It's difficult to believe that we've already reached Week 17 and the ending of another fantasy football campaign. We've witnessed breakout campaigns from Larry Johnson and Carson Palmer. Neil Rackers kicked teams to championships in 20 percent of Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football PLUS leagues.
Of course, we had our share of disappointments. From Daunte Culpepper to Kevin Jones to Randy Moss, first- and second-round selections broke the backs of fantasy owners. And, who can forget the mid-season drama surrounding Terrell Owens?
Those vying for championships this week have to contend with late-week QB and RB decisions and coaches tinkering with playing time. It's made for an active week on the waiver wire and forced owners to consider some names and players on teams that would have been dismissed as late as Monday of this week.
Let's break down the stories, quandaries, and performers on the big stage this week. As always, we'll do a quick hit on the injury chart.
- Domanick Davis underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee to reduce the swelling, thereby ending his 2005 season. Davis finished 24 yards shy of his third 1,000-yard season. His backup, Jonathan Wells, missed Wednesday's practice with a thigh bruise. He's expected to play on Sunday, but rookie Vernand Morency will likely cut into his workload against San Francisco.
- Kevan Barlow was placed on IR due to continuing problems with his injured knee, leaving Maurice Hicks and Frank Gore to split carries against the 31st-ranked Houston run defense. The duo combined for 177 yards and three scores against St. Louis last week.
- The sore pectoral muscle that sidelined Steve McNair early in a dismal performance against Miami last week forced him to sit out practice on Wednesday. Jeff Fisher anticipated that McNair will give it a go in Friday's workout. The Titans took the opportunity to run Matt Mauck with the first-string offense, as they'll likely lose Billy Volek to a team looking for a starter this offseason and with McNair's return in question.
- Carson Palmer continues to progress in his recovery from a strained groin sustained in last week's loss to Buffalo. Palmer is working to get back on the field for the finale against Kansas City, but how much he'll play, if at all, has not yet been determined by Marvin Lewis. Look to this one on game day, but I'm confident that Jon Kitna handles the bulk of the snaps for Cincinnati this week.
- DeShaun Foster missed practice with a toe injury on Wednesday, but fully expects to be in the lineup against the Falcons. With the number of injuries hitting the running back position, owners are banking on a big game against an Atlanta rush defense that surrenders 122 yards and a score per game.
- LaMont Jordan will sit out Saturday's finale against the Giants with a turf toe injury. Zack Crockett will again get the starting nod for the second straight week. He racked up 78 yards of offense on 17 Touches last week against Denver.
- Drew Bennett sat out Wednesday's practice with a knee injury. Fantasy owners had hoped for a big finish to Bennett's injury-plagued season following his 55-yard TD reception a week ago. It looks like he'll be a game-time decision.
- Steven Jackson played in Week 16 against the 49ers despite a trip to the emergency room less than 12 hours before kickoff. He finished with 28 yards on 16 carries, but did score a TD. Jackson is expected to give it a go this week with a hip pointer, but don't be surprised to see Marshall Faulk's workload increased against Dallas on a national stage in what may be his final game.
- Byron Leftwich complicated championship week for owners by returning to practice on Wednesday. David Garrard was set for a grand finale against a Tennessee pass defense that has allowed 31 touchdowns, but Leftwich's return clouds the picture as to how Jack Del Rio will handle his QB position. At this juncture, it appears that the two will split snaps, which doesn't help owners any.
- Ashley Lelie cut his elbow in Week 16 against the Raiders and required 14 stitches to close the wound. He's has a chance to play in the finale against San Diego, but is likely to join several Broncos starters on the bench early in the contest. Charlie Adams (19 catches, 197 yards) will slide into the starting lineup if Lelie sits the game out entirely.
- Indianapolis receiver Brandon Stokley is likely to miss Week 17 against Arizona with a bruised knee. That means more opportunities for Troy Walters, Bryan Fletcher, and Aaron Morehead to shine alongside backup QB Jim Sorgi this weekend. Marvin Harrison will miss this game with an injured hand, and Reggie Wayne figures to appear for only a brief spell.
Check out all of the latest injury updates as the deadline approaches with Game Day Calls.
- Kyle Boller, QB, BAL: Boller owns a six-game scoring streak heading into the finale against Cleveland, and stands as one of the sure-fire starters heading into Week 17. He's turned in three games with three TD passes in his past five outings and threw for a season-high 289 yards against the Vikings last week. Owners hitting the wire this week with Carson Palmer, Matt Hasselbeck, and Jake Plummer all expected to hit the sidelines early have made Boller a favorite target.
