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Week 17 Fantasy Football: Last-Minute Lineup Advice

Dave Major offers some last-minute advice for the fantasy football playoffs.

Ryan Mathews fantasy football
Ryan Mathews fantasy football

Dec 22, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (24) carries the ball in the second half against the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers won 26-13 Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re still alive to be playing in Week 17, then apologies and condolences are appropriate as someone likely made a grave mistake with your league settings. There is little excuse or argument that can be made to justify playing meaningful fantasy games during the least significant week of the NFL for most teams. Not to mention, you play for the championship. Do you want the single most crucial match of the entire season to be decided by the same day pickups of Nate Burleson and Knile Davis? Regardless, if you’re reading this, then good luck this weekend and even better luck during some important offseason decisions about next year’s settings.

Rashard Mendenhall has remained the starting running back for the Arizona Cardinals, despite producing considerably worse numbers than backup Andre Ellington. Mendenhall has been responsible for 3.1 yards per carry this season, compared with the rookie’s average of 5.7 yards per attempt. Ellington missed the team’s Week 12 match against the Eagles. And in the three games since, the six year veteran has received 60 touches for 182 total yards, while Ellington has touched the ball 44 times for 293 total yards. Mendenhall has remained the team’s favorite goal line option as well. Within the 5-yard line over the past three weeks, the former Steeler has carried the ball five times for three scores, as Ellington has gotten just one attempt for the loss of a yard. Mendenhall remains available in 40 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Jacquizz Rodgers suffered a concussion on Monday Night Football and has yet to be cleared for Week 17. In his absence, Jason Snelling would step up as a very capable replacement. Since week nine, Rodgers has averaged seven touches per game, which is what should be expected of Steven Jackson’s backup. Tony Gonzalez will likely play the final game of his career Sunday. The 37-year-old has scored in four straight games. Roddy White deserves a lot of that credit. The last four weeks have been his best of the year, while amassing 35 receptions for 411 yards and a touchdown.

EJ Manuel will not play Buffalo’s season finale in New England, giving Thad Lewis his fifth start of the year. Stevie Johnson has been declared out. His mother’s funeral was on Friday, and life must come first over a meaningless game for the Bills. Robert Woods will be the team’s top target again, with limited upside on a Lewis-led passing attack. Johnson was the only Buffalo receiver targeted more than Woods this year.

Jonathan Stewart (torn MCL) is listed as “out” on the Panthers’ injury report. This will be DeAngelo Williams’ third consecutive game without Stewart in the lineup. In games played without Stewart since 2008, Williams has averaged 16.8 touches for 93.4 total yards and 0.4 touchdowns. That’s a noticeable improvement over games played with Stewart. When together, Williams has earned a mean of 14.5 touches for 75.3 total yards and 0.6 scores. Steve Smith has also been ruled out for Sunday’s game with a knee injury. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell and tight end Greg Olsen should garner more attention with Smith sidelined. For the season, LaFell and Olsen have led all Panthers with five receiving touchdowns apiece. Olsen averages 6.9 targets to 5.3 per game for LaFell.

Bears head coach Marc Trestman said that Jay Cutler will remain the starter for Week 17’s winner-take-all game against Green Bay. The starting quarterback had previously missed four straight games with an ankle injury, prior to his Week 15 return. In the past two weeks, Cutler has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 487 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Edwin Baker has been Cleveland’s lead back for the last two weeks, and will likely finish the season in that role. Prior to last week’s game, head coach Rob Chudzinski said he was looking to give the young back more opportunities. Prior to Week 15, Baker had yet to receive the first offensive touch of his two-year career. Since then, he has led the Browns backfield with 31 touches for 160 total yards and two touchdowns. Baker will face his former college teammate Le’Veon Bell on Sunday. Meanwhile, Willis McGahee hasn’t touched the ball since Week 14. Jordan Cameron missed last week’s game with a concussion, and is questionable for Sunday’s tilt in Pittsburgh.

