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Wide Write: Why Are You Playing?

If you’re spending your Christmas weekend (or Christmas Day) reading this column for fantasy advice, and playing a meaningful game in Week 17, your league needs an overhaul. Back in the early days of fantasy football, before Mike Shanahan first unleashed the scourge of running back tandems on us, leagues used to play the whole season.

At some point, everyone with at least moderate intelligence realized that many fantasy championships were being sullied by playoff-clinching NFL teams resting their players, so they moved the title games up to the next-to-last week. In other leagues – like yours – people are still watching black-and-white TV, using rotary dial phones, doing the Electric Slide, and playing 17-week fantasy seasons. Please, for the love of God, stop it and enter the 21st century.

If you’re one of those unlucky ones, here’s a list of teams that has absolutely nothing to play for this week:

Giants (NFC No. 1 seed) – Tom Coughlin is hinting that he’ll let the starters play all out against the Vikings, who need a win to clinch the NFC North. We say that Brandon Jacobs and his balky knee will get no more than a dozen carries. We’re Giants fans, and we really hope he stays home with a big mug of eggnog.

Titans (AFC No. 1 seed)Jeff Fisher has already said that Vince Young will replace Kerry Collins at some point during the game against the Colts. We’re not sure where that point is, but we bet it’s no later than halftime.

Steelers (AFC No. 2 seed) – Mike Tomlin is expected to rest some starters. Look for Ben Roethlisberger to take a seat early if he plays at all, and that means Byron Leftwich gets to throw against the Browns. Merry Christmas, Byron!

Cardinals (NFC No. 4 seed) – These guys have fallen on their faces since starting 8-3; they’ve allowed 167 points in their last four non-Ram games. Ken Whisenhunt says the Cards need to play well to regain some confidence, but if they get out to a big lead against the Seahawks, you’ll be able to consider that confidence regained, and players (like Kurt Warner) will start heading to the bench.

Colts (AFC No. 5 seed) – Colts-Titans should be named “The Meaningless Bowl,” and Tony Dungy has a history of resting players in these situations. Get ready for a heavy dose of Jim Sorgi, as we’ve got the over-under for “number of series Peyton Manning plays” at 2.5.

Let’s get going with the starts and waiver claims.

QUARTERBACK

Aaron Rodgers, Packers — No mystery here – Rodgers draws the Lions at home. Two touchdowns with 250 yards passing seems like a foregone conclusion, and with Rodgers starting on just 53.8 percent of FOXSports.com teams in Week 16, we thought a reminder to start him was in order.

Matt Ryan, Falcons – Ryan and the Falcons still have a chance to win the NFC South, and they get to host the Rams this week. Ryan is blossoming into a stud, and should put up some good numbers in a big Falcons win. Considering the situation the Falcons were in a year ago, Ryan can probably get elected mayor of Atlanta if he wants to.

Matt Schaub, Texans – Despite laying a giant egg against the Raiders in Week 16, the 7-8 Texans still look like a trendy 2009 team to us (of course, they were a trendy 2008 team, and look what happened). Schaub has averaged 318 yards passing in three games since returning from an injury, and we like the Texans to nuke the Bears’ playoff chances with a big home win.

Tyler Thigpen, Chiefs – With the Broncos and Chargers getting flexed to Sunday night for their do-or-die battle for the AFC Mediocre Division title, we think it would be fitting if the Denver and San Diego markets got the Chiefs-Bengals game during the day. If they get a good afternoon game, it might make them feel inadequate later when their own terrible teams take the field for the right to get murdered at home by the Colts in the wildcard playoff round.

Anyway, Thigpen has been a solid waiver wire option all year, and he’s still available in more than half of FOXSports.com leagues. We think he’s going to send Herm Edwards into the sunset with a really exciting, close loss, which basically describes every Chiefs game.

RUNNING BACK

Tatum Bell, Broncos – This is not a misprint: The Broncos have SIX running backs on injured reserve. The only backs they have left are Bell and two guys from the practice squad. We’ve touted Bell before, but this time, he really is the only option the team has left, so he’s going to get the ball. Can you believe that either the Broncos or Chargers will make the playoffs, while the Patriots might have to sit home?

Cedric Benson, Bengals – We tabbed Benson as a sleeper selection last week, and he rewarded us with a 38-carry, 171-yard explosion. For those of you in one of the ridiculous, aforementioned 17-week leagues, could Benson become a fantasy playoff legend? We say yes. He’s the odds-on favorite to score the late TD that breaks the Chiefs’ hearts for the 24th time this season.

Tashard Choice, CowboysMarion Barber is probably not going to be 100 percent, and that’s fine because Choice has been terrific, with 424 total yards and two touchdowns in his last three games. He’s still available in almost 75 percent of FOXSports.com leagues, and you should absolutely choose him from the waiver wire if you can. Get it? Choose Choice? Thank you – we’ll be here all week.

RECEIVER (WR/TE)

Mark Bradley, Chiefs – You should definitely start Dwayne Bowe for the Chiefs-Bengals barnburner if you have him, but you already knew that. Bradley could be a nice play as well. He looked like he was becoming a favorite of Thigpen’s at midseason, but he missed a few weeks with injuries, and then bounced back with four receptions for 55 yards against the Dolphins in Week 16. Bradley qualifies as a deep sleeper, since hardly anyone owns him.

Steve Breaston, Cardinals – If the Cardinals are really going to put the pedal to the metal, Breaston could be a big beneficiary both before and after the team starts resting people. If Larry Fitzgerald leaves early and the injured Anquan Boldin gets protected, someone needs to stay in the game, right? The underrated Breaston, who’s 85 yards away from 1,000 for the season, should absolutely be in your lineup this week.

Vincent Jackson, Chargers – The Broncos have the NFL’s 27th-ranked pass defense. V-Jack, who started in less than half of FOXSports.com leagues in Week 16, has turned into a beast lately, catching 18 passes for 348 yards and two scores during the Chargers’ three-game winning streak. Get him in there, will ya?

Billy Miller, Saints (TE) – This one’s a hunch. Drew Brees needs 402 yards this week to break Dan Marino’s single-season record for passing yards in a season. Head coach Sean Payton says the Saints will “play to win the game,” but while doing that we think he’ll let Brees throw until his arm falls off. Marques Colston and Lance Moore are two obvious targets, and Miller could get more looks than usual if Jeremy Shockey’s sprained ankle doesn’t heal by gametime.

Happy Holidays, everyone.


John Halpin covers fantasy sports for FOXSports.com, writing a morning fantasy blogon weekdays 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 jhalpin37@gmail.com.

For more fantasy sports coverage, visit FOXSports.com/fantasy.