- Frank Gore, RB, SF: The rookie running back out of Miami is a popular pickup this week after turning in his second straight outstanding performance. Gore piled up 136 yards of offense against Jacksonville in Week 15, and followed it up with two scores and 68 yards rushing against St. Louis a week ago. Houston surrenders 141 yards and nearly one-and-a-half touchdowns per game via the ground, meaning that Gore stands as a solid start option this week.
- Jim Sorgi, QB, IND: Sorgi made the most of his first extensive action of the year, tossing for 237 yards, one TD, and one pick in the Week 16 loss to Seattle. Peyton Manning and the starters will again see little field time, leaving Sorgi to battle Josh McCown via the air. Sorgi threw 31 passes in three quarters of work against Seattle. With Arizona's offense relying solely on the passing game, look for him to eclipse that total this week.
- Mark Clayton, WR, BAL: Everything is clicking in the Baltimore offense heading into the final week, with the rookie Clayton playing a large role in the attack. In three of the Ravens' past four games (with the fourth being the 48-3 blowout win over Green Bay), Clayton has caught five or more passes and topped 85 receiving yards. He's also scored in three straight games. Owners looking for help at wideout are expecting more magic from the Ravens this week against Cleveland.
- Jonathan Wells, RB, HOU: Wells sat out Wednesday's practice with a thigh bruise, but is expected to be ready for at least part-time duty this week. And when your opponent is San Francisco, that's good enough for a second RB slot. Owners are turning to Wells on the strength of his totals in four starts this season, topping 75 total yards in each of them and going over 100 yards on three occasions. San Francisco allows 116 yards and 1.2 TDs per game via the ground.
- Josh McCown, QB, ARI: McCown continues the Arizona tradition of airing it out. As the Cardinals have found no consistency in the running game, their QBs are tossing 40-plus attempts each week. That will continue this week against Indianapolis, as Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald each look to hit the 100 reception mark. McCown is a must start this week in a depleted QB position.
- David Carr, QB, HOU: Carr had a big day last week against Jacksonville, tossing for a season-high 295 yards and two scores. It was only his second multi-TD game of the season. Carr is in a great position to duplicate that effort this week, as the Texans face off against the bottom-ranked 49ers pass defense which allows 282 yards and nearly two touchdowns per game via the air.
- Mike Anderson, RB, DEN: Mike Shanahan confirmed that Anderson will sit out the season finale to rest his sore ankle for the playoffs. Anderson hit the 1,000-yard mark last week in his comeback year as the top option in Denver. Even though his yardage totals dipped late in the season, he still scored five touchdowns in his final four games.
- Ryan Moats, RB, PHI: The two-game love affair with the explosive rookie back ended abruptly with his nine-carry, 13-yard performance against the Cardinals in Week 16. Moats failed to find any room to operate in the loss to Arizona. He finishes the year against a motivated and hungry Washington defense.
- David Garrard, QB, JAC: Garrard had a pretty good run with the Jaguars coming down the stretch, displaying a capable arm and nifty feet. His fantasy stock plummeted this week when Byron Leftwich returned to the practice field, clouding the QB situation against the Titans. It's a great matchup on paper, but there's no guarantee which QB gets the opportunity to dominate.
- Michael Bennett, RB, MIN: Bennett gave owners a nice two-game boost in Weeks 13 and 14, rolling up over 160 yards of offense and scoring three touchdowns. After meeting expectations of a slow week against the Steelers in Week 15, he was replaced very early against the Ravens by Mewelde Moore in Week 16. Mike Tice reiterated his support and admiration for the talents of Moore in comments to the press, essentially naming him the starter for this week against Chicago.
- L.J. Smith, TE, PHI: Smith, who has tallied three catches for a meager nine yards in the past two weeks, has been relegated to the role of a spectator after a promising start to the season. Smith last scored a touchdown in Week 8 against Denver.
- Chris Brown, RB, TEN: Brown limps into the season finale with shoulder and ankle injuries and is listed as questionable for Week 17 against Jacksonville. He carried the ball seven times for 18 yards in the Week 16 loss to Miami and has been held scoreless in four straight games. Owners are banking on him missing his first game of the year and for Travis Henry to shoulder the load.
- Kevin Jones, RB, DET: Fantasy owners are removing the bitter reminder of a wasted first or second-round selection by releasing Jones for the final week of play. He's been off the field since hyperextending his elbow against the Packers several weeks back, and is unlikely to return to the field this week against Pittsburgh. Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson will again split the workload in his absence.
