Hoppen to Conclusions: Week 17 Insights and Analysis
Hello and welcome to the Week 17 edition of Hoppen to Conclusions! This is where I, Sam Hoppen, will share some of my favorite charts, which are designed to give you an overview of the NFL landscape. These charts, along with the commentary that I provide, aim to help you make start or sit, DFS lineup construction, or any other fantasy football decisions. There can be a lot of noise in fantasy football analysis, but these charts have been carefully selected to give you some of the most relevant and useful decision points.
Each of the charts has been designed in a way that you want to be targeting players and teams that are in the top-right quadrant of the chart as denoted by the dotted black lines, which signify the median value for the stat on either the x-axis or y-axis. Before getting to each of the charts and analyses, here are some brief descriptions of what you will find on each chart and how to interpret them. As you can see, I have also added views on the last five weeks of games.
Note: neutral game-script is defined as plays outside of the two-minute warning with a win probability between 20% and 80% for the offensive team.
- Team Pace and Plays: Compares a team's average plays per game to its neutral-script pace, using seconds per play as a measure of pace. On the chart, the y-axis flipped to show faster-paced teams (fewer seconds per play) on top. Simply put, teams (and overall matchups) with more plays and faster pace will offer more opportunities for fantasy point-scoring.
- Team Pass Rates: Compares a team's neutral-script pass rate (NPR) to its red-zone pass rate, with the size of the team's point showing its pass rate over expectation (PROE). Here we can identify which teams are passing the most when game script isn't a deciding factor and when they get close to the goal line.
- Team Game Script: Shows the distribution of a team's plays based on their win probability throughout their games - where there is a higher bubble for a team is where the team ran more plays under the win probability. This can help explain potential play-calling and usage decisions.
- Running Back Usage: Compares running back snap percent to his high-value touches (carries inside the 10 and receptions), with the size of the player's point as his total opportunities per game.
- Wide Receiver/Tight End Usage: Compares player weighted opportunity rating (WOPR) to his targets per route run (TPRR), with the size of the player's point as his receiver air conversion ratio (RACR). WOPR weights both air yards share and target share to evaluate a player's opportunity while RACR divides a player's receiving yards by his air yards to evaluate his efficiency in the opportunity he is given. The charts show the same information for both the wide receiver and tight end position.
Team Pace and Plays
- This offseason during best ball season, a lot of people circled the Cardinals and Cowboys matchup as one to target in stacks because of their Week 17 matchup. Well, it looks like we are going to get the game many expected with a 51.5-point game total, the highest on the slate. Additionally, both teams have played up-tempo all season as they're both top five in neutral-script pace. Unfortunately, these offenses haven't been quite as efficient as they were early in the season. After ranking third and fourth in offensive EPA per play through seven weeks the Cardinals and Cowboys now rank just 12th and 16th, respectively. In any case, I'm not too worried about that and would expect these offenses to show up for their biggest game of the regular season.
- Two franchises that have seen better days - the Chicago Bears and New York Giants - face off in a game with only draft order implications. Not only are these teams downright terrible, but neither of these teams has played with much urgency lately as they look to get to the locker room as quickly as possible and move onto the next game. Though they've had some higher play counts, both teams rank in the bottom half of neutral-script pace. It's also unclear who will be under center for the Giants, causing more distress for fantasy players. With a 37.5-point game total (the lowest on the slate), you should avoid this game like you avoid talking politics with your family over the holidays.
Team Pass Rates
- The Cincinnati Bengals' pass rates have been all over the place his season, but have seen a slight resurgence the past couple of weeks. Their PROE has risen in each of the last four weeks, topping out at a season-high 15.3% in their dominant win over the Ravens this past week. Since Week 12, their 56.9% neutral-script pass rate is near league average, but they may need to pass more this week against the Kansas City Chiefs, who are riding an eight-game winning streak. Cincinnati's pass rate tends not to change when they face a negative game script, but that's okay because Joe Burrow has been extremely efficient lately, posting a league-high 7.3% completion percentage over expectation since Week 8. This confluence of factors now makes all three Bengals wide receivers startable for your championship matchup.
