Week 17 tends to be maddening for fantasy owners. NFL teams with nothing to play for – either because they are out of playoff contention or because they have their playoff spot wrapped up – can wreak havoc on fantasy teams when they decide to sit their starters. Injuries are sometimes treated differently as well, as coaches sideline players for the game or during the game to avoid risking further injury that might affect the player in the postseason or the offseason. And the weather can complicate all of it this time of year. That’s why so many fantasy leagues end their season in Week 16.
So for those of you still playing this week, there can be a lot to juggle. While the maxim “don’t get cute” still applies, the principle of “always start your studs” does not necessarily apply in Week 17. Finding the right balance can be tricky. And the best way to strike that balance this week is through knowledge. Knowledge of the NFL playoff situations. Knowledge of the injury situations. And knowledge of the weather.
Fortunately, this year’s NFL playoff situation is less harsh on fantasy owners than usual. Only one team in playoff contention is locked in a situation that won’t change no matter what they do today. That team is the Kansas City Chiefs. They are set as the #5 seed in the AFC. Everyone else that has playoff hopes or has clinched a playoff berth still has something to play for today (a berth, a bye, homefield advantage, etc.).
So, first and foremost, fantasy owners should avoid playing anyone on the Kansas City roster. Yes, that includes RB Jamaal Charles. He should start, but he may not be on the field after a quarter or two. This is when you want to lean on an RB2 like Fred Jackson. Even Mendenhall would be a better choice than Charles today. Also keep in mind that one team could fall out of playoff contention before the second set of games this afternoon: the San Diego Chargers. If either Miami or Baltimore wins earlier in the day, the Chargers will be out of playoff contention and have nothing to play for but pride. In their case, however, I would continue starting the likes of Philip Rivers and Ryan Mathews. They should still play most of the game. And they will be going against Kansas City, who should be sitting a number of their starters early in this one.
Next, let’s look at injuries. Calvin Johnson has been plagued with an ankle injury and might not play much, if at all, today. Adrian Peterson will sit out this week. And Tony Romo is gone for the season. At the same time, Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb are returning to the field. And Eddie Lacy might sit out part or all of his game.
So, what to make of these key injuries? First, fantasy owners should avoid starting Johnson today, and consider Nate Burleson a WR2 with good upside in Week 17. Aaron Rodgers is a must-start, especially going against a weak defense like Chicago’s. However, be careful about starting Cobb. The Packers can win their game without him, and they are going to want to make sure he’s healthy for a possible playoff run. Cowboys backup QB Kyle Orton should only be used as a high-end QB3 – he could do well, but he could just as easily play poorly. There are too many unknowns about Orton to make him any kind of valuable play this week. I would watch the Lacy situation carefully and try to find a replacement for him this week. And I would avoid starting any Minnesota running back in place of Peterson. The Lions rushing defense is just too good.
Finally, there is the weather. This year, it doesn’t appear to be all that bad for most games. Yes, there is some rain expected across parts of the country. But the snowy and cold stuff will not be a factor this year. One less thing for fantasy owners to be concerned with in the final week of the season….
As for matchups to consider this week, this should be a good fantasy day for Andrew Luck (vs. Jacksonville), Ben Roethlisberger (vs. Cleveland), and Tom Brady (vs. Buffalo). And don’t be surprised if RB Chris Johnson has a big game at home against Houston. On the flip side, the San Francisco offense could have a tough day in Arizona, so try to avoid them. And the Tampa Bay offense could get crushed in New Orleans against a Saints team fighting for a playoff spot and a possible playoff bye. Also, be careful about starting Zac Stacy against the Seattle Seahawks.. He should only be used as a flex play or a high-end RB3 this week.
I know my thoughts and recommendations are fairly general this week. This is intentional. There is a lot of quirkiness when it comes to Week 17. And I would be lying to you if I said I had a good feel for how many of the non-stud players will perform this week. These are best handled by analyzing the matchups and asking yourself if those matchups give your non-studs a decent chance of meeting or exceeding their potential. And, of course, you can always feel free to ask me those types of questions on Twitter @murphysguide, where I will respond with my opinion about the specific situations you might be dealing with today.
Best of luck to all of you who are playing today!