For most fantasy managers, the season is over. A fortunate few have been crowned champion. The others are all doing offseason stuff like finally doing laundry for the first time since September or talking to their families.
For a few folks though, one game remains—and it's for all the marbles.
Playing the championship game in Week 17 presents a unique set of potential complications, in that teams who have clinched playoff seeds could choose to rest star players. Teams with nothing left to play for could also rest nicked-up veterans and/or give younger players more snaps in an audition of sorts.
When selecting defenses, that can add a couple of problems (or opportunities) to the mix. Players sitting out could absolutely affect a defense's fantasy value. But there's a flip side to that coin.
Consider the only team in the NFL that is essentially a lock to sit some big names this week—the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
In a "normal" week, there is absolutely no chance that fantasy managers would give serious consideration to starting the Los Angeles Chargers against the buzzsaw that is Kansas City's offense—especially with edge-rusher Joey Bosa banged up. The Chargers rank outside the top 20 fantasy defenses for the season and haven't had a huge game defensively all season long.
But if Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, running back LeVeon Bell and tight end Travis Kelce all spend Sunday's finale cheering on second teamers from the sidelines, then it becomes a different story—especially when you consider that Kansas City's game plan will likely consist of "get this over with."
I hope that you folks have enjoyed reading another season of Getting Defensive as much as I have enjoyed writing it. With any luck, I'll be seeing you all again in September of 2021.
Indianapolis Colts (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Colts have plenty to play for in Week 17—after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, the Colts need a win (and help) to move on to the postseason. There's also the matter of Jacksonville's lone win of the 2020 season over the Colts back in Week 1. The Jaguars are an absolute dumpster fire of a team after getting blown out at home by the Chicago Bears in Week 16, and with the Colts in absolute desperation mode and the Jaguars ranking inside the top-10 in fantasy points allowed to defenses in some scoring systems, this one could get out of hand quickly.
Baltimore Ravens (at Cincinnati Bengals)
The Baltimore Ravens are rapidly becoming the wild card team that no one wants to play—and that's in no small part because of a Ravens Defense that has been lights out of late. Over the past two weeks, the Ravens have piled up 11 sacks, allowed just 13.5 points per game and have been a top-five fantasy defense in many scoring systems. The Bengals have shown more than a little fight over their two-game winning streak, but we're still talking about a team that leads the AFC in sacks allowed and has surrendered the second-most fantasy points to defenses so far this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers (at Cleveland Browns)
The Steelers are the No. 1 defense in fantasy football—a team that once again ranks right at the top of the league in both sacks and takeaways. They are a regular in this section of this column and a no-doubt every-week start. None of that changes even if Pittsburgh takes their foot off the gas in Week 17, which is possible given that COVID-19 caused the team's bye week to be moved up earlier this year. The Cleveland Browns have COVID issues of their own at the moment, and when these teams met in Pittsburgh earlier in the season the Steelers notched four sacks, two takeaways and a defensive score.
Washington Football Team (at Philadelphia Eagles)
Imagine, if you will, a Washington Football Team with an offense that isn't hot steaming garbage. The Washington Defense certainly isn't—Washington has as good a front seven as there is in the NFL, and Chase Young and Montez Sweat have the makings of a formidable pair of edge-rushers for years to come. Jalen Hurts has injected some life into the Eagles Offense since taking the reins at quarterback, but Philly's offensive line has been atrocious, allowing an NFL-high 62 sacks. The Washington pass rush has to be chomping at the bit ahead of this Sunday night battle for an NFC (L)East title.
Los Angeles Rams (vs. Arizona Cardinals)
This game has the potential to be one of the weirdest big games in recent memory in the NFL. The Cardinals have to win to get in the playoffs. The Rams need either a win or a Bears loss to advance. The Rams won't have starting quarterback Jared Goff, who had thumb surgery Monday. The Cardinals might not have starting quarterback Kyler Murray, who has a leg injury. This game could be a showdown with a playoff spot on the line between John Wolford and Chris Streveler, and even if Murray does play his mobility could be impacted. You can't make this stuff up.