- Once a team that I thought would never run the ball again, the Philadelphia Eagles have thrown the ball 31, 25, 26, and 29 times in their last four games. That's still not a tremendous amount but is up from the 19.5 attempts per game that they averaged in the four weeks prior. Philadelphia gets to face off against a Washington team that just allowed 56 points and ranks near the bottom of the league in most defensive categories. In their Week 15 matchup against the Football Team, Jalen Hurts posted 296 passing yards, so you should feel good about relying on both DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert in their second battle this weekend.
Team Game Scripts
- Despite being on the fringe of a playoff berth, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in a complete state of disarray. Pittsburgh has just two wins over their last six games, and Ben Roethlisberger has been of little help. In that six-game stretch, Roethlisberger has just a -2.4% completion percentage over expectation and a 4.7% touchdown rate. Fortunately, the teammates he supports haven't struggled as much. Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool are all averaging double-digit PPR points over that span. Harris and Johson continue to be the most reliable, while Claypool has struggled to maintain his consistency, making him a fringe play this week against Cleveland.
- Speaking of struggling teams, the Carolina Panthers have skidded to the bottom of the NFC with a five-game losing streak. It turns out Cam Newton is a shell of his former self as the Panthers have failed to eclipse 21 points in their last five games (and eight of their last nine). This has made fantasy production sparse as there are only two instances of a Panthers player scoring more than 15 PPR points during their losing streak. I continue to think that D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson are still worth playing given they're both averaging at least eight targets per game, but they couldn't get it done against Tampa Bay, one of the worst pass defenses in the league. I wouldn't fault you for going in a different direction this week, but I still think there's a little juice left in them.
Running Back Usage
- Up until last week, Nick Chubb had a weak stretch of games. But now the production is meeting the workload as Chubb has an elite 74% share of backfield touches over the last three weeks. His 27.4 PPR points in Week 16 were his second-highest total of the season, and Kareem Hunt may still be unable to play this upcoming week. Even without Hunt, Chubb has still failed to get a lot of work in the pass game as he's averaging only two targets per game in the five games that Chubb has played and Hunt hasn't. Regardless, Chubb will get to face a Steelers defense that ranks 30th in defensive rushing DVOA (per Football Outsiders).
- Sony Michel is now the guy in Los Angeles with Darrell Henderson hitting injured reserve. Even with the miraculous return of Cam Akers, I expect the Rams to take it easy with him and rely on Michel as they have in games when Henderson was out. In four games without Henderson, Michel has earned an outstanding 90% snap share and 88.3% of backfield carries. He still hasn't gotten much traction in the passing game with only a 9.7% target share, but that's more a function of the Rams targeting running backs on only 12% of passes this season, the lowest rate in the NFL. Fire up Michel wherever you have him, without hesitation.
Wide Receiver Usage
- Jaylen Waddle has been the talk of the town lately, and rightfully so. The rookie wide receiver is putting on a show to close out the season. Over his last five games, he has an outstanding 33.7% target share and has earned double-digit targets in six of his last nine games. Some are concerned about his 7.1-yard average depth of target, but his 24% air yards share this season is still second on the team and he's running a route on 88% of dropbacks this season. Waddle will garner a lot of attention this offseason as he heads into his second year, and rightfully so.
- A more under-the-radar rookie wide receiver that's also had a recent surge is Amon-Ra St. Brown. He has quickly become the Lions' WR1 on the team with at least 11 targets in each of his last four games - only Chris Godwin, Cooper Kupp, and Justin Jefferson are averaging more targets per game over that span, pretty good company to be in. This has helped him average 22.4 PPR points per game over that span, making him a lock to be in your lineup, despite whatever priors you had about the Lions' offense.
Tight End Usage
- Zach Ertz continues to see tremendous usage, especially with DeAndre Hopkins out. In the five games without Hopkins, Ertz's target share has jumped from 15% to an elite 26.8%. This has come with fantasy production, too, with a 5.1 PPR point per game increase without Hopkins. Ertz should confidently be fired up into your lineups this week despite a tough matchup against the Cowboys.
- After slowing down from his blazing hot start to the season, Dawson Knox has seen a slight resurgence. Over his last four games, Knox is averaging just under six targets per game and has scored two touchdowns, which have contributed to his 9.8 PPR point per game average over that span. While his ceiling isn't quite as high as it was earlier this season, he's still running a route on a very healthy 90% of dropbacks. With his potential to score a touchdown in any given week, he remains one of the better tight end options.