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Playing Hard or Hardly Playing: Deciphering Week 17

While I'm not in any leagues this year that use Week 17, the concept has never bothered me. It's just another week to figure out, another week to make pickups, another week to make lineup decisions, etc. There are crazy elements to every week, that's just the nature of the league.

The NFL switched the schedule this year, going to all divisional matchups for Week 17. It's been a help of sorts in the AFC, where a bunch of spots and tiebreakers come down to conference record. Things are more settled in the NFC, where five of six playoff teams are known, but there is still some business to take care of.

[Related: NFL playoff picture: Saints, Falcons could meet again]

Are your fantasy heros working hard or hardly working this week? Let's go through the entire schedule, game-by-game, and try to figure it out. (Note: I will update this file if and when more information becomes available).

• Buffalo at New England, 1 p.m.: The Patriots haven't clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC yet, so they'll go full-out to win here. There's also a matter of the league passing record: Tom Brady is only 190 yards behind Drew Brees. Your move, Sean Payton.

• Detroit at Green Bay, 1 p.m.: The Pack secured the NFC's No. 1 seed with the Christmas Day victory over Chicago, so every major Cheesehead is on sit-down alert. There's nothing to risk; I'm guessing Mike McCarthy will handle this like a preseason game. As for the Lions, while they have to settle for the No. 5 or No. 6 seed, there's a notable distinction in those slots given that the Saints or Niners will be the No. 3 (probably New Orleans) while a less-imposing Giants or Cowboys team will claim the No. 4 seed. Jim Schwartz has been talking like he'll take this game seriously, and given the challenges that come with being the No. 6 seed in the conference, I believe him.

[Video: Can the Lions make noise in the playoffs?]

• Carolina at New Orleans, 1 p.m.: Here's a tricky one for us to decipher. On paper, the Saints have incentive: they could climb to the No. 2 seed in conference if they win and the Niners fall at St. Louis. Asking the Rams to beat the Niners sounds like a tall order, but hey, St. Louis beat New Orleans, somehow, a couple of months back.

But what if the Saints race out to a big lead and the Niners do the same — does it make sense for Sean Payton to rest key players then? And what about the league passing mark? As mentioned above, Brees is only 190 yards ahead of Brady entering the final week of play: just how much does the record mean to Payton & Company? Given how Payton has kept the pedal to the metal for most of his career, even in lopsided games, I have to figure Brees will play deep into this game. But I'm just guessing, like everyone else. Payton discussed the situation Tuesday, but wasn't giving any real clues.

Playing Hard or Hardly Playing: Deciphering Week 17• Tennessee at Houston, 1 p.m.: The Titans are one of several teams fighting for the final AFC wild card spot, so all hands will be on deck for them. The Texans are a tricky case; they're locked into the No. 3 seed, so there's no obvious incentive, but they're also coming off two messy games, so perhaps they'll want to get some momentum established here. We'll see what Gary Kubiak offers during the week. Vegas, for what it's worth, is concerned about the Texans mailing it in: the visiting Titans are three-point favorites.

• San Francisco at St. Louis, 1 p.m.: The Niners need a win or a New Orleans loss to salt away the No. 2 seed and the much-coveted bye. So look for San Francisco to take this game seriously, though I get the idea Kendall Hunter could be in for a busy day if the game gets out of hand.

• Indianapolis at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.: The Colts still hold the No. 1 draft position, but they'll put it in jeopardy if they win here. But maybe the Colts players would like to do that — finish the year with three straight wins, feel good about yourself, show that you're still behind Peyton Manning. Dan Orlovsky's been surprisingly capable over the last three weeks.

• New York Jets at Miami, 1 p.m.: The Jets need a victory and help to make the tournament, but it's reasonable help (Cincinnati and Tennessee have to lose, and at least one of the two AFC West favorites have to lose, too). The Jets will do all they can to win. The Dolphins have been a junkyard dog for almost three months now, so nothing changes on their end.

• Chicago at Minnesota, 1 p.m.: No playoff possibilities here, but it will be an interesting watch as a number of backup players look to mark their territory. Kahlil Bell has been snappy for a few weeks, and Toby Gerhart hasn't been bad in Minnesota (4.9 YPC). With Christian Ponder coming off a concussion, speed demon Joe Webb might have to start.

• Washington at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.: The Eagles apparently want to play this game to win, even as they're out of the playoff hunt. No one ever knows the Mike Shanahan plan.

• Baltimore at Cincinnati, 4:15 p.m: The Ravens haven't clinched the division yet, so this is a game they want — there's a big difference between the No. 2 and No. 5 seed. Baltimore can also take the No. 1 seed in the conference with a win and a Patriots loss. Cincinnati is battling for its playoff life, so it will go all-out to win.

[Video: Do the Ravens needs home-field advantage in the playoffs?]

• Pittsburgh at Cleveland, 4:15 p.m.: The Steelers would love to steal the division, and they can do it with a victory and a Baltimore loss at Cincinnati. The big question for Pittsburgh is how to handle Ben Roethlisberger, up against a lesser opponent (long-time beat writer Gerry Dulac thinks Big Ben could see 25-30 snaps). Cleveland figures to do all it can to play spoiler, given the tenor of this rivalry.

• Seattle at Arizona, 4:15 p.m.: The winner gets a stunning 8-8 record, as both teams have played well in the second half. Marshawn Lynch should have been on the NFC Pro Bowl roster.

[Related: Shutdown Corner's Hidden Pro Bowlers: Offense]

Playing Hard or Hardly Playing: Deciphering Week 17• Tampa Bay at Atlanta, 4:15: The Falcons should know where they stand right before kickoff; if the Lions beat Green Bay, Atlanta can take the day off, but if the Lions lose, Atlanta has a reason to play (securing the No. 5 slot, and avoiding the Niners or Saints, would be awfully nice). Do you feel lucky? Matt Ryan could be looking at a full game against a weak Tampa Bay defense, or he could be making a cameo appearance before heading to the sidelines for good. On the other sideline, the Bucs seem ready for a mutiny against embattled head coach Raheem Morris.

• Kansas City at Denver, 4:15 p.m.: The Broncos win the AFC West with a win here; they also take the division if the Chargers upset the Raiders. Kyle Orton's motivation on the Kansas City sideline is obvious: the Broncos stripped him of his starting gig back in October.

[Video: Tim Tebow's confidence should help the Broncos against the Chiefs]

• San Diego at Oakland, 4:15 p.m.: Will the Chargers show up in what's expected to be Norv Turner's last game? That's anyone's guess. It's simpler on the Oakland side, as the Raiders can still take the division with a victory and a Denver loss. The Raiders will play to win. Oakland also has a possibility of a wild card spot, if a handful of things fall the right way.

• Dallas at New York Giants, 8:30 p.m.: Nothing tricky with the nightcap, it's a play-in game for the NFC East title. Get your popcorn ready. As for Felix Jones, he's apparently ready to go, according to the team's Owner/GM/Media Relations Man, Mr. Jerry Jones.

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Images courtesy of US Presswire

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