If you are reading this column in Week 17, then it is likely that you who are competing for a fantasy championship. You are on the verge of receiving the ultimate reward for many months of research and dedication, and this week’s article will help you by identifying the best starts and most advisable sits at the QB, RB, WR and TE positions. Your time won’t be wasted with recommendations that you start Drew Brees or LeSean McCoy. Nor will you be reading about the need to keep Trent Richardson or Ray Rice affixed to your benches. Instead, there will be a focus on less obvious player evaluations as we enter our final week. Since game time is approaching, we’ll launch into this week’s starts and sits.
Ben Roethlisberger vs. Browns
He has consistently been worthy of QB1 status as the regular season has progressed, and his matchup with Cleveland will be no exception. 19 of Roethlisberger’s 27 TDs have been generated since Week 9, and he has limited his INTs to just five during that span. That includes Week 12, when he connected on 22 of 34 passes for two TDs against the Browns. He should have similar success when he faces them again this Sunday, while continuing his propensity for generating TDs at home. He has tossed eight scoring passes in Pittsburgh’s last three games at Heinz Field, and he should generate several against a Cleveland pass defense that has surrendered 28 TDs.
Philip Rivers vs. Chiefs
His yardage totals have declined somewhat from the 400-yard performances that he constructed in three of San Diego’s initial five contests. But he has thrown at least two TD passes in three of his last five games, while averaging 260 YPG in his last six contests. This week he will face the same Kansas City team that he tortured in Week 12 by generating 392 yards and three TDs in Arrowhead Stadium. However, he could have the opportunity to exploit an assembly of backups. Andy Reed appears poised to rest many of his starters, since the Chiefs are firmly locked into the No.5 seed. But regardless of KC's situation, Rivers will have the Chargers’ offense in full throttle, throughout a matchup that he should excel in.
Colin Kaepernick at Cardinals
He has thrown 10 of his 19 TDs during San Francisco’s last six contests, and generated 50+ rushing yards for the fourth time this season in Week 16. But this week’s matchup will be very daunting for Kaepernick. Arizona’s defense just limited Seattle to 192 total yards, held Russell Wilson to 108 through the air, and ended Wilson’s perfect record at home. Those are the latest achievements for a unit that ranks sixth overall, is fifth with 45 sacks, and fourth with 20 INTs. Now they will tee off against Kaepernick, in a contest that they must win. This would also not be the week to expect him to produce yardage on the ground, as the Cardinals have the NFL’s stingiest run defense.
Carson Palmer at 49ers
Kaepernick’s counterpart will also encounter great difficulty this Sunday, as the 49ers now have the NFL’s third ranked defense, allow the third fewest points per game , and are fourth versus the pass. Their efforts should only accentuate a statistical decline that Palmer has experienced in recent weeks. After producing nine TDs during a four game stretch, he has managed only three in the three contests since. He also threw four INTs last Sunday in Seattle, and must now attempt to regroup against another formidable defensive unit. It would not be wise to anticipate favorable results for Palmer.
Zac Stacy at Seahawks
This is for the over-thinkers among you who are so concerned regarding his matchup, that you are contemplating starting a lesser back in his place. Yes, Seattle’s rush defense is to be respected, particularly at home. But Stacy has repeatedly delivered favorable results against the league’s stingiest run defenders. Since Week 8, he produced an adequate number of yards in Carolina, scored one of the five rushing TDs that Arizona has allowed this season, generated 72 yards against the 49ers, and just burst for 104 versus Tampa Bay. Plus, he gashed the Seahawks for 134 yards in their initial encounter. While that output will be difficult to replicate, he has earned your trust during this final week.
James Starks at Bears
Eddie Lacy reinjured his ankle against Pittsburgh last Sunday, which elevated Starks into a prominent role for the Packers in the second half of that contest. It was largest workload since Week 3, and the fourth-year back responded by manufacturing 47 yards on 10 attempts. That resulted in his best output since Week 8, although Starks has been consistently effective during his appearances this season (5.2 YPC). If Lacy is sidelined for this week’s showdown with Chicago, Starks becomes an exceptional starting option. The Bears are dead last in rush defense, while yielding an unsightly 161.5 YPG. That is 34 YPG more than any other team, and will thrust any Packer RB into must start status.
