WIDE WRITE: Fantasy Football Crapshoot

Dec. 27: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) looks for a receiver despite the defense of New Orleans Saints' Will Smith, rear, in the first half of an NFL football game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Dec. 27: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) looks for a receiver despite the defense of New Orleans Saints' Will Smith, rear, in the first half of an NFL football game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  (AP)

Most fantasy football leagues hold championship games in Week 16, and for good reason. Week 17 features too many resting playoff-bound players and injured early vacationers to be approached strategically. However, if you’re here reading this article, you should do two things:

1. Impeach your league commissioner and initiate a coup with like-minded owners that will help you move your league title game to Week 16 in 2011.

2. Read on for Week 17 advice.

First, here’s a list of teams that have already qualified for specific playoff seeds – or may do so before their games kick off on Sunday – meaning that you should give serious consideration to benching their players because they have little or nothing to play for.

Patriots: Clinched the top seed in the AFC. QB Tom Brady, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis and WRs Wes Welker and Deion Branch are in danger of playing partial games, no matter how much Bill Belichick likes to keep his foot on the gas.

Chiefs: Can only be third or fourth seed in AFC. Unclear if they care enough about the specific seed to play all-out. On Tuesday, head coach Todd Haley said, “We’re going to do what we think gives us the best chance to win.” Hmm …

Jets: Likely to be the AFC’s sixth seed. A good bet to rest some players, including QB Mark Sanchez and RB LaDainian Tomlinson.

Bears: Have clinched at least the second seed in the NFC. Can be the No. 1 seed with a win AND losses by the Falcons and Saints this week. Since the Falcons play the Panthers at 1 p.m. ET, the Bears are very likely to be locked in at No. 2 by their 4:15 kickoff. The Bears and their beat writers seem to think they’ll play all-out against the rival Packers, but there’s reason to be wary about the fantasy prospects of QB Jay Cutler and RB Matt Forte.

Eagles: The NFC’s No. 3 seed would be smart to rest some players, including fantasy hero/dog aficionado Michael Vick.

The Steelers, Ravens, Falcons and Saints have also clinched playoff berths, but victories In Week 17 can substantially improve their seedings, so we can expect them to play to win.

This week’s “must start” lists will be shorter than usual due to the playoff implications mentioned above. It’s been nice having you there, Tom Brady.

If you disagree with any of the selections below, or want to offer some of your own, please post a comment at the bottom of the page.


Must starts (3): Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers

Potential resters (5): Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Jay Cutler, Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez

Start him: Matt Ryan, Falcons

Ryan starts in about half of leagues, but this week should be a no-brainer. The Falcons host the awful Panthers, and need only a win to clinch the NFC’s top seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Look for Ryan and his teammates to keep their foot on the gas while dominating the Panthers by air, land and sea. OK, maybe not sea, but you get the idea.

Sit him: Josh Freeman, Buccaneers

Freeman tossed five touchdown passes in Week 16, and has been a pleasant fantasy surprise this season. Unfortunately, he and the Bucs head to the Superdome to face the Saints, who still have a chance (albeit a slim one) at the NFC’s top seed. The Saints’ pass defense has given up a league-low 11 touchdown passes, and is second in yards allowed (191.3 per game). The bet here is that they’re going to suffocate Freeman.

Pick him up: Shaun Hill, Lions

Hill returned last week after a three-game absence, and while he didn’t throw the ball 40-plus times like he did often earlier in the season, he was still fairly productive, completing 14 of 26 passes for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns. While the Lions’ running game has improved, it’s still not that great, so look for Hill to air it out more at home against the Vikings. He’s owned in 6.2 percent of leagues.

Also: Minnesota’s Joe Webb looked pretty good against the Eagles – for a third stringer, anyway. His running ability adds some fantasy appeal, and if you’re in a pinch, you can consider playing him against the Lions, no matter how much DT Ndamukong Suh will be chasing him around Ford Field … Jaguars QB Trent Edwards is expected to start in place of the injured David Garrard against the Texans this week. Tim Tebow threw for 308 yards against the god-awful Texans, who – according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle - “have the worst pass defense I've seen in watching this league and remembering what I saw since I was six.” Edwards seems risky, but if you need to take a chance, you can’t ask for a better matchup.

Running backs

Must starts (10): Adrian Peterson, Rashard Mendenhall, Arian Foster, Michael Turner, Ray Rice, Peyton Hillis, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew*, Steven Jackson, Darren McFadden

Injury watch*: MJD missed Week 16 with a knee injury, and you’ll need to keep an eye on his status as Week 17 approaches. Start him if he’s active.

Potential resters (7): BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Thomas Jones, Jamaal Charles, LaDainian Tomlinson. Charles is the one guy here that we’d probably still start if we had him.

