In playoff format Best Ball tournaments, week 17 is king. It’s hard to even put into words how important it is. The market is definitely getting hip to week 17 stacks and focusing on the championship round, but I still don’t think it’s gone far enough.
The prize pools are so heavily concentrated on that final week of the contest that I’m not sure the field is really grasping just how important it is. Looking at Best Ball Mania 3 on Underdog, there are 451,200 entrants into the tournament with a total prize pool of $10 Million. Of those, just 470 teams make the final round in week 17 (0.1% of the field).
- 10% of the prize pool goes to the regular season scoring champion
- 30% of the prize pool go to the top 2 finishers in week 17
- 11% of the prize pool goes to the rest of the top 100 (3rd – 100th place)
- 9% of the prize pool goes to the rest of the finalists in week 17 (101st – 470th)
That’s a total of 60% of the prizes devoted to the outcome of week 17 & the singular regular season champ.
Anyone that does not make the final has a maximum return of $505.
No one is scoffing at $500, but it’s peanuts relative to what strong week 17 performers can earn.
In the DraftKings $5 Milly Maker tournament, the total prize pool is $3.5 Million with an insane 837,000 entrants. 969 teams make the final round in this contest (0.1%). The percentages of the prize pool paid to the top finishers are similarly massive, and making the final only nets you a minimum of $250.
Again, $250 is fine for a $5 investment, but it’s such a tiny fraction of the overall tournament and miniscule compared to what those who have strong week 17 performances will earn (6-7 figures).
Knowing all of this, I think focusing on Week 17 is even more important than most think. Earlier this offseason, I talked about different ways to maximize your playoff upside with individual players, and I’ll be diving into other week 17 strategies (different ways to stack, secondary correlations, etc) as well.
But first, let’s dive into some of the most appealing games that we can stack up to give ourselves the best shot at becoming millionaires.
Week 17 Game Stacks to Target
Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs
The AFC West instantly became the division with the more firepower this offseason when Russell Wilson was traded to the Broncos (and Davante Adams to the Raiders). And lucky for us, the schedule makers gave us one of these matchups in our championship week.
Russell Wilson is such a massive upgrade at QB for the Broncos, and Denver is likely a massive upgrade for Russ’s fantasy prospects as well. Russ was yet again one of the most efficient QBs in the league last year, finishing 4th in YPA (ahead of Mahomes, Rodgers, Kyler, etc). Russ also led the league in % of throws 20+ yards downfield with a whopping 19%, so adding that element to a matchup with Patrick Mahomes creates another level of upside in the game.
Outside of the elite and monster upside offenses, the variety of ways in which you can get access to this game make it the most attractive game to target in Week 17. You have to spend up a bit for Mahomes in drafts, but Russ has an affordable ADP of 76 on Underdog.
Travis Kelce and Javonte Williams are top 3 round picks, but then you have the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton in the 4th to 6th round range. And if you miss out on the top few pass catchers, you still have a plethora of options. Rookie Skyy Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Tim Patrick, Mecole Hardman, KJ Hamler, Albert Okwuegbunam are all high upside receivers in these offenses. Heck, even Greg Dulcich or Justyn Ross probably warrant exposure in this game.
Lastly, you have super high upside committee running backs in Melvin Gordon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Ronald Jones. All of these players (plus Javonte) represent strong options in a committee, but their contingent upside alongside this game environment should make them high priority targets.
Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions
Yep, you read that right. These are probably not two of the teams you expected to see here, but that sentiment is probably good for us.
The Lions were one of the biggest winners of the offseason on offense, and I don’t think the market is giving them quite enough credit for how much upside they have. Yes, Jared Goff is the quarterback, and that’s the main issue as it relates to pure ceiling. But the weapons are extremely strong combined with an elite offensive line, so Goff just simply needs to distribute well enough to create some great scoring environments for the Lions, and he was able to do that more often than not in 2021.
The offensive line is already strong, and the team had an offensive foundation of D’Andre Swift, TJ Hockenson and Amon-Ra St. Brown already in place, but they did not stop there. They traded up for speed demon Jameson Williams in the 1st round of the draft and also added another burner in D.J. Chark in free agency. That is a really exciting and talented group that’s loaded with speed.
The Lions defense was 29th in DVOA last year, and they made very few notable improvements this offseason. They did add 3 rookie defensive players, including 2nd overall pick Aidan Hutchison, but they still project to be a poor defense. On top of that, this game is being played in Detroit so we get a dome game compared to many of the outdoor winter games. We also saw Lions games be fantasy goldmines last season, including in the playoffs when the Seahawks dropped 51 points on them in a game that featured 80 total points.
Much has been made about the Bears providing zero weaponry for Justin Fields, and it’s obviously warranted. But from an upside case, if Fields can continue to improve alongside a couple other young pieces and the coaching staff upgrade takes shape, I think there’s more potential here given this week 17 matchup than our opponents believe. Fields goes off the board at an affordable QB18 price.
