2017 NFL season in review and lessons learned
A look back at the fantasy football and the NFL gambling season and the lessons we can learn going forward
And that’s a wrap on the 2017 NFL season! The Philadelphia Eagles are your Super Bowl champions — that is a real sentence now — and Nick Foles led the way. Super Bowl LII was wildly entertaining, with more yards gained than any regular season or playoff game in NFL history.
It was a wild ride this season, and not short on controversy. Colin Kaepernick and kneeling became a weekly conversation, player safety continued to rise in importance, and a weird year full of big injuries culminated in a final four featuring Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Blake Bortles, and a 40-year-old MVP.
I made weekly picks against the spread for julian rogers at The Hit Job and wrote fantasy football columns each week both here and Fantasy Football Calculator. I also contributed NFL work this season to Arc Digital, The Unprofessionals, Fantasy Life App, and The Unbalanced. I made a ton of football picks, both real and fantasy, and it’s time to pay the piper.
So what did I get right in 2017? And where did I go totally off the rails? Let’s start with fantasy football, then hit the real-life stuff at the end…
Fantasy football look back
Rodgers, Brady, and Brees were first off the board in every draft. Rodgers and Brady held their value, outside the ARod injury, but Brees was a surprise bust. He played all 16 games and didn’t make the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks.
The biggest busts were Matt Ryan and Derek Carr, two of the next three QBs selected in the 5th and 6th rounds. Neither finished as a reliable starter. I nailed this one, warning folks that Ryan was due a huge regression and that Carr was overrated from the start.
As usual, the best strategy at quarterback was waiting. Cam Newton was way undervalued after a rough 2016. He was my favorite late QB and finished #2. Ben Roethlisberger was another favorite and came on strong late to finish top-7 in PPG. Andrew Luck was a bust for me, never even seeing the field. Matthew Stafford and Carson Wentz were available even later. Wentz was the #1 QB until his injury and the deserving MVP. I missed on those guys, mostly because I was already loading up on Newton, Big Ben, and Luck.
My favorite last-round pickup in drafts was Deshaun Watson, who wasn’t even a Week 1 starter. That was a stroke of genius and looked like the #1 QB… for about a month. Sigh.
Six runners went in the first round: David Johnson, LeVeon Bell, LeSean McCoy, Devonta Freeman, Melvin Gordon, and Ezekiel Elliott. Johnson’s injury ruined his season, but otherwise this crew was pretty successful. I stayed away from McCoy and Gordon as big regression candidates and missed both of those, though Gordon’s weird TD success still seems an outlier.
The next tier of RBs was when many people won or lost their league: Jay Ajayi, DeMarco Murray, Jordan Howard, Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Isaiah Crowell, and Marshawn Lynch. Obviously Gurley was the home run there. He was my favorite pick on draft day, someone I was all over with the Rams scheme changes and additions. Ajayi, Murray, Crowell, and Lynch busted. I was out on all but Crowell, so that worked well except in an auction league where I skimped a few bucks on Gurley to pay Crowell instead. Oops.
There were a bunch of early rookie runners in drafts this year. Fournette went first in most, then Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey, and then Joe Mixon. Kareem Hunt joined the mix late as a high riser. Alvin Kamara was nowhere in the mix, available in the 13th or later in most drafts. Everyone was a good pick except Mixon, who was last for a reason. Cook got hurt, but Fournette and McCaffrey posted steady points all year. But everyone missed on Kamara. I sure did. I liked him a lot after the NFL Draft but forgot about him by August.
I was out on Ty Mongtomery, Mike Gillislee, Adrian Peterson, and Rob Kelley in the RB2 mid-rounds, and man did those guys bust. So did everyone in that range but Mark Ingram. That’s three Saints just about everyone was really wrong about. Safe to say no one expected Brees to hand the ball off to two dynamic runners all season, neither of them named Adrian Peterson.
Whoever your late running back sleeper was, it probably didn’t pan out unless it was Kamara or pre-Ware-injury Hunt. I fell in love with Hunt after the Spencer Ware injury but he rose quickly. None of the upside or RBBC guys really broke out. Maybe not the best year for the RB-zero strategy.
The biggest story at RB this year was the return of the do-everything back. The top nine PPR RBs each had 50+ catches, and three had 80. Great fantasy RBs in 2017 had to be on the field every down and do everything. Otherwise you had to pile up a ton of rushing yards and TDs (Fournette, Elliott, Jordan Howard) just to be a strong RB2. That could be good news for someone like Kenyan Drake or Alex Collins next year.
The best over/under bets and player props for the 2017 NFL season
Wide receiver was the most unpredictable position in 2017, and the first couple rounds were a minefield.
Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and Odell Beckham went first, and Mike Evans, A.J. Green, and Jordy Nelson joined them in most first rounds. Only Brown lived up to the price tag. OBJ got hurt. Julio and A.J. finished among the top ten PPR WRs but felt disappointing all year and certainly weren’t good first-round picks. Evans was a bust, and Nelson was downright awful and got dropped in a lot of leagues. All of these guys looked like safe good picks on draft day. I was cautious on Green but otherwise things looked good here.
Round 2 was even worse: Dez Bryant, Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks, Amari Cooper, and Doug Baldwin. I loved Dez and he was a huge bust. Cooks and Cooper were two of my biggest avoids. Cooper was one of the most frustrating players in fantasy, scoring 28% of his points in one game most owners had him benched for and not even finishing as the top Cooper (Cooper Kupp!).
The only two WR picks that really worked out in the first two rounds were Antonio Brown and Michael Thomas. Everyone else disappointed or busted.
