Here we are – the last Depth Chart Watch for the season. It’s been a fun/painful ride, I think you’ll all agree, but we can at least take solace in the fact that the Week 17 edition of this column has become more useful over these last couple years than it was in the past thanks to the bigness of DFS.
Because this is always the wackiest week of the season, let’s quickly cover the playoff-bound teams that may rest their starters for at least part of the game.
Patriots: I anticipate New England rolling to victory against Miami; accordingly, Tom Brady, Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell and Martellus Bennett will likely sit in the second half. However, if the Raiders can keep things close on their end, that wouldn’t be the case, as this game could determine the AFC’s top seed.
Dolphins: If Kansas City appears to be romping over the Chargers early Sunday, the Dolphins’ hopes of playing their way into the No. 5 seed will vanish. In that instance, they’d probably sit their starters in the second half – particularly impacting owners of Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry.
Cowboys: With the No. 1 seed in the NFC locked up, the Cowboys are still saying they’ll roll out their starters in Week 17, but I’d guess that Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant only play the first half at most. It sounds like the Cowboys won’t even risk exposing Tony Romo to injury despite his backup role.
Giants: With a playoff spot in their clutches already and no room to move up, they’ve got nothing to play for. Even though they’ll reportedly roll out the starters to open the game, look for limited showings from Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins.
Steelers: With the AFC’s No. 3 seed on lockdown, look for Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown (as well as the rest of the starters) to sit out Week 17 entirely. The Steelers may be the only team that fully benches healthy starters that way.
Texans: Not that you’re using many of them in fantasy – I think we’re all over DeAndre Hopkins by now – but the one guy you may have been inclined to utilize (Lamar Miller) most likely won’t play in a meaningless Week 17 game.
Having fired their head coach and defensive coordinator (the Ryan bros.), the Bills are also set to displace Tyrod Taylor as their starting QB despite his 329-yard, three-touchdown Week 16 against Miami. They’ll stick EJ Manuel back into that role for the season finale due to what seems to be largely financial reasoning.
Well on his way to leading the Browns to their first win of the season, Robert Griffin ended up getting knocked out of Saturday’s game with a concussion, leaving Cody Kessler to finish off the Chargers. It’ll almost surely be Kessler under center again to wrap up the season.
Gary Kubiak is reportedly giving serious consideration to starting Paxton Lynch over Trevor Siemian in Week 17, and it’s hard to blame him after a 10-point effort by the going-nowhere Broncos’ offense last Sunday.
Tom Savage game-managed the Texans to a narrow Week 16 win, providing exactly no touchdowns in the process. His line – 18-for-29, 176 yards – didn’t exactly offer a major change of pace from what Brock Osweiler was providing, but it was enough that Savage will start in the season’s final week.
Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff returned from his minor concussion to play (poorly) in Week 16. Yay.
New York Jets
Bryce Petty got to attempt exactly three passes – completing none of them, but yielding an interception and two sacks – before the Patriots knocked him out of Saturday’s game (and to IR) with a shoulder injury, leaving Ryan Fitzpatrick to kick the can down the road for the remainder of the Jets’ miserable season.
Entering Week 16, the Raiders were riding high – maybe as high as a first-round bye and a deep playoff run. No more. Derek Carr’s excellent season ended with a broken leg in Saturday’s game, leaving Oakland with backup Matt McGloin at quarterback the rest of the way. That should make you shy away from their receivers in the final week of the regular season.
As mentioned, Roethlisberger has a good chance to sit out entirely this week, which would leave Landry Jones to start in a great matchup (albeit alongside other non-starters) against Cleveland.
Week 16 was the week of passers with broken legs, I guess – Marcus Mariota suffered one too, putting a fitting end to an atrocious game against Jacksonville and an ugly end to a mostly positive sophomore campaign. That led the Titans to utilize veteran backup Matt Cassel, who projects to start their last game of the season.
Kenneth Dixon bounced back from the prior week’s marginalization to easily outrush Terrance West in Week 16 – 12 rushes for 57 yards versus 10 for 27. West did add 28 yards through the air to Dixon’s one, though, so it kind of evens out.
Duke Johnson hurt his ankle Saturday, and if he’s absent in Week 17, it could result in a big boost for Isaiah Crowell against the Steelers’ defensive reserves.
You’ve got no Theo Riddick (wrist) and Dwayne Washington just hasn’t gotten it done; what do you do? Well, you turn to Zach Zenner. The 25-year-old’s biggest snap count of the year resulted in 12 carries for 67 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Dallas, with 25 air yards adding some icing. If Riddick can’t return against the Packers, look for Zenner to enjoy another solid workload in Week 17 as the Lions try to grab a playoff spot.
