The final week of the regular season is here, and the NFL is still on pace for a record-breaking campaign with an average of 23.4 points per game per team. But scoring has dropped precipitously as injuries have mounted, game tape has accumulated, weather conditions have worsened, pace of play has slowed and divisional opponents have rematched.
Four of the five lowest-scoring weeks this season have been played in the month of December.
- Week 13: 21.4 points
- Week 14: 21.8 points
- Week 15: 19.3 points
- Week 16: 22.7 points
Year over year, scoring is up, but we’ve seen a very notable downward trend within 2018 that could continue this weekend given that Week 17 tends to have a preseason-esque randomness thanks to the mixed motivations of each team.
Regardless, with no Thursday and Monday Night Football, we have the largest main slate of the regular season (15 games), and many teams are playing to win. The action kicks off on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
In this positional breakdown, I’m looking at two quarterbacks at the top of the individual Pro Models that Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek) and I have constructed.
Note: This week especially, the players at the top of our Models might change radically as we get more news regarding how teams with no need to use their starters plan to deploy their players. Be sure to check our Models regularly for updates.
After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players. Stay ahead of your competition with our industry-leading DFS-focused news feed.
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The two quarterbacks who stand out most in our Pro Models just happen to be the slate’s most expensive passers. Both are big home favorites and their games have playoff implications, so they’re highly motivated to win. Thanks to the value available at other positions, especially running back, it’s feasible to pay up for a quarterback this week.
- Patrick Mahomes: $7,100 DraftKings; $9,500 FanDuel
- Ben Roethlisberger: $7,000 DraftKings; $8,700 FanDuel
Patrick Mahomes: Kansas City Chiefs (-14) at Oakland Raiders, 52.5 Over/Under
UPDATE (12/30): Running back Spencer Ware (hamstring) is officially questionable but expected to play.
On the Week 17 edition of The Action Network NFL Podcast, we talked about Mahomes as the slate’s top cash-game option, and it’s not hard to see why we’re enthusiastic.
The MVP favorite heading into Week 17, Mahomes has spent the past few months painting a masterpiece of a campaign: He leads the league with his 9.5 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) and an 81.5 Total QBR. With just 184 yards and two touchdowns, he’ll be only the second quarterback with a 5,000-yard, 50-touchdown passing campaign. The first was Peyton Manning in his record-setting 2013 MVP campaign.
Even with a mediocre performance this week, Mahomes will finish the season with the most productive fantasy season in NFL history.
Mahomes is dominating the league with a position-high 39.5 DraftKings points per game. For context: Roethlisberger is second, and he trails Mahomes by almost five points. Mahomes easily leads the position with an obscene +10.03 Plus/Minus, and his emergence has been the story of the season.
Mahomes’ weekly consistency is outstanding. Not once has he scored fewer than 18 DraftKings points.
- Week 1: QB4, 28.3 DraftKings points
- Week 2: QB2, 41.8 DraftKings points
- Week 3: QB7, 28.3 DraftKings points
- Week 4: QB11, 25.9 DraftKings points
- Week 5: QB14, 20.8 DraftKings points
- Week 6: QB2, 35.7 DraftKings points
- Week 7: QB1, 36.8 DraftKings points
- Week 8: QB2, 30.0 DraftKings points
- Week 9: QB4, 30.8 DraftKings points
- Week 10: QB13, 20.1 DraftKings points
- Week 11: QB1, 43.9 DraftKings points
- Week 13: QB2, 33.0 DraftKings points
- Week 14: QB5, 24.8 DraftKings points
- Week 15: QB8, 18.0 DraftKings points
- Week 16: QB7, 28.2 DraftKings points
Mahomes has thrown for either 300 yards or three touchdowns in all but two games this season.
Although they have lost three of their past five games, the Chiefs still lead the AFC, and on a per-game basis they’ve …
- Outscored their implied total by 6.5 points (No. 1 in NFL)
- Exceeded their game total by 9.9 points (No. 1)
The Chiefs rank first in scoring at 35.3 points per game, and Mahomes is foundational to their success. No quarterback in NFL history has dominated in his first 16 starts the way Mahomes has.
Patrick Mahomes – through 16 starts
391 completions (1st all time)
5,100 yards passing (1st all time)
48 touchdowns passing (1st all time)
379 completions – Carson Wentz
4,374 yards – Andrew Luck
39 touchdowns – Kurt Warner
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) December 27, 2018
On top of that, Mahomes has a great matchup with the Raiders, against whom he passed for 295 yards, rushed for 52 yards and scored four touchdowns earlier this season. No quarterback has scored more fantasy points against the Raiders than the 33.0 DraftKings points Mahomes put up in Week 13, and the Chiefs have the slate’s most explosive passing-game matchup.
