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In addition to writing this piece every Thursday night for your reading pleasure, I also write and record various waiver wire pieces each week. Given the changing landscape of the NFL with shifting COVID protocols and injuries each day, all of that research from the beginning of the week is now obsolete.
I bring this up on a Friday morning to emphasize the importance of keeping a very close eye on your players who have a starting role for your championship weekend. That doesn’t just encompass that player's health, but also that of the surrounding pieces.
Let’s take a look at the latest COVID-19 news and some exploitable matchups on Sunday for an edge in Week 17.
Players Tested Out of COVID Protocol
Under normal circumstances, Thursday’s player injury updates or COVID-19 testing would be at the end of the article after a breakdown of the game. Not only did we not have a matchup on Thursday, but this is a crucial week to explore key players' health to be as prepared as possible for Sunday and Monday night.
Thanks to the CDC, the NFL was able to shorten the amount of time in the protocol to five days if the player is asymptomatic or if symptoms have improved. Better yet, vaccination status does not matter.
Here is a list of players who have been activated from the COVID-19 reserve list. (Not exhaustive)
Carson Wentz remains a question mark but he does have the opportunity to test out of the protocol before Sunday’s game.
We are now past the five-day window so any new COVID-19 positive tests will result in that player being out for the Championship weekend. Keep checking your roster multiple times a day, just in case, and have a backup plan for any last-minute changes.
Exploitable Fantasy Matchups for Week 17
There are a lot of factors that play into a good or bad matchup this week. Of course, there are the season-long statistics, but this is crunch time for teams who are desperate to get into the playoffs. Taking a look at defensive trends over the last 16 weeks can give you a general idea of what to expect, but it’s not enough.
Instead, understanding where these teams stand, what they need to make it to the playoffs, COVID/injury news, and evaluating opposing defenses from the past two to four weeks can help us narrow down opportunities that may be hidden. I have highlighted a few of these examples, but this is not an exhaustive list. Make sure to check your lineup and identify players who may fall into this category.
Raiders @ Colts - Wentz/Raiders DST
An obvious situation is the Colts game versus the Raiders who play at 1:00 pm ET on Sunday. Wentz tested positive for COVID-19 and is unvaccinated. However, due to the lightened protocols, Wentz does have the ability to play as previously mentioned.
The Raiders have been stout against quarterbacks in the last two weeks allowing only one touchdown on 35 receptions and 300 yards. Over the last four weeks, they rank eighth-best against the position. This will be a tough matchup for the Colts but they have their not-so-secret weapon in Jonathan Taylor to help alleviate the Raiders’ defense against QBs and WRs.
However, the question here is whether Wentz will be able to play. If he does not, Sam Ehlinger will get the start and the Raiders DST suddenly becomes very enticing.
This game is also incredibly interesting in terms of playoff implications for both teams who need a win to get in.
Panthers @ Saints - Hill/New Orleans DST
The Panthers have been decimated by COVID-19, most notably their defense. This is also a prime example of long-term versus recent stats. Over the season, the Panthers rank fifth-best against quarterbacks. Over the last four weeks, they rank 14th, but they are 24th in the past two weeks and have allowed 33 rushing yards to the position and a touchdown. They travel to New Orleans who will have QB Taysom Hill back after his stint on the COVID-19 reserve list. On the surface, Hill’s matchup looks bad, but if you dig a little deeper, there is an opportunity for points with Hill’s rushing ability.
To say the quarterback position for the Panthers is a mess is an understatement. Sam Darnold looks to be getting the starting job, but what he can do with it to save his job is a question mark. Over 10 games, Darnold has thrown 11 interceptions and has been sacked 26 times.
Despite the disaster that was starting Ian Book on Monday, the Saints have a shot (albeit slim) of making it into the playoffs with a lot of help. Step one: beat the Panthers.
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Cardinals @ Cowboys - Prescott/Dallas WRs/Dallas DST
After looking like one of the best teams in football, the Cardinals have fallen off of the proverbial cliff, losing three straight against the Rams, Lions, and the Colts. Their offense is putting up yards, but they are failing to convert those yards into points on the board. To make matters worse, their defense has allowed 30 or more points in the last three weeks. They are ranked 31st against wide receivers and 27th against quarterbacks in the last two weeks, allowing five passing touchdowns, no turnovers, and 441 yards.
Dak Prescott has had some trouble recently, but there is every reason to believe that he and his all-star cast of pass-catchers can exploit the Cardinals’ secondary.
Their DST has been nothing short of stunning after being a laughing stock in 2020. I don’t love the matchup considering Kyler Murray is dangerous both through the air and on the ground, but Dallas can force turnovers and sacks and keep the Cardinals' scoring to a minimum.
The Cardinals will be playing for the NFC West title while the Cowboys (who have already locked up their spot atop the NFC East) are fighting for the one seed. Both teams need help in addition to a win.
Buccaneers @ Jets - Jones/Vaughn/Buccaneers DST
This one may be pretty obvious when it comes to playing the Buccaneers DST against Zach Wilson. However, I bring this matchup to light to highlight Ronald Jones and Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
Tampa Bay is dealing with a bit of a COVID-19 issue with HC Bruce Arians and WR Mike Evans both testing positive. Starting Jones should be a no-brainer against the Jets defense who is ranked 22nd in the last two weeks. However, don’t forget about Vaughn. At worst, he has flex appeal, and at best he may just be the starter if Jones tests positive for COVID-19 over the next few days.
Jets RB Tevin Coleman tested positive on Thursday so if you are in desperate need of help, Michael Carter is an option but the Buccaneers are the best against running backs and have not allowed a touchdown in the last two weeks.