This article is part of our DraftKings NFL series.
There are plenty of playoff scenarios that need to be examined as we head into the final week of the regular season, but in the most basic sense, the teams on Sunday's main slate that need to win, either for a playoff berth or better playoff seeding, are the Patriots, Chiefs, Raiders, Steelers and Titans in the AFC and the Packers, Saints, Cowboys and Eagles in the NFC. The Ravens have already clinched home field throughout the playoffs, while the Bills and Vikings have clinched playoff spots but cannot win their respective divisions. So, if you are someone who focuses on post-season motivation in your lineup builds, those are the teams that have more to play for, in theory.
On the other hand, the Dolphins (at New England), Broncos (vs. Oakland), Chargers (at Kansas City), Ravens (vs. Pittsburgh), Lions (vs. Green Bay), Panthers (vs. New Orleans), Cowboys (vs. Washington) and Giants (vs. Philadelphia) are the ones in position to play spoiler (or the ones who are going to be outworked by the teams that need to win, however you want to look at it). This all doesn't mean you can only focus on those teams, but motivation in Week 17 is at least worth considering, maybe as a fifth tie-breaker between players.
Christian McCaffrey, CAR at NO ($10,000): McCaffrey has been the best fantasy running back in the league this season, and he's chasing history in this game, as he needs only 68 receiving yards to finish with more than 1,000 rushing and receiving yards, and he's 215 yards from scrimmage away from tying Chris Johnson for the single-season record. The former is obviously much easier to get than the latter, and while the Panthers have nothing to play for, they have made it clear that they want McCaffrey to set as many records as possible. Doing so against the Saints' defense isn't going to be an easy task, as they've allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to running backs, though that also includes 34.3 fantasy points by McCaffrey in Week 12 when he rushed 22 times for 64 yards and a touchdown while also catching all nine of his targets for 69 yards and another score. Again, the Panthers have nothing to play for while the Saints are in the hunt for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but spending up on McCaffrey shouldn't be ignored just because Carolina has no shot at the post-season.
Ezekiel Elliott, DAL vs. WAS ($8,000): Dallas will win the NFC East with a win and an Eagles loss, so while they don't control their destiny, they still have to win to have a chance. Only two teams have allowed more fantasy points to running backs this season than Washington, who has been atrocious against the position in the past two games, not only allowed multiple running back touchdowns but also at least 145 rushing yards and 85 receiving yards. It all adds up perfectly for Elliott, who rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown while adding a receiving score against them in Week 2. Elliott is highly likely to get at least 20 touches, and given the matchup and situation, he should be popular in cash games, particularly for those who don't want to play into the McCaffrey record-narrative. In addition to Elliott, Alvin Kamara ($7,800) profiles well in the same price range, as he faces a Panthers defense that's allowed the most fantasy points to running backs this season, including 25 rushing touchdowns that's nine more than the next-highest team. Their lead in that category has actually widened recently, allowing at least two rushing touchdowns in four straight games, with the only hesitation on Kamara that he doesn't get nearly the rushing volume as Elliott, though he overcame that when he played the Panthers in Week 12 by rushing 11 times for 54 yards and catching all nine targets for 48. I also wouldn't throw out the possibility of playing Aaron Jones ($8,200) or Derrick Henry ($8,100) in the higher price range, especially with both teams needing to win, though Jones' volume is always questionable despite his 23 carries for 154 yards and two touchdowns this past Monday.
Le'Veon Bell, NYJ at BUF ($5,800): The Jets are only 1.5-point underdogs in Buffalo, though that has more to do with the fact that many Bills starters won't be playing or will leave early because their playoff positioning is unaffected by a win or loss. With that, Bell won't be facing the full Bills defense, which he scored 23.2 fantasy points against in Week 1, including a receiving touchdown. Bell had a season-high 25 carries last week against the Steelers, and while he only rushed for 72 yards and caught all four targets for 21 receiving yards, his $5,800 salary makes that a decent return. There are likely to be more lineups with two higher-priced running backs because there are a number in good spots, but Bell is an interesting pay-down option against a team that isn't 100 percent. If you prefer to focus on guys who have something to play for, DeAndre Washington ($5,200) could be that guy if Josh Jacobs ($6,300) is forced to sit again. Washington's volume is likely to be there against the Broncos, more so than the Chargers' split between Melvin Gordon ($6,000) and Austin Ekeler ($6,200) against the Chiefs or Phillip Lindsay ($6,100) against the Raiders. And, if you want to trust Andy Reid, Damien Williams looks pretty cheap at $4,700 in a game the Chiefs want to win.
Carson Wentz, PHI at NYG ($6,100): The Eagles take home the NFC East title with a win or tie against the Giants, who have allowed the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season, including multiple passing touchdowns in each of the past four games. Part of that run included Wentz's 23.9 fantasy points in Week 14 when he completed 33 of 50 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns, the fourth game in a run of six when he's thrown at least 40 passes. In fact, no quarterback has more pass attempts in the past five games than Wentz, while his 1,476 passing yards are the fifth-most and 10 passing touchdowns more than all but five quarterbacks. He's the 11th-most expensive QB on the slate (not including Lamar Jackson, who has already been ruled out), making him a solid salary-saver among players on teams battling for the playoffs. If there's a hesitation it's that he's basically using pass catchers off the street, but that's been the case for a few weeks and the volume has remained high.