Alfred Blue actually delivered a credible effort (for fantasy purposes, at least) in Lamar Miller’s place Saturday, compiling 90 total yards and a touchdown on 21 carries and four catches. An ankle injury held Miller out, and he could sit again in Week 17 with the Texans having wrapped up a playoff spot.
T.J. Yeldon hurt his ankle Saturday (and is now on IR), Chris Ivory had to leave with a hamstring issue, and Denard Robinson was already inactive with a hamstring ailment of his own. That caused Corey Grant to pick up nine carries, and he and the freshly signed Daryl Richardson would be the Jags’ primary rushers if Ivory and/or Robinson can’t go in Week 17.
Kansas City Chiefs
Spencer Ware picked up some rib soreness in Sunday’s game, leading to a Monday MRI; no results have been released as I write this. Charcandrick West saw some extra work as a result, but he wasn’t good – 14 rushes for 35 yards. Expectations should be low if he draws a start in the season’s final game.
Adrian Peterson found himself back on the shelf in Week 16 after returning to action for only one game thanks to knee and groin issues. It seems unlikely he’ll play in Week 17, and even if he does, fantasy owners should look elsewhere. Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata resumed their roughly 60-40 timeshare Saturday, and we should expect to see that again as the season concludes.
New England Patriots
Dion Lewis again enjoyed a big role against the Jets (16 carries), but LeGarrette Blount dominated the second-half rushes, including a pair of short touchdown plunges. Neither was terribly efficient against a Jets team that at least defends well against the run, with Lewis offering only 52 yards and Blount just 50 on his 20 rushes. Look for both to see reduced work as the Patriots prepare for the playoffs in Week 17.
New York Jets
With Matt Forte’s knee and shoulder both hurting, the Jets left him on the sidelines for a meaningless and sure-to-be-brutal game against the Pats, allowing Bilal Powell to lead the way in the backfield. However, his 74 total yards probably didn’t win many fantasy titles.
With Latavius Murray struggling to get it going, DeAndre Washington ended up taking away 12 carries in a huge game against the Colts on Sunday – 99 rushing yards, including twin 22-yard touchdowns, plus an 18-yard catch to round it out. Murray managed only 40 yards on 15 carries, with a couple catches for 11 more. Jalen Richard also easily outgained the Raiders’ ostensible No. 1 on the ground (66 yards on six carries!) and scored a touchdown of his own through the air. With a tough matchup and an unclear carry mix heading into Week 17, this looks like a volatile situation to avoid if you can.
Those who expected Ryan Mathews to duplicate his dominance of the Ravens’ formerly excellent run defense in a Week 16 divisional matchup against the Giants were sorely disappointed – he managed only 46 yards on 18 carries. However, a herniated disk caused him to leave the game and will make him sit out Week 17. Meanwhile, Darren Sproles returned from a one-game concussion absence and scored a 25-yard touchdown in the first quarter, though he had a quiet day otherwise. Look for Sproles and Byron Marshall to split the load in the Eagles’ final game of the year.
Bell will likely take a rest in Week 17, leaving either DeAngelo Williams or Fitzgerald Toussaint to carry the rushing load for the Steelers. This situation bears monitoring throughout the week with an appetizing matchup against Cleveland on tap.
San Diego Chargers
It seemed as though with Melvin Gordon out thanks to hip and knee ailments again in Week 16, Kenneth Farrow had a gorgeous opportunity to scorch the worst team in the league, the Browns – but it didn’t work out that way. Farrow ended up carrying only nine times for 28 yards, adding four catches for an additional 29 and thoroughly depressing anyone who started him in the fantasy playoffs. Somehow, Ronnie Hillman managed to be even worse (actually, much worse) – nine rushes for six yards and no catches on two targets. Although he only left the game briefly with a shoulder injury, Farrow ended up getting placed on injured reserve Monday. It’s unclear whether Gordon (currently considered day-to-day) will be back for the final week of the season. If not, Hillman will represent perhaps the least-appetizing starting RB option around.
San Francisco 49ers
Carlos Hyde tore his MCL against the Rams on Sunday, which will finish his season. Shaun Draughn ended up taking 10 horrendously ineffective carries (17 yards), though he at least produced 48 yards on six receptions. This is your starting running back for Week 17, Niners fans. DuJuan Harris should factor in as well.
Thomas Rawls was terrible Saturday – eight yards on eight carries – and then he was hurt. The 23-year-old was slated for an MRI on Monday, and with no results released yet, his status is currently up in the air entering Week 17. Alex Collins is presumably next in line.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In a shocking move that screwed over my DFS lineup, Doug Martin was declared inactive due to coach’s decision for a potentially glorious matchup with the Saints; the coaches apparently liked Jacquizz Rodgers’ rushing work better. Quizz delivered a decent but unspectacular effort, gaining 63 yards and a touchdown on a dozen carries, plus 15 yards on two catches. Martin will reportedly remain inactive for the season’s final game, so Rodgers will likely start again versus Carolina, with Charles Sims working in a third-down role.
