Week 17 Fantasy Football Matchups

To prepare you as best we can for your week of Fantasy Football, we've devised this series of previews for each NFL game. We'll give you a taste of what to expect, then rank each significant Fantasy contributor on a scale from 0-5 stars (with five stars suggesting can't-miss; a player or unit without any stars suggests you probably shouldn't start him under any circumstances). The rankings take the matchup into account, but injuries and other significant factors also contribute. You should be able to compare the ratings for the players on your team and make an educated pick on who should start -- and sit -- in your lineup .

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Sunday, 1:00 pm, Ralph Wilson Stadium
The Patriots need a win to keep playoff hopes alive, and beating up on a division rival will add further motivation. The Bills have been fairly stingy against the pass, which could limit Matt Cassel's upside. Moreover, the Patriots have game planned well for the Bills and did well running against them earlier this season. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan continue to work in tandem for the majority of the Patriots' offensive snaps. Remember, the Pats ran a lot late last season and won, plus that plays into the Bills' defensive weakness. It seemed like Buffalo began rediscovering its pass attack last week, and they'll need it if they're going to end the season with a win. Marshawn Lynch is banged up and has a difficult matchup anyway, so his expectations should be limited. Look for Trent Edwards to throw a lot, not only to attack the Pats' secondary but because he'll be playing from behind. But that still doesn't mean Lee Evans will blow up -- he's been well covered and limited in his last three against the Pats and has been in a massive funk over much of the second half of the season. And as you might expect, there is snow and wind in the long-range forecast.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Matt Cassel **** QB Trent Edwards **
Sammy Morris *** RB Marshawn Lynch ***
LaMont Jordan ** RB Fred Jackson **
Wes Welker **** WR Lee Evans **
Randy Moss **** WR Josh Reed **
Benjamin Watson   TE Robert Royal
Stephen Gostkowski ***** K Rian Lindell **
Patriots *** DST Bills *
St. Louis Rams at Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, 1:00 pm, Georgia Dome
The Rams are in U-Haul mode -- they have to be, playing on the road against an opponent who, like them, was down in the dumps last season but has rebounded into the postseason. Even though they'll be in a dome, the matchup doesn't bode well for them. Steven Jackson should put some good stats but the rest of the Rams won't do much unless it's in garbage time. Marc Bulger will struggle against the Falcons defense, especially since Atlanta is playing for a possible No. 2 seed in the NFC (they have to win, the Panthers have to lose). The Falcons will get Michael Turner going, but seeing as how the Rams defense stinks everywhere, this is a good opportunity for Matt Ryan to get some confidence heading into the postseason. Look for Ryan to take some deep shots and attack a Rams secondary that's been beaten up all year.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Marc Bulger * QB Matt Ryan ***
Steven Jackson **** RB Michael Turner *****
Kenneth Darby   RB Jerious Norwood *
Torry Holt ** WR Roddy White *****
Donnie Avery ** WR Michael Jenkins *
Anthony Becht   TE Justin Peelle
Josh Brown * K Jason Elam *****
Rams   DST Falcons ***
Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, 1:00 pm, Paul Brown Stadium
Meaningless game in the big picture, but both teams should fight hard. Tyler Thigpen wants to leave a lasting impression for the offseason and should deliver against a Bengals defense that looked like Pro Bowlers against the lowly Browns in Week 16. Thigpen should continue his hot streak against the Bengals' weak secondary while Larry Johnson gets around 15 touches. The Bengals will do the opposite, attacking with Cedric Benson much like they did last week. I don't think Benson will post 171 rushing yards, or even 100 yards, as the game will be competitive, but he should still be serviceable. As it has been for several weeks, the Bengals passing game is too suspect to count on here, though you could certainly conclude that with the season being a wash that both teams throw a bunch, assuming the weather cooperates.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Tyler Thigpen **** QB Ryan Fitzpatrick *
Larry Johnson *** RB Cedric Benson ***
Jamaal Charles   RB James Johnson
Dwayne Bowe **** WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh **
Mark Bradley * WR Chad Johnson **
Tony Gonzalez ***** TE Ben Utecht
Connor Barth   K Shayne Graham *
Chiefs   DST Bengals *
Chicago Bears at Houston Texans
Sunday, 1:00 pm, Reliant Stadium
