For those whose fantasy football league’s schedule includes Week 17, my condolences. Not only do you have to deal with the usual pitfalls of unanticipated injuries and subpar performances, you also have to deal with a number of teams that will effectively be treating this week’s contest as a scrimmage or preseason game. This will likely limit your roster options and potentially force you to make some unpalatable lineup decisions.
This week there are five playoff-bound teams that have absolutely nothing to play for and figure to give their starters at least a half, if not the entire game, off. Those teams are the NY Giants, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Indianapolis, and Arizona. Avoid starting any players from these teams this week unless you’re either feeling really desperate or really lucky. Two of these teams, Tennessee and Indianapolis, actually face each other in what should be dubbed the Jim Sorgi Bowl in honor of the Colts’ backup QB, who, much like the Punxsutawney Phil (the Groundhog) or the Swallows of San Juan Capistrano, makes an annual appearance you can set your watch by. Needless to say, avoid any players involved in that game like the plague.
On the other hand there are three games this week that are in essence playoff games: Miami at NY Jets, Dallas at Philadelphia, and Denver at San Diego (The Ed Hochuli Atonement Bowl). Any healthy player involved with these three games is worth starting this week.
Here are some more thoughts on games and players for Week 17’s contests (all of which take place on Sunday):
NY Giants at Minnesota - The Giants have nothing to play for and a bunch of injured players in need of time to heal; the Vikings can clinch a division title and the playoff berth that goes with it with a victory. Contrarians will point to last season’s Week 17 matchup between the Giants and the Patriots (where the Giants had nothing to play for but still made the Patriots earn their perfect regular season record) as evidence the Giants may decide to go all out for four quarters in this game. The circumstances are completely different this year. Last year’s Giants team needed the dose of confidence heading into the playoffs that came from playing as well as they did against the Patriots; this year’s team doesn’t. RB Derrick Ward needs 52 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for the season, which would give the Giants a pair of 1,000-yard rushers (with RB Brandon Jacobs being the other). Still, unless 52 yards rushing and no scores represents an upgrade to your current starting lineup, I’d pass. If you really are intent on starting a Giants’ RB this weekend against the Vikings’ Defense, go with RB Ahmad Bradshaw instead. Avoid Jacobs, QB Eli Manning, TE Kevin Boss (Doubtful - ankle, concussion), and WR Amani Toomer. For the Vikings start QB Tarvaris Jackson, RBs Adrian Peterson & Chester Taylor, TE Visanthe Shiancoe, WR Bobby Wade, K Ryan Longwell, and the Defense. Avoid WR Bernard Berrian (Questionable - ankle).
St. Louis at Atlanta - The Rams have been somewhat better on Offense the last few weeks (”better” being a relative term), and Atlanta can potentially capture the NFC’s #2 seed with a victory, so both teams figure to be playing hard for four quarters. Rams worth starting include QB Marc Bulger, RB Steven Jackson (Probable - hamstring), WRs Torry Holt & Donnie Avery, and K Josh Brown. Falcons worth starting include QB Matt Ryan, RBs Michael Turner & Jerious Norwood, WR Roddy White, and K Jason Elam. Avoid WRs Michael Jenkins (Questionable - shoulder) & Harry Douglas (Questionable - toe, shoulder).
New England at Buffalo - Unless you are a Patriots-hater, you have to admit that the emergence of QB Matt Cassel is one of the best stories in the NFL this year. For a guy who hadn’t started a game since high school to replace Tom Brady and throw for almost 4,000 yards is an amazing accomplishment, and Cassel figures to cash in during the off-season (Detroit? Minnesota? NY Jets? Cincinnati?). Cassel, RBs Sammy Morris, Lamont Jordan, & Kevin Faulk, TE Ben Watson, WRs Wes “Snow Angel” Welker & Randy Moss, and K Stephen Gostkowski are all worth starting this week. Bills worth starting include QB Trent Edwards, RB Fred Jackson, TE Robert Royal, WRs Lee Evans & Josh Reed, and K Rian Lindell. I’d stay away from RB Marshawn Lynch (Questionable - shoulder) unless you’ll have access to your lineup shortly before kickoff.
Detroit at Green Bay - Detroit may be using the rallying cry “This is our Super Bowl”, but it’s impossible to see how the outcome this week will be any different than it has for the Lions’ first 15 games this season. Although the season has been a disappointing one for the Packers, the last thing they want to do is go down in history as the team the Lions beat to stave off an “unvictorious” season. The only Lion you’d want to consider starting is RB Kevin Smith (Questionable - ankle) - he figures to play in spite of his injury. Packers worth starting are QB Aaron Rodgers, RB Ryan Grant, TE Donald Lee, WRs Greg Jennings & Donald Driver, K Mason Crosby, and the Defense.
Carolina at New Orleans - Both teams have something to play for - Carolina wraps up the NFC’s #2 seed with a victory, while New Orleans QB Drew Brees needs 402 passing yards to break Dan Marino’s 24-year-old single-season mark of 5,084. Panthers worth starting include QB Jake Delhomme, RBs DeAngelo Williams & Jonathan Stewart, WRs Steve Smith & Muhsin Muhammad (Probable - foot), and K John Kasay. Saints worth starting include Brees, RB Deuce McAllister, TE Billy Miller, WRs Marques Colston, Lance Moore, & Devery Henderson, and K Garrett Hartley. Leave TE Jeremy Shockey (Out - ankle) and RB Pierre Thomas (Questionable - wrist, back) out of your lineup.