Start him: Ryan Mathews, Chargers

Mathews was in this space last week, and carried 12 times for 55 yards and a score against the Bengals. Backfield mate Mike Tolbert suffered a sprained neck in that game, and isn’t expected to play against the Broncos in Week 17. Many of you tabbed Mathews as early as the first round of your fantasy drafts, and this could be the week your decision finally pays off.

Sit him: Cedric Benson, Bengals

It’s hard to recommend benching a guy who racked up 55 carries in Weeks 15 and 16, but Benson was held to 52 yards on 24 carries last week against the Chargers, is averaging 3.5 yards per carry this year, and is about to face the stingy Ravens’ run defense, which will be charged up in its attempt to grab a first-round playoff bye. Also, backup Bernard Scott now lurks after carrying 11 times for 50 yards and a score in Week 16. Benson makes us nervous.

Pick him up: Dominic Rhodes, Colts

The Colts have had injury issues at running back (and elsewhere) all season long, and starter Joseph Addai was finally able to play in Week 16 after missing eight games with a neck/shoulder issue. With the Colts needing a win to secure a playoff berth, they might use Addai even more this week. However, since Rhodes had 98 yards on 17 carries against the Raiders, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll just get buried now. If your other backs are hurt or resting, Rhodes is an option.

Also: Rashad Jennings was a disappointment (19 touches, 61 yards from scrimmage) as Jones-Drew’s fill-in in Week 16. However, if MJD misses another game, Jennings’ fortunes should improve against those horrible Texans. He could even help as MJD’s caddy … With the Pats likely to use quite a few players this week, Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris have a chance to contribute. It’s hard to know who will carry and how much, but if you’re looking to catch lightning in a bottle, Taylor’s an option.

Receivers (WR/TE)

Must starts (11): (WR – 7) Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson*, Reggie Wayne, Roddy White, Greg Jennings, Hakeem Nicks*, Brandon Lloyd; (TE – 4) Jason Witten, Jacob Tamme, Vernon Davis, Chris Cooley

Injury watch*: Andre Johnson’s sprained ankle kept him out of Week 16, and his season could be over. But if he’s active, start him … Nicks has a broken toe on his left foot, and is in danger of missing the Giants’ season finale. Start him if he plays, and cross your fingers.

Potential resters (7): Wes Welker, Deion Branch, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, Johnny Knox, Dwayne Bowe, Dustin Keller, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards.

Start him: Mike Thomas, Jaguars

Even with Edwards – a.k.a. Captain Checkdown – likely to start at quarterback in place of the injured David Garrard, we like the idea of starting Thomas against the Texans. Mike Sims-Walker and Marcedes Lewis, too. If you can get yourself on the Jags’ active roster as a receiver before Sunday, let us know and we’ll make sure to pick you up and start you, no matter who’s throwing the ball.

Also: Houston’s Jacoby Jones is owned in 40.4 percent of leagues, and caught five passes for 115 yards in Andre Johnson’s absence last week. If Johnson is out again, Jones becomes a terrific play against the Jags … Staying with the Texans-Jags game, the finally healthy Owen Daniels was targeted 13 times in Week 16, and caught eight passes for 73 yards and a score. In addition to making himself a viable fantasy option for 2011, Daniels is a nice Week 16 tight end play. Get ready for a shootout in Jacksonville!

Sit him: Mike Williams, Seahawks

Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck loves throwing to Williams. Backup Charlie Whitehurst – not so much. Since Hasselbeck’s leg injury is expected to keep him from practicing all week and makes him iffy at best to play in Sunday night’s do-or-die game against the Rams, it’s hard to recommend Williams as a fantasy play.

Pick him up: Danario Alexander, Rams

Alexander finally had a big game, catching six passes for 99 yards against the 49ers in Week 16, and was on the field more than in any other game this season. If you’d like to read an exhaustively detailed explanation of how Alexander has become a big part of the Rams’ offense, this piece at RamsHerd. If not, just trust us when we say that Alexander is now QB Sam Bradford’s primary deep threat. He’s available in more than 99 percent of leagues.

Also: Injuries to Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco have opened things up for the rest of the Bengals’ receivers. WRs Jerome Simpson (zero percent owned) and Andre Caldwell (0.5 percent owned) have had good games recently, and both are worthy of fliers in deep leagues – even against the Ravens.

Thanks for following "Wide Write" all season. Good luck in your championship games, and see you next year!

John Halpin writes his “Wide Write” fantasy football column every week during the NFL season for He also writes fantasy columns and early-morning blogs four days a week at, and co-hosts a daily fantasy podcast. You can receive more fantasy news and contact John by following him on Twitter (@jhalpin37), or e-mailing him at