If your fantasy league is having its championship game this weekend, you're about to learn why most leagues stage their title games in Week 16. The following NFL teams have secured their playoff positions, and have virtually nothing to play for:
• Indianapolis (AFC No. 2)
• Jacksonville (AFC No. 5)
• Dallas (NFC No. 1)
• Green Bay (NFC No. 2)
• Seattle (NFC No. 3)
• Tampa Bay (NFC No. 4)
• New York Giants (NFC No. 5)
We've excluded the Patriots, who will almost certainly be on a mission to complete their 16-0 regular season, and therefore play their regulars as long as it takes to secure a win. Otherwise, players from the teams above will be used sparingly, just like in a preseason game. Peyton Manning? A few series, maybe. Tony Romo? Probably visiting Jessica Simpson in a luxury box by the second quarter. Brett Favre? His feet will be up so much on Sunday, the Packers might as well put a La-Z-Boy on the sideline. This all makes you wonder why you agonized so much over your first-round draft pick, doesn't it?
So, instead of the usual, single "This Week's Play" at each position below, we're going to list a handful of options with players who won't treat Week 17 like the last day of their senior year of high school.
(Note: The Chargers and Steelers have clinched their division titles, and their outcomes this week can affect only the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in the AFC. Both teams will likely rest some players on Sunday as well.)
Quarterbacks (non-Brady division)
GOOD: Kurt Warner, Arizona
That's two weeks in a row in this spot for Matt Leinart's backup. Warner -- who might be the best waiver wire pickup of the 2007 fantasy season -- is carrying teams on his back down the stretch. He completed 36 of 53 passes against the Falcons for 361 yards and three touchdowns, and has fired 18 touchdown passes in his last seven games. If you enjoy preseason quarterback controversies, bookmark the sports sections of all the Phoenix-area newspapers, and start checking them in mid-July.
Honorable mention: Peyton Manning (28-35, 311 yards, 3 TD)
BAD: Eli Manning, New York Giants
The Giants had 291 rushing yards in Buffalo. That fact, plus windy conditions, contributed to Manning competing just seven of 15 passes for 111 yards with two interceptions. They didn't contribute to his five fumbles, two of which were lost to the Bills.
Manning is taking his usual early season/late season splits to an extreme this year. In his first seven games, he threw 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and fumbled three times. In his last eight games, he's thrown six touchdowns and 10 interceptions with nine fumbles. By the first round of the playoffs, it might be easier if Giants center Shaun O'Hara just handed the ball to opposing defensive tackles instead of snapping it to Manning.
THIS WEEK'S PLAYS (pending non-Arctic weather conditions)
The Saints still have an outside chance at a playoff spot, so Drew Brees can be expected to come out firing. You're probably starting him already, but if you're not, get him in there…Though the Browns technically can't affect their playoff chances with a win, Derek Anderson has a great opportunity to bounce back against the 49ers after two straight subpar outings… Donovan McNabb threw three TD passes in Week 16, and he might be making his last home appearance for the Eagles. Won't he want to go out on a high note?... Marc Bulger is good when he's healthy, he threw three TD passes In Week 16 against the Steelers, and his Week 17 opponent (Arizona) has given up 16 TD passes in its last seven games.
GOOD: Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants
As mentioned above, the Giants had a tremendous rushing day against the Bills in their 38-21 win. Jacobs carried 24 times for 143 yards and two scores, including a 43-yarder on which he pulled away from some trailing defensive backs. That's pretty good when you consider that he weighs 264 pounds
Earlier in the season, we compared Jacobs to a rhinoceros running down a city street, knocking over everything in his path. Maybe a giant (pun intended) bowling ball might be a better analogy, since it picks up speed as it rolls downhill. Either way, he's a load to stop. It's a good thing, then, that Tom Coughlin often replaces Jacobs at the goal line with Reuben Droughns. Maybe he's just trying to make things fair for the opponents, since no other explanation would make any sense.
Honorable mention: Laurence Maroney, New England (14 carries, 156 yards, 1 TD); Ahmad Bradshaw (17 carries, 151 yards, 1 TD)
BAD: Warrick Dunn, Atlanta
By all accounts, Dunn is a great guy - his foundation helps single mothers own homes, and we think that's terrific. By all means, check out the Warrick Dunn Foundation Web site, and donate money if you can.
Unfortunately, Dunn has run into a brick wall during the second half of 2007. He's carried the ball 36 times for just 65 yards in his last four games, including a 12-carry, 13-yard outing against the Cardinals in Week 16. We like Dunn, and we hope this is more indicative of the Falcons' incompetence than Dunn nearing the end of the road.
THIS WEEK'S PLAYS
Texans rookie Darius Walker has had 66 yards rushing in each of the last two games (he added 44 receiving yards in Week 16). His teammate, Ron Dayne, has been nursing a sprained ankle, and the Texans host the vacationing Jaguars this week… The Other Adrian Peterson ran 30 times for 102 yards and a score in Chicago's upset win over the Packers. Twenty-two (!) of those carries were in the first half, so we guess you could say the Bears tried to establish the run, and the Saints' defense is just okay in that department…With Kevin Jones done for the season, Detroit's T.J. Duckett (102 yards and a TD against Kansas City) could be a nice pickup against the Packers' second string… DeAngelo Williams had 10 carries for 60 yards against the Cowboys, and maybe the Panthers coaching staff has finally gotten it through their thick skulls that Williams is better than DeShaun Foster. This one is a hunch, but we think Williams will get more work this week in Tampa.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends (non-Moss division)
GOOD: Anquan Boldin, Arizona
Boldin's injured toe isn't bothering him so much anymore, eh? The two-time Pro Bowler caught 13 passes for 162 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Falcons in Week 16. According to published reports, Boldin lined up in multiple places - including in the backfield - and it looks like things worked out. Boldin has been a disappointment this season, but when healthy he's an elite receiver.
Honorable mention: Jerricho Cotchery, New York Jets (8 receptions, 152 yards, 1 TD), Reggie Wayne (10 receptions,143 yards, 1 TD)
BAD: Plaxico Burress, New York Giants
Blame Eli Manning if you want to, but Burress' injuries (ankle, knee) seem to have taken their toll as the season has progressed. Since Week 7, he's scored only twice and posted just two games with more than 47 yards receiving. In Buffalo, Burress caught one pass for six yards. With the Giants' playoff spot secured, you're more likely to see Bill Belichick with an I (HEART) ERIC MANGINI tattoo than see Burress in uniform against the Patriots this week.
THIS WEEK'S PLAYS (pending non-Arctic weather conditions)
Jerricho Cotchery of the Jets caught eight passes for 151 yards and a score in Tennessee, and with Laveranues Coles out he's the team's main receiving option...If you've been benching Carolina's Steve Smith and missed his big game (nine catches, 137 yards, 1 TD) against the Cowboys, get him back in there. The Panthers are throwing to him at every opportunity now…Even with a third-string quarterback last week, Baltimore's Derrick Mason caught five passes for 98 yards and a score…The Redskins can clinch a playoff berth with a home win against the Cowboys, and Santana Moss has picked up his game lately, scoring his second TD of the season against the Vikings and going over 70 yards for two straight weeks...Tennessee's Roydell Williams has improved recently, catching 16 passes for 252 yards and three TDs over his last four games.
With that, our fantasy season comes to a close. Thanks for reading Wide Write this year, folks. Happy New Year!
John Halpin covers fantasy sports for FOXSports.com, writing a morning football blog to Sundays through Thursdays and baseball columns once or twice each week, depending on the season. His "Wide Write" appears every Thursday during the NFL season on FOXNews.com. Send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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