This week’s recommendations are late for two reasons: (1) I’m sticking to my New Year’s resolution to procrastinate more, and (2) coaches keep announcing that certain key fantasy players will be getting the week off. You really have to be a masochist (or a big fan of randomness) to schedule your league’s championship contest for the final week of the NFL season, but so be it. Here are my recommendations for Week 17:
Indianapolis at Buffalo - Of course, the tricky part of any Week 17 contest is figuring out how much playing time teams who are already locked into a playoff seed will give their stars. As you may have heard, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell received a bit of criticism (to put it politely) this week after his decision to forego his team’s chances at a perfect season in order to keep his starters healthy for the playoffs. Given the Colts’ strategy last week, there’s no reason to believe their starters will play the entire game this week. Estimates range everywhere from a series or two to early in the second half, but it’s almost certain QB Peyton Manning, WR Reggie Waynet, et. al., will be pulled well before the game is over. Accordingly, don’t start any of your Colts, with the exception of RB Donald Brown, who figures to get a lot of playing time in relief of RB Joseph Addai (Probable-shoulder). Leave Manning, Addai, TE Dallas Clark, Wayne, and WRs Austin Collie & Pierre Garcon on your bench. Don’t get cute and start QB Curtis Painter, TEs Gijon Robinson (Questionable-knee) & Jacob Tamme, or any of the Colts’ other backups - there’s no sense in taking an unnecessary risk. Bills to start include RB Fred Jackson and WRs Terrell Owens & Lee Evans. RB Marshawn Lynch and the Defense can be added to the list in deep leagues. Add QB Ryan Fitzgerald (Probable-ankle) to the list if he’s healthy enough to play; add QB Brian Brohm to the list if Fitzgerald can’t play.
New York Giants at Minnesota - Following a sorry showing last week against the Panthers that essentially knocked them out of the playoffs (Dallas applied the official coup de grace Sunday night when they beat the Redskins), Giants’ Head Coach Tom Coughlin and QB Eli Manning spent the early part of the week apologizing for their team’s performance. Some feel the Giants will bounce back in their season finale, but a better bet is that the Vikings, who can clinch a first-round bye with a victory, will end the G-men’s season on a sour note. Giants to start include QB Eli Manning (Probable-foot), TE Kevin Boss, and WR Steve Smith. Add WRs Hakeem Nicks (Probable-hamstring) & Mario Manningham (Questionable-shoulder) to the list in deeper leagues. Leave RB Ahmad Bradshaw (Questionable-ankle, foot) on the bench. RB Brandon Jacobs (Out-knee) will not play. Vikings to start include QB Brett Favre, RB Adrian Peterson, TE Visanthe Shiancoe (Questionable-thigh), WRs Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice, & Percy Harvin, and K Ryan Longwell. Add RB Chester Taylor to the list in deep leagues.
Pittsburgh at Miami - Steelers’ LB LaMarr Woodley is either a conspiracy theorist or a master of reverse psychology: he’s predicted that the Patriots and Bengals will “lay down” in their games this week against the Texans and Jets, respectively, in order to keep the Steelers out of the playoffs. Of course, if the Steelers don’t beat Miami, it doesn’t matter what the Patriots and Bengals do this weekend - the defending Super Bowl champions will be watching the playoffs from home. Steelers to start include QB Ben Roethlisberger, TE Heath Miller, WRs Hines Ward (Probable-hamstring), Santonio Holmes, & Mike Wallace. Add RB Rashard Mendenhall and the Defense to the list in deep leagues. The only Dolphin I’d start this week is TE Anthony Fasano, but QB Chad Henne and RB Ricky Williams (Questionable-shoulder) can also be started in deep leagues. Keep all of the Dolphins’ wide receivers on the bench.
San Francisco at St. Louis - This is one of several games this week that have no playoff implications for either team involved. The 49ers were forced to sign K Shane Andrus this week after injuries signed Ks Joe Nedney and Ricky Schmitt. No truth to the rumor that Andrus beat out Gus the Mule for the job. 49ers to start include QB Alex Smith, RB Frank Gore, TE Vernon Davis, WRs Michael Crabtree & Josh Morgan, Andrus, and the Defense. Although the St. Louis fans probably hope that ex-Ram WR Isaac Bruce (Questionable-ankle) plays in what could be the final game of his career, he definitely doesn’t belong in your lineup. There aren’t any must-start Rams in this game, but RB Steven Jackson (Questionable-back) should be started if he’s healthy enough to play. TE Randy McMichael can also be started by those in deep leagues. Leave QB Kent Null and all of his wide receivers on the bench.