Tony Romo underwent surgery on Friday to repair a herniated disk in his lower back. Backup Kyle Orton may be better than ten or more starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Dallas and their fantasy weapons should be just fine under Orton’s care. He, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten should all have huge days against Philadelphia’s 30th ranked pass defense. This game figures to be a shootout with two of the league’s three worst pass defenses squaring off for the division title. The days of NFC East dominance are but a distant memory.

Wes Welker has been ruled out for Sunday’s finale in Oakland. Look for another healthy dose of Eric Decker and Julius Thomas this week. According to Pro Football Focus, Welker has led the team with 400 routes run in the slot, compared with Decker’s 184, and 131 for Julius Thomas. Owners of Andre Caldwell should be embarrassed about their decision-making abilities. In the past two weeks with Welker sidelined, Thomas and Decker have combined for 22 receptions for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Over the last four games, Decker has led the NFL with seven receiving touchdowns, two more than the next best.

It’s anyone’s guess what happens between Joique Bell and Reggie Bush this weekend. The lame duck Jim Schwartz has just lost four of the last five games to lose the NFC North title. The coach benched Bush following a critical fumble in last week’s loss, but downplayed it after the game. It remains unknown who will lead this backfield committee on Sunday. Calvin Johnson is questionable and there is no motivation for the Lions to play him against Minnesota. The pizza-loving Nate Burleson should lead the receiving corps in Johnson’s stead. 

On Thursday, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy announced Aaron Rodgers as the starter for Sunday’s game in Chicago. The winner of the game will earn the division title, and the losers will get more time to work on their golf swings. Eddie Lacy should remain an RB1 for your team this week. Lacy’s 10 rushing touchdowns rank third, behind only Jamaal Charles (12) and Marshawn Lynch (11). Since week five, the rookie has led the NFL in carries (248) and rushing yards (1,061). Randall Cobb is not listed on the team’s injury report, and could make a limited return this week. Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Cobb “looked like a guy who might be playing sooner, rather than later.” Elevate your rankings for Jordy Nelson and James Jones, now that their field general has returned. Tight end Andrew Quarless made his first start in week eight, and Rodgers left week nine after one series. Because of their limited work together, Quarless should not be trusted to do much on Sunday.

In his two year career, Jonathan Grimes has made seven carries for 29 yards, while catching two passes for another seven yards. Five of those touches came last week against Denver. Dennis Johnson got the start in lieu of an injured Ben Tate. Johnson hurt his hip during the game, and backup Deji Karim broke his collarbone. Four running backs down, and that leaves one standing. Grimes is on his third NFL team this year, and will lead the Texans’ backfield Sunday in Tennessee. That makes Grimes the fourth starting back for Houston this year.

In case you were tempted, running back committees to avoid this week include: Donald Brown and Trent Richardson, and Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. None of these guys should be expected to eclipse 14.2 touches. That’s Richardson’s average per game, which is best among this pack.

Maurice Jones-Drew is probable for Jacksonville’s final game in Indianapolis. Last week, he received 17 touches for 69 total yards, as backup Jordan Todman only got seven touches for 11 total yards. Avoid both of these backs if you can. Clearly Todman may not get a decent workload, and the 28-year-old Jones-Drew (1,178 rushing yards in two seasons) is too old to be trusted anymore.

Andy Reid has maintained radio silence regarding most of the Chiefs starters for Week 17. They are the only postseason team with nothing to play for on Sunday. Kansas City will be the AFC’s fifth seed whether they win or lose. Reid has rested starters in past years with the Eagles. So there is enough logic at least to strike fear into the minds of Jamaal Charles owners around the country. Knile Davis is the next man up for the Chiefs, should Charles be relegated to sweatpants and a clipboard. Dwayne Bowe was already ruled out with a concussion. Keep a close eye on this situation as kickoff approaches.

