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Underdog Fantasy’s Best Ball Mania has three single-week elimination rounds running from Week 15 through Week 17. The last team standing after that period takes home $1,000,001 U.S. dollars. Since every single one of us is interested in taking that down, it makes sense to dig into the schedule to see if we can’t unearth any advantages during that three-week period. Below is a list of every game played during this elimination round span. Bolded games currently meet the conditions I look for in potential shootouts; italicized games also have considerable potential to be high-scoring:
|Week 15||Week 16||Week 17|
|LAC vs KC (TNF)||Ten vs SF (TNF)||BUF vs ATL|
|BUF vs CAR||GB vs CLE (Sat)||CHI vs NYG|
|CLE vs LV||ARI vs IND (Sat)||CIN vs KC|
|IND vs NE||ATL vs DET||DAL vs ARI|
|MIA vs NYJ||CIN vs BAL||TEN vs MIA|
|PHI vs WAS||MIN vs LAR||IND vs LV|
|DET vs ARI
||NE vs BUF||NE vs JAX|
|NYG vs DAL||NYJ vs JAX||NO vs CAR|
|PIT vs TEN||PHI vs NYG||NYJ vs TB|
|JAX vs HOU||CAR vs TB||WAS vs PHI|
|BAL vs GB||HOU vs LAC||LAC vs DEN|
|DEN vs CIN||SEA vs CHI||SF vs HOU|
|SF vs ATL||KC vs PIT||SEA vs DET|
|LAR vs SEA||LV vs DEN||BAL vs LAR|
|TB vs NO (SNF)||DAL vs WAS (SNF)||GB vs MIN (SNF)|
|CHI vs MIN (MNF)||NO vs MIA (MNF)||PIT vs CLE (MNF)|
Similar to Preparing for the Playoffs, the purpose of this article is to try and identify advantageous schedule runs for less obvious fantasy assets through the weeks that will ultimately decide who wins a major tournament like Underdog’s Best Ball Mania. This article will focus far more on volatile offenses like the Carolina Panthers than it will on the Cowboys or Chiefs. Since this is being done half a year before these games will actually take place, keep in mind that a lot can change between now and then.
I draft at least 200 best ball teams a year. I use this schedule-based research to mildly adjust my exposure to certain players, and to sometimes serve as a tiebreaker between similar fantasy assets and to ultimately create some interesting pairings. For instance, I will now go out of my way to pair Matt Ryan and Trey Lance on multiple teams going forward. Below you’ll find a general write-up on the contests that have shootout potential, followed by my thoughts on 10 volatile teams through this three-week stretch, and then finally every team’s schedule from Week 15 through Week 17 is listed at the end of this column.
Potential Shootouts: Week 15
Week 15 has a number of compelling matchups, with that Chargers vs Chiefs Thursday Night contest being the most obvious crown jewel of the slate. Both the 49ers and Falcons have strong offensive lines and dynamic pass-catching groups. Pair that with the Falcons’ questionable defense and you have a recipe for a high game total that has a supremely logical path to going over. Those are the two “safest” high-upside game totals on the slate.
I’d imagine I’ll be more interested in Lions vs Cardinals than most. As a Ram last year, current Lions quarterback Jared Goff hung 38 points and 351 yards passing during his lone appearance against Arizona in 2020. While the scenery and supporting cast is different for Goff this year, this is a late-season game that will be played indoors, where both teams are set to have below-average secondaries, and the Lions’ offensive line has the raw materials to mitigate the Cardinals’ potentially solid pass rush. Those are all factors that interest me when I’m looking for quarterbacks that can exceed expectations in a given week. Kyler Murray is a dynamic athlete that could conceivably have a field day against this Lions defense. If the Detroit offense can push the score from their end, this contest has a path to going way over its eventual implied game total.
Packers vs Ravens, Buccaneers vs Saints, and Giants vs Cowboys are all games that could play a number of different ways stylistically and thus have a wide range of outcomes, including breaching 50 total points. In the Packers vs Ravens game specifically, we don’t currently know the status of Aaron Rodgers, and mid-December games in northern Wisconsin can also routinely come with game-altering weather. The Bills vs Panthers and the Broncos vs Bengals are both games that will be largely decided by the home team’s ability to pressure their opponent. If Carolina and/or Cincinnati can hang in that regard, there is some sneaky shootout potential in these contests as well. If either the Panthers or Bengals cannot hold up in that area, it could create a path for Bills or Broncos running backs seeing a volume swell during decisive victories. Weather could also be an issue in either Buffalo or Denver in mid-December.