New England at Houston - Assuming that Patriots’ QB Tom Brady (Probable-shoulder/finger/ribs) plays in this game, it will mark the first time that he’s faced Texans’ S Bernard Pollard since Game 1 of the 2008 season, when the latter was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Fantasy football team owners (especially those who had Brady on their team) may recall that it was Pollard’s hit that knocked Brady out for the remainder of the season and led to the emergence of QB Matt Cassel, who, coincidentally, now plays for Pollard’s former employer. The only Patriot I’d start this week would be RB Sammy Morris, who should see significant playing time in relief of RB Laurence Maroney. Those in deep leagues can also take their chances starting Brady and WRs Wes Welker & Randy Moss, but don’t do so unless it’s absolutely necessary. Texans to start include QB Matt Schaub and WRs Andre Johnson (Probable-ankle) & Kevin Walter. Add TE Joel Dreessen (Questionable-shoulder) and the Defense to the list in deeper leagues. Avoid starting any of the Texans’ running backs.
New Orleans at Carolina - Earlier in the week I guessed that the Saints, coming off of two straight home losses, would play their starters for most of this game in an effort to regain their momentum prior to their first-round playoff bye. However, now that the Saints have announced that QB Mark Brunell will start in place of QB Drew Brees, I would recommend leaving all of your Saints on the bench. Start Panthers’ RB Jonathan Stewart (Questionable-Achilles’) if he’s healthy enough to play. QB Matt Moore, TE Dante Rosario, and the Defense can be started in deep leagues. Add WR Muhsin Muhammad (Questionable-ankle) to the list if he’s healthy enough to play. RB DeAngelo Williams (Doubtful-ankle) and WR Steve Smith (Out-arm) should not be in your starting lineup.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay - It’s hard to believe, but the Pro Bowl selections, announced earlier this week, did not include Falcons’ TE Tony Gonzalez for the first time in 11 seasons. It’s even harder to believe, but the Falcons, who were an expansion team in 1966, have never posted consecutive winning seasons in their 44 years of existence. That streak will also come to an end if the Falcons are able to beat Tampa Bay on Sunday. Falcons to start include QB Matt Ryan (Questionable-toe), RBs Jason Snelling & Jerious Norwood, Gonzalez (Questionable-calf), WR Roddy White, and the Defense. WR Michael Jenkins can be started in deep leagues. Add K Matt Bryant (Questionable-hamstring) to the list if he’s able to play; add K Steven Hauschka to the list if Bryant’s sidelined. Leave RB Michael Turner (Questionable-ankle) out of your lineup. Buccaneers to start include TE Kevin Winslow (Probable-knee) and WR Antonio Bryant (Probable-groin). Add QB Josh Freeman, RBs Cadillac Williams & Derrick Ward (Questionable-knee), and WRs Maurice Stovall & Michael Clayton to the list in deep leagues.
Chicago at Detroit - The late-season emergence of Bears’ WR Devin Aromashodu has been one of the better storylines in the NFL this season. With WR Devin Hester (Probable-calf) likely to return this week, the Bears may unleash their “Double Devin” offense on the hapless Lions’ secondary. Bears to start include QB Jay Cutler, RB Matt Forte, TE Greg Olsen, WRs Hester, Aromashodu, & Earl Bennett, K Robbie Gould, and the Defense. Leave WR Johnny Knox (Doubtful-ankle) on the bench. The only Lions worth starting are RB Maurice Morris and WR Calvin Johnson. Leave QB Drew Stanton (Probable-ankle), TE Will Heller, and WR Bryant Johnson on the bench.
Jacksonville at Cleveland - Jaguars’ RB Maurice Jones-Drew garnered raves earlier this season for his brainy late-game kneel-down against the Jets, but he’s also a talented dancer when he reaches the end zone. Expect Jones-Drew to have several opportunities to dance against the Browns, who have surprisingly won their last three games after a 1-11 start. Jaguars to start include QB David Garrard, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, WR Mike Sims-Walker, K Josh Scobee, and the Defense. Add WR Mike Thomas to the list in deep leagues. TE Marcedes Lewis (Out-head) and WR Torry Holt (Out-hand) will both miss the game. The only Brown worth starting is RB Jerome Harrison (Probable-hip), although QB Derek Anderson and WRs Mohamed Massaquoi & Josh Cribbs can also be started in deep leagues.
Philadelphia at Dallas - The Cowboys recently announced a partnership with Kraft macaroni and cheese, which will sponsor a nationwide essay contest for children. Sometime in March or April the child who is selected as the winner will press a button that will start the implosion of Texas Stadium, the former home of the Cowboys. Depending on the outcome of this battle to decide the NFL East division winner, there may be a lot of children in the Philadelphia area who would rather blow up
Jerry WorldCowboys’ Stadium. Eagles to start include QB Donovan McNabb, TE Brent Celek, and WRs DeSean Jackson & Jeremy Maclin (Probable-foot). Add RB LeSean McCoy and the Defense to the list in deep leagues. Leave RBs Brian Westbrook & Leonard Weaver on the bench. Cowboys to start include RB Marion Barber & TE Jason Witten. Add QB Tony Romo, RB Felix Jones, and WRs Miles Austin (Probable-thumb) & Roy Williams to the list in deep leagues. Leave RB Tashard Choice on the bench.
