Fantasy & Reality: Who's in and who's out?
Right off the bat, you should know that Week 17 is always a mess for Fantasy owners. Studs sit or disappoint because they don't play as much, unknowns come out of nowhere and put up great numbers and we as a collective base of football fans who play a game to enhance our love of the sport are either grossly letdown or thoroughly overjoyed with the results.
Actually, when I put it that way it sounds like each of the previous 16 weeks.
I get the challenge of playing into Week 17. A Fantasy owner worth his weight in chicken wings should be able to put a good lineup together and outscore his opponent. But is it really fair to have a game with so much meaning (assuming you play for a championship in Week 17) go down without one or more of the guys who got you to that point? For instance, I weep (figuratively) for the Aaron Rodgers owners who got such a great boost from him in Week 16 and will probably see him give way to Matt Flynn before halftime against the Lions. The 20-to-40 point per week Fantasy stud is now bench-worthy. It's not cool.
But if you play into Week 17, you knew it was coming and you can't do anything about it now. So let's run down the Week 17 slate and figure out who's playing for what and who we'll see.
Playoff implications for both teams
Cowboys at Giants: Winner hosts a playoff game, loser goes home. No one is sitting.
Ravens at Bengals: The Ravens clinch a bye with a win and potentially fall into a wild-card berth with a loss. The Bengals clinch a wild-card berth with a win and potentially fall out of the playoffs with a loss. No one is sitting.
Playoff implications for one team
Steelers at Browns: The Steelers need a win and a Ravens loss to clinch the AFC North and a bye. Playing against their bitter rivals you can be sure they'll roll out their starters -- including Ben Roethlisberger . The Steelers would love to have their cake (get Roethlisberger to the playoffs healthy) and eat it too (get the first-round bye). Chances are they can beat the Browns with minimal help from Roethlisberger, who could at least force the Browns to defend the pass whereas Charlie Batch wouldn't scare them off. The Browns might run Peyton Hillis into the ground before setting him free this offseason.
Jets at Dolphins: The Jets need a win, a Bengals loss, a Titans loss and either a Raiders or Broncos loss to claim the final playoff spot in the AFC. Because they play early and won't know their fate until later on, their starters are expected to go four quarters. The Dolphins shouldn't rest anyone.
Titans at Texans: The Titans need a win, a Bengals loss and a combination involving two wins from the Jets, Raiders and Broncos to land the No. 6 seed in the AFC. They'll play to win, of course. The Texans, however, are locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC and are expected to pull their starters at some point. We'll see a healthy dose of Jake Delhomme and Derrick Ward .
Chiefs at Broncos: Tim Tebow Broncos can land the AFC West with a win against Kyle Orton's Chiefs. Obviously the quarterback storyline is intriguing, but so is the fact that both defenses are trending in different directions -- Kansas City is on the rise and Denver is slipping. This should be a fun game where both teams rest no one.
Chargers at Raiders: The Raiders clinch the AFC West with a win and a Broncos loss. The Raiders can also sneak into the playoffs as a wild-card team with a win, a Bengals loss and either a Titans loss or a Jets win. With the Bengals playing at the same time, there's no doubt that Oakland will run its starters. Darren McFadden and Jacoby Ford might play this week. Vincent Jackson might rest given that the Chargers have nothing to play for.
49ers at Rams: The 49ers clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a win. They'll play their starters until they feel like they have the win clinched. The Niners blew out the Rams 26-0 in Week 13 but didn't get 20 points until early in the fourth quarter. Alex Smith is also the most recent quarterback to throw two touchdowns against the Rams. St. Louis might give a spirited effort for their head coach, Steve Spagnuolo, in what might be his last game with the team.
Panthers at Saints: The Saints need a win and a loss by the 49ers to land the No. 2 seed in the NFC. They play at the same time on Sunday so they won't learn their fate until late in the game, if at all.
Lions at Packers: The good news: The Lions can clinch the No. 5 seed and a date with the NFC East winner in the first round of the playoffs with a win. A loss combined with a Falcons win would pit them at New Orleans or San Francisco as the No. 6 seed. Speculation is that the Lions will try to win and clinch that game with the Giants or Cowboys.
The bad news: The Packers have the No. 1 seed all locked up. As we noted last week, Mike McCarthy was once in this position and pulled his starters in the second quarter of a meaningless Week 17 game. McCarthy has already said he'll rest the players nursing injuries and chances are other starters will follow. Expect limited production from Aaron Rodgers , Jordy Nelson , Jermichael Finley and the Packers DST.
Buccaneers at Falcons: The Falcons can get the No. 5 seed with a win and a Lions loss. Otherwise, they'll play at the Saints or 49ers on Wild Card Weekend. Here's the catch: This is among the late games, so the Falcons will know their fate before kickoff. So while they might be in a position to rest their starters plenty before a big playoff matchup, chances are head coach Mike Smith will want to see some strong performances as a tune-up against the lowly Bucs before resting his starters. There shouldn't be much fear in starting Matt Ryan , Roddy White , Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez ; Michael Turner might need the rest and could be limited against this Bucs defense but he could play one or two series and be solid for Fantasy.
Bills at Patriots: The Patriots clinch the top seed in the AFC with a victory. Bill Belichick typically does not rest his starters and certainly won't pull Tom Brady & Co. until they build a huge lead on the Bills. After losing to them back in Week 3, you can almost sense that the Pats will lay it on thick to end Buffalo's campaign.
No playoff implications
Redskins at Eagles: Philadelphia's fighting for .500 while Washington's fighting for Mike Shanahan's 12th win in two seasons. LeSean McCoy should be a decent part of the offense for the Eagles assuming he practices in advance of the game. Evan Royster will be in a position to rack up stats if Roy Helu is out again; if Helu plays they'll probably split.
Bears at Vikings: Like many of these games, the Bears and Vikings will give their young players a chance to put themselves on tape for evaluation as neither coaching staff is expected to go anywhere. Joe Webb , Toby Gerhart and Kahlil Bell should be prominently featured. Both defenses could struggle.
Seahawks at Cardinals: The winning team will be 8-8, which would be an improvement for the Seahawks (they won the NFC West at 7-9 last season). Marshawn Lynch will attempt to extend his touchdown streak to 12 games while John Skelton will attempt to give the Cardinals coaching staff a reason to consider him for a quarterback competition next summer. Larry Fitzgerald is two touchdowns away from his fourth double-digit scoring season in five years.
Colts at Jaguars: The Colts can end the season on a three-game win streak and potentially lose the No. 1 overall pick in the draft with a win. The Jaguars will battle to give interim head coach Mel Tucker his second win and Maurice Jones-Drew can cement his grip on the rushing title with a solid game (he's 63 yards from 1,500).