Darnell Mooney is not a household name, but he’s been a sneaky good receiver for the Bears. On PFF, he graded out similar to DJ Moore and Mike Evans last season, and better than Diontae Johnson and Amari Cooper. He was 12th amongst WRs in WOPR, matching Stefon Diggs & Tyreek Hill and even better than Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Lockett. David Montgomery is not an especially attractive dead zone RB option, but given the matchup he could easily produce a big week 17. Backfield mate Khalil Herbert makes for an awesome contingent bet, and Cole Kmet is an every down tight end with minimal target competition. Even rookie Velus Jones or free agent acquisition Byron Pringle are names everyone is scoffing at (trust me, I get it), but you have a rookie selected in the 3rd round with no target competition being totally disregarded, as well as a veteran free agent that got $4 million guaranteed.
The Bears defense was middle of the pack last year, but I think it’s really possible they take a step back. Khalil Mack is gone via trade, Eddie Goldman was cut and they brought in some cheaper replacements up front. They also didn’t have many draft picks, so while they added a couple DBs, these are still 2nd and 3rd round rookies being thrust into starting jobs from day one.
Basically every player for both of these teams (maybe sand D’Andre Swift) is extremely cheap because of the sentiment on these two offenses. That sentiment might be correct, but it has set up a situation where one of the best game environments of week 17 is available to us for extremely cheap with plenty of exciting, high upside options.
Arizona Cardinals @ Atlanta Falcons
Another dome game in a matchup of two likely bad defenses and offenses offering plenty of upside. Maybe the biggest driving force for me in this game is how much I think the market is underrating the potential demise of this Cardinals defense.
The Cardinals lost by far their best defensive player and pass rusher in Chandler Jones and largely failed to replace him. They traded away their 1st round pick to acquire a receiver in Marquise Brown, which is good for this game stack, but it did not allow them to improve their defense. Their currently projected starting outside corners are Marco Wilson, who was graded 117th out of 137 NFL cornerbacks in coverage last year by PFF and Jeff Gladney who did not play last season for the Vikings, was cut, and somehow graded even worse than Wilson when he was a starter for the Vikings in 2020.
I wrote a little about the impact of Hollywood Brown for Kyler Murray and the Cardinals offense here, so I won’t bore you with more Hollywood propaganda. But he’s the perfect fit with Kyler, and the missing ingredient to this offense. Not only does he present an awesome option in drafts, but he increases Kyler’s upside while also opening things up for the other players on the Cardinals offense.
Chase Edmonds moved on this offseason, but James Conner is back and he was the RB2 in fantasy during the weeks that Edmonds missed. DeAndre Hopkins is suspended, which certainly buries him in formats like Drafters, but in playoff formats he may be a strong buy for this playoff matchup. Rondale Moore, Zach Ertz and even Trey McBride offer strong ceilings at their cost, while if you can nail the backup RB between Keaontay Ingram and Eno Benjamin you will have a monstrous upside pick in the 17th/18th round.
On the Falcons side, they also did not make any major improvements to a defense that finished last season 30th in DVOA. They did, however, make some offensive skill position improvements after the suspension to Calvin Ridley. Kyle Pitts offers one of the highest ceilings of any tight end in 2022, but they added some weaponry in 1st round rookie Drake London. Cordarelle Patterson is back in his hybrid role, and rookie Tyler Allgeier makes for a nice late dart throw. The Falcons also traded for Bryan Edwards as another cheap dart in this game.
Ultimately, the Falcons upside will be dictated by Marcus Mariota’s ability to distribute the football, but both he and Desmond Ridder offer intriguing upside in late round QBs. They draw this potentially juicy matchup in week 17, and they both offer rushing upside that’s not really available in their range of QBs.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans
Ok, now you probably think I’m just trolling, but I swear this game is a nice target. Obviously, both of these teams were horrendous last year. The Texans were basically pulling a “The Process” era 76ers tank job, and the Jags managed to be even worse than the tanking team.
But it’s a new year, and this matchup offers a lot of upside in week 17 at very, very cheap prices. Let’s start with those prices.
On Underdog, the most expensive player in this entire game is Travis Etienne with an ADP of 58.5. His ADP is even lower on DraftKings at 65.3.There’s not another Jaguar in the top 100 of ADP on DK (Kirk is 96 on Underdog), and the only Texan in the top 100 is Brandin Cooks with an ADP of 62 on UD and 68 on DK. Everyone is extremely cheap in drafts, from both QBs to Nico Collins, John Metchie, Marvin Jones, Zay Jones or James Robinson (RIP Laviska Shenault).
Meanwhile, the Jaguars were 31st in defense DVOA last year, and the Texans were 23rd. They both, like nearly every team, made some additions to their defense, but they still project to be near the bottom of the league on that side of the ball.
