Last week I talked about good timing being the difference between winning and losing in the fantasy playoffs. And fortunately, this column was able to deliver with its best timing of the season. My Week 16 record of 23-11 was the best of the year, topping my previous high of 20-13 from Week 15. So hopefully if you’re playing for that championship on Sunday, I helped you to get here with strong recommendations over the past two weeks.
Week 17, however, is a completely different animal than the rest of the season. Some teams have little or nothing to play for at this point and will rest key players, sometimes without giving any indication prior to the game that a key player will sit for some or all of the contest. The best way to combat this is to trust players on the teams with a playoff appearance or playoff seeding on the line. I also recommend starting at least one player with an increased opportunity based on injury, matchup or on a team very likely to rest its starters. Those players are typically very hungry and looking to prove themselves and impress in their audition.
It’s with that formula in mind that I’m pushing Kahlil Bell, Stevan Ridley, Jared Cook and Kyle Orton as my favorites for the week. Each should have ample opportunity and motivation to produce big numbers, and should be counted on to replace any usual starters that may be out or be rested, such as running backs LeSean McCoy and Reggie Bush and quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger.
For the final week of the season, with only championships left to play for, I’m going to up the ante by throwing out three bonus recommendations just in case you’re looking to replace a McCoy or Rodgers with a waiver wire option. With Jackie Battle in a walking boot and doubtful for this week, I like Thomas Jones to see a big boost in carries and go out with a bang in what is likely his last game as a Chief – and possibly the last game of his great career. At the quarterback position I like the Vikings vs. Bears game to produce some potentially strong fantasy numbers barring the status of Christian Ponder. If Ponder sits following last week’s concussion, I love Joe Webb given his efficient play as a reserve in recent weeks. And with Josh McCown showing he’s still got some game in him against the Packers, I could see him posting a couple scores against the Vikings’ terrible pass defense. If you’re in a pinch, take a chance on one of these guys. And if you’re looking for a championship, count on any of the names below to help get you there.
Carolina @ New Orleans
DeAngelo Williams (RB) for Panthers – This is simply going with the hot hand. Williams has averaged 5.7 yards per carry with five scores in his last five games.
Pierre Thomas (RB) for Saints – Thomas has run well in the six games that Mark Ingram has missed, posting a touchdown in four of those contests. With the rookie resting up for the playoffs, that leaves the door open for Thomas to receive goal line carries for another week.
Chicago @ Minnesota
Kahlil Bell (RB) for Bears – Bell is further proof that long-term contracts for star running backs aren’t a great investment, which doesn’t bode well for Matt Forte’s bank account. In the past three games he has averaged over 100 total yards per contest despite ceding over 50 touches to other backs.
Toby Gerhart (RB) for Vikings – And another one. Backup running backs are storming the fantasy playoffs and Gerhart is no exception. He registered his first career 100-yard rushing game in Week 16 despite seeing only 11 carries after Adrian Peterson tore his ACL. He now has five straight weeks with double-digit fantasy points and the running back duties are all his for the finale.
Buffalo @ New England
Steve Johnson (WR) for Bills – Over the last five weeks Johnson has had at least 80 yards receiving or a touchdown in every game. And now he gets the worst pass defense in the league, one against which he posted 94 yards and a score on eight receptions in Week 13.
Stevan Ridley (RB) for Patriots – Ridley has led the Pats in both carries and yards in back-to-back weeks. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry in those two outings but totaled just 129 yards with just 24 carries. Against the Bills’ awful run defense, and with more touches, he should turn that efficiency into better overall production.
New York Jets @ Miami
Santonio Holmes (WR) for Jets – Holmes had a four-game touchdown streak snapped last week in an embarrassing loss to the Giants, but he will bounce back with a solid game against the Dolphins, particularly when the Jets are playing from behind and throwing on nearly every down.
Dustin Keller (TE) for Jets – Keller has come back to life late in the season with over 70 yards in each of the last two games. In a must-win for the Jets, expect Sanchez to look to his best friend early and often to save him from a strong Miami pass rush.
San Francisco @ St. Louis
Alex Smith (QB) for 49ers – Smith registered one of his best fantasy days of the year when he last faced the Rams a few weeks ago, posting 274 yards and two scores. In a week when several stud quarterbacks might not play, Smith makes for a safe replacement.
Michael Crabtree (WR) for 49ers – See Smith, Alex. With 96 yards and a long score, Crabtree had his best game of the year the last time he met St. Louis. And with a playoff bye at stake, it would be a surprise if he didn’t take it to them again.
Detroit @ Green Bay
Joique Bell (RB) for Lions – In two straight weeks the Packers’ defense will get rung by a Bell. With Kevin Smith resting his sprained ankle for the team’s first playoff appearance of the millennium, Bell will see his first regular season action. The preseason star for New Orleans, who gained 321 total yards in three games, won’t disappoint.
James Jones (WR) for Packers – With the Packers playing for no other reason than the game being on the schedule, a number of starters are expected to rest. Fellow reserve receiver Randall Cobb is dealing with a groin injury, which leaves Jones as the top option for very capable backup Matt Flynn.
Washington @ Philadelphia
Evan Royster (RB) for Redskins – This young man was out to prove something last week, and 132 yards later, he sure did. I’d be surprised to see him duplicate that feat, but not at all surprised to see him around the neighborhood of 80 yards and a score against Philly.
