season long and it sucks that this number is not going up in Week 17.

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