They were both equally bad on offense (Jags 27th / Texans 30th), but there are reasons for optimism, particularly at these prices in this matchup. Urban Meyer is gone from Jacksonville, and there’s at least a decent chance that he was a large part of the issue with the 2021 Jaguars. It’s certainly possible they just stink, but they’re priced that way. Now they bring in former Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson and former Eagles and Colts assistant Press Taylor as Offensive Coordinator, and the coaching should take big steps forward.
The Jags were also universally mocked for some of their free agent spending, but it can’t be argued that they didn’t make upgrades to their weaponry. Christian Kirk is a solid (even if overpaid) receiver, and Evan Engram still has upside despite underperforming with the Giants. Even Zay Jones was a sneaky decent addition after he really flashed down the stretch for the Raiders earning a crazy 62 targets in their final 8 games (including the playoff loss to Cincy).
On the Texans side, 2nd year QB Davis Mills really turned it on down the stretch after returning from injury. In weeks 14-18, the Texans averaged 23 points per game with wins over both the Chargers and these Jaguars. Mills averaged 252 passing yards per game with 9 passing touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. Not earth shattering numbers, but a huge step up in level of play for the rookie everyone was completely out on.
Brandin Cooks returns as the leader of the offense after earning 26% of the team’s targets (8th in the NFL) last year while finishing 6th amongst all receivers in WOPR. Despite that, he’s just a 6th/7th round pick in drafts. Nico Collins is one of the cheapest “2nd year breakout” WR targets in the entire draft pool, going at pick 200 on Underdog. John Metchie was the 44th overall pick in the draft and projects to be the starting slot receiver once healthy – Underdog ADP of 185. He was drafted before Skyy Moore, George Pickens, Alec Pierce, Jalen Tolbert and David Bell and goes behind all of these players despite at least as much opportunity for targets, if not more, when healthy.
We know ambiguous backfields can be extremely profitable, and that’s what we have in Houston with rookie Dameon Pierce, Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead. On the Jags side, Travis Etienne was a 1st round pick just a year ago and only has competition from James Robinson coming off a late season achilles tear. If you don’t love Etienne, Robinson is extremely cheap and will likely be a factor in the offense if he can return to health.
Notable games left off the list:
Buffalo Bills @ Cincinnati Bengals
I get it, how could this game not make the list? I’m certainly not saying to not stack this game on any of your teams, but it was the game that everyone seemed to be talking about for week 17 when the schedule dropped, and I’m not sure it’s totally warranted for a few reasons.
First and foremost, the Bills defense is awesome. Like, best defense in the league by DVOA in 2021 good. And they got even more talented this offseason. It’s not a good matchup for the Bengals other than the fact that the Bills offense scores a lot of points. The Bengals defense projects to be about average, but this game is going to be played in Cincy in the heart of the winter. When you combine that with how expensive all the pieces of these two teams are, it makes for a stack I think people are going to be forcing way more than they should. Chase goes in the 1st, Mixon in the 2nd, Diggs at the 1-2 turn, Higgins 2-3 turn, Allen 2nd/3rd round and Gabe in the 5th round. There’s nothing wrong with this stack, of course, but I think people might be going out of their way too often to force it into teams when you could get a similar (or maybe even greater) benefit from just using secondary correlations.
LA Rams @ LA Chargers
Another game I suspect is a shocking exclusion, but it’s in a very similar boat to the Bills-Bengals game above. It doesn’t have the rough weather element, but I think it does have quite a bit more defensive quality than the market will give it credit for with hefty price tags all around.
The Chargers defense was an abomination last year, but they used their insane amount of cap space to theoretically shore that up. Most notably the Chargers traded for pass rusher Khalil Mack to pair with Joey Bosa for an elite outside pass rush, while adding J.C. Jackson (PFF’s 5th highest graded coverage corner) to bolster the secondary. Brandon Staley is actually a defensive head coach, and I think they have a sneaky great defense with those additions plus DT’s Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson.
On the other side, the Rams have had an underrated defense for the last few years. Built around Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, they were 5th in DVOA defense last year. They added Bobby Wagner to the middle of the defense, which should offset some of their losses.
Clearly both of these offenses can score, so it’s not like we are avoiding this game just because of the strong defenses. But the problem with full game stacks is the cost to acquire most of these players. Neither QB provides much rushing equity, but Justin Herbert goes late 4th round with Matthew Stafford in the 7th/8th. Kupp and Ekeler are both 1st round picks, and all of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Cam Akers and Allen Robinson go in the first 5 rounds of drafts (using Underdog ADP).
With maybe better defensive play than the market is factoring in and the fact you need to spend nearly all your early draft capital to obtain the game stack, this game is just a bit better for secondary correlations for me, as I’m definitely targeting the players from both of these teams in drafts, all the way down to Darrell Henderson, Isaiah Spiller, Gerald Everett and Josh Palmer.