It’s hard to overstate just how good this spot is for Mahomes: The Chiefs have the week’s highest pass funnel rating at 88.71. Mahomes should look to attack the Raiders through the air early and often.
The Raiders rank 31st against the pass with a 27.8% mark in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and they rank dead last against tight ends (44.4% DVOA). If you roster Mahomes in guaranteed prize pools, you might want to use our Lineup Builder to stack him with tight end Travis Kelce, both of whom are one of our top stacks of the slate. Since 2014, quarterbacks on average have had a 0.47 correlation with their No. 1 tight ends, but Kelce’s quarterbacks have had a 0.78 correlation with him.
One drawback to rostering Mahomes is that he’s in Kansas City. While playing at home is normally advantageous, that’s not necessarily the case with Mahomes and the Chiefs. In the Andy Reid era (since 2013), no home team has made under bettors more money than the Chiefs have with their 17-29-1 over/under record, good for a 22.9% return on investment (per Bet Labs).
The outdoor and raucous Arrowhead Stadium is a hard place to play, especially once the weather is cold, and it’s not just road teams that have played worse in Kansas City this season (per the RotoViz Game Splits App).
- Chiefs Home Games: 52.86 o/u, 52.14 points scored, Chiefs 32, Opponents 20.14
- Chiefs Road Games: 55.19 o/u, 72.87 points scored, Chiefs 38.25, Opponents 34.62
Throughout the Reid era, the Chiefs have scored 2.81 fewer points at home and opponents have scored 6.04 fewer points in Kansas City.
Divisional games after Week 10 have a 286-365-15 over/under record since 2006. It’s possible that the Chiefs could score fewer points than expected given the circumstances.
Even so, Mahomes is extremely unlikely to have a poor game, given that he has position-high median and floor projections in our Models. And his upside is significant. With his unrivaled ball velocity (60 mph), Mahomes has made a habit of attacking defenses deep. He’s No. 1 in the league with 42 deep completions (20-plus yards) and 1,358 deep-passing yards. Mahomes likes to air it out.
For a player with only 16 career starts, he’s been incredibly poised in the pocket. Mahomes has been pressured on 35.8% of his dropbacks, but his 11.8% sack rate on such plays is the league’s second-lowest mark. And with a clean pocket, he’s No. 1 with a 134.0 QB Rating (Pro Football Focus).
Reid has done a magnificent job of scheming to Mahomes’ strengths, streamlining his reads and enabling him to get the ball out quickly. When Mahomes can simply take the snap, focus immediately on his receivers and throw the ball, he’s maybe the best quarterback in the league. On passes with no play action, he’s No. 1 with a 116.7 QB Rating. When holding the ball for fewer than 2.5 seconds in the pocket, he’s again No. 1 with a 131.4 QB Rating (PFF).
Running back Spencer Ware (shoulder) practiced in full earlier in the week and is likely to return to action. With the exception of wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot), the Chiefs are relatively healthy on offense. Mahomes should have close to his full arsenal of weapons.
Although the Raiders have bizarrely had success against No. 1 wide receivers, ranking second in pass defense against them (-31.5% DVOA), the Raiders now have a significant matchup disadvantage: They will certainly be without cornerback Daryl Worley (shoulder, injured reserve), and corner Gareon Conley (concussion) missed last week and is uncertain for this week. Absent their two starting outside corners, the Raiders will be highly exploitable.
On Sunday morning I will probably bet the over on Mahomes’ touchdown prop. He’s gone over 1.5 in 13 games this season and over 2.5 in 10. Meanwhile, the Raiders have allowed every starting quarterback they’ve faced to throw multiple touchdowns except for the unimpressive Case Keenum (Week 2), run-focused Lamar Jackson (Week 12) and backup Jeff Driskel (Week 15).
To find the best bets in the props market, use our Player Props Tool, which is powered by our industry-leading projections. Since Week 1, the props with a bet quality of 10 have gone 222-103-12, good for a 66% win rate. Without question, you should supplement your DFS action with player props.
Mahomes has position-high marks with his 99% Bargain Rating, 10 Pro Trends and +5.12 Projected Plus/Minus on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 quarterback in the Bales, CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner, Raybon and SportsGeek Models.
Ben Roethlisberger: Pittsburgh Steelers (-14) vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 45 O/U
UPDATE (12/30): Running back James Conner (ankle) is officially questionable but expected to play. Wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) is questionable but expected not to play after missing practice all of this week.