Chicago at Houston - In order for the Bears to make the playoffs they need to win this game and hope the Giants are motivated enough to defeat the Vikings. While the latter is highly unlikely to happen, the Bears also play an early game, so they figure to uphold their end of the bargain. Start QB Kyle Orton, RB Matt Forte, TEs Garrett Olsen & Desmond Clark, WR Devin Hester, and K Robbie Gould. Texans worth starting are QB Matt Schaub, RB Steve Slaton, TE Owen Daniels, WRs Andre Johnson & Kevin Walter, and K Kris Brown.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh - There’s far too much uncertainty regarding this game to have any confidence starting anyone from either team. Still, if you’re desperate, Cleveland RB Jamal Lewis, WR Braylon Edwards, and the Defense all have the potential to do well playing against the Steelers’ second-stringers for most of the game. Avoid starting any Steelers at all costs.
Kansas City at Cincinnati - If weather conditions permit, this could actually be one of the more entertaining, high-scoring games of the day. Start Kansas City QB Tyler Thigpen, RB Larry Johnson, TE Tony Gonzalez, WR Dwayne Bowe, and K Connor Barth. Bengals to start include QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Cedric Benson, WRs T.J. Houshmandzadeh & Chris Henry, and K Shayne Graham. I’d avoid WR Chad Ocho Cinco (Questionable - hamstring).
Tennessee at Indianapolis - Unless you are the kind of person who would still send money to Bernard Madoff to invest, the Sherpa advises you to steer clear of all players who have anything to do with this game (yes, even Jim Sorgi). Enough said.
Oakland at Tampa Bay - Oakland is another team that’s been somewhat better in recent weeks, but the Raiders don’t figure to have enough of a passing game to win this contest. Raiders to start include RB Justin Fargas (Probable - neck), and TE Zack Miller. Add RB Darren McFadden (Questionable - ankle) to the list if he’s healthy enough to play. Bucs worth starting include QB Jeff Garcia (Probable - calf), RBs Warrick Dunn & Cadillac Williams, and WR Antonio Bryant.
Jacksonville at Baltimore - A disappointing season for the Jaguars figures to end on a sour note. RB Maurice Jones-Drew and TE Marcedes Lewis are the only Jags worth considering for your starting lineup. Ravens to start include RBs Le’Ron McClain & Willis McGahee, TE Todd Heap, and the Defense.
Miami at NY Jets - The Jets’ history has been full of disappointments, but should the Jets lose this game to fall to 9-7 (after starting the season 8-3) and miss the playoffs, this team will likely be lumped together with the 1986 team that started the season 10-1, then lost its last 5 games and missed the playoffs. Dolphins’ QB Chad Pennington, who was unceremoniously dumped by the Jets last off-season in favor of QB Brett Favre, can help put the final nail in the coffin this week in a seemingly made-for-TV drama. Dolphins to start include Pennington, RBs Ronnie Brown & Ricky Williams, TEs Anthony Fasano & David Martin, WRs Ted Ginn & Davone Bess, and K Dan Carpenter. Jets to start include Favre, RBs Thomas Jones & Leon Washington, TE Dustin Keller, WRs Laveranues Coles (Questionable - thigh) & Jerricho Cotchery (Probable - Shoulder), and K Jay Feely.
Dallas at Philadelphia - Lots of subplots surround this game too, which also has playoff implications for both teams. Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, Tony Romo, Donovan McNabb, Andy Reid, and Wade Phillips, just to name a few of the characters involved. Cowboys who should be in fantasy lineups this weekend include QB Romo (Probable - illness), RB Tashard Choice, TE Witten (Probable - ankle), and WR Owens. I’d avoid RB Marion Barber (Questionable - toe). Eagles to start include QB McNabb, RB Brian Westbrook (Probable - knee, ankle), and WRs Kevin Curtis (Probable - calf) & DeSean Jackson.
Washington at San Francisco - No playoff berths riding on the outcome of this game, but still a number of worthwhile options from a fantasy perspective. Redskins to start include QB Jason Campbell, RB Clinton Portis, TE Chris Cooley, WRs Santana Moss & Antwaan Randle El, K Shaun Suisham, and the Defense. The only 49er worth starting against the Redskins’ Defense is RB Frank Gore (Probable - ankle).
Seattle at Arizona - Tough to know what to make of this game - Arizona has already clinched a playoff berth, and in theory has nothing to play for. However, they’ve looked so bad the last couple of weeks in losses to the Vikings and Patriots, that they may be motivated to play their starters longer than you might expect in an effort to regain some momentum heading into the playoffs. Still, since the Cardinals will be hosting a playoff game next weekend, I would bet against their starters playing more than half the game, and as such, I would leave them all out of a fantasy lineup this week. The Seahawks offer a number of options, especially if the Cardinals pack it in early - QB Seneca Wallace, RB Maurice Morris, TE John Carlson, WRs Deion Branch & Bobby Engram, K Olindo Mare, and the Defense are all worth starting.
Denver at San Diego - The NBC Sports execs may see this game as the ultimate conclusion to the regular season. The winner is guaranteed the AFC West title and the playoff berth that goes with it; the loser will be watching the playoffs from home. Momentum definitely favors the home team Chargers, and, if you believe in such things, karma also figures to be on their side (assuming Ed Hochuli is not assigned to referee this game). It’s likely the winner will be facing a “one and done” playoff scenario, but there are a number of good fantasy options on both teams. Broncos worth starting include QB Jay Cutler, TEs Daniel Graham (Probable - ankle) & Tony Scheffler, WRs Brandon Marshall (Probable - hip) & Eddie Royal (Probable - thumb), and K Matt Prater. Chargers worth starting include QB Philip Rivers, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates, WRs Vincent Jackson & Chris Chambers, and K Nate Kaeding.
Enjoy the final weekend of the regular season, and enjoy the playoffs! It’s been a blast, and we’ll do it again next year!