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Week 17 NFL DFS + Fantasy Football Matchups Breakdown Column With Matt Savoca

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Philip Rivers said that he has not 'completely ruled out' returning to the NFL if someone comes calling and the Colts could really us a quarterback...

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(42.5) Pittsburgh Steelers (17.75) @ Cleveland Browns (24.75)

Quick-Hitter Game Summary:

  • With the Steelers having nothing to play for in Week 17 (their playoff seed is set), Pittsburgh is set to start Mason Rudolph at quarterback, drastically reducing the floor and ceiling of every Steelers’ skill player.
  • The Browns, with their playoff hopes on the line, have absolutely no excuse not to come away with a victory facing a backup quarterback and should have their wide receiver corps back in action this weekend.
  • Both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt have projections directly in line with salary-based expectations despite facing a Steelers defense that ranks 7th in the NFL against opposing running backs over the last five weeks.
  • The Steelers have all but abandoned their rushing game, ranking dead last in the league true early-down rush rate. Even if Ben Roethlisberger were starting, under no circumstances should fantasy gamers be considering any Pittsburgh running back.

Data Deep-Dive:

All Graphs Reflect Last Five Weeks of Data, Click Graphs to Enlarge

NFL DFS Upside Analysis:

Significant takeaways: If Ben Roethlisberger were starting on Sunday, this game’s shootout probability would be one of the highest on the slate, especially because the Browns have become much more pass-oriented (and faster-paced) as an offense over their last five games. But with Mason Rudolph at the helm for Pittsburgh, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers scoring more than 24 points, meaning the Browns can likely stay successful relying on their two-man running back wrecking crew of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Passing and Pace

Why look at passing at pace? Teams that play faster and pass more than average tend to score more fantasy points. When both teams play aggressively, it often creates a game environment perfect for fantasy scoring. Games have a higher probability of going over their Vegas total as well. Ideally, we’re seeking matchups where both teams are in the upper-right quadrant of the chart below (see the chart’s caption for more details).

The X-axis is Early-Down Air Yards divided by team game-script-adjusted plays per second (using Awesemo’s Game-Adjusted Pace from the Advanced Stats Page). The Y-axis is True Neutral Early-Down Pass Rate, a key indicator of a team’s desire to have a pass-oriented game script. The matchup-specific teams’ logos are displayed amongst all other teams in order to contextualize team pace and passing versus league averages (the dotted lines on the chart).

Quarterback Efficiency

Why examine quarterback efficiency? Sustained drives in the NFL rely on efficiency at the quarterback position, so I’ve identified my three favorite performance indicators for assessing quarterback performance. The three bar charts below (see the graph’s caption for more detail) represent a quarterback’s per-drive efficiency (left bar-chart), per-play efficiency including rushes/scrambles (center) and per-pass efficiency (right). Higher rankings from both players indicate a higher likelihood of efficient play, thus a higher probability of fantasy points.

The three columns represent my three primary performance indicators for quarterbacks. Furthest left (tDSR) is True Drive Success Rate, a drive-based efficiency metric that measures a quarterback’s ability to turn drives into touchdowns, regressed based on sample size. The middle column, Expected Points Added (EPA), is a measure of per-play efficiency and includes scrambles and designed runs. Finally, on the right is per-pass efficiency, Completion Percentage Over Expectation (CPOE) based on the publicly available completion percentage model included in the NFLFastR package.

NFL DFS Player Pool Picker

Significant takeaway: The best values from this game appear to be Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and Rashard Higgins, who ranks inside the top-30 wide receivers in fantasy points per game, but has the 45th-highest salary among wide receivers. No one stands out on the Pittsburgh side of the ball based on the chart below.

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Pittsburgh Steelers NFL DFS Core Offenses
Team Player Positional Salary Rank FPTs/Gm Rank Expected FPTs/Gm Rank Defense vs. Position Expected Projection
PIT Mason Rudolph, QB #30 #29 #31 #20 1.5 Fpts (QB29)
PIT Diontae Johnson, WR #13 #13 #6 #21 18.5 Fpts (WR6)
PIT JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR #16 #14 #14 #29 15.5 Fpts (WR15)
PIT Chase Claypool, WR #24 #53 #38 #18 11.5 Fpts (WR37)
PIT Eric Ebron, TE #11 #16 #13 #29 12.5 Fpts (TE6)
Cleveland Browns NFL DFS Core Offenses
Team Player Positional Salary Rank FPTs/Gm Rank Expected FPTs/Gm Rank Defense vs. Position Expected Projection
CLE Baker Mayfield, QB #18 #14 #13 #13 15.5 Fpts (QB21)
CLE Nick Chubb, RB #4 #5 #5 #15 16.5 Fpts (RB9)
CLE Jarvis Landry, WR #15 #18 #19 #15 15 Fpts (WR19)
CLE Kareem Hunt, RB #19 #17 #18 #15 11.5 Fpts (RB20)
CLE Rashard Higgins, WR #46 #27 #34 #4 12 Fpts (WR34)