Potential Shootouts: Week 16
The Titans were involved in 13 games last season that breached 50 total points, which makes their Thursday Night date with the 49ers compelling on its own. On top of that, we have a game where both offenses have dynamic skill position players, with quality offensive lines, which paints a realistic path for both the Titans and 49ers to exceed their eventual team totals in this contest. Generally speaking, I always keep my eye on indoor games where both offenses have a trench advantage over their opponent. While the Falcons’ offense has significantly more firepower than the Lions, both teams have offensive lines that should be in position to manage their opponents’ middling front. On top of that, both Matt Ryan and Jared Goff have been part of numerous high-scoring affairs throughout their careers. We already know that with Ryan, but that will be ignored by most as far as Goff is concerned given the Lions’ bleak 2021 outlook. If Deshaun Watson were to suit up again for Houston this season, Texans vs Chargers would have serious shootout potential and could easily have Week 16’s highest game total.
Packers vs Browns, Cowboys vs Washington, and Saints vs Dolphins each have some high-scoring potential, though keep in mind that Cleveland, Washington, and Miami all have above-average defenses. Bengals vs Ravens and Panthers vs Buccaneers are similar in the sense that both home teams will likely be underdogs facing a division rival that doubles as one of the true contenders in the league. Additionally, both home teams’ offenses will most likely be dealing with a trench disadvantage, which is one of the paths to a significant road favorite dominating a game. On the flip side, both the Panthers and Bengals have strong skill groups that could really shine if either team enjoys better offensive line play than we expect at this early juncture.
Potential Shootouts: Week 17
Cowboys vs Cardinals is a very exciting game with two high-ceiling offenses that will be playing below-average secondaries in a late-season indoor game. The score to this game has a chance of getting out of hand if both offenses play to their potential. Bengals vs Chiefs is interesting as a possible high-scoring affair and could in many ways be the Bengals’ “Super Bowl.” Packers vs Vikings and 49ers vs Texans would both have serious shootout potential if Aaron Rodgers remains in Green Bay and Deshaun Watson is somehow active for the Texans in this one. Bills vs Falcons would be great if it was in Atlanta, but since it’s in Buffalo and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has often been a different player on the road in cold weather, we have to at least bake in the possibility that Atlanta lays an egg in this one.
If you’re bullish on Joe Brady’s resurrection attempt of Sam Darnold, Week 17’s matchup against the Saints is a strong opportunity to bet on that stance. Titans vs Dolphins is a wide range of outcomes game, where the Dolphins could realistically struggle managing The Big Dog and the Titans could realistically struggle with Miami’s speed at wide receiver.
My Thoughts on 10 Volatile Teams
Arizona Cardinals (at Lions, vs Colts (Saturday, Christmas Night), at Cowboys): Week 15’s contest in Detroit and Week 17’s in Dallas are both indoor games with considerable shootout potential. The Week 17 contest against the Cowboys in particular is something that I’ll force some joint exposure to (meaning investments in both Cardinals and Cowboys on the same best ball team) through the rest of best ball season. In fact, that Week 17 tilt between the Cowboys and Cardinals is exactly why I dig into the schedule every year.
Atlanta Falcons (at 49ers, vs Lions, at Bills): Atlanta is an excellent shootout partner as they have reliable quarterback play, a solid offensive line, and one of the most dynamic pass-catching groups in the league. They also play indoors and will likely benefit from improved play calling this season with the addition of head coach Arthur Smith. Their defense is also very beatable, which means that opponents will consistently hang points on the Falcons and, theoretically, force Atlanta to throw more. While the Week 15 game at San Francisco and Week 16’s home tilt with the Lions have appeal, Week 17’s game in Buffalo will be largely reliant on Matt Ryan’s ability to play in the cold, which is something he hasn’t consistently done well in his career. Apart from that weather angle, Bills vs Falcons could realistically have enormous passing volume between both teams.
Carolina Panthers (at Bills, vs Buccaneers, at Saints): If you’re a believer in Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s ability to get the most out of Sam Darnold, all three of these games have some shootout potential if the Panthers can get reliable quarterback play. Given Darnold’s current ADP and the talent of his skill group, he’s an interesting late-round bet on upside.
Cincinnati Bengals (at Broncos, vs Ravens, vs Chiefs): Whenever a smart, analytics-driven guy like our Mike Leone sees something the same way that I do, I tend to increase my already significant exposure to that concept. Just like him, the Bengals’ offensive line is my biggest concern, and that concern will be tested by both the Broncos in Week 15 and the Ravens in Week 16. With that said, Week 16 against Lamar Jackson and Week 17 versus Patrick Mahomes are both home games against former MVP winners that could both blow the doors off a mediocre Bengals defense. The floor is a little scary through this stretch, particularly against the Ravens, but there is big upside in these Week 16 and 17 matchups for Bengals fantasy assets because Joe Burrow can ball when he’s not getting hit on every play.