The Bears will keep playoff hopes alive with a win, but it will be tough considering the state of their offense. Kyle Orton has made some hideous throws over the past few weeks and hasn't been able to really establish a consistent connection with anyone in the passing game. That said, Houston's secondary is shaky and Orton should stick with a simple short- and medium-area pass plan. He should also work off of Matt Forte's reps, though he did not look strong for much of his game against the Packers because of his sore toe, and he won't have as much rest as you'd like since the Bears played on Monday. The Texans will be sure to key in on him. The Bears secondary has been hot and cold and will face a very tough challenge in Andre Johnson this week. With Chicago's pass rush merely decent, expect Matt Schaub to bounce back and connect with Johnson and Kevin Walter more this week than last. The bigger problem for the Bears will be Steve Slaton, who much like Matt Forte is versatile and physical. Slaton's got better speed, and the Bears defense has struggled with faster running backs all year.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Kyle Orton ** QB Matt Schaub ****
Matt Forte **** RB Steve Slaton *****
Adrian Peterson   RB Ryan Moats
Devin Hester ** WR Andre Johnson *****
Rashied Davis   WR Kevin Walter **
Greg Olsen **** TE Owen Daniels **
Robbie Gould *** K Kris Brown **
Bears ** DST Texans *
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, 1:00 pm, Heinz Field
It's gotten so bad for the Browns that their offense isn't worth discussing. You're on your own if you roll with Jamal Lewis or Braylon Edwards, both of whom will be shut down as Pittsburgh attacks likely starter Bruce Gradkowski. The Steelers are expected to roll out their starters for at least a half, then pull them back, possibly once they build a decent lead. Because of the matchup, most of the Steelers starters on offense could be used as decent No. 3 options, with Santonio Holmes having the most upside. Just expect around 50-to-60 percent of their usual production since they won't play a full game. A sneaky pick up might be Mewelde Moore, who should see a lot of work in the second half against a disinterested Browns defense. There is snow and wind in the forecast.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Bruce Gradkowski   QB Ben Roethlisberger *
Jamal Lewis   RB Willie Parker **
Jerome Harrison   RB Mewelde Moore **
Braylon Edwards   WR Santonio Holmes ***
Donte' Stallworth   WR Hines Ward **
Darnell Dinkins   TE Heath Miller *
Phil Dawson   K Jeff Reed **
Browns   DST Steelers *****
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
Sunday, 1:00 pm, Lucas Oil Stadium
Expect both teams to use their starters for much of the first half, if not all of it, then pull back to rest their guys for the playoffs. Neither team has anything to play for here as they're locked into their seeds in the AFC (Titans are No. 1, Colts are No. 5). You can expect the game plans to be pared down as well. All that said, it's hard to predict anything in this contest. Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Co. could be good for some decent passing totals, but it's all in one half of play and won't deliver a monster stat line. Not even Dominic Rhodes, who is technically a backup, is a good play since the likes of Chad Simpson and Najeh Davenport will take more reps; and the same can be said for Quinton Ganther and Chris Henry for the Titans. If there's still a decent stud, it's Chris Johnson, thanks to his breakaway ability and the Colts run defense still not impeccable against the run.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Vince Young   QB Peyton Manning **
Chris Johnson ** RB Dominic Rhodes **
LenDale White * RB Chad Simpson **
Justin Gage   WR Reggie Wayne **
Justin McCareins   WR Anthony Gonzalez **
Alge Crumpler * TE Dallas Clark ***
Rob Bironas **** K Adam Vinatieri ****
Titans ** DST Colts **
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
Sunday, 1:00 pm, Lambeau Field
The Lions have a shot here, especially if they can get Kevin Smith going and grind down the Packers defense. Green Bay has continued to struggle against the run and will play this game on a short week, which should result in Smith ending the season on a high note. Moreover, the Packers can hound Calvin Johnson with double- and triple-team coverage and be left short elsewhere on defense, so Smith could post nice numbers. Johnson should do better than last week as well, even with the immense coverage the Packers will give him. Naturally, the expectation for the Packers offense is to roll over the Lions like they did earlier this season. The only way any of their front-line star skill players will rest is if they build a big lead. Ryan Grant should attack the interior of the Lions defense and pave the way for Aaron Rodgers to throw over the top to Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Remember, the Packers don't want to be the ones to lose to the Lions, and they'll aim to end the year with a win at home.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Dan Orlovsky * QB Aaron Rodgers *****