With their 8-6-1 record, the Steelers are officially in trouble: They are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013. But that could bode well for their fantasy production this week. In a slate with several meaningless games, the Steelers must win to make the postseason. They have every motivation to put up points, and as massive home favorites, they shouldn’t have much difficulty doing so.
Since wide receiver Antonio Brown’s first All-Pro campaign in 2014, the Steelers have had a 22-11 over/under record at home with Roethlisberger at quarterback, good for a 29.3% ROI for over bettors. In fact, since at least 2014, Roethlisberger has had dramatic splits that make him a strong candidate for guaranteed prize pools anytime he’s at Heinz Field.
- At home (33 starts): 23.9 FanDuel points, +6.11 Plus/Minus, 78.8% Consistency Rating
- On road (38 starts): 16.4 FanDuel points, -1.71 Plus/Minus, 39.5% Consistency Rating
At home, Roethlisberger has easily been the No. 1 fantasy quarterback on a cost-adjusted basis over the past half decade. When Roethlisberger is in Pittsburgh, he’s always in play.
Although the Steelers have lost four of their past five games, Roethlisberger has averaged 312.1 yards and 2.33 touchdowns passing per game and completed 68.0% of his passes since the team’s Week 7 bye. He’s in fine recent form.
And for the season, Roethlisberger is first in the league with 421 completions and 630 pass attempts. Under longtime quarterbacks coach and first-year offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, Roethlisberger leads all quarterbacks with 4,842 yards passing, and the team is first with a 67.2% pass rate.
Maybe the Steelers have skewed toward the passing game this season simply because of the absences of running backs Le’Veon Bell (contract dispute) and James Conner (ankle). Whatever the reason, Roethlisberger will finish the season with career-high marks in almost every passing category.
Roethlisberger has perhaps the best matchup on the slate. It’s less than ideal for him to face a divisional rival late in the season, but the Bengals are bad, ranking 28th with a 64.6 PFF coverage grade, and they are also significantly injured throughout the entire defense.
- DE Carl Lawson: Knee, IR
- LB Preston Brown: Knee, IR
- LB Vontaze Burfict: Concussion, out
- LB Jordan Evans: Ankle, questionable – missed Week 16, yet to practice this week
- CB Dre Kirkpatrick: Shoulder, questionable – exited Week 16, yet to practice this week
- CB Tony McRae: Hamstring, questionable – missed Week 16, yet to practice this week
The Bengals have allowed a top-two mark of 21.9 FanDuel points per game to opposing quarterbacks, and when Roethlisberger faced the Bengals on the road in Week 6, he had a strong 369-yard passing performance with a 69.6% completion rate. He could have a massive performance.
Ironically, the biggest concern with Roethlisberger might be his 2018 connection with Brown. The two have been noticeably off this season. Over the four previous seasons, Roethlisberger had a stellar 9.3 AY/A on his 643 passes directed to Brown. That combination of volume and efficiency was otherworldly. This season, though, of any Steelers pass-catcher targeted at least 50 times by Roethlisberger, Brown has by far been the least efficient with his targets (per the RotoViz AY/A app).
It’s hard to say with whom the blame lies for the abnormally low AY/A on Brown’s targets. It’s possible that Brown is falling off a cliff: By a number of metrics, this has been the least efficient season of his career, and there’s a case to be made that Brown is no longer a top-10 wide receiver. He’s surviving on volume and touchdowns — he’s second in the league with 168 targets and first with 23 end-zone targets — but as the book of Matthew says, man shall not live by bread alone.
Regardless of where the fault lies in the Roethlisberger-Brown downturn, it’s undeniable to all but the most biased observers. Since 2014, the Steelers have enjoyed a transcendent 0.76 correlation between their quarterback and top receiver. But over the past 12 months, Roethlisberger and Brown have had a correlation of just 0.24 on DraftKings and 0.19 on FanDuel.
Nevertheless, Roethlisberger could still have a big game thanks to the wealth of humble skill-position talent around him …
Congrats to JuJu Smith-Schuster, the most valuable wide receiver on the Steelers. https://t.co/73rCHTfZOV
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) December 27, 2018
… and even I’m not fool enough to bet against Antonio as a home favorite in a must-win game against a banged-up defense: Brown has averaged 107.5 yards receiving and 1.03 touchdowns per game at home since 2014.
With his splits, matchup and receivers, Roethlisberger is the No. 1 FanDuel quarterback in the CSURAM88, Levitan, Koerner, SportsGeek and Freedman Models.
Week 17 Positional Breakdowns
Be sure to read the other Week 17 positional breakdowns.
For more in-depth NFL analysis information, check out The Action Network.
Pictured above: Patrick Mahomes
Photo credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports