The NFL gave us a gift by moving every game with playoff implications to the late time slot. That means every team with something to play for won’t know anything different until they finish their games. Those players will play hard and play to win.
But what about the also-rans? Who else will fight hard to the finish? Who packed it in already? Who will play at all? Here’s what we know so far:
AFC Top Guns: New England & Pittsburgh
New England has to beat the New York Jets Sunday to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They will start their regulars but will pull their stars as soon as the game appears in hand. Brian Hoyer has been taking first-team snaps every Wednesday for weeks. Malcolm Mitchell returned to practice and could be activated to help rest Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks. Mike Gillislee will handle the bulk of the touches to keep Dion Lewis healthy.
Pittsburgh wants to rest starters, too. But if it looks like the Jets have a shot at upsetting the Pats, the Steelers will play for the win to rob home field advantage. Of course, with the Browns as their competition, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger could still be on the bench by halftime. Bell needs 15 yards rushing to grab the rushing title from Todd Gurley and Kareem Hunt, both of whom are expected to sit out Week 17.
AFC clinched: Jacksonville & Kansas City
Jacksonville and Kansas City are taking opposite approaches to Week 17. Doug Marrone says the Jaguars are “all in” to beat the Titans Sunday. He does not plan to rest starters. Marrone’s boss, Tom Coughlin, never rested starters. He believed disrupting patterns hurts performance. If Leonard Fournette is not 100 percent, expect him to get only a partial workload. Right now, they say he is a full go.
Kansas City already announced that Patrick Mahomes will make his NFL debut, putting Alex Smith on the bench. Charcandrick West and Akeem Hunt are expected to join him in the backfield. Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce will see limited, if any, action Sunday, too.
AFC wild-card front-runners: Tennessee & Baltimore
Baltimore and Tennessee both face “win and in” scenarios for the playoffs. Baltimore faces Cincinnati at home. The Bengals rallied admirably to win what might be the last home game for Marvin Lewis. Baltimore is hoping they don’t put up a fight in Baltimore. Starters will play until the victory is decided. The Ravens are not a team that puts lots of points on the board, so their starters might finish the game. Joe Flacco, Mike Wallace, and Alex Collins are worthy plays.
Tennessee does not have many players on NFL fantasy playoff rosters. The team has not ruled out DeMarco Murray, but we could finally see Derrick Henry get a full workload. Titans receivers and Marcus Mariota are riskier starts. Jacksonville’s defense would like to get the memory of last week’s 44-point implosion out of their minds.
AFC wild-card contenders: LA Chargers & Buffalo Bills
Both the Bills and Chargers have a chance at sneaking into the playoffs. Jacksonville’s promise to play their starters versus Tennessee has both teams excited about their odds. The Bills struggled to beat the Dolphins two weeks ago and face them in Miami. I am still betting on the Buffalo DST and Tyrod Taylor as value streamers. LeSean McCoy should get a full complement of touches.
Phillip Rivers wants to rebound from a disappointing Week 16 and is determined to make the playoffs after an 0-4 start. Melvin Gordon’s ankle is a question mark. He will be a gameday decision with Branden Oliver standing by if need be. Austin Ekeler will not carry the ball with his broken hand. AJ Green remains a top play with Antonio Gates a good start at tight end.
Most teams will play their regular starters. Watch out for the injury list though. Players who might normally play through some minor ailments could be held out if there is nothing to gain from playing.
DeAndre Hopkins is already ruled out for the Texans. Normally, that would bump up other receivers’ NFL fantasy values. With Tyler Yates at quarterback, though, Braxton Miller and company remain risky starting options.
Denver’s Demaryius Thomas needs 108 receiving yards for his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season. With Paxton Lynch at quarterback, it will be a challenge. If they are trying to do it, he might be worth a gamble.
Kenyan Drake, Giovani Bernard, Bilal Powell, and CJ Anderson remain excellent running back options. Melvin Gordon owners should grab Branden Oliver as a handcuff. Charcandrick West and Akeem Hunt should see plenty of action around Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, too.
Vance McDonald and Antonio Gates are your tight end targets.
