The Shadow Knows 2016 week 17

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport

THE SHADOW KNOWS: Week 17 Sunday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns is an exercise in the perils of holding fantasy championship games in the final week of the NFL regular season.

Normally, fantasy owners of Steelers wideout Antonio Brown would be licking their chops at the prospect of the No. 1 pick in most drafts this year facing cornerback Joe Haden and the Browns. In his last three matchups with the Browns, Brown has 31 receptions for 402 yards and three scores.

Licking their chops? Hell, they’d be popping their victory champagne a couple days early.

But with the Steelers already locked into the AFC’s No. 3 seed, there’s exactly zero reason for Pittsburgh to risk Brown getting hurt in a meaningless game. As head coach Mike Tomlin told the team’s website, that likely means a week off for the Steelers’ offensive stars.

“There are several guys that I’ll look hard at preserving and protecting, and getting into the playoff round with the understanding that we are a No. 3 seed and that’s what we are,” Tomlin said. “Guys like Ben (Roethlisberger) will get that consideration. Le’Veon Bell will get that consideration. It would be nice to take LeVeon Bell into a playoff stadium. That’s something that we haven’t been able to do in the last two years. Antonio Brown, it’d be nice to take Antonio (Brown) into a playoff stadium. We went to Denver last year without Antonio. That’s not quite as fun as doing it with Antonio. Maurkice Pouncey is another guy.”

In other words, teams who have ridden Brown to their league’s title game have been hobbled.

As they limp toward the finish line like Sir Murdered the Guest Star on Game of Thrones let’s take a final look around the NFL at some of the biggest cornerback/wideout matchups of Week 17.

Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders (at DEN – Aqib Talib)
Oakland quarterback Matt McGloin talked up Cooper while speaking to Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area. “Amari is first and foremost, a very intelligent player and secondly, obviously his athletic ability just jumps off the charts,” McGloin said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to throw a lot of balls to him the past few years, in practice or in games but you just see on film, you see throughout the course of the week how he runs his routes certain ways. You know he’s going to be in the right spot and in a situation like that, you want to win the game right there, you want to put yourself in position to kneel three times and win. Hey, Amari’s a playmaker and I believe in giving guys a chance to make plays for you when you need it.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: Of course, it’s that change at quarterback that’s the big impact on Cooper’s fantasy value, and while the Broncos aren’t playoff-bound their pass defense will still give McGloin all he can handle and then some. For what it’s worth, Cooper was relatively quiet in the first meeting between these teams in 2016, hauling in six catches for 56 yards. Michael Crabtree did even less, and given the change at quarterback in Oakland expecting anything more than that is probably wishful thinking.

Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears (at MIN – Xavier Rhodes)
Jeffery didn’t mince words while speaking to Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times – losing has gotten old this season. “I just know that we want to win games,” Jeffery said. “[Expletive], if you ain’t trying to win games, they’re going to get rid of you [as] players. That’s how I feel about it. We need guys on this team [who are playing] to win. We’re fighting; that’s all that matters to me. The main part was about winning. If you ain’t trying to win, [expletive], I don’t know, boss.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: Jeffery has all the impetus in the world to have a big Week 17 against the Vikings. Heading into free agency coming off a miserable 2016 season, the 26-year-old could badly use one last big game to bolster his lagging stock. If his recent performances are any indication, Jeffery should at least have a puncher’s chance. Over his last three contests against the Vikings, Jeffery has averaged five receptions for just under 60 yards a game. He also found the end zone in all three meetings.

Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers (at DET – Darius Slay)
As ESPN’s Michael Rothstein pointed out, Slay’s potential absence could be one of the deciding factors of Sunday’s biggest game. “He’s the most important piece for the Lions defense this week -- and it’s unclear if he’s going to play,” Rothstein said. “Slay suffered a hamstring injury, his second of the season, in Week 14 against New York. Detroit’s defense has struggled since, first with Odell Beckham Jr. against the Giants (six catches, 64 yards) and then Dez Bryant against the Cowboys (four catches, 70 yards). If the Lions don’t have Slay against Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers could have a massive day.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: Essentially, this is the reverse of the situation Antonio Brown’s fantasy owners find themselves in. By the time the Lions and Packers take the field on Sunday night, it’s possible that both teams will already have secured a playoff spot. It’s also possible that the game will be a winner-take-all affair – the victor is NFC North champion, the loser goes home. Oh, and that potential winner-take-all game features both the NFL’s hottest quarterback and the Packers’ most prolific QB/WR duo in franchise history – facing a Lions defense missing their best cornerback.

That chop-licking sound you hear? Yeah, that’s the Nelson owners.

Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars (at IND – Vontae Davis)
It only took 16 weeks of the NFL season, but Robinson finally had a big game in 2016. Interim head coach Doug Marrone told Brian Jackson of News 4 in Jacksonville that getting Robinson going was a priority against the Titans. “We did try to make an effort during the week to get a couple of extra throws in, to get a couple individual-type sessions during the week with those two [Blake Bortles and Robinson]," said Marrone. “We just wanted to be able to build on that and really keep working at that comfort level. Maybe the extra work paid off. I can’t say that. I’d like to think that, but again, those two guys would probably be able to tell you exactly why. We lined him up at Z, which he hasn’t been at that position before. We had him basically in all three wide receiver positions.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: Robinson tied a season high in catches against the Titans and set a season best in yardage. The fact that it took the team this long to move Robinson around in an attempt to scheme him open also says a lot about why Gus Bradley is no longer their coach. Moving Robinson around the formation means less time spent opposite Davis, who has rarely been tasked with shadowing receivers in his career. Add to that Robinson’s 5/55/1 stat line when these teams met in Week 4, and there’s reason to think one of fantasy football’s most disappointing receivers in 2016 may close the season strong.

Gary Davenport is a Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks, an NFL and Fantasy Football Analyst at Bleacher Report, a Contributing Writer at Rotoworld and a Contributing Author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Gary was the winner of the 2015 FSWA award for Print Article of the Year.