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Happy New Year! 2020 has come and gone, finally, but we still have one last week of fantasy football for some leagues. Playing fantasy in Week 17 is tricky, which is generally why most leagues finish on Week 16. However, that doesn’t change the fact that there are still some leagues playing this week and that means we are here to help.
As I mentioned, it’s no easy task to play the championship game on Week 17 because some teams will be sitting their starters in preparation for the postseason. Let’s take a look at the NFL’s playoff scenarios to get a better idea of who has the best opportunity to give us a full 60 minutes this Sunday.
1:00 PM EST
The Steelers have already announced that veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger will be given the day off on Sunday. HC Mike Tomlin announced that backup Mason Rudolph will be starting against their division rivals the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers cannot finish worse than the third-seed and it’s more important to let Roethlisberger rest than secure the second-seed. Just as a reminder, Rudolph threw four interceptions, was sacked four times, and was in some beef with Myles Garrett which resulted in a helmet to the head in their 7-21 loss in 2019.
The news isn’t brand new, but that’s not where the story will end for the Steelers-Browns game. Tomlin also stated that some other players would also rest but he did not specify who. It is troublesome trying to determine whether to start JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, or Chase Claypool so keep an eye on their status.
On the other side of the ball, the Browns are in a bit of a pickle. Cleveland can make the playoffs if they win this game, but there has been a growing issue with COVID-19 in the Browns’ facility. It has not been labeled an outbreak because the positive tests have not been linked to one another, but the news is less than ideal. Their entire receiving corps was placed on the reserve list last week in their loss to the Jets after a recovery hot tub visit without masks. The fact that the Browns had to shut down their facility on Wednesday isn’t trending in the right direction. Either way, whichever players start for the Browns will need to play lights-out for the win against a defense that may or may not start all of their key players.
This is another game loaded with fantasy implications, although only for the Dolphins who are in if they win against the Bills. The Bills have already claimed the AFC East division title, but so far, we have not heard whether heavy hitters like Josh Allen or Stefon Diggs will be starting or not.
Despite stepping in as the closer to get the win against the Raiders, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will not be starting on Sunday and he will also not be at the game after testing positive for COVID-19 yesterday. Instead, it will be rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa starting under center and likely playing the whole game. This is bad news for the Dolphins if Tagovailoa struggles since they need a win to be in the postseason.
Ah, the NFC East. What an insane division. A loss for Washington last week gave the Giants another gasp of air to make it to the playoffs while the Cowboys are tied with Washington 6-9. Both teams need to win this game and both need Washington to lose against the Eagles on Sunday night.
Since we are here for fantasy and not a complete breakdown of playoff scenarios, the important thing here is that both teams need to pull out all the stops. When it comes to fantasy implications, there are some options to start here for Dallas like CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup who has seen an explosion in usage. Also, RB Ezekiel Elliott only needs 63 yards to get to 1,000 rushing yards on the season.
The Giants are another story with Daniel Jones struggling upon his return from his pulled hamstring. The Cowboys Defense that started the year asleep and lethargic has gotten its act together in the past few weeks and will not make it easy for New York. At least we know that both teams will need to play all four quarters for a win unless it’s a blowout.
The Falcons are out of the playoffs in a very 2020-esque type of season. However, that doesn’t mean this is as cut and dry as it appears on paper. The Falcons have a lot on the line in terms of pride and playing for interim HC Raheem Morris. WR Julio Jones and RB Todd Gurley are question marks for Week 17, but that has been the case practically all year. I expect the Falcons to roll out a winning game plan, which includes K Younghoe Koo who will likely want redemption after uncharacteristically missing a field goal to tie the game against Kansas City last week.
Bucs HC Bruce Arians has said that Tampa Bay will also be rolling out its starters for pride even though they are already in the playoffs. For them, it’s about seeding and an 11-5 record. If this game is close, I expect the Buccaneers’ starters to play a full game, but if Tampa is too far ahead, this could be a half or only three-quarter game for Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown.
Cincinnati isn’t going to play for a shot at the postseason, but that doesn’t mean they should be written off. The Ravens need a win for their playoff hopes and I am sure the Bengals would very much like to play spoiler.