Fred Jackson at Patriots
This is partially an indictment against New England’s 29th ranked run defense, which is permitting 132 YPG. That number would be even worse, if not for the fortune of facing the collectively challenged rushing attacks of Cleveland, Miami and Baltimore in Weeks 14-16. Jackson has also earned starting status through his last two performances, beginning with the 80 yards that he amassed against Jacksonville in Week 15, then punctuated with the season high 111 yards that he registered versus Miami last Sunday. Even with the time share that will ensue with C. J. Spiller, Jackson should assemble an excellent yardage total this week when he lines up against the Pats.
Jamaal Charles at Chargers
Advocating that Charles should not be a starter is just as bizarre to write as it is to see. However, Kansas City will be the AFC’s fifth seed regardless of what transpires on Sunday, and Andy Reed’s track record while head coaching the Eagles would suggest that his most important players will be preserved for the postseason. That would undoubtedly include Charles, whose value is immeasurable. There is simply no need to risk subjecting him to unnecessary wear and tear. As a result, leaving him in your lineup will jeopardize your chances of winning. Savvy owners should already have Knile Davis on the bench, to now be elevated into a starting role.
Donald Brown vs. Jaguars
If could be difficult to consider benching him. Particularly if the 108 total yards and two TDs that he generated in Week 16 helped lead you to this week’s championship game. But it would behoove owners not to overreact when constructing this week’s starting lineup. It was his best output of the season, and his first significant results since Week 11. 84 of those yards were manufactured on just two plays. While those bursts were impressive, you don’t want to count on them reoccurring this week. Brown is still sharing touches with Trent Richardson, his production has been inconsistent throughout the season, and he has yet to generate high quality performances in consecutive weeks.
Pierre Thomas vs. Buccaneers
After averaging 55 YPG on the ground and 42 YPG as a receiver during a seven game stretch between Weeks 5-12, The Cruser has managed an average of only 25 total yards in three of his last four games. That includes the nine touch, 15 total yard performance that provided the perfect horror show for any owners that deployed him in Week 16. He has been outgained by Mark Ingram in two straight contests, and is forced into inconsistency by the large number of potential weapons within the New Orleans offense. While he could deliver acceptable numbers in the Saints’ season finale, you do not want to count on that occurring with so much on the line.
Keenan Allen vs. Chiefs
There was no reason to contemplate removing him from your lineup, but it is difficult to conceive of a better situation for owners than to have Allen lining up against backup defenders from Kansas City. The chances of that occurring appear high at this point. Of course, Allen scorched the Chief starters for 124 yards on nine receptions in Week 12, and presents a nightmare matchup for the unit regardless of which personnel attempt to contain him. He should amass 100+ yards for the sixth time, and score for the fourth consecutive game.
Mike Wallace vs. Jets
His numbers still do not validate the mammoth contract that he was given. But even though his production could be labeled as disappointing throughout much of the season, his output has improved in recent weeks. Three of his four TDs have been generated since Week 12, and he has manufactured at least 82 yards in four of his last eight contests. He received a team high 11 targets last Sunday in Buffalo, but his numbers were heavily impacted by weather conditions, along with the struggles of Ryan Tannehill, and his overmatched line. He should deliver far better results versus the same Jet pass defense that he burned for seven catches and 82 yards in Week 13.
Cordarrelle Patterson vs. Lions
Starting Patterson is similar to using a mobile QB, in that you can have confidence that he will accrue rushing yards even if he does not supply high quality production as part of his team’s passing attack. He has averaged 7.5 targets during Minnesota’s last six games, and the increased opportunities have enhanced his viability as a receiving option. That can result in exceptional output, as it did when he exploded for 141 yards and a TD in Week 14. But even if his receiving numbers are not overly impressive, he still garners rushing attempts, and ultimately amasses yardage on the ground. The 54 yards that he bolted for on three attempts in Week 16, bode well for him producing again this week.
