Thumbs Up of the Week: Ben Roethlisberger (v CLE)
Ben Roethlisberger didn’t get off to the kind of start he would have liked this season, but no one has scored more fantasy points over the past seven games (22.1 PPG). Big Ben doesn’t have a game with fewer than 17 fantasy points since the Week 9 bye, and I would assume that a lot of people who were able to pick him up are playing for a title this Sunday. Keep Roethlisberger in lineups as an elite QB1 at home against the winless Browns.
Thumbs Up: Jared Goff (v SF)
Perhaps his own MVP-contending teammate is taking attention away from Jared Goff, but the first-overall pick from last year’s draft is closing in on 4,000 passing yards and owns a 28:7 touchdown-interception ratio this season. Goff should be ready to pad those numbers against the Niners, as he threw for 292 yards and three scores in their first 2017 meeting. However, Sean McVay could decide to rest his key players if he doesn’t think there’s a big difference between the #3 or #4 seed, especially since the LA fans don’t exactly provide a strong home-field advantage, so keep an eye on that. [UPDATE 12/17: Goff is not playing in this week’s game, as the Rams are resting some starters ahead of the playoffs.]
Thumbs Up: Matt Ryan (v CAR)
We know for certain that Matt Ryan will suit up on Sunday, as he and the Falcons need a win to earn the final playoff spot in the NFC. Ryan threw for 313 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception on the road against the Panthers last month, and Carolina has actually been torched through the air in recent weeks. Many people probably remember the 500-yard game last season for the 2016 NFL MVP, and he will look to do that again to blast into the playoffs. Some are low on him, but I like Ryan as a solid QB1.
Thumbs Up: Jimmy Garoppolo (@ LAR)
Assuming San Francisco franchise-tags or re-signs Jimmy Garoppolo to a long-term deal, the NFC West could have the best quarterback division of all-time depending on who the Cardinals sign/draft. Garoppolo will have tape out on him for defensive coordinators to dissect heading into the 2018 season, but the 26-year-old will also have a full offseason in Kyle Shanahan’s system, and I have no doubt that he’s the real deal. He can be trusted as a QB1 option in the fantasy championship against Los Angeles.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Derek Carr (@ LAC)
Derek Carr cannot be trusted as a QB1 in the fantasy championship against Los Angeles. I would assume those that were loyal to Carr for whatever reason so far in the playoffs are probably eliminated, as he’s thrown for just 174 yards per game with a 4:4 touchdown-interception ratio over the past three weeks. Things probably won’t be much better on Sunday against a Chargers team that held him to 171 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions back in October, especially because they are fighting for a postseason spot. Carr will look to bounce back next year.
Thumbs Down: Jameis Winston (v NO)
While the Bucs are 4-11 and have lost every game in December, Jameis Winston has put up some nice numbers this month with at least 270 passing yards in every game and an 8:2 touchdown-interception ratio. However, he did fumble three times in last week’s loss to Carolina, and his immaturity issues popped up at the end of the game when he looked like a madman running on the field to go after referee Jerome Boger. The bottom line is that I just don’t trust Winston enough to play in the fantasy championship.
Thumbs Down: Blake Bortles (@ TEN)
Despite a three-interception performance in a 44-33 defeat on Christmas Eve, Blake Bortles should be commended for his overall play this season after he looked to have absolutely no confidence in the preseason. He’s helped lead Jacksonville to the #3 seed in the AFC, so they will have nothing to play for on Sunday other than building momentum for the playoffs. I wouldn’t trust Bortles to be on the field long enough to reach 18 fantasy points like he has in each of the past five weeks.
Thumbs Down: Nick Foles (v DAL)
Nick Foles is also at risk of a quick game on Sunday, as Philadelphia needs him healthy to have a chance in January. Also, while it’s not game reps, they have the bye week to improve chemistry on the offensive side of the ball. I currently have Foles as a solid QB2 option with the hopes that this week will be treated like a third preseason game, but Doug Pederson showed an extremely quick trigger in the exhibitions with Carson Wentz and most of the starters, so it might be wise to look elsewhere.
. . .
Thumbs Up of the Week: Derrick Henry (v JAC)
If the Titans are going to avoid a season collapse with four-straight losses to miss the playoffs, it will probably need to be behind the Derrick Henry-led running game. One of the toughest guys in the NFL in DeMarco Murray wants to play with a torn MCL, but if he does, it shouldn’t impact Henry’s workload much, as the Titans would undoubtedly give their monster backup more touches than the injured starter. Jacksonville not resting their guys would make this a difficult matchup, but fantasy owners who have been holding onto Henry all year have done so for this exact reason. Get him in lineups.
Thumbs Up: Wayne Gallman (v WAS)
Gallman couldn’t find much room to operate in last week’s shutout loss, but the rookie led the backfield once again with 16 touches, and he’s averaged that number since Ben McAdoo was fired. He should have more lanes to run through at home against Washington, and there’s no reason for New York not to feed the Clemson product. I like Gallman as a low-end RB2 with something to prove for 2018.
