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Week 17 Fantasy: “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down”

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Thumbs Up of the Week: Trey Lance (v HOU)

It sounds like San Francisco is hoping Jimmy Garoppolo can play through a significant thumb injury, but if that doesn’t happen, Lance will be in line to make his second career start in a dream spot for those who have held onto him in redraft leagues. Despite limiting opposing quarterbacks to the second-fewest rushing yards in the league, Houston has allowed the most rushing touchdowns to the position (five), so Lance should be a weapon with his legs in scoring territory. I believe in his talent as a passer, too, so the rookie brings major upside if everything clicks.


Thumbs Up: Taysom Hill (v CAR)

Hill missed last week on the reserve/COVID-19 list and didn’t have to do much in his last appearance with New Orleans shutting out Tampa Bay, but he’s still seen exactly 11 carries in all three starts this season—and a week off could have his foot healthier as the Saints try to fight their way back into a wild card spot. I don’t think we can put too much stock in the first matchup when Sean Payton’s offense totaled just 128 yards on offense with Jameis Winston under center, as we’ll see a different game plan built around Hill and Alvin Kamara. I have their quarterback as a low-end QB1.


Thumbs Up: Kyler Murray (@ DAL)

Putting Murray here feels strange, but he’s currently ranked as a low-end QB1 by the consensus, and enough people have brought up concerns about his recent play combined with a matchup versus Dallas as reason to bench him. Last season, though, Murray rushed ten times for 74 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys, and I’d expect Arizona to pull out all the stops in order to build some momentum ahead of the playoffs. I’d have a difficult time benching Murray, who comes in as a borderline top-five option in our rankings.


Thumbs Up: Derek Carr (@ IND)

For whatever reason, Raiders-Colts has been comprised of a bunch of shootouts with Carr at quarterback, and he’s thrown for ten touchdowns against them in four career matchups. The confidence gained with back-to-back close wins could have Carr—potentially getting Darren Waller (knee) in the lineup—ready to put up points if it’s needed, and Indianapolis is somewhat quietly allowing the second-most passing touchdowns in the league (29). Entering a huge game for the playoff hopes of Las Vegas, I have their quarterback as a strong QB2.


Thumbs Down of the Week: Justin Herbert (v DEN)

Herbert was moved up a spot in the rankings assuming Mike Williams is cleared to play because of updated COVID-19 protocols, but Denver remains a difficult matchup for him (1-2 record with four interceptions), including a 28-13 loss to close out November. You still likely need to start Herbert—and he’s a clear QB1 option—but I have him pushed down some following a couple of sub-par passing performances in a row.


Thumbs Down: Justin Fields (v NYG)

There isn’t much to point to in terms of what the Giants have done right this year, but the defense has been stout at times—limiting opposing fantasy quarterbacks to fewer than 20 fantasy points in all but one game since Week 7. Some of the options they’ve faced over that stretch include mobile passers like Patrick Mahomes (14.0 fantasy points), Jalen Hurts (6.86; 16.66), and Dak Prescott (10.58). If he returns from his ankle injury, Fields would be a low-end QB2 with a scary floor.


Thumbs Down: Ryan Tannehill (v MIA)

Tannehill might be fired up to face his former team for the first time, but Miami is white hot with seven wins in a row, and stingy defense has been a big reason for it (11.7 points per game allowed). Julio Jones and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine both being on the reserve/COVID-19 list will hurt the passing attack—even if they play, a lack of practice time shouldn’t be overlooked as a factor—and the elite secondary of the Dolphins could have better luck slowing down A.J. Brown than San Francisco did. For a potential slugfest, Tannehill might need a rushing score to hit.


Thumbs Down: Jared Goff (@ SEA)

Detroit’s offense is rolling since Dan Campbell has gotten into a groove as a play-caller, but Goff has struggled in his career versus Seattle—throwing for eight touchdowns and nine interceptions in nine meetings. Although snow isn’t in the forecast this week at Lumen Field, it will again be a wintery game with 36-degree temperatures (plus possible rain), and Goff could be asked to throw less with D’Andre Swift (shoulder) expected to return. Seattle is allowing the second-most passing yards per game in the league (270.9), but you might be better off targeting a quarterback with a better on-paper matchup in Superflex formats.


Running Back


Thumbs Up of the Week: Ronald Jones II (@ NYJ)

The Jets rank at the bottom or towards the bottom of the NFL in rushing yards per game allowed (141.3), rushing touchdowns allowed (27), and fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs (30.5)—so Jones is set up for a huge day this weekend. It was Ke’Shawn Vaughn that broke a long touchdown in the first game without Leonard Fournette (hamstring), but Jones still had 22 touches for 77 yards (plus a score of his own). I have him as a solid RB1.