Kansas City at Denver - Just when it seemed that Broncos’ Head Coach Josh McDaniels and WR Brandon Marshall had put their preseason feud behind them, the relationship has deteriorated again. McDaniels has already announced his intention to deactivate his Pro Bowl wide receiver, insinuating that Marshall wasn’t as willing as some of his teammates to play with pain. In spite of the latest installment of “As the Coach Burns”, the Chiefs don’t figure to have much of a chance in this game. Still, WR Dwayne Bowe, who’s had a tumultuous season of his own, is worth starting, and RB Jamaal Charles deserves a start in deep leagues. Leave QB Matt Cassel and WR Chris Chambers on the bench. Broncos to start include QB Kyle Orton, RBs Knowshon Moreno & Correll Buckhalter (Probable-ankle), WRs Jabar Gaffney & Brandon Stokley, K Matt Prater, and the Defense. In addition to Marshall, TE Tony Scheffler (Out-attitude), and WR Eddie Royal (Out-head/neck) will miss the game.
Baltimore at Oakland - All that stands between the Ravens and a playoff berth is a victory over the dysfunctional Raiders. Yet, the Raiders have somehow managed to beat the Eagles, Bengals, Steelers, and Broncos this season, so expect the Ravens to keep the pedal to the metal until the bitter end. Ravens to start include QB Joe Flacco, RB Ray Rice, TE Todd Heap, K Billy Cundiff, and the Defense. Add WR Derrick Mason (Questionable-knee) to the list if he’s able to play. WRs Demetrius Williams & Mark Clayton can be started in deep leagues. Leave RB Willis McGahee on the bench. The only Raider worth starting is TE Zach Miller. Leave QB Charlie Frye, RBs Michael Bush, Darren McFadden, & Justin Fargas (Doubtful-knee), and WRs Chaz Schilens & Louis Murphy on the bench.
Tennessee at Seattle - It’s obvious there’s dissension in Seahawkville, but Seattle’s defense may rally around the goal of preventing Titans’ RB Chris Johnson from getting the 128 yards he needs to become the sixth running back in history to top the 2,000 yard rushing mark for a season. Titans to start include QB Vince Young, Johnson, TE Bo Scaife, WRs Kenny Britt & Justin Gage, and K Rob Bironas. Add WR Nate Washington to the list in deep leagues. The only Seahawk who’s a must-start is WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Justin Forsett, and TE John Carlson can also be started in deep leagues.
Washington at San Diego - This game wouldn’t figure to be much of a contest if both teams were playing at full strength. However, with Chargers’ Head Coach Norv Turner vowing to get backup QB Billy Volek some playing time in relief of starting QB Philip Rivers, the Chargers obviously aren’t intending to play the entire game at full strength. TE Fred Davis is the only must-start Redskin, but QB Jason Campbell, RB Quinton Ganther, WR Santana Moss (Probable-knee), and the Defense can also be started in deep leagues. Given the uncertainly over how much of the game their starters will play, avoid using any Chargers in your starting lineup this week if you can help it.
Green Bay at Arizona - It’s bad enough when one team decides to treat a late-season contest like a preseason game. However, when both teams decide to do that, hilarity and mayhem may ensue. Who’s better - Matt Flynn or Matt Leinart? Who’s better - Jordy Nelson or Early Doucet? The only scenario that may prevent us from learning the answer to these soporific questions involves the Giants upsetting the Vikings in the afternoon’s first set of games. If that happens, then Arizona would be playing for a possible second seed and the first-round playoff bye that goes with it. Still, given that there are nine early games and seven late games on Sunday, starting any Cardinals is at best an ill-advised gamble. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Cincinnati at New York Jets - What a wild couple of weeks it’s been for rookie Jets’ Head Coach Rex Ryan. After his team’s Week 15 last-minute loss to the Falcons, Ryan mistakenly stated that his team had been eliminated from the playoffs. Now, after a crazy turn of events in Week 16, Ryan’s team finds itself in a “win and your in” game against a Bengals’ team that has little to play for and may rest their starters for a good part of the game (just as the Colts did last week in giving the Jets a belated Christmas present). The best the Bengals can hope for is to move up from the fourth seed to the third seed, and you won’t know if that’s a possibility until after the Patriots-Texans game is over. Again the best course of action is to avoid starting any Bengals unless it’s absolutely necessary. Jets to start include RBs Thomas Jones & Shonn Greene (Probable-shoulder), TE Dustin Keller, K Jay Feely, and the Defense. Add QB Mark Sanchez (Probable-knee), and WRs Braylon Edwards & Jerricho Cotchery to the list in deep leagues.
Good luck to your teams this weekend!
Thanks so much for reading this season - so long for now, but we’ll share some thoughts on the fantasy prospects of some of the top collegians after April’s draft.
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