Drew Brees, NO at CAR ($7,000): I was going to bite the bullet and highlight Ryan Tannehill ($6,800), but I just couldn't do it with Brees only $200 more and Patrick Mahomes $400 higher. Granted, Tannehill has been great lately and now faces a horrible Texans' pass defense, but choosing him over Brees is going too far for me (maybe to a fault). The Panthers have been atrocious against the run this season, but that was also the case back in Week 12 when Brees completed 30 of 39 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns against them. Tannehill certainly sticks out because of the matchup, which also applies to Jameis Winston ($6,600) and Matt Ryan ($6,500), who face off against each other in a game with zero implications.
Michael Thomas, NO at CAR ($9,900): The most expensive wide receiver on the slate by $1,400, Thomas has already set the single-season reception record, and he comes in with double-digit receptions in four of his last five games, including Week 12 against Carolina when he caught 10 of 11 targets for 101 yards and a touchdown. The Saints still have a chance to get the top seed in the NFC (they need a win and a Packers loss), so there's little reason to think Thomas' volume will decline. The price is really the issue, especially when Julio Jones is the receiver who is $1,400 less than Thomas and faces a Tampa Bay defense that's allowed the most fantasy points to wide receivers. Jones wasn't great in Week 12 against the Buccaneers, though without Calvin Ridley in the lineup he's gotten 35 targets in the past two games, catching 23 for 300 yards. Then again, there's also Davante Adams ($8,000), who has had 29 targets in the past two games, catching 20 for 219 yards and facing a Lions defense that's allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers.
Greg Ward, PHI at NYG ($4,700): There are a number of viable wide receivers in the $4,500-$5,000 range, with Ward one of them as the Eagles' top wideout against a Giants defense that's allowed the third-most fantasy points to wide receivers, including two receiving touchdowns in each of the past two games, which came against Miami and Washington. Ward only had five targets last week, but he caught four for 71 yards, which came one week after he caught seven of nine for 61 yards and a touchdown. With tight end Zach Ertz (6,000) also possibly missing Sunday's game, there could be even more opportunities for Ward. If you don't want to rely on him, Steven Sims Jr. ($4,700) has 11 and 10 targets in his last two games, respectively, a span that also saw him score three touchdowns. Sims is in play if you don't care about playoff motivation, something that also applies to the Bucs' Justin Watson ($4,900), who had at least eight targets and a touchdown in two of the last three games. Then again, he's only $500 less than the Cowboys' Michael Gallup, who had at least 10 targets and 98 yards in two of his last three.
Sterling Shepard, NYG vs. PHI ($6,200): While there are a number of high-end and cheaper wide receivers worthy of consideration, we shouldn't ignore the mid-tier. Shepard is one of the players in that range, as he comes in with at least 19.6 fantasy points in each of the past two games, the first of which was thanks to nine catches on 11 targets for 111 yards and the second was a six-catch, 76-yard, one-touchdown performance last week. The Giants are 4.5-point underdogs, but they have enough offensive ability to keep up with the Eagles, and Shepard is their top pass catcher. Also in this range, Courtland Sutton ($6,400) comes in with 10 targets in each of the past two games, while Amari Cooper ($6,500) struggled last week despite 12 targets. Or you could just throw caution to the wind and roll with Breshad Perriman ($6,700) again as Jameis Winston's top wide receiver, something that helped him to seven catches on 12 targets for 102 yards last week, which was preceded by five catches on six targets for 113 yards and three touchdowns in Week 15.
Travis Kelce, KC vs. LAC ($7,000): Kelce is the most expensive tight end on the slate, but that can't be surprising after he had at least nine targets in five straight games. Kansas City has one of the highest implied team totals on the slate, and while there are a few more expensive tight ends worth considering, Kelce is worthy of his higher price versus guys like Austin Hooper ($5,800), Tyler Higbee ($5,600), Darren Waller ($5,400) and Dallas Goedert ($4,900), the latter of whom could be a much more popular than usual if Ertz (ribs) is held out.
Jonnu Smith, TEN at HOU ($4,200): Smith hasn't been a big volume receiver for the Titans, but he's still managed at least 11.9 fantasy points in three straight games. They now face a Texans defense that's allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to tight ends this season, including 16.7 to Smith two weeks ago when he caught all five targets for 60 yards and rushed once for 57. O.J. Howard ($4,300) could also get some interest because of the Buccaneers' pass-catching injury issues, while Kaden Smith ($3,700) and Noah Fant ($3,600) are viable for those who need to save even more salary.
Vikings vs. CHI ($2,900): Paying up for the Patriots ($4,300) certainly seems viable, as they need a win to clinch a first-round bye and face a Dolphins defense they crushed in Week 2 to the tune of 37.0 fantasy points. They haven't been nearly as dominant lately, though as 16.0-point favorites, there is plenty of upside. If that's too much salary, the Vikings' defense has been very strong recently, registering 11 sacks and 12 turnovers in the past three games. Meanwhile, only 11 quarterbacks have been sacked more than Mitchell Trubisky, who had at least one turnover in five of his past six games.