NFL DFS Skill Position Values: Expected Points

Significant takeaway: Unsurprisingly, every single Steelers’ running back has performed below expectations this season, while both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt have performed at-or-above their expected fantasy points per game mark. The Browns’ backs are on a different planet than the Steelers’ running backs, efficiency-wise. Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, and Eric Ebron have all scored below their expected fantasy points averages as well over the last eight weeks, a clear sign that the Pittsburgh offense is struggling, despite eking out a win against the Colts last weekend.

Why examine expected fantasy points? By assigning a value to each play (based on score, down, distance to the goal line, distance to first down, play type, etc.), we can measure not just a player’s workload, but the expected value of that workload using recent league history as a guide. Expected fantasy points should be considered a volume metric. If a player scores more fantasy points (represented by the dots in the bar chart below) than expected, that means the player is either talented or lucky (or both) and may have unsustainable fantasy production based on their usage.

Week 17 NFL DFS Picks for daily fantasy football lineups on DraftKings and FanDuel based on expert analysis and projections

This chart measures Expected Fantasy Points (DraftKings scoring) per Game, indicated by each player’s bar, as well as fantasy points per game, indicated by the dot. If a dot is outside the bar, that means the player is performing above expectation. If the dot is within the bar, that means the player is performing below expectation. It includes injured players in order to help contextualize players who might be receiving a smaller or larger workload based on personnel shifts.

 

This chart measures Expected Fantasy Points (DraftKings scoring) per Game, indicated by each player’s bar, as well as fantasy points per game, indicated by the dot. If a dot is outside the bar, that means the player is performing above expectation. If the dot is within the bar, that means the player is performing below expectation. It includes injured players in order to help contextualize players who might be receiving a smaller or larger workload based on personnel shifts.

NFL DFS Auxiliary Offensive Players for Large-Field Contests

Significant takeaway: With Harrison Bryant placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Austin Hooper could see a full-time snap share and plenty of looks as a salary-saver tight end. James Washington, the Steelers’ de facto fifth receiver, would have much more upside if Ben Roethlisberger were starting, Washington’s floor is too low to add him to daily fantasy football lineups in anything but large-field tournaments.

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Pittsburgh Steelers NFL DFS Tournament Picks
Team Player Snap Share Opportunity Score Defense vs. Position Outlook: Value, MME-only, Look Elsewhere
PIT James Washington, WR 39% 27 #18 MME-only
PIT James Conner, RB 63% 42 #4 Look Elsewhere
PIT Benny Snell, RB 33% 86 #4 Look Elsewhere
PIT Anthony McFarland, RB 13% 0 #4 Look Elsewhere
PIT Ray-Ray McCloud, WR 16% 1 #18 Look Elsewhere
PIT Jaylen Samuels, RB 17% 46 #4 Look Elsewhere
PIT Vance McDonald, TE 43% 3 #29 MME-Only
Cleveland Browns NFL DFS Tournament Picks
Team Player Snap Share Opportunity Score Defense vs. Position Outlook: Value, MME-only, Look Elsewhere
CLE Austin Hooper, TE 74% 70 #9 Value
CLE Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR 41% 54 #19 MME-only
CLE David Njoku, TE 48% 57 #9 Look Elsewhere

Final Thoughts

The Steelers’ defense isn’t taking the week off, making this must-win AFC North showdown anything but a walk in the park for Cleveland. Though the Browns should take care of business eventually, expect this game to remain close due to the teams’ familiarity with one another. The Browns’ running backs remain the top values from this game.

Prediction: Browns 24, Steelers 20


Looking for more NFL DFS picks and daily fantasy football matchups content? We have loads of articles, data and more on the Awesemo NFL home page. Just click HERE.

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A middling athlete who was offered his first sports analytics position at age 14, I've been working on NFL and fantasy football data science since 2017. With a particular passion for data visualization and dashboard building, I love to make data accessible by using graphs and charts to communicate ideas that are difficult to explain with words alone. You can contact me by e-mailing [email protected]

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