Week 17 title games can be a bit tricky. Many teams have little or nothing left to play for, and so it's more difficult to count on their top talent. Teams with nothing left to contend for or that have already wrapped up a top playoff seed, i.e. the Falcons, will sometimes rest their starters with little or no notice prior to kickoff. It is with that thought in mind that I generally recommend putting your Super Bowl stakes in the hands of players on teams that are still fighting for a final playoff spot or jockeying for seeding. Reserves who get a shot to start or see increased snaps because of an injury are also worthwhile options even if they play for bad teams. These players are auditioning for expanded roles next season or big offseason paydays in the case of free agents.
There are always exceptions, though. High-character talents on bum teams will still come to play, as we saw with Larry Fitzgerald last week and will likely see regardless of what quarterback Arizona digs up to take the field versus San Francisco this week. Jamaal Charles, who was questioned in this column last week, is another example of someone who will continue giving everything he can to a team going nowhere. While he's an obvious start, other players of his ilk are not — looking at you, Run DMC — and should be considered for the bench. Something to consider when making those tough calls is the recent performance of a player combined with his health the last few weeks. Players like Ahmad Bradshaw have dealt with a great deal of wear and tear and are fading, while fresh guys like his backup David Wilson or the Ryan Grant deja vu going on in Green Bay are poised to take advantage of tired defenses. For that reason, names such as Lamar Miller, Kahlil Bell and Jordan Shipley are worth considering in deeper leagues.
At season's end, if you've survived 16 weeks to have something to play for, sticking with the lineup that got you there is usually the best call. But be aware of recent developments with health issues, PT and obviously the on-field performance of the player and his team. Weigh those crucial starting decisions with all these factors in mind, but make the ultimate call based on what you know you will be able to live with during the offseason should things not work out, because the worst possible outcome of a Super Bowl is to have to second guess yourself for those eight long months.
No. 2 QUARTERBACKS
1. Michael Vick at New York Giants - With Nick Foles fracturing his hand, Vick will get one last chance to start in a Philadelphia uniform. This is both an audition for Vick for the rest of the league and a chance for him to put New York's slim playoff hopes completely to bed. Expect Vick to come out extremely motivated and ready to take advantage of a miserable Giants secondary that's been torched the last two weeks.
2. Eli Manning vs. Philadelphia - The Eagles have allowed opposing quarterbacks to get at least two touchdowns in 10 straight contests. In a game the Giants absolutely must have for any hope of defending their title into January, expect the real Eli Manning to step up.
3. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Cleveland - Big Ben was unable to go the first time Pittsburgh and Cleveland met in a game the Steelers gifted away via a whopping eight turnovers. He'll get revenge, though, facing a Browns defense ranked 27th against the pass.
4. Joe Flacco at Cincinnati - Way back in Week 1, Flacco pitched it for 299 yards and two touchdowns on a Bengals team that was not up to speed defensively. Cincinnati has made great strides since, but Flacco is a big-game quarterback who is up to the challenge. With Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta all stepping up lately, and his first 4,000-yard season within reach, expect Flacco to be at his sharpest.
5. Philip Rivers vs. Oakland - Rivers has not put up the yards lately, but he has tossed six scores in the last three games while not throwing a single pick. With the 30th-ranked Raiders scoring defense coming to town, Rivers should keep finding the end zone in what will likely be his last game under Norv Turner.
6. Chad Henne at Tennessee - The Jaguars last win came against the Titans, and though Henne will not have Cecil Shorts (concussion) to make plays for him in this one, he should still be able to produce against a defense playing as poorly as any in the league. Tennessee has given up 29 passing scores this season and allows nearly 250 yards per game through the air. Henne may not post the 260 yards and two touchdowns he notched a month ago against the Titans, but he should get close.
1. Mark Ingram vs. Carolina - Ingram has at least 65 total yards or a score in seven of his eight previous games. He's coming off a career-high 21 carries last week and should continue to have plenty of opportunities versus a Carolina team that's struggled at times stopping the run.
2. Antonio Brown vs. Cleveland - Brown is riding a three-game TD streak and about to face a Cleveland defense that just gave up two touchdowns to a No. 2 receiver and let Brown go for 241 yards and a score in two games last year.
3. Jeremy Maclin at New York Giants - Has anybody else seen how bad the Giants secondary has been the past two weeks? Even Michael Vick will be able to throw on it. Maclin, who is as close to 100 percent healthy as he's been all season, has 293 yards and two scores in his last three games and is poised to continue his hot streak versus a bad New York defense.
4. Jackie Battle vs. Oakland - Battle struggled to produce efficiently last week versus a tough Jets defense. However, in his previous two opportunities as the feature back he posted at least 69 yards and two touchdowns each time. Those numbers are likely a stretch, but a fair amount of yards and perhaps some goal-line chances can be expected versus a weak Raider run defense.
5. Larry Fitzgerald at San Francisco - It would be a major gamble given that Fitzgerald totaled just 89 yards in five games prior to “exploding” for 111 last week, but with a Brian Hoyer actually able to throw within 10 feet of his body, there's a legit shot of Fitz posting another solid day yardage-wise.
6. Kenny Britt vs. Jacksonville - Britt has a touchdown or 100 yards in four of his last five games. Facing a Jags defense ranked 24th versus the pass should provide him some nice opportunities to keep up the good work.
Follow @Hoover_L_A on Twitter.