The Shadow Knows Week 17 2022

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport

After falling in San Francisco last week for their second straight loss, the 7-7-1 Washington Commanders are clinging to the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC. The team is shaking things up in an effort to get back on the right track this week against the Cleveland Browns, going back to Carson Wentz under center after nine starts from Taylor Heinicke. It's a move that was greeted with groans from some in the fanbase, but wide receiver Terry McLaurin told the team's website that the Commanders' receivers are ready to rally around their new (old) quarterback.

"I don't think anything really changes for us, receivers wise," McLaurin said. "I can't speak for the O-Line of the running backs, but at least we have a familiarity with Carson and what he brings to the table. We have his back and we're able to support him, and he can trust our group to come down with the tough plays to try and help win this game."

Playing with Wentz won't be the only reunion for McLaurin on Sunday. He'll also be squaring off against a familiar face in former Ohio State teammate Denzel Ward. The Pro Bowl cornerback for the Browns told Cleveland's website that he expects to have his hands full with his old friend.

"Terry, he is a phenomenal player," Ward said. "A leader so I know he is the leader for that team and he was a leader for us Buckeyes back in those days. A great player. A great person. Looking forward to competing against him this week. I think because of his leadership and who he is as a person, he does all of the little things right and always going hard."

Ward's level of play has dipped this season-his completion percentage against, passer rating against and yards per completion are all the worst of his career. With that said, the Browns haven't been a good matchup for wide receivers, allowing the eighth-fewest PPR points to wide receivers. The biggest thing working against McLaurin this week may well be Wentz himself-McLaurin's target share and yards per route run were both much lower with Wentz earlier in the season than with Heinicke.

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (D.J. Moore vs. Carlton Davis)

Carlton Davis of the Buccaneers has played some of his best football of the season over the past two weeks. First, Davis played Ja'Marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals about as well as any corner has this year. Then, Davis helped completely erase DeAndre Hopkins in last week's win over the Arizona Cardinals. Davis told the Tampa Bay Times that he's more than willing to play on an island if that's what the team needs.

"In the back half of 2019 I really started following guys, and (Hopkins) was one of my first assignments, so you never forget it," Davis said. "But he's a physical receiver, I'm a physical corner. Somebody's going to win, somebody's going to lose. "I just came out there ready to play. My team, my coaches, they all believed in me to do my job, and that's what I did, and that's what I'm going to do every week, regardless. I've really been doing it since I got here into the league."

Week 17 brings a matchup with the Carolina Panthers that carries massive stakes for both teams-and a familiar face in coverage in Panthers wideout D.J. Moore. Davis missed the first meeting with Carolina this year, but in two matchups last season, Moore averaged six catches for 72 yards. As matchups go, it's a fairly neutral one from a fantasy perspective.


Arizona Cardinals vs. Atlanta Falcons (DeAndre Hopkins vs. A.J. Terrell)

It has been a trying season in the desert, both for the Cardinals as a team and for Hopkins individually. Things hit rock bottom last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when with Trace McSorley at quarterback Hopkins caught one of 10 targets for four yards. Now Hopkins and the Cardinals travel east to face A.J. Terrell and the Falcons, and as Ellis Johnson wrote for RotoBaller, fantasy managers hoping for a bounceback in Week 17 may be in for a disappointment.

"It's time we removed the idea that the Falcons are no good at defending the pass," he said. "This season, they have completely turned that logic around. Arguably more impressive is that despite allowing the eighth most fantasy points to WRs on the season, over the last six weeks they have allowed the sixth-fewest. That's right, with A.J. Terrell back they have been dominant against opposing top wideouts. This includes holding Chris Olave, Terry McLaurin, and D.J. Moore to under five receptions and 55 yards each."

The numbers are actually even worse than Johnson let on-per ESPN's Mike Clay, the Falcons have allowed the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers over the last four weeks, and the fewest to the perimeter over the last eight weeks. The return of Colt McCoy at quarterback should help at least a little, but the Hopkins folks expected this year and the one they are getting in Week 17 is two very different guys.




New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks (Garrett Wilson vs. Tariq Woolen)

There are storylines galore in Sunday's matchup between the Jets and Seahawks, whether it's the battle between two fringe contenders clinging to fading postseason hopes or the "duel" between two rookie cornerbacks headed to the Pro Bowl in New York's Ahmad Gardner and Seattle's Tariq Woolen. However, Seattle defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt told reporters that Woolen's primary focus needs to be on one thing and one thing only.

"He's not going to line up against Sauce Gardner a single time," Hurtt said. I think sometimes when you make it about that, you lose sight of what's important in the course of the game, which is to do your job. He has to cover Garrett and Corey Davis and the rest of those guys in the wide receiver group."

The matchup between Wilson and Woolen is intriguing in its own right-especially with a quarterback under center for the Jets in Mike White who is actually capable of completing forward passes with some regularity. But the Seahawks aren't going to make it easy on Wilson Sunday-Seattle has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to receivers this season.




New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks (Ahmad Gardner vs. DK Metcalf)

Rookie cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner has been everything the Jets hoped he'd be when they drafted him in April. The former Cincinnati standout has a passer rating against of less than 65. He has been named to the Pro Bowl. And it's entirely possible that he will be named Defensive Rookie of the Year. But despite all those accolades and achievements, Gardner isn't about to take anything for granted-including this week's matchup with DK Metcalf and the Seahawks.

"He's a great physical receiver," Gardner said. "His body type is kind of different. He isn't the average-sized receiver. I'm looking forward to it, I've been watching tape. He makes a lot of play, he's very strong, he got speed, run good routes. I'm looking forward to it though."

Metcalf is indeed "different"-his combination of size and speed is a nightmare in coverage, and there's always the possibility that he'll blow up in any given week. But Gardner appears to be a legitimate star in the making, and only one NFL team has given up fewer PPR points to wide receivers this season than the Jets. Metcalf gets a downgrade, albeit not a major one.




Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals (Tre'Davious White vs. Ja'Marr Chase)

After missing Buffalo's first 10 games while recovering from an ACL tear suffered in November of 2021, Pro Bowl cornerback Tre'Davious White has played the last five games for the Bills. In the last three, he has played essentially every snap. And as rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam told the team's website, having the leader of the Buffalo secondary back on the field has been a big boost for the defense as a whole.

"Since he's been out there, you can definitely see his spirit just grow," Elam said. "He's always been a talkative guy, but you see his happiness and spirit grow, especially if I make a play or somebody makes a play, he's the first one to congratulate you. He's so happy to just be out there. Just seeing his work ethic translate from the training room to the field is really inspiring because he could come out there and hold back a little bit because he's been injured and doesn't really want to test it, but he's flying around. He has a great attitude and a positive attitude."

When he's 100 percent and at the top of his game, the 27-year-old White is one of the best cover cornerbacks in the NFL. And to his credit, White has posted a respectable completion percentage against of 53.6 since his return. But White is still working his way back after a lengthy layoff, and taking on the NFL's hottest team and arguably the league's best pitch-catch combo in Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase is an awfully tall ask. Chase is what he is-an elite WR1.