Fantasy football rankings, Week 17: Defense/special teams

Gregory Shamus

Welcome to Week 17, the least predictable and somehow most important single week of fantasy. Fun!

It's Week 17. If you're here, that means one of a few things:

  • You're playing in a one-week finals matchup of your fantasy league;
  • You're playing the second half of a two-week finals matchup of your fantasy league;
  • You like me and want to support me with the grace of your internet click.

If it's the third option, you're a delightful person and we should hang out. If it's the first option, your league is weird and poorly constructed; the NFL's 17th week is usually gibberish as compared to the other weeks, and putting an entire finals matchup on that randomness is bad decision-making.

But if it's the second option, the one where you have played the first half of a fantasy finals, and you're looking at a second matchup, then I think my defense/special teams rankings are the best of any rankings you'll find. I mean, even moreso than they already obviously are. What can I say, I'm modest.

The reason I say that is because this week, more than any other week of D/ST rankings, the different rankings of Favorites and Underdogs come into play. Because this is the week in which you know where you stand better than any other. Coming into Week 17 with a 30-point lead, and just need a defense that won't likely implode, will give you a solid 6-8 points? Grab one of the guys off the Favorites list, which factors in consistency and reliability. But if you're down 30, gotta go all-or-nothing, want someone who could give you 25 but has a negative-point floor? Go with the Underdogs list, which is based only on strength of scoring, both overall and recent.

As you'll recall, these rankings have been entirely based on objective rankings. I don't want my personal bias of "Kiko Alonso is always on TV!" to color it. Well, this week, I'm allowing a small caveat. To be frank, I assumed a few weeks ago that this would end up having to be a large caveat, but that was when I thought a lot of things would be decided by Week 17. As it is, only one playoff team is locked into its spot, and only a few games really seem like we'll see a distinct difference in game strategy for resting and/or shutting down key players.

So, the caveat: I'm bumping the Chiefs down a handful of arbitrary, subjective spots. They don't have anything to play for, while their opponents will be playing for their lives (assuming the early games go their way), and Andy Reid has rarely been shy about giving his team some rest heading to the playoffs. And that's it. Sure, there's a chance guys like Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson don't play for their respective clubs, but we can't say for sure either way and I'm not willing to say that the possibility of a stud player missing most or all of a game is enough to substantially change an opponent's single-game ranking.

With that in mind, here's a look at a few units of note this week:

New Orleans Saints (No. 3 Favorites, No. 5 Underdogs) - Counter to last week, when I theorized that the Saints' home strengths were covering for their road woes and leaving them ranked artificially high, this week it seems to me the rough road team holds the Saints' strong home unit down. A unit that scores more than 10 points a game at home is facing a Buccaneers' defense that has given up 15-plus in three of its last four makes sense at third place, but honestly, I'd be more likely to bump the Saints upwards than down the rankings.

Indianapolis Colts (No. 7 Favorites, No. 4 Underdogs) - Through five weeks of the season, the Colts' defense was fifth in the league in fantasy scoring and only eight points out of second (the Chiefs were running away with first). Over the next six weeks, they totaled eight points, which was last in football. And then they've scored 37 since, a top-10 total. Sure, there's a lot of arbitrary-end-pointing there, but going against a Jacksonville offense that might have Jordan Todman or Marcedes Lewis as its top option -- why would they play Maurice Jones-Drew? -- any hot streak seems liable to continue.

Buffalo Bills (No. 24 Favorites, No. 20 Underdogs) - This is a far cry from last week's D/ST rankings, in which I ranked the Bills' unit as the No. 1 for the week and the unit rewarded my faith with the fourth-highest score of the week (hard to ask for more, really). The Bills have the eighth-best defense on the season, and has performed even better relative to other teams lately. In a vacuum, they'd rank highly. But this ranking is a testament to the strength of the New England Patriots' offense that the Bills face this week. The Patriots have given negative points to their opposing defense in two straight, three of four, and four of seven. Even as more and more players get injured, the Patriots keep scoring points, with more than 30 points a game in their last five. It's not quite the Denver offense, but it's close enough that I don't want to risk it.

Here are the overall rankings for Week 17:

Favorite ranking Opponent Underdogs ranking Opponent
1 San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Seattle Seahawks St. Louis
2 Seattle Seahawks St. Louis Cincinnati Bengals Baltimore
3 New Orleans Saints Tampa Bay Carolina Panthers at Atlanta
4 Washington Redskins at NY Giants Indianapolis Colts Jacksonville
5 Carolina Panthers at Atlanta New Orleans Saints Tampa Bay
6 Indianapolis Colts Jacksonville New York Giants Washington
7 Cincinnati Bengals Baltimore Denver Broncos at Oakland
8 New York Jets at Miami San Francisco 49ers at Arizona
9 Arizona Cardinals San Francisco Washington Redskins at NY Giants
10 Detroit Lions at Minnesota New England Patriots Buffalo
11 Denver Broncos at Oakland Miami Dolphins NY Jets
12 New England Patriots Buffalo Pittsburgh Steelers Cleveland
13 New York Giants Washington Detroit Lions at Minnesota
14 St. Louis Rams at Seattle Arizona Cardinals San Francisco
15 Pittsburgh Steelers Cleveland St. Louis Rams at Seattle
16 Miami Dolphins NY Jets Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans
17 Houston Texans at Tennessee Tennessee Titans Houston
18 San Diego Chargers Kansas City New York Jets at Miami
19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Chicago Bears Green Bay
20 Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Buffalo Bills at New England
21 Minnesota Vikings Detroit Green Bay Packers at Chicago
22 Tennessee Titans Houston Atlanta Falcons Carolina
23 Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh
24 Buffalo Bills at New England Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego
25 Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas
26 Green Bay Packers at Chicago Houston Texans at Tennessee
27 Atlanta Falcons Carolina Minnesota Vikings Detroit
28 Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati
29 Chicago Bears Green Bay San Diego Chargers Kansas City
30 Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis
31 Oakland Raiders Denver Oakland Raiders Denver
32 Dallas Cowboys Philadelphia Dallas Cowboys Philadelphia

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