Kevin Smith **** RB Ryan Grant ****
Calvin Johnson **** WR Greg Jennings ****
John Standeford * WR Donald Driver ***
Michael Gaines   TE Donald Lee *
Jason Hanson ** K Mason Crosby ****
Lions   DST Packers ***
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Sunday, 1:00 pm, Superdome
The Panthers need to win to clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC, and their best defense in this game will be to control the clock and run a lot. That's because Drew Brees is 403 yards shy of breaking Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record, and the club is expected to give him every opportunity to do it. That's a lot of yards to give up, but the more he's throwing, the more likely the Saints will put up a decent amount of yards. That said, look for a lot of -- who else? -- DeAngelo Williams, who should smash and dash his way through the Saints paltry run defense. Jonathan Stewart will also see a bunch of touches and could do fairly well. That will also mean that Jake Delhomme won't be throwing a lot unless the Panthers fall way behind, and that's a mild concern for Steve Smith's Fantasy owners. I wouldn't sit him, but his yardage might not be enormous even though the matchup suggests it will. Of course, if Brees is going to pass around 50 times (and maybe as many as 60 depending on how much time the Saints get with the football), you can lock in his receivers for good outings. Lance Moore should bounce back catching the short-area stuff, Marques Colston will work the mid-range and Devery Henderson is a real sleeper to come up with some big deep catches. Where does this leave Pierre Thomas? Between the game plan and the matchup, he's more of a top-end No. 2 Fantasy running back this week, though it helps that Brees isn't chasing a touchdown record, which could result in Thomas landing a short-yardage score or two.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Jake Delhomme ** QB Drew Brees *****
DeAngelo Williams ***** RB Pierre Thomas ****
Jonathan Stewart ** RB Deuce McAllister
Steve Smith *** WR Marques Colston *****
Muhsin Muhammad ** WR Lance Moore ***
Dwayne Jarrett   WR Devery Henderson **
Jeff King   TE Jeremy Shockey **
John Kasay ** K Garrett Hartley **
Panthers ** DST Saints *
N.Y. Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, 1:00 pm, Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
The Giants insist they'll play their starters for the majority of the game, which is what they did last season against the Patriots in an effort to build some momentum for the playoffs. I'm not so sure, especially when it comes to Brandon Jacobs. His knee remains an issue and giving him several weeks of rest is probably the best way to go. That will open the door for Derrick Ward to work the outer edges against the Vikings, and he should continue to be effective, though not to the extent of his last game. Eli Manning shouldn't be trusted, and thus neither should his receivers. The Vikings are going to play methodical football and lean heavily on Adrian Peterson, who has helped them get to this point. Remember, a win and the Vikings are the No. 3 seed in the NFC. The run game will lead the way, opening up lanes for Tarvaris Jackson to connect on short- and mid-range stuff to his receivers and march down the field for scores.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Eli Manning * QB Tarvaris Jackson ***
Derrick Ward *** RB Adrian Peterson ****
Brandon Jacobs * RB Chester Taylor *
Domenik Hixon * WR Bernard Berrian **
Amani Toomer * WR Sidney Rice *
Kevin Boss ** TE Visanthe Shiancoe **
John Carney ***** K Ryan Longwell ***
Giants **** DST Vikings ***
Oakland Raiders at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, 1:00 pm, Raymond James Stadium
The Raiders have played better offensive ball lately, and the direct correlation can be made to Darren McFadden's improved play. He's been very solid, JaMarcus Russell has followed suit and both will attempt to end the season on an up note. The Bucs defense was rocked last week and has struggled with the run for three weeks, but the lack of physical, talented receivers in Oakland should make game planning easier this week. Don't forget that this will be Monte Kiffin's last regular-season game coordinating the Tampa Bay defense, so the effort and blitzes will be fierce. The Buccaneers need to run well if they're going to take this game, and Cadillac Williams looks like the better option at this point. Williams should be successful (he'll still lose touches to Warrick Dunn and Clifton Smith) and set up Jeff Garcia to attack down field. Garcia should be successful, particularly if he can hook up with Antonio Bryant away from Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
