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NFL fantasy football stats & trends for Week 17: Stars to make or break your championship run

For one last week, NFL fantasy researcher Joel Smyth identifies important stats and trends to inform fantasy decisions ahead of your championship matchup. These won't be your basic, elementary stats, but rather deep and unique insights to give you an edge over your friends (and enemies).

Here are eight notable nuggets ahead of Week 17 of the 2023 NFL season.

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1) My Tua Sense

Tua Tagovailoa
Miami Dolphins MIA · QB

When you move from Hawaii to Alabama to Miami (as Tua has), you get used to the warmth. But take away the sunshine, and Tua tends to lose his heat, as well. In games under 50 degrees, he has averaged 10.5 fantasy PPG with just six touchdowns to 11 giveaways. After a brutal fantasy playoff schedule, it doesn’t get any easier for the Dolphins quarterback, with the Ravens up next. Baltimore has allowed only two top-12 quarterbacks through 15 games, with zero passers breaking 24 fantasy points. Having to face the No. 1 defense versus quarterbacks, on the road and in the cold, is a recipe for a disappointing day for the Miami signal-caller. Stream elsewhere if you can. 

2) Do not pass "Go"

George Pickens
Pittsburgh Steelers PIT · WR

Pickens is the definition of high-risk, high-reward. On just six targets in Week 16, he scored 35.5 fantasy points. That's incredible production on a concerning number of opportunities. What's also incredible, though, is that 29 percent of Pickens’ total fantasy points this season have come on just four big plays, and 32 percent of his total have come on “go” routes. Now, he travels to Seattle, lining up against a team that has allowed the fewest go-route completions in the league since Riq Woolen returned from injury in Week 3. The deep balls down the sideline are less likely to pay off against the Seahawks secondary. Also, Pickens has yet to receive more than seven targets in a game when Diontae Johnson has played his full complement of snaps. 

3) Winning solution

Travis Etienne
Jacksonville Jaguars JAX · RB

Running backs on winning teams tend to provide more fantasy production than those on struggling squads. Obvious, I know. But in some extreme cases, like Etienne's, a quality player's value can absolutely plummet because of his team's overall performance. In Jaguars losses this season, Etienne averages just 11.6 fantasy points on 14.9 touches per game. Compared with other backs in the same context (i.e., when their team wins or loses), Etienne is the RB22 in points per game when the Jags lose, but the RB5 when they prevail. In the Jaguars' eight victories, they have given their star playmaker a whopping 22.8 touches per game. But during their current four-game skid ... far fewer (14.0, 33rd among RBs in that span). It's worth noting that all seven of the Jags' losses this season have come against teams that are currently above .500 on the season. And the Panthers, at 2-13, are far from achieving a level record. So if Jacksonville can return to its winning ways, and thus get Etienne the touches he needs, his chance of another ceiling game will improve just when it matters most: Championship Week.

4) December Diggs

Stefon Diggs
Buffalo Bills BUF · WR

Since logging 100-plus receiving yards in five of his first six games, Diggs has failed to reach that mark even once. The worst downswing has come most recently -- which is actually not surprising when you take a look at Diggs’ career. Over the last three Decembers, his fantasy points have dropped to 11.5 per game, a stark difference from his 19.7 career average across all other months. The silver lining (hopefully) comes against New England: Since joining Josh Allen in Buffalo, the Bills’ star wideout has averaged 21.5 points versus the Patriots, against whom he logged his only two December games of 15-plus fantasy points in the last few seasons, both of which resulted in more than 21 points. 

5) "I Forgot That You Existed"

Travis Kelce
Kansas City Chiefs KC · TE

The unanimous first-round fantasy draft selection has been the TE10 in PPG over the last half of the season. Not ideal. Fortunately, fantasy managers will have one last shot at a vintage Kelce performance on Sunday, when he faces the only defense to allow more than 1,000 yards to the position this season. Nobody allows more yards after catch to tight ends than Cincinnati, and only one team has allowed more red-zone drives on the year -- which could set Kelce up with a few shots at a touchdown. He leads the entire NFL -- not just tight ends, but all players -- in yards after catch over the last decade, by more than 1,000 yards. In Championship Week, he should have plenty of opportunities to pick up gains in chunks, plus multiple red-zone chances to finally strike pay dirt. 

6) A shady start

Tee Higgins
Cincinnati Bengals CIN · WR

After scoring 25 fantasy points in Week 16, Higgins is a must-start this weekend, right? Well, not exactly. Two major problems. One goes by the name L’Jarius Sneed, the shadow corner who, if healthy, is projected to follow Higgins one week after holding Davante Adams to 4 receiving yards. Second, the Chiefs run a two-high-safety defense at the second-highest rate, which has helped make them a top-three team at preventing explosive pass plays. Higgins isn’t a volume receiver. Ja’Marr Chase's potential absence might make Higgins more of a focal point of the passing offense, but even so, Higgins' chances of seeing a high volume are limited by the presence of Jake Browning, who has ranked 17th in target share to wide receivers (whereas Joe Burrow ranked second). It would take an elite performance for Higgins to become just the third outside receiver to finish as a WR1 against Kansas City this season.

7) Here's to you, Bijan Robinson

Bijan Robinson
Atlanta Falcons ATL · RB

Chicago’s defense has been excelling recently, allowing the third-fewest rushing yards per game over the second half of the season and clocking in as a top-12 passing defense, to boot. Their one glaring weakness has been running backs in the passing game. This translates perfectly for Robinson, who has recorded 50 percent of his fantasy production as a receiver. Not only have the Bears allowed the most receiving yards to running backs, but they are specifically last in yards after the catch. Again, ideal for the elusive Robinson, who's been targeted mainly in the short area so he can create in space. After earning 10 targets from Taylor Heinicke last Sunday, Robinson could be in store for another dominant receiving day this weekend.

8) Loyalty is gone ...

Your fantasy draft happened at least a few months ago. The time for determining starts and sits by where you drafted players is long gone. Last season, exactly four of the top-12 drafted players at each position finished inside the top-12 at said position during Championship Week. The other two-thirds of each position's top-12 were taken later in drafts (or found on waivers). Loyalty should be at an all-time low for running backs in particular, as just three drafted on average inside the top-12 this season are currently RB1s in points per game on the year.

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