Dwayne Bowe at Chargers
At this point, you fully understand the risk involved with relying upon any Chiefs, based upon the likelihood that their starters will not be performing, or at a minimum will depart the contest in San Diego prematurely. Bowe had averaged just 35 YPG in Kansas City’s past two contests, after generating 60 YPG in the previous five. But there are too many other WRs options that possess far greater potential to help you this week, simply because they will be running routes as they normally would. And will do so throughout their matchups.
Nate Burleson at Vikings
It’s tempting isn’t it? You see that Minnesota is ranked dead last in pass defense. They have surrendered 36 TDs, which is five more than any other NFL unit. Burleson could possibly benefit from an enhanced role, if Calvin Johnson is sufficiently hampered by his knee issue. Yes, owners may find themselves susceptible toward believing that Burleson represents a viable option this week. The recommendation from here is not to fall into the trap of trusting Burleson, who only received two targets in Week 16, and also failed to reach 20 yards in three of Detroit’s last four contests. The potential for Burleson, and all members of the unreliable Lion offense to collectively demolish the dreams of fantasy owners this week is alarmingly high.
Brandon LaFell at Falcons
If you are a Steve Smith owner, or were looking for a prospective alternative at WR3, LaFell might initially appear enticing due to Smith’s PCL issue. However, LaFell is not even the best sleeper option within his own offense. Ted Ginn will be elevated into Carolina’s starting lineup, and take over Smith’s spot as the X receiver. While LaFell will continue in his current position, Ginn is the superior starting choice for your lineups. Despite having more targets, LaFell has generated five less receptions of 20+ yards, and his YPC averaged is nearly 3.5 yards lower. Even without Smith, LaFell is most likely to deliver disappointment if anyone employs him, as Ginn and Greg Olsen are better candidates to flourish.
Greg Olsen at Falcons
Olsen already leads the Panthers with 67 receptions, and is second to Steve Smith with 101 targets. But Smith’s sprained PCL will sideline him on Sunday, and compel Cam Newton to locate Olsen with even greater frequency this week. Ginn will elevate into Smith’s spot as the X receiver, with LaFell continuing in his role as the other starting WR. While both wideouts are capable of generating big plays (particularly Ginn), Olsen will clearly be Newton’s most reliable receiving option. He amassed 66 yards and a TD against Atlanta in Week 9, and there is every reason to forecast success against this unit again. Plus, the Falcons have allowed the fourth most points to TEs this season, along with 10 TDs.
Marcedes Lewis at Colts
Heading into Week 15, Lewis had received just 28 targets, as a problematic calf injury limited his availability during much of the season. But he has garnered 13 targets during Jacksonville’s last two contests, which has enabled the eighth-year TE to collect eight receptions for 104 yards, along with two TDs. That includes the four catches and 50 yards that he produced against Tennessee in Week 16. Lewis has also scored in four consecutive contests, and could extend that streak this week. Lewis should receive sufficient opportunities to produce yardage, along with coveted targets in the red zone. Because he is a rare reliable weapon for Chad Henne, within the Jaguars’ injury depleted offense.
Dennis Pitta at Bengals
His 2013 debut in Week 14 was promising, as he returned from hip surgery to receive 11 targets, collect six passes, and generate 48 yards with a TD. But his production has been underwhelming in Baltimore’s two games since that reappearance. He has only been targeted 11 in his last two games combined, and has managed just 29 YPG during those two contests. That represents a massive letdown, and it should compel you to utilize another option. Particularly since only six teams have allowed fewer points to opposing TEs than Cincinnati.
Timothy Wright at Saints
Even if finding an acceptable TE option has become difficult for you this week, starting Wright is not an advisable move. He has been proficient when Mike Glennon has targeted him frequently. But that has occurred with great inconsistency, which has resulted in Wright managing just 27 yards or less in three of Tampa Bay’s last four contests. Plus, only five teams have yielded fewer fantasy points to TEs than New Orleans. The Saints are unlikely to deviate from that script, as they have been extremely formidable at home, and will be highly focused in this season finale at the Superdome.