JaMarcus Russell * QB Jeff Garcia ***
Darren McFadden ** RB Cadillac Williams **
Justin Fargas   RB Warrick Dunn **
Johnnie Lee Higgins * WR Antonio Bryant *****
Chaz Schilens   WR Ike Hilliard
Zach Miller *** TE Jerramy Stevens
Sebastian Janikowski * K Matt Bryant ****
Raiders * DST Buccaneers *****
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
Sunday, 4:15 pm, University of Phoenix Stadium
The Seahawks should put up an effort to try and send coach Mike Holmgren out with a win. Additionally, Maurice Morris is going to be a free agent, and Seneca Wallace and Koren Robinson surely will want to put something on film in the event that they aren't back with the Seahawks next season. Plenty of motivation for the Seahawks, who will probably use Morris to set up the pass and try to attack this leaky Cardinals secondary. Arizona has locked into the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs, but with the club reeling after two lopsided losses, coach Ken Whisenhunt insists on his starters playing and gaining momentum for the postseason. With the Seattle defense ready to call it a season, there's no excuse for Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and a returning Anquan Boldin. This trio torched Seattle earlier this year and should do it again. As a byproduct, Tim Hightower should have an opportunity to score.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Seneca Wallace ** QB Kurt Warner *****
Maurice Morris *** RB Tim Hightower **
T.J. Duckett   RB Edgerrin James
Deion Branch *** WR Larry Fitzgerald *****
Bobby Engram   WR Anquan Boldin ****
Koren Robinson   WR Steve Breaston **
John Carlson ***** TE Stephen Spach
Olindo Mare * K Neil Rackers *****
Seahawks   DST Cardinals *
Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, 4:15 pm, M&T Bank Stadium
Expect a good effort out of Jacksonville even with nothing to play for. David Garrard has been putting up good numbers over the last two weeks thanks to Dennis Northcutt stepping up, and it's safe to say that the Jaguars will do a lot of passing here. Maurice Jones-Drew is expected to play with a bruised knee; look for him to also be a factor in the pass game. A win for Baltimore and they're in the playoffs. Jacksonville's run defense is decent but shouldn't be tough for the Ravens to crack with LeRon McClain and a smaller dose of Willis McGahee. Don't be surprised to see them throw a little bit more than normal -- the Jaguars' pass defense has struggled since losing cornerback Rashean Mathis. I like Todd Heap's matchup against the Jaguars' aggressive safeties.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
David Garrard ** QB Joe Flacco **
Maurice Jones-Drew *** RB LeRon McClain ****
Chauncey Washington   RB Willis McGahee **
Dennis Northcutt ** WR Derrick Mason ***
Reggie Williams   WR Mark Clayton
Marcedes Lewis   TE Todd Heap ***
Josh Scobee ** K Matt Stover ***
Jaguars * DST Ravens *****
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, 4:15 pm, Lincoln Financial Field
The Cowboys are in the playoffs with a win, and if that happens it will salvage what has been a rough season. Expect the Cowboys to continue doing what they have been doing on offense, which is utilizing Tashard Choice more than anyone expects. Choice has continued to play well in the face of great defenses, and this will actually be his easiest matchup to date. So long as Marion Barber is limited, Choice will carry the rushing workload and provide an outlet for Tony Romo out of the backfield. All of that sets up nicely for Romo to pick his poison in the passing game, and he'll likely target Jason Witten against the Eagles' safeties. Terrell Owens should get his, but not to the tune of more than say 70 yards with a touchdown. This will be a challenge for the Eagles, and as they've done in their recent wins, they're going to have to ride Brian Westbrook. After the Ravens softened up the Cowboys defense and came up with some long runs last week, expect Philadelphia to go with the same approach. That could result in other players getting carries (Correll Buckhalter, DeSean Jackson) as Westbrook isn't usually a 30-carry candidate, though he has done it this season. And with the Eagles' receivers hurting, it only makes sense to focus on utilizing Westbrook. In turn, that will hurt Donovan McNabb since his passing opportunities could be limited, as will his receiving corps, which was a big reason for the Eagles loss last week.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Tony Romo **** QB Donovan McNabb ***
Tashard Choice *** RB Brian Westbrook ****
Terrell Owens **** WR DeSean Jackson ***
Patrick Crayton * WR Jason Avant
Jason Witten ***** TE L.J. Smith *