Rob Kelley was limited in the second half Saturday due to a knee injury, but an MRI came back clean, which is great news for his owners, as he has only a sprain. Still, the Redskins don’t have a compelling reason to rush Kelley back if he’s still in pain even though they’re still in the hunt; Chris Thompson scored a pair of touchdowns in Week 16 and Mack Brown took a 61-yarder to the house as well. We might even see Matt Jones reemerge from purgatory if Kelley isn’t good to go for Week 17.
J.J. Nelson again led all Arizona wideouts in targets Saturday with seven, and this time he capitalized – three catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. That’s, oh, 89 more yards than Larry Fitzgerald (31) and John Brown (12) put together. It’s not unreasonable to say that Nelson is the No. 1 receiver here for fantasy purposes.
A.J. Green (hamstring) hasn’t yet been ruled out for the season’s final game, but there has been an unconfirmed report in the negative. After the way the Bengals jerked him around in Week 16 – bringing him to Houston on Christmas weekend, then telling him he wouldn’t play and allowing him to go home – it wouldn’t be surprising if the team just lets him heal up. After all, he has a torn tendon in addition to his moderately severe hamstring strain. Anyway, Brandon LaFell pretty much was the Cinci offense in Week 16, reeling in six of 10 targets for 130 yards and a score. Rookie Cody Core was targeted a team-leading 14 times and caught eight, but his haul from that was just 39 yards. Core had been targeted only eight times all season coming in, but he could enjoy a good amount of work in Week 17 as well; there's not all that much upside here, though.
Green Bay Packers
Not that Randall Cobb (ankle) was taking away many targets, but with him inactive Saturday, Jordy Nelson exploded for his best game of the year: nine catches, 154 yards and two touchdowns. Davante Adams caught a score too, and ex-practice squad guy Geronimo Allison even got in on the action with seven targets, catching four for 66 yards. Cobb’s status for Week 17 is up in the air.
Donte Moncrief got back from his hamstring injury Saturday, only to go down with a shoulder ailment – possibly an aggravation of the injury that cost him five games early on this season. He drew only three targets before departing, and yet somehow only one Colts wideout (T.Y. Hilton, naturally) had more, as Andrew Luck threw at his tight ends 12 times and his running backs four times, leaving just a single target for Phillip Dorsett.
New York Jets
Brandon Marshall, Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson – these are guys who shouldn’t be on fantasy rosters right now. Their Week 16 stats don’t merit mentioning, but it’s worth noting that Marshall left with a hip injury. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for the Jets to roll him out in the season’s last game.
Brown’s another one of those Steelers who probably won’t play in Week 17. With Sammie Coates still recovering from a hamstring injury, he probably won’t either. I’d anticipate that Darrius Heyward-Bey and Eli Rogers do play though, and they’ll offer some fantasy appeal with a presumably solid target load.
DeSean Jackson hurt his jaw in Week 16, but he caught five balls for 114 yards before departing – his fourth 100-yard game in five. He’s considered day-to-day heading into Week 17. Meanwhile, the formerly ultra-reliable Jamison Crowder has taken a hard fall – just seven catches for 64 yards over the last three weeks, including a single three-yarder Saturday. It’s not a game-flow thing – after all, Pierre Garcon has maintained his typical level of semi-productivity over that time.
C.J. Fiedorowicz (concussion) got back out there Saturday, catching four balls on seven targets for 42 yards. Ryan Griffin was marginalized accordingly (no catches, two targets).
Ladarius Green (concussion) didn’t go Sunday, leaving Jesse James to make four catches for 49 yards. Xavier Grimble also got meaningfully involved, nabbing a 20-yard touchdown pass. Those two will probably split duties in Week 17 even if Green’s healthy enough to play.
San Diego Chargers
Antonio Gates was the Chargers’ most heavily utilized receiver Saturday – 13 targets, eight catches, 94 yards and a touchdown – while Hunter Henry wasn’t targeted at all. Look for Gates to see heavy use again in what may be his last NFL game Sunday.
Jordan Reed (shoulder) ended up back on the sideline for Week 16, and he’s reportedly in the day-to-day category approaching the season’s final game. With Washington going nowhere fast, it doesn’t seem likely he’ll play. Vernon Davis would draw another start in that case, but he’s faded badly of late, including netting just a single 13-yard catch in Reed’s place Saturday.