The fantasy gods giveth, and the fantasy gods taketh away. It has been that way since the game's early days, and it will always be that way.
In most leagues, Week 17 was the end of the line. Championship Week. And there were players at every position who helped get fantasy managers this far only to fall flat at the worst possible moment.
For most of the season, Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles was a top-five fantasy quarterback. In Weeks 16 and 17, he barely cracked the top 12. Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook was a no-doubt every-week starter when healthy this season—and a complete non-factor in Championship Week. Wide receivers Stefon Diggs of the Buffalo Bills and Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs helped get a ton of fantasy managers to the finals—and then both finished outside the top 35 wide receivers in PPR points in Week 17.
Defenses weren't immune, either.
For most of the 2021 season, the Dallas Cowboys have ranked at or near the top of the league in fantasy points. No team in the league has more takeaways this season. Two weeks ago, the Cowboys scored a pair of touchdowns against Washington and had one of the best fantasy outings of any team defense this season.
Guess where this is going?
Playing against a much more potent Arizona offense, the Cowboys were all but invisible defensively—one sack, 25 points allowed and 399 yards allowed. You won't often find fantasy managers complaining about a team defense letting them down, but when a defense posts 20-plus fantasy points multiple times over the course of a season, those same managers can get spoiled.
For those leagues playing on into Week 18, there are a couple of potential pitfalls. The first has been dogging fantasy managers for a while now—it seems you can't do a day without a long list of players resting positive for COVID-19. The second issue is new—with some teams locked into playoff seeds, there's a possibility that we'll see players rest that could impact either a defense or its matchup.
But as we say hello to 2022 and bid adieu to the 2021 fantasy season, here's one last look around the league at some of the better defensive matchups of Week 18.
Buffalo Bills (vs. New York Jets)
To be fair, the Jets have actually improved of late offensively—New York has scored at least 24 points in each of the past three games, including 24 apiece against quality defenses in Miami and Tampa Bay. But the Bills rank first in the NFL in total defense, second in the league in scoring defense, third in takeaways and third among all team defenses in fantasy points. With a win in this game the Bills will capture the AFC East, and the first time these teams met the Bills logged a sack and five takeaways in a 45-17 rout. This game has blowout written all over it.
Indianapolis Colts (at Jacksonville Jaguars)
Fun fact—the Indianapolis Colts haven’t won a game in Jacksonville since 2014. I know, it's hard to believe. But given the stakes of this game and the overall putrid state of the 2021 Jaguars, one has to think that this is the season that streak comes to an end. The Colts are fantasy football's No. 5 defense even after a so-so Week 16, in large part because the team leads the AFC in takeaways with 33. Meanwhile, the Jaguars lead the league with 29 giveaways, and no team has surrendered more fantasy points to team defenses this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Carolina Panthers)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of the first defenses drafted in 2021, and while the team has had some issues defending the pass, for the most part, the team has lived up to that draft slot. Tampa is once again one of the hardest teams in the league to run on, the Buccaneers are sixth in the league in takeaways and rank in that same slot in fantasy points. The Buccaneers should be motivated to go all out in an effort to land the NFC's No. 2 seed against a reeling Carolina Panthers offense that has given up the third-most fantasy points to team defenses.
New England Patriots (at Miami Dolphins)
While the Dallas Cowboys were busy letting down fantasy managers in Week 17, the Patriots were their usual robotic selves. Against the hapless Jaguars, the Patriots allowed just 10 points, sacked Trevor Lawrence twice and intercepted him three times. Meanwhile, Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins were squandering their postseason hopes in an ugly loss to the Tennessee Titans that included four sacks allowed and three giveaways. The Dolphins are a .500 team, but they are also a unit that ranks well inside the top half of the league in fantasy points allowed to defenses.
Tennessee Titans (at Houston Texans)
The Titans are one of the harder teams in the NFL to figure out. But they are also a team with a lot to play for—beat the woeful Texans Sunday, and the Titans will take Wild Card weekend off and the AFC playoffs will go through Nashville. Yes, the Texans stunned the Titans at Nissan Stadium back in Week 11, but if anything that just gives the Titans that much more motivation to come out fired up defensively against a Houston offense that has surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to defenses this season. Tennessee also looked fantastic in throttling the Dolphins a week ago.
Dallas Cowboys (at Philadelphia Eagles)
Frankly, this is one of the more difficult calls to make this week. Not because of what happened with the Cowboys last time out, but because this is a game where we could see starters resting. However, if early news is to be believed, it's actually the Eagles who are considering giving some nicked-up stars like Jalen Hurts the week off. If Dallas does play guys like Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs even part of the way against Gardner Minshew and second-string linemen, then the Cowboys should have an excellent chance at redemption on the final Sunday of the regular season.
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Washington Football Team (at New York Giants)
There is little question that the Washington defense is the biggest disappointment at the position this season—they were drafted as an elite defense but presently sit 26th in fantasy points for the year. Of course, this recommendation doesn't have nearly as much to do with Washington itself as it does a Giants offense that has completely fallen apart. In each of the last two games, the Giants have failed to amass even 200 yards of offense, and with Mike Glennon banged up it looks like the Giants will be starting Jake "Oh Please God No" Fromm.
Kansas City Chiefs (at Denver Broncos)
The only reason the Chiefs aren't listed in the "No Doubters" section is last week's immolation at the hands of Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and the Cincinnati Bengals. But this is an instance where a short memory will serve fantasy managers well. Simply put, fantasy football's No. 4 defense from Week 8 to Week 16 this season isn't taking on the loaded Bengals offense. They are taking on a Denver offense that ranks 23rd in points scored per game. Over the past month, the Denver passing game has all but imploded—and there's no reason to think that will suddenly change in Week 17.
New Orleans Saints (at Atlanta Falcons)
The New Orleans Saints need a lot of help to make the postseason this year, but the fact that the team has any playoff pulse at all is almost solely due to the play of Cameron Jordan and a defense that ranks sixth in fantasy points over the past three weeks. This week, a desperate Saints team will take on a Falcons squad playing for nothing that has surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to defenses this season. The Falcons at least had Cordarrelle Patterson going for them for a while, but fantasy managers were enjoying that so it died.
Green Bay Packers (at Detroit Lions)
This is a recommendation that justifiably could make some fantasy managers a little nervous—regardless of the outcome of this game, the Packers are locked into the No. 1 seed in the NFC. But Aaron Rodgers has indicated that he'd prefer that the starters get at least some work Sunday against the Lions, and playing a Detroit team that sits ninth in the league in fantasy points given up to defenses this year Green Bay's starters may not need four quarters to get a big stat line—especially if Tim Boyle is under center again for the Lions.
As we put the wraps on another season of Getting Defensive here at NBC Sports Edge, I genuinely hope that you had half as much fun reading the column as I did writing it. With a little good fortune, I'll be back again to do so in 2022.