Nick Folk ***** K David Akers ***
Cowboys **** DST Eagles **
Washington Redskins at San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, 4:15 pm, Candlestick Park
Even with Jim Zorn receiving the proverbial thumbs up from his general manager, the Redskins will be hard pressed to play hard. There are a lot of Super Bowl-hungry veterans on this roster who don't like the idea of a season ending in failure, and this game won't change that outcome. With Zorn unable to rally the club for much of the second half of the season, and with several injuries holding their best players back, don't look for much from the Redskins offense. Jason Campbell has been suspect, Santana Moss has gone ice cold and Clinton Portis is one of these players who is hurt and doesn't want to suffer any more serious injuries. The Redskins will have some trouble running against this 49ers front and will be forced to throw in the fourth quarter. Portis and Chris Cooley are usable Fantasy options. The Niners will be motivated with Mike Singletary leading the charge. He seems to have the head coaching job locked up for 2009, but a win here could seal the deal, and the players look like they like playing for him. If he's healthy, Frank Gore will be the usual centerpiece of the offense, and Shaun Hill will work off of him and try to break through on the Redskins secondary, which hasn't been so bad of late. If Gore's out, that's going to mean more opportunity for Hill. Either way, he should do well and the San Francisco offense should be productive.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Jason Campbell * QB Shaun Hill ***
Clinton Portis *** RB Frank Gore ***
Santana Moss ** WR Isaac Bruce ***
Antwaan Randle El   WR Josh Morgan *
Chris Cooley ** TE Vernon Davis
Shaun Suisham * K Joe Nedney ***
Redskins * DST 49ers **
Miami Dolphins at N.Y. Jets
Sunday, 4:15 pm, Giants Stadium
With a win, the Dolphins win the AFC East and get a home playoff date. Bill Parcells-led teams usually come through with those kinds of stakes on the line, but this will be a tough one for them. The Dolphins run defense is a bit thin with Channing Crowder sidelined, and their running game hasn't been overpowering. The Jets also need to win to keep playoff hopes alive, so they'll be more motivated here than they were at Seattle last week. The Dolphins will likely continue to preach balance and ball control without turning over the pigskin. Running the ball will still be a struggle but look for Chad Pennington to continue connecting with Anthony Fasano, Davone Bess and David Martin on short-range passes. That will keep the chains moving and afford the Dolphins some scoring opportunities. The Jets cannot let Brett Favre throw wild again, and that's what the Dolphins will try to force even though their pass defense isn't great. Look for New York to keep it close to the vest and ride Thomas Jones and Leon Washington more than with Favre's arm, at least so long as the Jets don't fall too far behind.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Chad Pennington *** QB Brett Favre **
Ricky Williams ** RB Thomas Jones ***
Ronnie Brown ** RB Leon Washington **
Davone Bess ** WR Jerricho Cotchery **
Ted Ginn Jr. * WR Laveranues Coles *
Anthony Fasano ** TE Dustin Keller ***
Dan Carpenter *** K Jay Feely ***
Dolphins *** DST Jets **
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Sunday, 8:15 pm, Qualcomm Stadium
High. Scoring. Affair. Pencil in at least four touchdowns apiece as both teams have plenty of offense and not a lot of defense. The Broncos have no run game to speak of (Tatum Bell? C'mon ...) and face off against the Chargers' awful pass defense. All signs point to a lot of passing for Jay Cutler. That will mean some interceptions, but it wouldn't be a surprise for Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal each to top 100 yards. The Chargers will throw as well but will obviously use LaDainian Tomlinson to create a ground effort. With Tomlinson on the march, the clock ticks and the Broncos offense is off the field, so there could be a plan to really lean on him when they have a lead. Otherwise, Philip Rivers will be gunning and having all sorts of fun connecting with Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates. Really, the only two prominent players Fantasy owners should be wary of is Bell and Chris Chambers, neither of whom have impressed much this season.
Name Rating Pos. Name Rating
Jay Cutler ***** QB Philip Rivers *****
Tatum Bell * RB LaDainian Tomlinson ****
Cory Boyd   RB Darren Sproles *
Brandon Marshall ***** WR Vincent Jackson ****
Eddie Royal *** WR Chris Chambers
Tony Scheffler **** TE Antonio Gates *****
Matt Prater **** K Nate Kaeding ****
Broncos * DST Chargers *
Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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