Thumbs Up: Corey Clement (v DAL)
Another rookie back that could have a nice workload in the season finale is Corey Clement, as the talented third-stringer could have a starter’s workload if Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount both rest in Week 17. If that’s the case, Clement is ready for a huge opportunity to show teams what they missed when he went undrafted earlier this year. The former Wisconsin star is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, 12.3 yards per reception, and has scored eight times on 83 touches as a role player for Philly.
Thumbs Up: Alfred Blue (@ IND)
A free agent after the season, Alfred Blue is playing the best football of his career at the right time, as he’s coming off a 108-yard performance on Christmas Day against Pittsburgh, and that was after 12 carries for 55 yards in Jacksonville. The 26-year-old didn’t get many opportunities until recently, but he’s averaged 4.2 yards per carry over the past two seasons, and he’s worth considering as a FLEX option in a good matchup after out-carrying and out-gaining Lamar Miller for two-straight weeks.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Devonta Freeman (v CAR)
The officiating was the bigger issue in Week 16’s loss to New Orleans, but Devonta Freeman’s fumble at the goal line really hurt Atlanta’s chances of clinching a playoff berth. The Falcons’ starter has now fumbled three times over the past two weeks, and they could give Tevin Coleman—who I think is the better player anyway—more touches in a must-win game. While he’s definitely a violent runner and dynamic player, signing Freeman to a multi-year extension was a mistake in my opinion. You probably have to start him, but he’s an RB2 rather than an RB1 in Week 17.
Thumbs Down: Giovani Bernard (@ BAL)
It took until the final month of the season, but Giovani Bernard has seen double-digit touches in each of the past four games after being held to eight or fewer touches in each of the first 11 games. The 26-year-old has taken advantage of the workloads, including last week’s 30-touch, 168-yard performance in an upset win over the Lions, but I would avoid him whether or not Joe Mixon suits up on Sunday. Baltimore is going to be ready to play at home after the Colts gave them a game last Saturday, so Bernard might not have much success to close out the 2017 campaign.
Thumbs Down: Mike Davis (v ARI)
The Seattle backfield has been led by Mike Davis since the start of December, but he’s yet to find the end zone and has been largely ineffective for two-straight weeks, rushing 21 times for 44 yards. In last week’s win over the Cowboys, Thomas Rawls showed a spark off the bench with four rushes for 20 yards, and I’ve long thought that he is the best option for the Seahawks. If I had to guess, I’d say Davis starts again, but he might not reach 15 carries for the fourth time in five weeks, and Arizona has played stout run defense lately.
Thumbs Down: Marshawn Lynch (@ LAC)
Based off how this season has gone for the Raiders, I think there’s a pretty good chance they fire the coaching staff, and they should definitely move on from Marshawn Lynch in my opinion. Oakland signing Lynch was supposed to vault them into Super Bowl contention, but his presence has been a negative for the team, and the chemistry just isn’t there like it was a season ago. If they do move on from him, this will almost certainly be Lynch’s final NFL game, and he hasn’t done enough for the coaching staff to try to get him 98 yards for 10,000 in his career at the expense of younger guys getting a look, including Jalen Richard after he showed a lot of hustle on Christmas Night.
. . .
Thumbs Up of the Week: Brandin Cooks (v NYJ)
Cooks was my “Thumbs Down of the Week” last week against Tre’Davious White and the Bills, but he should bounce back this week in the regular-season finale. New York allowed Cooks to go for 6/93 against them back in Week 6, and Tom Brady should target him often as they look to get the offense rolling heading into January. After a four-week struggle, I have Cooks back in the elite WR1 ranks.
Thumbs Up: JuJu Smith-Schuster (v CLE)
He’s obviously not Antonio Brown, but JuJu Smith-Schuster is probably Big Ben’s most-trusted receiver with AB out, and he came through with six receptions for 75 yards and a score on a Christmas Day win in Houston. JuJu’s role is different than his superstar teammates’s usual role, but targets will be up for grabs on Sunday, as Cleveland has been torched by Brown throughout his career with 86 receptions for 1,312 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games, including this year’s season opener when he caught 11-of-11 targets for 182 yards. Look for #GoodJuJu to fill some big shoes in Week 17.
Thumbs Up: Larry Fitzgerald (@ SEA)
If I had to guess, I would say this is Larry Fitzgerald’s final career game. The 34-year-old is among the all-time leaders in almost every receiving category, and although he never won a Super Bowl, he’s proven to be one of the most clutch receivers in history, and there’s not much more he can do as an NFL player. Should this be it, you can bet Fitzgerald will leave everything on the field one last time, because he’s never done it any other way. He’s a blow-up WR1 option in all leagues.