New Orleans Saints (at Carolina Panthers)
The Saints have already locked up the NFC South after pummeling the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas, but with the No. 1 seed in the NFC still technically within reach, the Saints have good reason to go all-out Sunday on the road against a Panthers team that has struggled with offensive consistency in 2020. The Saints are presently eighth in fantasy points among defenses for the season, and while their first meeting of the 2020 season didn't produce a good stat line for New Orleans, they are still what they have been most of the season—a low-end weekly starter.
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Seattle Seahawks (at San Francisco 49ers)
The Seattle Seahawks are not, as veteran safety Jamal Adams recently proclaimed, the "best defense in the league." What they are, however, is light-years better than the unit that was on pace to allow the most yards in NFL history over the first half of the season. Over the past month, Seattle has been a top-five fantasy defense in some scoring systems, and last week the Seahawks kept the Los Angeles Rams out of the end zone in a game that decided the NFC West. The No. 1 seed in the NFC is still up for grabs though, so the Seahawks should come out fired up Sunday in Arizona against the CJ Beathard-led 49ers.
Arizona Cardinals (at Los Angeles Rams)
When the Rams take the field at SoFi Stadium in what could well wind up a play-in game against the Redbirds Sunday, it will be with John Wolford under center in place of the injured Jared Goff. Wolford, a third-year pro whose most extensive professional experience came as the starting quarterback for the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF. Sean McVay may well be one of the best offensive minds in the game, but the Rams couldn't find the end zone with Goff against Seattle last week, and Wolford has as many regular season pass attempts in the NFL as I do.
Buffalo Bills (vs. Miami Dolphins)
This is a huge game for the Dolphins, who need a win to insure a playoff spot. The Bills could secure the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs with a win, but there have been a few rumblings that Buffalo might rest some players ahead of the postseason. The Bills Defense has been up-and-down, ranking in the mid-teens in fantasy points for the season. But the Bills just played an excellent game against the Patriots, while the Miami offense struggled under Tua Tagovailoa for most of last week's win over the Raiders. If there's a potential risk here, it's that Brian Flores could again turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick in a potential revenge game of sorts. Oh, the drama!
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Washington Football Team)
If you watched the Eagles get eliminated from playoff contention last week by allowing 37 points to the Dallas Cowboys, then you know that the team has some issues on defense. Of course, if you watched Washington lose in ugly fashion to the Carolina Panthers, then you know that they may have even bigger problems on offense. The fact that Washington released Dwayne Haskins Monday would appear to indicate that Alex Smith is getting closer to returning, but even if the veteran is out there Washington is hardly an offensive powerhouse. That this dog of a game is the regular-season finale is a puzzler, but Philly's defense should be a viable spot-start in it.
Dallas Cowboys (at New York Giants)
A funny thing happened last week at AT&T Stadium—the Dallas Cowboys actually looked competent on defense against the Philadelphia Eagles. After falling behind 14-3, the Cowboys pulled off a 34-3 run, and over that span Dallas peeled off three sacks and three takeaways. It was actually the Cowboys second straight solid stat line on the defensive side of the ball, and now the Cowboys hit the road to face a Giants team that has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to defenses in 2020. Over the last three games combined, the G-Men have scored 26 points.
Minnesota Vikings (at Detroit Lions)
This is a personal first—I'm just about positive that I have never recommended a fantasy defense one week after said defense allowed the most yards in franchise history and the most points since (and I am not making this up) 1963. That's what the Vikings did last week against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. But this week's opponent isn't the playoff-bound Saints—it's a Detroit Lions team led by backup quarterback Chase Daniel. Daniel played most of last week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—and the Lions lost 47-7.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Miami Dolphins (at Buffalo Bills)
Now, it's possible that the Miami defense could be an excellent start in fantasy leagues in Week 17—the Dolphins are a top-three fantasy defense in most scoring systems and a team that has excelled at making big plays. But the viability of this play depends largely on whether or not the Bills decide to rest starters in Week 17. If they don't and Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and Co. are out there looking for a 13th win and the No. 2 seed in the AFC, then the 'Fins are going to be awfully hard to trust. Back in Wek 2, the Dolphins sacked Allen once and had one takeaway in a 31-28 loss in Miami.