Playoff scenario: The Falcons have already clinched the No. 1 seed. They have nothing to play for, and despite what they say, would be foolish to have all of their players in the game for the full time. The Falcons want to put the playoff curse behind them, and they are going to find the best way to do that. After watching Green Bay rest its starters last year and then have a bye, only to lay an egg in the first round of the playoffs, the Falcons aren’t going to completely rest their starters. However, they will likely play them enough to play competitively and then rest to avoid injury. Look for Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner to be watching the game just like you and me for the fourth quarter, if not the entire second half. While there may be a healthy dose of Jacquizz Rodgers in the second half of the game, don’t get cute and try to start him looking for a home run scorer. The other key here is the defenses. The Falcons play Tampa Bay (who also has nothing to play for), and while those defenses may be tempting, avoid both of them. We don’t know how the game is going to play out and it’s not worth the risk.
Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals
The Ravens are in the playoffs, but they can’t get a bye. Basically, they are going to stay where they are, win or lose. They are playing Cincinnati, who is locked in to their playoff spot. In a game where neither team is going to put forth a ton of effort to win, it will likely be a low-intensity game. Perhaps it’s reminiscent of the Pro Bowl, but would you start Pro Bowlers in a Fantasy lineup if you could? Doubtful. Move Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and both defenses to your bench. It’s too much of a risk to start any of them. When both teams aren’t going to be trying to win, it’s hard to trust any of their players.
New England Patriots
While the Patriots may be playing their starters, don’t count on Rob Gronkowski. The stud tight end will likely still be held out, as there is no reason to play him for the Patriots. They were lambasted for playing their starters with a giant lead, so to play them in a game when they could just be hurt for the playoffs is unlikely going to happen. Tom Brady will still be in the game, as will Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, but if they can get up to a good lead, expect them to sit. It’s hard to trust the Patriots players this week, but they will be better starts than the Ravens, Bengals or Falcons.
Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts
Arian Foster gave the team a scare when he left the game in Week 16 with an irregular heartbeat. The word from the Texans is that he’s fine and will play in Week 17, but odds are he will be limited. The Texans still can lock up home field advantage, but not at the risk of losing their stud. They play Indianapolis, who is playing for their coach, not for playoff implications. Expect the Texans to go out and build up as much of a lead as they can, with the hope of giving some players a rest toward the end of the game. You can still start Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson as you normally would. Foster is a gamble, but if you are playing in Week 17, it’s worth a half of Foster than none at all. For the Colts, start Andrew Luck and Vick Ballard. While Reggie Wayne may play, he and T.Y. Hilton may not be part of the game plan even if the Colts are in catch-up mode. The Colts, even with being at home and playing for Chuck Pagano, may take the loss that doesn’t matter to them in order to keep their playmakers healthy. If you have the Texans D/ST, feel free to start them against the Colts. They have looked better in recent weeks and shouldn’t have a problem with the Colts.
While the Broncos could get the No. 1 seed, they are playing the Kansas City Chiefs. Peyton Manning will play, for sure, as will Knowshon Moreno, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. However, the question remains for how long. If the Broncos can get themselves up to a good lead, which they should, the starters will sit. Expect a lot of Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball in the second half as they just run the ball to kill the clock. Keep the Broncos D/ST in your lineup, as the Chiefs will still be playing for pride. However, be wary about starting your Broncos. If you have no other options, they may end up playing for longer than a half if the Chiefs can keep the score close.
They could earn home field advantage with some help, so start Russell Wilson and your Seahawks with confidence. After trouncing both the 49ers and the Bills for four touchdowns, he his peaking at the right time – for the Seahawks and for your Fantasy team if you are still playing. Expect him and beast-mode Marshawn Lynch to go all-out to get the win.
San Francisco 49ers
While they are playing the Cardinals, they still need the win. Start your 49ers.
While you’re at it, start your Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. The NFC playoff picture isn’t set like the AFC, and all these teams have something to play for. The game of the week will be the Sunday night showdown between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys. Both teams will be out for the win, so grab your ‘Skins and ‘Boys and set them in your lineup for what should be a high-scoring, down-to-the wire affair. Avoid both D/STs, however.
With that, good luck in the last week of Fantasy Football and hopefully next year, you’ll be back to enjoying the games in Week 17 and focusing on your real-life team, rather than your Fantasy team.