Thumbs Up: Elijah Mitchell (v HOU)

Mitchell (knee) appears destined for a game-time decision this week, but if he plays, fantasy owners should waste no time getting him back in lineups against a Houston defense allowing 141.3 rushing yards per game and 1.6 rushing touchdowns per game—both of which rank second-to-last in the league. San Francisco likely has more faith in Jeff Wilson Jr. as he improves week-by-week coming off the torn meniscus from the spring, but Mitchell’s big-play potential would need to be started if active.


Thumbs Up: Jordan Howard (@ WAS)

Howard (stringer) is another guy that’s shaky for Week 17, but head coach Nick Sirianni has said he’s hopeful, and the powerful runner would be primed for a significant workload with Miles Sanders (hand) out. Washington finally deciding to not let Jalen Hurts beat them with his legs (he has four rushing touchdowns in two starts against them) could lead to softer looks for Howard. Consider him a quality RB2.


Thumbs Up: Dare Ogunbowale (@ NE)

Jacksonville was supposed to enter the season with one of the top backfields in football, but Travis Etienne (foot) had season-ending surgery after going down in the preseason, and James Robinson (Achilles) unfortunately faces a long recovery of his own now. That leaves Ogunbowale as the last man standing until the team makes a callup from the practice squad, so he could realistically handle close to 20 touches again on Sunday.


Thumbs Down of the Week: Saquon Barkley (@ CHI)

New York’s offense is very bland and predictable, so Barkley—who hasn’t handled more than 16 carries in a game this season—is in a difficult spot as he attempts to make things happen on his own. And while the Giants aren’t going to shut down the former No. 2 overall pick, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his playing time decrease over the final two games. The home-run ability gives Saquon tremendous upside every time he hits the field, but benching him is definitely worth considering for those with alternatives.


Thumbs Down: Antonio Gibson (v PHI)

Washington is still alive for the postseason, but Gibson is in a similar spot to Barkley in that he might have his workload dialed back some considering all the injuries he’s dealt with in 2021. Even if he’s fed, Gibson rushed 15 times for 26 yards (and a touchdown) two weeks ago against the Eagles—who he’s never averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry against in a game. I have Gibson as the RB20, but a case could be made to have him lower.


Thumbs Down: Michael Carter (v TB)

Tampa Bay’s defense has fallen off in terms of their stoutness versus the run, but they are still the No. 3-ranked run defense in the league, and the unit is one of a handful of teams to not allow double-digit rushing scores. Even though Carter is coming off his first career 100-yard rushing game, game flow is highly unlikely to be in his favor, and the workload was almost a 50-50 split with Tevin Coleman in last week’s win (the rookie out-carried him 16 to 14). He’s a low-floor FLEX option.


Thumbs Down: Dolphins RBs (@ TEN)

Duke Johnson Jr. and Phillip Lindsay both handled 13 carries last week, but the Dolphins have flipped their backfield without warning all season, and Myles Gaskin (four touches on Monday night) has had the most success overall in 2021. Basically, it’s a full-blown committee to avoid, especially because Tennessee’s defensive front would seem to have the advantage in the trenches this week.


Wide Receiver 


Thumbs Up of the Week: Antonio Brown (@ NYJ)

Brown still hasn’t even played 80% of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps in a game this season, but being a part-time player hasn’t impacted his ability to produce with at least 15.1 fantasy points in four-of-six outings. The concern here would be New York not keeping it close, but AB saw 15 targets in a blowout win last week, and Tom Brady should again pepper him with looks on Sunday. Fantasy owners need to start Brown as a borderline top-five option.


Thumbs Up: A.J. Green (@ DAL)

The Cowboys have one of the NFL’s top defenses because of how opportunistic and chaos-creating the group is, but they aren’t a shutdown unit—and big plays have been there against them. Green only caught one passes last week, but it was a 33-yarder, and I feel like the veteran might be able to get vertical against Dallas for a potential shootout.


Thumbs Up: K.J. Osborn (@ GB)

Adam Thielen (ankle) is done for the season, so Osborn will step back into the clear No. 2 wide receiver role over the final two weeks. Aside from a quiet game a couple of Monday nights ago (when Kirk Cousins threw for just 87 yards), Osborn has gone for lines of 4/47/1, 3/83/1, and 5/68/1 in extended December action. The 24-year-old is back in solid FLEX territory against a Green Bay defense that allowed Justin Jefferson and Thielen to combine for 16 receptions, 251 yards, and three touchdowns in the first matchup.