Denver Broncos (vs Bengals, at Raiders, at Chargers): When considering game total potential, none of these three defensive opponents are particularly concerning while each of their offenses could conceivably have success against the Broncos’ defense. If Aaron Rodgers or Deshaun Watson ends up in Denver especially, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant have a great stretch through money-making season on Underdog Fantasy.
Detroit Lions (vs Cardinals, at Falcons, at Seahawks): To be absolutely clear, the Lions are a talent-poor team that could conceivably struggle against any NFL opponent. Any bet on the Lions is a bet on an unreliable football team. With that said, they do have a solid offensive line and while Jared Goff’s reputation has been falling off a cliff for the past 12 months, Goff is a guy that exceeded 300 yards passing six times last year and he has no competition on the depth chart.
Green Bay Packers (at Ravens, vs Browns (Saturday), vs Vikings (Sunday Night)): If Aaron Rodgers remains in Green Bay, all three of these matchups could be very competitive while realistically exceeding 50 total points.
Miami Dolphins (vs Jets, at Saints (Monday Night), at Titans): I have the pleasure of working with a lot of smart guys at Establish the Run. Most, if not all of them, appear interested in betting on the Dolphins’ offensive upside this season. There are a few Dolphins that I have considerable early exposure to because they are being drafted way too late; this schedule run makes me feel better about those early moves.
San Francisco 49ers (vs Falcons, at Titans (Thursday Night), vs Texans): If the 49ers breached 30 points against each of these opponents, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. My Trey Lance exposure in particular is going to go way up in best ball tournaments due to this stretch.
Washington (at Eagles, at Cowboys (Sunday Night), vs Eagles): This three-game stretch looks like it could decide Washington’s season, while both the Cowboys and Eagles will enter the 2021 season with holes in their secondaries. I fall just short of calling these games potential shootouts, largely because of Washington’s defense, but each of these games has the ability for both teams to exceed 20 points.
Every Team’s Week 15 through Week 17 Schedule
Arizona Cardinals: at Lions, vs Colts (Saturday, Christmas Night), at Cowboys
Atlanta Falcons: at 49ers, vs Lions, at Bills
Baltimore Ravens: vs Packers, at Bengals, vs Rams
Buffalo Bills: vs Panthers, at Patriots, vs Falcons
Carolina Panthers: at Bills, vs Buccaneers, at Saints
Chicago Bears: vs Vikings (Monday Night), at Seahawks, vs Giants
Cincinnati Bengals: at Broncos, vs Ravens, vs Chiefs
Cleveland Browns: vs Raiders, at Packers (Saturday), at Steelers (Monday Night)
Dallas Cowboys: at Giants, vs Washington (Sunday Night), vs Cardinals
Denver Broncos: vs Bengals, at Raiders, at Chargers
Detroit Lions: vs Cardinals, at Falcons, at Seahawks
Green Bay Packers: at Ravens, vs Browns (Saturday), vs Vikings (Sunday Night)
Houston Texans: at Jaguars, vs Chargers, at 49ers
Indianapolis Colts: vs Patriots, at Cardinals (Saturday Christmas Night), vs Raiders
Jacksonville Jaguars: vs Texans, at Jets, at Patriots
Kansas City Chiefs: at Chargers (Thursday Night), vs Steelers, at Bengals
Las Vegas Raiders: at Browns, vs Broncos, at Colts
Los Angeles Chargers: vs Chiefs (Thursday Night), at Texans, vs Broncos
Los Angeles Rams: vs Seahawks, at Vikings, at Ravens
Miami Dolphins: vs Jets, at Saints (Monday Night), at Titans
Minnesota Vikings: at Bears (Monday Night), vs Rams, at Packers (Sunday Night)
New England Patriots: at Colts, vs Bills, vs Jaguars
New Orleans Saints: at Buccaneers (Sunday Night), vs Dolphins (Monday Night), vs Panthers
New York Giants: vs Cowboys, at Eagles, at Bears
New York Jets: at Dolphins, vs Jaguars, vs Buccaneers
Philadelphia Eagles: vs Washington, vs Giants, at Washington
Pittsburgh Steelers: vs Titans, at Chiefs, vs Browns (Monday Night)
San Francisco 49ers: vs Falcons, at Titans (Thursday Night), vs Texans
Seattle Seahawks: at Rams, vs Bears, vs Lions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: vs Saints (Sunday Night), at Panthers, at Jets
Tennessee Titans: at Steelers, vs 49ers (Thursday Night), vs Dolphins
Washington: at Eagles, at Cowboys (Sunday Night), vs Eagles