If you took a 3rd-round WR, it either made or failed your draft: T.Y. Hilton, Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, and Terrelle Pryor. Allen was one of my favorite WR sleepers, and he was a huge hit, finishing #3 in PPR and closing the year on fire. Hopkins was an even bigger hit. He was the #1 WR all year despite changing QBs monthly. Hilton and Pryor were busts. Hilton struggled without Luck all year, finishing out of the top 25, and Pryor was never playable from the start. I was way out on Pryor, but I missed Hopkins.
My favorite mid-round WRs were Larry Fitzgerald and Devante Parker. Fitzgerald was terrific again, finishing top five. I look forward to picking him in the 5th round again next season. Parker was the wrong Dolphins receiver. I kept my hopes up for him all season and totally missed Jarvis Landry — who ended up a top-five PPR receiver despite not even hitting 1000 yards. I thought Tyreek Hill was a bust, but he made enough big plays to sneak into the top ten. I liked Pierre Garcon and Eric Decker as mid/late values, and both completely washed out. Most of the mid-range guys did.
Adam Thielen was the biggest breakout late, a 10th round pick that finished top 10. Robby Anderson was a more popular sleeper, someone I liked late, and he went from 13th round sleeper to reliable WR2. I loved Chris Hogan once Julian Edelman got hurt, and he paid off until the injury. Devin Funchess and JuJu Smith-Schuster went undrafted in most leagues and came on late in the year to carry teams through the playoffs.
In general, receiver was especially unpredictable this year. Teams spread the ball out more, and only 13 wide receivers had 1000 yards. There were 23 in 2016, for comparison. Only two receivers had 10 TDs. Some of the biggest names were either hurt or had injured QBs and washed out, and most of the reliable fantasy receivers were the boring possession types that just saw consistent work every game. The athletic freak WRs were very hit or miss, and they’ll be the key in 2018 fantasy drafts.
Tight end was much like quarterback, where the happiest owners were the ones that either picked one first or last. Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce finished top two as expected.
The mid-round tight ends — Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed, Jimmy Graham, Tyler Eifert, and Martellus Bennett — were all busts. Reed and Eifert were hurt, but that was always the risk. Olsen’s injury was more costly. Graham saved his value with 10 TDs but was unreliable with only 520 yards.
The better strategy was to wait and select Zach Ertz, Jack Doyle, or Evan Engram late. Ertz went in the 8th, Doyle in the 11th, and Engram 14th. I totally missed Engram, a surprise rookie performer, but I nailed Ertz and Doyle as my favorite sleepers. Those two paid off huge while everyone’s favorite sleeper Hunter Henry stayed asleep most of the season.
My biggest fantasy misses in 2017
Kamara, Wentz, McCoy, Gordon, Hopkins, Bryant, Landry/Parker
My biggest fantasy hits in 2017
GURLEY!, Allen, Hunt, Fitzgerald, Newton, McCaffrey, Ertz, Doyle
Nailing the avoids can be just as helpful as hitting the right picks. Avoiding the right 4–5 guys each round narrows down the rest of the field and gives you more chances at hitting big on someone like Hunt, Fitzgerald, or Ertz. Also, having Todd Gurley as your favorite draft pick in 2017 was fun.
NFL betting 2017 review
I picked 15 NFL over/unders: five overs, five unders, then five best bets. I was over on Philly, Carolina, and New England for easy wins, but injuries killed me on Houston and Arizona. My unders were way off, especially Jacksonville. But I was perfect on best bets, going 5–0 on Rams and Titans overs and Colts, Dolphins, and Raiders unders. Miami and Tennessee had me scared but came through late in the season. Perfect on over/under best bets! That’s exciting.
The Rams and Titans were my two biggest sleepers this year. Tennessee worked out thanks to an easy schedule, but my 40–1 Marcus Mariota MVP odds didn’t turn out so well. The Rams were kind to me all season. I loved the Sean McVay and Wade Phillips hires and improvements to the lines. I picked Todd Gurley as the NFL rushing leader at 23–1 and he led wire-to-wire before getting sniped sitting out Week 17. I also cashed in on the Rams having the better Los Angeles record. It took Vegas (and the public) quite awhile to catch up to the Rams.
My other big sleeper was the Eagles. Guess that worked out alright. I picked Philly as the most likely worst-to-first team on the basis of defense, depth, and Carson Wentz development. I didn’t quite have Nick Foles catching a Super-Bowl-winning TD, but I accidentally predicted that too a couple weeks ago.
Weekly picks against the spread
I picked every NFL game against the spread and went 130–116–11, a 52.8% success rate. That’s… decent. It’s better than being below 50% I suppose, but it also means I could’ve probably saved a couple hundred hours of analysis and flipped a coin just as successfully.
My best bets fared better. I picked three best bets most weeks and finished 29–20–1, a 59.1% success rate. Hey, that’s pretty good! Playing my best bets was a winning strategy this season, and my locks of the year went 2–1.
I was consistently right on the Eagles and Rams and played things well on the Patriots, Cardinals, and Colts pretty often. Jacksonville and Baltimore gave me nightmares all year, especially among best bets, and I never figured out the Vikings or Dolphins either. Those teams still don’t make sense to me.
I went 5–6 in the playoffs. Meh. At least I got the Super Bowl right. And I did well on my Super Bowl prop best bets, going 6–3 with payoffs from big Danny Amendola and James White games and a high-scoring Eagles performance. Hooray ending the season on a high note!
My biggest lesson learned after a season betting on the NFL: don’t bet on everything. I consistently sniffed out best bets well and won on them, and I was forgettable at the rest. It was valuable taking time analyzing each pick, but it was even more valuable ranking the picks and choosing the best ones.
And that’s a wrap on the 2017 NFL season! Congratulations to Eagles fans. I’m sure nothing will ever go wrong for you again…