UPDATED: Please enjoy Painter, Hoyer, Leinart in Week 17

Andy Behrens
December 28, 2009
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Updated Tuesday, 12:35 am ET: Well…wow. The Bears won a game on Monday night. Didn't see that comin'. That's two wins in eight weeks for Chicago. Hunter Hillenmeyer(notes) and Devin Aromashodu(notes), please accept the game balls. This post was originally written assuming a Minnesota win, but Chicago's victory changes a few things below. Edits have been made. I will happily accept your abuse. Read on…

OK, so Week 16 won't officially end until the Vikings have annihilated LOST to the Bears on Monday night. But those of you who decide fantasy championships in Week 17 need to begin the process of determining which players are safe and which are not in the title round. (Just for the record, we do not endorse Week 17 championships. We simply acknowledge their existence). Know your playoff scenarios, gamers.

Below you'll find a quick sweep of the NFL's elite teams, with an eye toward start/sit potential. Many marquee names are risky plays. Let's review:

The Colts (14-1) have already demonstrated that they will not risk the health of the notoriously fragile Peyton Manning(notes) in a late-season contest when home field advantage is clinched. Don't be fooled by the 191 consecutive games; Manning is a delicate flower. We're clearly going to get a second helping of Curtis Painter(notes) in Week 17 at Buffalo. Running back Donald Brown(notes) is a player of interest facing the NFL's worst run defense, but Joseph Addai(notes) isn't. Austin Collie(notes), yes. Reggie Wayne(notes) and Dallas Clark(notes), no. Don't expect another 40 minutes of game time from Indianapolis starters.

The Chargers (12-3) are locked into playoff position as well, having clinched a first round bye. Head coach Norv Turner has declared, "Every single guy is going to prepare to play next Sunday [vs. Washington]," but preparation won't necessarily mean playing time:

Turner said that after Friday’s practice the coaching staff will decide who plays against the Redskins. By the time the Chargers play a meaningful game, it will have been three weeks since some of them were in a game. For some, it will have been four weeks or more.

But there are those among them who need it, and while Turner said his plan is fluid, it is almost certain some players won’t face the Redskins.

If you're excited by the prospect of Billy Volek(notes) handing off to Jacob Hester(notes) and Mike Tolbert(notes), then prepare for fireworks. If instead you've been relying on LaDainian Tomlinson(notes), then seek alternatives.

The Patriots (10-5) secured a division title on Sunday when they steamrolled Jacksonville. They're guaranteed a home playoff game and the AFC wild card picture is too murky for New England to handpick a future opponent. The Boston Globe argues that rest is in order for Week 17, just like 2005:

No reason to risk Brady’s health, or the well-being of Vince Wilfork(notes), Ty Warren(notes), or anyone else on the roster who’s even marginally nicked. And it’s not hard to figure the reason. Without Brady or Wilfork, this team isn’t going anywhere, and the margin of error is thin enough that the slightest player attrition could spell the end in the playoffs. … Warren said after yesterday’s win over the Jaguars that a motivating factor for him to play was to get the division wrapped up, and give the team the leeway to make the decision next week on his availability.

In all likelihood, Tom Brady's(notes) caddy Brian Hoyer(notes) will make an appearance at Houston. Good luck sorting out the current New England backfield pileup. Sammy Morris(notes) surged past fumble-prone Laurence Maroney(notes) in the Pats' RB hierarchy in Week 16, but every back on the roster, except perhaps Fred Taylor(notes), should get a cameo in the regular season finale.

The Bengals (10-5) will face the Jets on Sunday night in the final game of Week 17. That gives them an opportunity to choose their opponent for the first round of the playoffs, if they care to do it. But even if Cincinnati were involved in a must-win contest, the matchup with New York would obviously be messy. The Jets' defense has allowed the fewest total points per game this season (15.7), the fewest passing yards (163.3), and the ninth fewest rushing yards (100.4).

Arizona (10-5) has clinched the NFC West, and only a total collapse by both Minnesota and Philadelphia will position the Cardinals for a bye. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt received an outstanding effort from his team in the Week 16 mauling of the Rams; there's little chance he'll put anything interesting on tape next week against Green Bay if the Vikings lose to the Giants in the early game on Sunday, then the Cards will obviously go full-tilt in the afternoon. But if the Vikes beat New York, Arizona won't have a shot at a bye.

Which brings us to this from the Arizona Republic:

Ten wins means the Cardinals can tank next week's game against the Packers without a hint of repercussion or remorse, especially because Green Bay is shaping up as a potential first-round playoff opponent. Ten wins means the Cardinals already have reached their goals for the regular season, and the regular-season finale will be nothing but a glorified exhibition.

If it becomes an exhibition, you have to expect an unusually heavy dose of Matt Leinart(notes), Early Doucet(notes), Jason Wright(notes), LaRod Stephens-Howling(notes) and other such luminaries. The Packers sound like they intend to compete in Week 17, but they're still looking at either the No. 5 or No. 6 seed and a road game in the playoffs.

When Minnesota (11-4) lost on Monday night, New Orleans (13-2) officially clinched home field advantage in the NFC. The Saints will have the luxury of resting injured players next week at Carolina if they choose to, but that seems unlikely since they're coming off an embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay. The Vikings clearly have motivation to win in Week 17, although Brad Childress occasionally seems to think he's coaching the Colts they no longer control their own destiny.

All of your Eagles and Cowboys are safe; those teams are facing off for the NFC East crown in Week 17. The Eagles can earn a playoff bye with a win. The Cowboys can still secure a bye if A) they win, B) the Vikings lose again, and C) the Cardinals lose or tie.

If you're dependent on Jets, Ravens, Broncos, Texans, Steelers, Dolphins or Jaguars – amazingly, all of those teams are alive in the AFC playoff race – then you're in luck. Baltimore and New York are the squads that control their own fates, and they'll play at 4:15 and 8:30 pm ET.

So there you go. As often happens, Week 17 is a small mess for fantasy purposes. Why some of you choose to decide your champion in such a difficult and unknowable week, I can't say. You're now free to explain your reasons in comments…

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Photo via AP Images