Unfortunately, there are inherent complications that exist when leagues determine their champion in Week 17. Some NFL teams might only allow their starters to perform in an abbreviated portion of their games, or could relegate them to the role of bystanders during their entire contests. That in turn would force you to sit starters that you have relied upon throughout the season. But if your roster requires alterations, there are options that could fill your lineup void.
And they will be examined in this column. Although the definition of sleeper will be modified due to the nuances of Week 17. Previously, the term sleeper referred to players who were either drafted toward the latter half of your fantasy drafts, or spent time residing on your leagues’ waiver wires until just before that week’s matchups. However, it will now be more beneficial to examine players who were utilized in less than 50% of all lineups during Week 16, but could easily boost your scoring this week. Either because they have recently captured an enhanced role within their offenses, or because they now possess an enticing matchup in their season finale.
You can find them listed by position below. And for a comprehensive look at this week’s rankings by position, just click here:
Chad Henne vs. Titans
If you are in a deeper league, or find yourself in complete scramble mode regarding your QB, Henne is worthy of consideration. His production in the past few weeks has not matched the 615 yards and six TDs that he generated in Weeks 11-12. But Henne has the potential to generate respectable numbers against a 26th ranked Tennessee pass defense that no longer appears particularly interested in competing this season. Even with the dynamic Cecil Shorts sidelined due to his concussion issue, Henne will still have Justin Blackmon available. The Titans’ rank just 26th in pass defense, and just allowed Green Bay to accumulate 343 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday. All of which makes Henne an option if you are in need.
Philip Rivers vs. Raiders
As with Henne, Rivers' presence in this column has far more to do with his matchup than the output that he has generated in recent weeks. Oakland ranks 22nd against the pass, and has already surrendered 26 TD passes. They have performed better in their two most recent contests. But the unit sorely lacks playmakers, and has experienced numerous breakdowns in coverage this season. Rivers should connect on big plays throughout the contest. Particularly with Danario Alexander, who the Raiders will have difficulty matching up with. He should garner enough receptions and accumulate sizable yardage after a large percentage of his catches. That alone should make Rivers a viable option.
Rashard Mendenhall vs. Browns
Despite being injured, demoted and suspended this season, Mendenhall has managed to resurrect his fantasy relevance just in time for desperate owners. And the timing could not be better, considering the limited number of sleeper options at RB this week. Last Sunday, Mendenhall carried the ball for the first time since Week 12, and assembled 50 yards on 11 attempts (4.5 YPC). That enabled him to lead the Steelers in rushing, despite the fact that Jonathan Dwyer was allotted three more carries. It was his second highest yardage total of the season, and his success could lead to an expanded role in this week’s matchup with Cleveland. The Browns could be without Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy and Trent Richardson on Sunday, which would stifle their ability to move the ball. That in turn would allow Pittsburgh to control the ball, and employ their running game extensively. Which will place Mendenhall in position to assemble a respectable yardage total.
Justin Blackmon vs. Titans
Less than 50% of his owners utilized him in Week 16, but it is time to take advantage of the increased opportunities that he has been allotted in recent weeks. Henne has thrown 35 passes to Blackmon in the past three games, including 12 in Week 16. Blackmon has capitalized by amassing 19 receptions for 229 yards, and a touchdown. And he should be the most targeted Jaguar this week, since Shorts will be unavailable. Plus, he will match up against the vulnerable Tennessee pass defense, whose shortcomings were discussed previously. All of which makes Blackmon an outstanding WR3 candidate on Sunday.
Mike Williams @ Falcons
He was benched in over half of the fantasy leagues during Week 16, even though he has been the Buccaneers’ WR2 throughout the season, and has been targeted significantly in the past four weeks. Josh Freeman has thrown 43 passes to Williams during that span, including a mammoth 17 last Sunday. Williams has responded by accumulating 20 catches for 306 yards and three TDs, including a season high seven receptions, and career best 132 yards against St. Louis in Week 16. Owners should start him as a WR3 this week, when he faces an Atlanta team that might rest a sizable number of starters.
Delanie Walker vs. Cardinals
The tight end position has been a constant challenge for many owners throughout the season. And attempting to forecast how long many of the potential starters will perform in Week 17 has certainly created another dilemma. But a feasible sleeper option has emerged just as the regular season reaches its conclusion. Walker entered Week 16 with 28 targets for the year, but garnered a season high seven after entering the lineup against Seattle. He also collected four passes for 54 yards and a TD, which was the second consecutive week in which he discovered the end zone. The status of Vernon Davis should be monitored frequently as Sunday approaches, and Walker’s value will be sizably enhanced if Davis is rested because of his concussion.
Chargers vs. Raiders
San Diego ranks 11th in total defense (330.5 YPG), and has been especially formidable versus the run. They rank an impressive fourth in that category, which will present a major obstacle for Oakland. The Raiders will be forced to employ Terrelle Pryor under center, and would prefer to minimize the number of passing attempts that he will generate. But the Chargers should encounter little difficulty plugging the gaps to thwart Oakland’s consistently ineffective blocking schemes. Which will force Pryor to throw with enough frequency that sacks and turnovers should ensue. Do not be surprised to see San Diego stockpile fantasy points for ecstatic owners.