Let's not forget that this is the Bengals we’re talking about against the Ravens and the 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson. This will be a game dictated by the score. The Bengals defense has stepped up the last few weeks (just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers) but the Ravens have also caught fire. The Ravens will likely be up by two touchdowns or more and they may just pull Jackson to keep him healthy if a win is guaranteed. As always, there are question marks at the running back position. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are both healthy and Mark Ingram has been a healthy scratch two weeks in a row. How HC John Harbaugh plans to use his running backs remains a mystery, even heading into Week 17.
As for the Bengals, I am looking forward to seeing what QB Brandon Allen can do coming off of some momentum against the Steelers and the Houston Texans. The offense has been heating up with excellent games from RBs Samaje Perine and Giovani Bernard and rookie WR Tee Higgins is making his mark in the offense. Tyler Boyd is questionable after suffering a concussion in Week 15 and was inactive in Week 16. His play-making ability means that he should be in your lineup if he is active and ready to go this week.
Vikings-Lions & Jets-Patriots
The Vikings-Lions and Jets-Patriots games are the only two being played during the 1:00 pm slate that have no bearing on a playoff berth. Vikings RB Dalvin Cook will not be in attendance due to a last-minute family emergency. Backup Alexander Mattison has been out with a concussion but he was back at practice this week. He and Mike Boone could be seeing a split backfield against the porous Lions Defense.
As of right now, HC Bill Belichick is sticking with QB Cam Newton but we will probably see QB Jarrett Stidham make an appearance. Other than Jakobi Meyers as a desperate spot-start, I would avoid the Patriots starters. On the Jets, WR Jamison Crowder is a must-start. RBs Frank Gore and La'Mical Perine will not be active. Gore is on IR while Perine is on COVID-19. Keep a close eye on any emerging cases out of New York due to close contact tracing. The remaining running backs are Ty Johnson who had an explosive game in Week 13 against the Raiders with 22 carries, over 100 rushing yards, and a touchdown as well as Josh Adams who should serve as the secondary back.
4:00 PM EST
Like the Ravens, the Indianapolis Colts are facing a must-win situation against a less than stellar team in the Jacksonville Jaguars. This could turn into a similar situation where the Colts decide to pull the veteran QB Philip Rivers if they are guaranteed a win.
The good news with this kind of scenario is that if the Colts are up enough (like the Ravens) it’s because the fantasy studs like Jonathan Taylor, T.Y. Hilton, and Zach Pascal have already scored enough points to add to your total. The bad news is that this game is in the afternoon and gives you less opportunity to fiddle with your lineup to make up for lost points.
This is a matchup I am not too keen on being a part of unless necessary. This could really go either way and the timing is not ideal.
If you missed J.J. Watt’s post-game comments last week, do yourself a favor and look it up. It will give an idea of just how fed up he is with their record and the questions. Perhaps his words will be fuel for the Texans who are coming off of a bad 31-37 loss to the Bengals where Allen looked like Aaron Rodgers and Perine looked like Saquon Barkley.
I have mentioned playing for pride and no other team encompasses this idea than the Texans, in my opinion. They have zero playoff hopes this season but that doesn’t mean they want to roll over for the Tennessee Titans and gift them a victory. I really like this situation for the fantasy pieces in Houston like Deshaun Watson, Brandin Cooks, and David Johnson.
I also equally like the key pieces on the Titans' offense who will be looking to bounce back from their loss in the blizzard in Green Bay last week. I think this will be a game that goes all four quarters at one hundred percent and I like firing up the fantasy players on both sides including Ryan Tannehill.
This game could have massive fantasy implications with both teams needing a win to advance to the playoffs. However, QB Jared Goff just had surgery on his broken thumb, RB Darrell Henderson is on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain, and Cooper Kupp was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. Rookie RB Cam Akers missed last week’s game with a high ankle sprain and Malcolm Brown was limited in practice with a shoulder injury. The Rams are banged up and it couldn’t come at a worse time. AAF QB John Wolford will suit up at QB for Los Angeles with Blake Bortles waiting in the wings.
On the other side of the ball, Cardinals QB Kyler Murray is battling a leg injury. It looks like he’ll play, but his upside will be severely capped with his rushing ability potentially off the table.
The Bears have stepped up their game in the past few weeks and facing their division rival is the perfect shot at redemption following an embarrassing Week 12 performance. Let’s be honest. This is Mitchel Trubisky against Aaron Rodgers so this will be an uphill battle.