Jeremy Maclin (WR) for Eagles – Maclin finally appears to be back to full health. Coming off his best game since October, he should be treated as no worse than a No. 2 receiver.
Indianapolis @ Jacksonville
Dan Orlovsky (QB) for Colts – Orlovsky has a touchdown pass in all four of his starts and is coming off a good showing against a stiff Houston pass. Against a depleted Jaguars secondary, he should have another nice day.
Donald Brown (RB) for Colts – The Colts mysteriously went back to feeding Joseph Addai one week after Brown turned in a career game and ripped off the team’s biggest play of the season with an 80-yard, game-clinching touchdown run. Though Addai was somewhat effective, I’d be surprised if Brown doesn’t regain the lead role versus the banged up Jaguars’ defense.
Tennessee @ Houston
Jared Cook (TE) for Titans – If you’ve made it this far, why not go down swinging? Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are the only tight ends I’d even consider starting over Cook. He’s just that hot right now.
Nate Washington (WR) for Titans – Washington needs just 69 yards for his first 1,000-yard receiving season. In a must win for the Titans’ playoff hopes, he’ll get it and then some.
Tampa Bay @ Atlanta
Tony Gonzalez (TE) for Falcons – Gonzalez has been quiet the last two weeks with just 55 total receiving yards, but don’t overreact by benching him. He scored the last time the Falcons faced Tampa in Week 3 and has a good chance to repeat that effort given how badly the Bucs have been playing.
Jacquizz Rodgers (RB) for Falcons – No team is playing worse football than the Bucs right now. Their run defense is being gashed for both yards and scores, so with Michael Turner still dealing with a groin issue, Rodgers will have a chance for his best game as a pro when Atlanta builds a big early lead.
Baltimore @ Cincinnati
Torrey Smith (WR) for Ravens – The Bengals’ defense has struggled to stop the pass in recent weeks, allowing even backup quarterbacks to put up at least 225 yards and a score in three straight weeks. That should bode well for Smith, who torched Cincinnati for 165 yards and a score in Week 11 and is now the Ravens’ clear-cut No. 1 target with Anquan Boldin (knee) out.
Jerome Simpson (WR) for Bengals – No one will forget the jaw-dropping end zone flip Simpson performed with versus the Cardinals, but another thing fantasy owners should remember is the 152 receiving yards Simpson piled on Baltimore when they last met. Though A.J. Green was out that game, he is still banged up, so Simpson should remain a big weapon Sunday.
Pittsburgh @ Cleveland
Antonio Brown (WR) for Steelers – Whether Ben Roethlisberger suits up for just half the game or the entire contest, Brown should still be able to produce. He has been extremely consistent since midseason and should be at minimum a flex option regardless of his matchup or quarterback situation.
Peyton Hillis (RB) for Browns – Hillis is back at full strength and finishing the season like he started 2010. With 50 carries, 211 rushing yards and a score in his last two games, including a 112-yard effort versus the Ravens last week, he looks like a good start regardless of the tough matchup.
Seattle @ Arizona
John Skelton (QB) for Cardinals – Skelton has racked up 892 yards and six scores over the last three games, including a 282-yard, three-touchdown performance against San Francisco’s elite defense. With Kevin Kolb still exhibiting concussion symptoms, Skelton will remain the starter and likely continue his strong play when the Seahawks come to the desert.
Andre Roberts (WR) for Cardinals – With at least 75 yards or a score in each of his last four games, and 20 total catches over that span, Roberts has clearly surpassed Early Doucet as the Cardinals’ No. 2 receiver. Though his upside is limited, he is a solid flex option given his recent play.
Kansas City @ Denver
Kyle Orton (QB) for Chiefs – Orton will drown out the boos and play his sharpest game of the year. He couldn’t possibly have more motivation to knock the Broncos out of the playoffs, and his knowledge of the Denver defense can only benefit him and his receivers.
Tim Tebow (QB) for Broncos – With the season on the line, Tebow will not fail. He will produce yards and touchdowns and will return to his turnover-free ways.
San Diego @ Oakland
Malcom Floyd (WR) for Chargers – Floyd missed Weeks 9-12 with a hip injury, and put up duds in Weeks 7 and 14, but he has racked up at least 95 yards in each of the other five non-bye weeks since Week 5 while also totaling four touchdowns. He’s at the minimum a great flex this week, particularly with Vincent Jackson (groin) likely to be limited at best.
Denarius Moore (WR) for Raiders – Moore seems to be Carson Palmer’s favorite target when healthy, and since he looked plenty spry in a Week 16 win over Kansas City, he can once again be started with confidence. In the past two games in which he’s appeared to be at full strength he has picked up 217 yards and three scores, including a 123-yard, two-score effort against the Chargers in Week 10.
Dallas @ New York Giants
Dez Bryant (WR) for Cowboys – Bryant has yet to have a “big” game this year. He hasn’t topped 100 yards once and has seen his opportunities shrink with the return of Miles Austin. But if the Cowboys are going to win in New York, they need to put their best playmaker to work. They will, and Bryant will provide owners that big game they have waited for all year.
Ahmad Bradshaw (RB) for Giants – After hammering the Jets defense for two fourth quarter touchdowns I think it’s safe to say Bradshaw is healthy. He sure looked like he wanted that game more than the Gang Green defense, and I expect that to be the same case Sunday with the division on the line.