PICKUP OF THE WEEK
I'm looking to the Colts offense in this slot for the second straight week. Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne won't see much action, if any at all, and Brandon Stokley is doubtful with a knee injury. Jim Sorgi will need to utilize the speedy Walters with the loss of his other receiving options, and Arizona will apply pressure via its own passing game. Walter went for eight catches, 91 yards, and a score last week.
DROP OF THE WEEK
It's a tough call in this spot for Week 17, as loads of players are possible candidates due to playing time concerns and nagging injuries. The Bengals defenses rises to the top of the list based on their letdown performance in Week 16 versus Buffalo. Thirty-one of the 37 points scored by Buffalo counted against the Bengals defense, and they were able to force only one turnover from Kelly Holcomb. I expect this week to be problematic with the playoff berth wrapped up and the now-healthy Chiefs and Larry Johnson on the docket. The Chiefs always play well at home to finish the year, and I don't believe this game will be any different..
HOT AND COLD
SWOOPING VULTURES: Goal-Line Backs
Each week, we'll review the players earning their living around the goal line.
- With Greg Jones battling a sore neck, LaBrandon Toefield took full advantage of his opportunity to steal a couple carries in Jacksonville's win over Houston. The third-year back carried the ball four times for 24 yards and three scores in relief of Fred Taylor. Greg Jones returned to practice on Wednesday, so Toefield's role for the finale against Tennessee is unclear. It would be a huge gamble to look to him in Week 17 regardless.
- Though his yardage totals and per carry average have dipped in the second half of the year, owners dealing with injuries and sub-par backs have been able to get decent TD returns from T.J. Duckett. The bruising Atlanta tailback scored for the fourth time in six games with his two-yard plunge in the fourth quarter of Saturday's loss to the Buccaneers.
- Brandon Jacobs wasn't able to see much action in the Giants' 35-20 loss to Washington. He tallied just one carry for six yards as New York took to the air. This rookie vulture got out of the gate strong with TDs in the first two weeks, but his use has been sporadic throughout the season, with just one TD in his past seven games.
- I'm extending the definition of vulture for this week to include New England LB/TE Mike Vrabel, who scored the first two touchdowns for the Patriots in Monday's win over the Jets. For the season, Vrabel has scored three touchdowns, which is one more than All-Pro Tony Gonzalez of the Chiefs.
- Jerome Bettis scored his sixth touchdown of the season, and fourth in his past four games, in the 41-0 thrashing of Cleveland in Week 16. Bettis got on the board mid-way through the first quarter to get the Steelers rolling. He finished with seven carries for 24 yards.
SAFETY VALVES: Surveying the Tight Ends
The Tight End is often the young or struggling quarterback's best friend. Sometimes, he's so dominant that he can't be denied. Here are several players making noise at the position.
- It was a very quiet week, at least as far as touchdowns went, for the TE position in Week 16. Only five players found the end zone, with Todd Heap, Chris Cooley, and Jerramy Stevens repeating their Week 15 appearances.
- Rookie Alex Smith was a big star in the Buccaneers' overtime win over the Falcons, hauling in eight passes for 75 yards. His previous high was recorded in Week 5, when he caught five balls for 46 yards against the Jets.
- After a quiet Week 15 games against the Panthers, Todd Bouman turned back to Zachary Hilton with great regularity in Week 16. Hilton tallied seven catches for 83 yards in the 13-12 loss to Detroit. Look for him to be a frequent target again this week against the Buccaneers (four catches, 50 yards in their first meeting).
- Jeremy Shockey had a big game in Week 14 against the Eagles, hauling in 10 passes for 107 yards. Otherwise, he's been silent in the month of December. In Shockey's other three appearances, he's registered seven catches for 71 yards combined.
- The Titans' TE tag team of Erron Kinney and Ben Troupe had piled up receptions and yardage all season, but came up empty for owners in Week 16. Kinney recorded the duo's only catch (6 yards) in the loss to Miami.
- Finally, I circle back to the stretch run of Redskins H-back/TE Chris Cooley. He'd been recording catches all season, but had been an infrequent visitor to the end zone until the fantasy playoffs came. Cooley has snagged five touchdown receptions in the past four weeks with four occurring in the all-important playoff weeks.
Y! Friends & Family League
Providing a glimpse into our managerial efforts:
It all comes down to this. Team Y! – Funston squares off against Team RotoWire_Liss for the league title. Funston's team has ridden the scoring juggernaut that is the Seattle Seahawks and Shaun Alexander into the finals. Will they play enough against Green Bay to get him the crown? Liss needs more brilliance from Chris Cooley, Larry Johnson, and Tom Brady to finish the job.