NFC top guns: Philadelphia and Minnesota
Philadelphia will have to resist the urge to crush division rival Dallas if they plan to rest any starters. Nick Foles is expected to start and play most of the game, but we could see more Corey Grant and less Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount. Zach Ertz is also likely to find more bench time than usual. Nothing has been announced by the Eagles, so stay tuned in case they change things up. Right now, it looks like everyone will see some action and take advantage of their first-round bye to rest up.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Sam Bradford appeared on the practice field for the first time since going on the injured reserve. That probably means nothing as Case Keenum is not about to be replaced. The Vikings must win to secure the No.2 seed and a first-round bye. Should they lose, they need Atlanta to take out Carolina. Chicago has little to play for, but this is a division rival. Should Keenum provide a comfortable halftime lead, don’t be surprised to see Teddy Bridgewater throwing to the third and fourth receivers for the rest of the game.
NFC’s in-crowd: LA Rams, New Orleans, Carolina
The Rams Sean McVay announced earlier this week that Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and others would sit out Week 17’s game against San Francisco. Sean Mannion will see his first start behind center and Malcolm Brown will play Todd Gurley’s role. Brown has seen mop-up action during the season and could be worth a start as Gurley’s handcuff. I will not be starting Mannion, however. Rams receivers drop in value with the quarterback change.
New Orleans needs to win Sunday to clinch the NFC South and a wild-card home game. Bet on the Saints starting everyone and playing for the win against Tampa Bay. Should they put Tampa away early, however, they should rest Michael Thomas and his pesky hamstring. Running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara could also see the bench early and Chase Daniel could see action for Drew Brees once the game is in hand.
Carolina enters Week 17 as the first wild card, seeded at No. 5. With a victory and a few other details, they could end up with the first-round bye as the second seed. They face the Atlanta Falcons, who will not go quietly as they face a win-and-in scenario. Carolina has not discussed resting anybody and looks forward to the return of Russell Shepard to help the receiving corps.
NFC wild-card battle: Atlanta and Seattle
As previously mentioned, Atlanta faces a win-and-in scenario. A victory would put three NFC South teams into the playoffs (with Carolina and New Orleans). Should the Falcons lose, they will need Seattle to lose to maintain their wild-card status.
Seattle is counting on Carolina to go after the higher seed and give Atlanta all they can handle. The Seahawks will host the Arizona Cardinals. The Cards are vying for a .500 season, but Seattle should be too much. All of Seattle and Atlanta’s fantasy players are worth starting.
The rest of the NFC offers a few viable pools of fantasy streamers and starters. Washington is determined to finish the season at .500. To get there, they will need to beat the Giants in New Jersey. Given the effort of the Giants last week, Kirk Cousins is the start of the week. Samaje Perine returned to full practice and should be started, too.
San Francisco wants to keep their late-season run going against the Rams’ B-team. Jimmy Garoppolo, Carlos Hyde, and Marquise Goodwin are must-starts, with George Kittle and their D/ST earning sleeper status.
The Lions and Cowboys seem determined to end the season on a better note, especially their quarterbacks. Left tack Tyron Smith will not play for the Cowboys, making Dak Prescott a riskier start than he already would be against the Eagles. Dez Bryant is a risky start as he has been all season. Start Ezekiel Elliott, but it is a nervous moment without Smith. All of Detroit’s fantasy players are must-starts against the staggering Green Bay Packers.
If you need a quarterback, Jameis Winston has been playing well since recovering from his shoulder injury. Mike Evans needs 60 yards to top 1,000 for the fourth straight season and the team seems determined to get it for him.
Week 17 strategy
Week 17 championships are a strange animal. You should pick a starting lineup based on who you know is starting and who is not, then cut everyone who is not a sure thing to play and fill your roster with handcuffs.
It will not look pretty. In Week 16, my team scored 152 points. The other finalist scored 142. This week, I am a 10-point favorite, projected to score 85.
Good luck. Watch for news on lineup decisions and be ready for some crazy last-minute shuffling once the inactive lists come out on Sunday. Then sit back and let it happen.
Thanks for following NFL fantasy at RealSport. Hopefully, we helped you get the most out of your team. Look for off-season updates, rumors, and draft advice throughout the year as we cover the impact of free agent signings, retirements, coaching changes, trades, and the NFL draft so you can draft another championship team in 2018.
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