Adrian Peterson has been listed as doubtful for Minnesota’s final game against Detroit. Toby Gerhart has been ruled out, and the only two remaining are Joe Banyard and the record-holding Matt Asiata. This will likely be the second career start for Asiata; his first came in Week 15 when he tied the team record with three rushing touchdowns. The Lions own the NFL’s fourth best rush defense, and not much can be expected of a back with 37 career offensive touches for 77 total yards.

Through week 12, Stevan Ridley was New England’s lead rusher, with 135 carries for 577 yards and seven touchdowns. Second on the team was LeGarrette Blount, who had run just 82 times for 374 yards and three scores. Things change quickly under Bill Belichick, however. “Shanahanigans” is defined by Urban Dictionary as “the questionable or silly coaching decisions made by Mike Shanahan that negatively impact fantasy football owners who start NFL players that are coached by Mike.” Usually, this refers to running backs. Belichick is just as guilty of this practice, if not more. In the last four weeks, Ridley has averaged 7.8 rushes for 30.8 yards and no touchdowns. Since week 12, Blount has become the bell cow of this backfield, compiling 47 carries for 209 yards and three scores. If you have access to Blount and are in need of a back, look no further. Buffalo’s 23rd ranked rush defense won’t likely hurt your cause. Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins are both questionable yet again. The two have combined to miss seven games since Week 12. Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman will continue to lead the receiving corps. Edelman currently has 96 catches for 991 yards, and deserves a nomination as Fantasy’s Best Free Agent Pickup of 2013. Shane Vereen is questionable with a groin injury, which means he most likely has a groin but it is most likely injured. He will be a game-time decision for the 4:25 kickoff at Gillette.

Victor Cruz is out for the year after knee surgery. Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle will be Eli Manning’s top choices again on Sunday. The Giants play Washington’s 31st ranked defense in a game that affects nothing but draft position. Manning has been abysmal lately, having thrown three touchdowns and nine interceptions since Week 12. He leads the NFL in interceptions (26), by a margin of five.

In the last seven games, Rashad Jennings has rushed 123 times for 584 yards (4.8 yards per carry), while catching 22 passes for another 187 yards. Last week in San Diego, Jennings led the backfield with 13 touches for carries for 72 total yards. Darren McFadden contributed with five touches and 16 total yards, including a five yard touchdown run in the second quarter. That vultured score causes a sizable downgrade to Jennings’ value for this week’s contest against Denver’s 22nd ranked defense. Try to avoid this committee if possible.

Speak of the devil, it’s time to talk about Ryan Mathews once again. You thought he had disappeared from fantasy relevance some weeks, months, or years ago? Since Week 11, the NFL’s leading rusher has been none other than — you guessed it — Ryan Mathews. He has led all backs in carries (130) and yards (572) during that stretch. In the past three weeks alone, Mathews has collected 329 yards and three touchdowns on 83 carries. Kansas City has nothing to gain in this late afternoon showdown, and San Diego could be fighting for a playoff spot. Painful as it may be to admit, Mathews is a must start.

The 49ers placed Mario Manningham on injured reserve Friday, ending his season. Over the past four weeks, San Francisco’s top targets have been Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Boldin has turned 36 targets into 24 receptions for 306 yards and a score, whereas Crabtree has received 25 targets, catching 16 of them for 255 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Vernon Davis had scored in five straight games before being shut out without a single catch on Monday Night Football. Arizona hosts the 49ers on Sunday, and has allowed the seventh most points in the NFL this year.

Jordan Reed last played in Week 11, and has since been shut down for the year. Since the rookie’s departure, the team’s two leading receivers have been Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss. The former may come as no surprise, but the latter is a 13-year veteran who has not started a game in 2013. Washington travels to New York this weekend to face the Giants’ 20th ranked defense.

Stats and data courtesy of pro-football-reference.com, footballguys.com, and profootballfocus.com.

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