Thumbs Up: Chris Godwin (v NO)
Tampa Bay’s third-round pick nearly housed a long catch-and-run for his first career touchdown in last week’s loss to the Panthers, but he was caught from behind on what turned out to be a 70-yard gain. Nonetheless, Godwin has flashed big-play ability as a rookie, and he can make contested catches in traffic over the middle and downfield on the perimeter. With Mike Evans set to be shadowed by Marshon Lattimore, Godwin should get his chances to make plays. I like him as a strong FLEX.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Mike Evans (v NO)
As I just said, Evans will be shadowed by Marshon Lattimore on Sunday, and the star rookie corner completely shut him down in their first meeting with just one reception for 13 yards. It was such domination that the frustrated receiver decked Lattimore and was suspended the next week for it. I don’t see Evans gaining much separation this Sunday, leading to more frustration for him and fantasy owners.
Thumbs Down: Amari Cooper (@ LAC)
Amari Cooper burnt Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills to a crisp on a 63-yard touchdown on Monday night, but that was about all he was able to do as he played through his ankle injury. In Week 17, he will probably see a lot of Casey Hayward for the playoff-hopeful Chargers, and Hayward held Cooper to 28 yards in their first meeting of the season, and that was when he was healthy. He’s a low-floor FLEX option for me.
Thumbs Down: Dez Bryant (@ PHI)
When FOX play-by-play man Joe Buck asked three-time Super Bowl champion and former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman whether Dez Bryant is still a game-breaking receiver last week during the broadcast, Aikman answered, “No,” without any hesitation. Others might make excuses for Bryant (CBS’s Tony Romo said Dez needs the ball thrown a certain way to him), but Aikman provides honest and correct analysis every Sunday. Even against Philadelphia backups, Bryant isn’t a recommended fantasy option.
Thumbs Down: Robby Anderson (@ NE)
From the end of October through the first week of December, Robby Anderson was one of the hottest receivers in the NFL, but he’s struggled over the past three weeks since Bryce Petty entered the lineup for New York. Anderson hasn’t been reliant on the deep ball in his breakout season, but that’s probably what he will need against New England on Sunday to be worth a play in the fantasy championship.
. . .
Thumbs Up of the Week: Trey Burton (v DAL)
Burton didn’t make the box score in Week 16 against the Raiders, but he could draw the start this Sunday if Zach Ertz rests for the playoffs. I would think that’s the case, as Ertz seems to be the only receiver with really good chemistry with Nick Foles, so Burton would be an immediate TE1 option in an offense that likes to feature tight ends. The 26-year-old has five touchdowns on 22 receptions this season.
Thumbs Up: Antonio Gates (v OAK)
There’s still a good chance Los Angeles makes the postseason, but if not, Antonio Gates could possibly join Larry Fitzgerald as another legend that’s playing in his final NFL game. Last week, Gates went for a 6/81/1 line in the first game without Hunter Henry active, and Philip Rivers should look for the future Hall-of-Famer on Sunday with so much on the line. He’s a TE1 in a great matchup.
Thumbs Up: Jesse James (v CLE)
As has been the case all season, it’s worth considering any tight end facing the Browns. This week, that will be Jesse James and Vance McDonald, both of whom are good desperation options. McDonald was more involved last week, but James had six receptions for 41 yards and two touchdowns against Cleveland in the season opener.
Thumbs Up: Vernon Davis (@ NYG)
The Giants have been significantly better against opposing tight ends over the past five weeks, and that started with holding Davis without a reception on Thanksgiving. However, they have only been better relative to how they played earlier in the season, as New York has still allowed three touchdowns over the past three games. Davis is a low-end TE1 option.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Jared Cook (@ LAC)
I’m basically avoiding all Raiders in the season finale, as the 6-9 squad has been unreliable all year. In his first matchup against the Chargers, Cook was held to just two receptions for 14 yards, and that was when he was a consistent fantasy option.
Thumbs Down: Ricky Seals-Jones (@ SEA)
Things didn’t go as planned for those relying on Ricky Seals-Jones in Week 16, as the former college basketball player was held without a catch in the 23-0 victory. Seals-Jones hasn’t been much of a factor outside of his two-game breakout, so he’s just a name to keep an eye on in dynasty leagues heading into 2018.
Thumbs Down: Austin Hooper (v CAR)
Everything counts on the stat sheet, but outside of the season opener when he caught two passes for 128 yards and a touchdown against a couple busted coverages, Austin Hooper has just 44 receptions for 363 yards and two scores heading into the final game of the season. The second-year tight end didn’t have the breakout many had hoped for, and he shouldn’t be counted on to have a big game on Sunday.
Thumbs Down: Martellus Bennett (v NYJ)
He’s been on IR for weeks, but there’s probably no better way to end “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” in 2017.
For defense and kicker advice—and all your start/sit decisions—check out our full Week 17 rankings. We will have fantasy news and analysis all throughout the playoffs and offseason, so keep reading if you want a leg up heading into 2018!