Rodgers and the Packers already have the NFC North division title but they are fighting for the frigid home-field advantage where they will undoubtedly have the upper hand. For Rodgers, this means more than just winning a football game as he continues his campaign as the dominant starting quarterback for the franchise after the team drafted his replacement.
While both teams have something on the line in the matchup, it’s the Bears that need a win to stay alive.
This game is another potentially tricky matchup. The Saints have already won the NFC South division title but they are playing for the number one seed against the Panthers who are out of the playoffs. All starters will likely be starting this game for New Orleans but if they get ahead far enough, you could see HC Sean Payton mixing in players such as Taysom Hill and Latavius Murray more often. WRs Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith are still on short-term injured reserve to rest up for their playoff run which leaves Emmanuel Sanders as the de facto WR1 again.
The Panthers are playing spoiler in this game against their division rivals. Christian McCaffrey will not be playing again this season, which is the biggest bust of a first-round draft pick in fantasy. I expect all of the Panthers' starters to play lights-out in their last game of the season.
Despite a rocky start on defense for the Seahawks, they have claimed the NFC West title and are now playing for a first-round bye. A win alone will not cut it for Seattle, which also requires Green Bay to lose (unlikely) and New Orleans to lose or tie (also unlikely). HC Pete Carroll has stated that they will be going “all-out” in this matchup against the 49ers. Carroll has been known to say a lot of things.
The 49ers have had the worst luck this year with injuries, but I still like TE George Kittle and RB Jeff Wilson. WR Brandon Aiyuk will miss this week due to a high ankle sprain so Kendrick Bourne and Richie James are sneaky pickups if you’re desperate at wide receiver. Even though there is not a postseason in their future, I expect them to bring the fight for pride.
Of all the teams playing this weekend, the Chiefs are the only ones who have absolutely nothing on the line. They have the first-round bye secured, so logically, HC Andy Reid is sitting QB Patrick Mahomes. Instead, Chad Henne will be starting under center for Kansas City. Reid was not specific about which other starters are resting, but I would make plans to move away from Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, just in case.
On the other side of the ball, the Chargers are completely out of playoff contention. WR Keenan Allen may likely miss this week and TE Hunter Henry is on the COVID-19 reserve list. Luckily, RB Austin Ekeler is still healthy so he should be a reliable asset in the game.
If there is ever a “meh” matchup for real football, it’s this one. For fantasy purposes, this is a game that should see all the starters play a full 60 minutes. Despite being second in their division behind the chiefs, the Raiders have been eliminated from the playoffs, and the Broncos never even glimpsed the opportunity this year. I feel comfortable firing up the fantasy pieces like Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs, Nelson Agholor, Darren Waller, Melvin Gordon, Tim Patrick, and Noah Fant.
Sunday Night Game
If the Raiders-Broncos game is “meh” then the Washington-Eagles game is the exact opposite. The Eagles are the only team in the NFC East not fighting for a playoff spot while the Cowboys and the Giants are begrudgingly rooting for them to win.
QB Alex Smith has been absent dealing with a lingering calf issue but has taken limited reps at practice. Since Dwayne Haskins has been released, the next man up if Smith can’t go or can’t finish the game is Taylor Heinicke who saw a bit of playing time last week in their loss to the Panthers. Washington is also in a must-win situation to keep their playoffs hopes alive and win the division.
QB Jalen Hurts had a disaster of a performance last week and has a tough road this week against Chase Young and Washington’s front seven. His legs have been a saving grace for fantasy and he will be playing to make a bid for the starting job in Philadelphia over Carson Wentz. In a big rivalry win with a lot on the line, both teams should be featuring their heavy hitters barring injury.
Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was placed on COVID-19 reserve. … Vikings RB Dalvin Cook is out in Week 17 due to a family emergency. … Browns TE Harrison Bryant was placed on COVID-19 reserve. … Rams WR Cooper Kupp was placed on COVID-19 reserve. QB Jared Goff is out from thumb surgery. ... Chargers TE Hunter Henry is on COVID-19. WR Keenan Allen is questionable with a hamstring injury and did not practice Thursday. ... Jets RB Frank Gore is on IR and La'Mical Perine is on COVID-19.