Thumbs Up: T.Y. Hilton (v LV)

Continuing the initials theme for “Thumbs Up” options at wide receiver, Hilton caught four passes for 51 yards and a touchdown last week, and I think the Colts will keep him involved with valuable targets in what is expected to be another close game. Hilton stung the Raiders for a 5/86/2 line last season, so hopefully Carson Wentz (COVID-19 list) is cleared to play and will unlock T.Y.’s upside again.


Others: Marquez Valdes-Scantling (v MIN), Breshad Perriman (@ NYJ)


Thumbs Down of the Week: Terry McLaurin (v PHI)

McLaurin’s overall numbers versus the Eagles are very encouraging in terms of the matchup (81.4 yards and 0.6 touchdowns per game), but most of the damage came during his rookie season, and Darius Slay hasn’t been an easy matchup since then (50.7 yards per game, compared to 127.5 yards per game as a rookie). With Washington expected to split time between Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen, McLaurin is a shaky low-end WR2.


Thumbs Down: Brandon Aiyuk (v HOU)

Aiyuk was saved by a short touchdown last week, but he has seen seven combined targets over the past two games, and his role is suddenly volatile after a six-game stretch with 28 receptions, 408 yards, and three scores. Trey Lance starting might result in an offense that becomes more top-heavy with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle leading the passing attack, so Aiyuk’s floor should be lowered for the fantasy championship.


Thumbs Down: Marquise Brown (v LAR)

Despite seeing a very healthy number of targets (10.2 per game), Brown has been limited to 55 or fewer yards in each of the past six weeks—averaging 4.4 yards per target and totaling zero scores over that span. Lamar Jackson returning might be enough to get Brown going, but most of the cold stretch came with him under center, and the Rams have hit their stride defensively this month. Brown is more of a high-end WR3 for me.


Thumbs Down: Broncos WRs (@ LAC)

Drew Lock played well last week and is expected to start again in place of Teddy Bridgewater (concussion), but Denver clearly wants to make it a conservative passing attack if possible. In Lock’s first start, it was a spread-the-wealth approach with all four of Jerry Jeudy (four targets), Courtland Sutton (five targets), Tim Patrick (four targets), and tight end Noah Fant (four targets) having an even workload; it’s tough to trust any of the options to breakout against a Los Angeles defense that’s better than they showed against Davis Mills.


Others: Marvin Jones (@ NE), Robby Anderson (@ NO)


Tight End


Thumbs Up of the Week: Mike Gesicki (@ TEN)

The winning streak for Miami has led to decreased production for Gesicki, but the talent is still there, and red zone opportunities have been, too (despite not hitting pay dirt since before Halloween). Just last week, Gesicki was given a target from the three-yard line of New Orleans, and I’m optimistic he won’t stay stuck on two touchdowns for the year. I’d roll with him again on Sunday.


Thumbs Up: Hunter Henry (v JAX)

Henry’s reliance on touchdowns has made him a boom-or-bust option at tight end, but he’s scored nine times this year, and I’m sure New England will know how to exploit the Jacksonville defense this week. Look for Henry to remain a significant factor in scoring territory as the Patriots try to get Mac Jones going ahead of the postseason.


Thumbs Up: Gerald Everett (v DET)

Everett has been extremely efficient over the past two weeks (eight receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown on just nine targets), so Seattle should lean on him as they try to at least begin the 2022 calendar year on a high note. Expanding the sample size to the final week of November, Everett has scored in three of the past five games.


Thumbs Down of the Week: Kyle Pitts (@ BUF)

I’m rooting for Pitts to reach 1,000 receiving yards (currently at 949), but he might need to wait until the season finale because of a matchup versus Buffalo this week. Since their Week 7 bye, the Bills have allowed 5.7 fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, which would put them a notch below the Patriots (5.5) for the fewest points per game allowed to the position.


Thumbs Down: Brevin Jordan (@ SF)

Jordan continued to take advantage of increased playing time with four receptions (on four targets) for 56 yards last week, but similar to fellow rookie Kyle Pitts, this is all about the matchup. I doubt Houston’s fifth-round pick does a ton of damage versus Fred Warner and company.


Thumbs Down: Evan Engram (@ CHI)

While he was saved by a garbage-time touchdown last week, Engram was again held in check most of the game (finishing with 17 yards), and the Giants remain very inept as a whole. For a game forecasted for temperatures in the teens, Engram and the entire passing attack of New York should be avoided.


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