Week 17 proves tricky in fantasy with playoff implications, injuries
Who knows how much the Packers' stars will play, but Lions playmakers are sore
Maurice Jones-Drew will get plenty of carries as he seeks the rushing title
The Cowboys and Giants will go all out on Sunday night with the playoffs at stake
So we're in Week 17. Most of us have crowned a champion in our fantasy leagues, but there are still a lot of you out there playing to win. The NFL has tried to make the last week of the season more relevant, locking in division games for the across the board. I'm not sure that rule has made much difference. While you can make the argument that there are no meaningless games, there's not much in the way of games that change how teams will play things. This was about not having teams coast through the last weeks of the season (Thanks, Polian!), and that's still happening.
From a fantasy perspective -- and let's face it, this rule was a lot about fantasy -- it's not working out well. Luckily, the bulk of leagues end in Week 16, and with the season ending on New Year's Day, viewership is likely to be way down as well. That's no coincidence. Fantasy football isn't everything for the NFL, but it's a big part, much in the same way that March Madness fuels the rest of the college basketball season. Twenty teams are about to head home for the winter, to rebuild or rehab, and when it comes to injuries, Week 17 is as important as any other. Something that happens now can affect the playoffs or even next season, as Adrian Peterson's knee injury showed. Let's look around the league as we say goodbye to 2011.
GB: Wow, Mike McCarthy is resting nearly everyone. Aaron Rodgers, James Starks, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson are all inactive.
HOU: Arian Foster is inactive, making Ben Tate a solid play. Andre Johnson will start.
PHI: LeSean McCoy is inactive, as I'd expected earlier this week. Late reports that he was going to play seem off.
BAL: There have been no updates on Anquan Boldin. News came out Friday that Boldin had potentially been cleared to play. I'm watching for any reports that Boldin is warming up to test his surgically repaired knee.
WAS: Reports confirm that Roy Helu will get the start, but that Evan Royster will get a "fair share" of work. Trying to predict the actual split is folly.
SF: In the most speculative fantasy play of all time, Joe Hastings is active for the 49ers, and with injuries and the waiving of Braylon Edwards, he could see some action today. Hastings could see passes from Colin Kaepernick, who could spot in by halftime for Alex Smith.
DAL: Don't think activating Chris Greisen means anything for Tony Romo's status. He's playing and has shown no real issue with the hand, aside from recurrence risk.
MIN: Adrian Peterson had his ACL surgery on Friday. Everything went well, and he'll begin rehabbing with a goal of return sometime in September.
DOWNGRADE: Calvin Johnson, Kevin Smith, Aaron Rodgers
The whole question of this game is how much Mike McCarthy will play his starters. After getting great results from a line shuffle last week, the Packers have no real questions heading into the final week. Discerning who will play and won't play is less about injuries than about who McCarthy wants to see on the field and for how long. Detroit doesn't have the same situation as they prep for the playoffs, but they're more likely to try to protect sore players like Johnson and Smith knowing that they'll be needed next week.
UPGRADE: Ben Tate
DOWNGRADE: Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, Owen Daniels
Both teams will be conservative. The Texans want Johnson to get some time on the field with T.J. Yates, but they won't risk any sort of re-injury. The same holds for Foster, who could see Tate get the bigger share of carries. Actually, the Texans could do that with anyone on the official injury report, which is about half their active roster. Tennessee will be conservative with Chris Johnson and Matt Hasselbeck, but they'll try to go out on a high note, so expect both to play normally.
UPGRADE: Maurice Jones-Drew
There are only draft picks and a rushing title on the line in this game so don't expect either team to push things too much. The Colts aren't likely to risk Dallas Clark, who injured his neck coming back off a broken leg, though he did practice extensively this week. The Jags are thin at WR and want to lock in the rushing title for Jones-Drew, so expect that to be their offensive and defensive focus.
DOWNGRADE: Shonn Greene, Reggie Bush, Brandon Marshall
The Jets are all hands on deck for a make-or-break game. LaDainian Tomlinson is a bit worrisome given a quad strain after his earlier knee sprain, but the Jets aren't risking much and Tomlinson, looking for one more playoff run, is accepting of the situation. D'Brickashaw Ferguson looked a step slow the last couple weeks and an unspecified foot injury (I'm hearing toe) could explain some of it. The Dolphins ruled out Bush early for his minor knee injury. This gives them problems at RB, with Daniel Thomas coming back from a knee injury of his own and showing no durability as a rookie. Bush's early "out" signals that while the Dolphins are talking spoiler, they're already packing up. Expect them to protect any injured player like Marshall or Vontae Davis
UPGRADE: Khalil Bell
DOWNGRADE: Christian Ponder
Neither team has much to play for, so they won't push things. Ponder is expected to play, though Joe Webb will see "packages," according to most reports. The Bears will go with Bell again this week with Marion Barber not likely to get many touches, if he's even active.
DOWNGRADE: Tom Brady, Aaron Hernandez
Panic! Brady had his shoulder looked at after he had pain and swelling following last week's game. Even so, it's his non-throwing shoulder so absent some real evidence that he's risking something, the Pats are likely to have him out there as they make some line adjustments. He's very unlikely to play the whole game with the bye locked up, so be careful here more than usual. With the line banged up, Brady's a bit more at risk. Look for them to play two TEs and hold in Hernandez more than usual for blocking. That helps the running game some and the short passing game. The Pats have a long list of injuries, so they'll look to win but win safely. Buffalo is mostly healthy with their fantasy relevant players, but even those haven't been great plays in the second half.
UPGRADE: Chris Ivory
Mark Ingram and Lance Moore are out. There are several on the defense that are dinged up. On top of that, the Saints are locked in, and while Sean Payton says they're playing hard, they'll also be playing smart. We could see Chase Daniel, for sure. Carolina is essentially healthy, as it has been since losing people to IR at the start of the season.
UPGRADE: Ronnie Brown
DOWNGRADE: Roy Helu
Evan Royster had a nice week last week ... which means that the Redskins won't start him. No, Helu could be back from his toe injury and let's face it, he's a better back. All year long, the Redskins staff has looked at Helu and Royster and put Helu higher on the depth chart. One good week in relief doesn't change that. It might change Helu's touches a bit, so he's a risky play. Look to see if Helu's active before going with Royster. On the other side, there's little chance in LeSean McCoy catching up for the rushing title, so I'll be surprised if he plays on his sprained ankle. Even if he does, he won't get normal carries, meaning Brown's a decent enough play.
DOWNGRADE: Steven Jackson, Frank Gore
The Niners are likely to rest a lot of players, including Gore and Patrick Willis, despite holding the bye. Sam Bradford is likely out again as the Rams will be scoreboard watching to see what the streaking Colts do in Jacksonville. There's some question about how much Jackson will play as well, with Adrian Peterson being an object lesson.
The only fantasy relevant situation here is no surprise: Kevin Kolb isn't expected to play. John Skelton gets the start again. Beanie Wells was on the official injury report all 16 games this season, so give him points for consistency and get used to it in the future. The knee situation was well managed, and note that it will likely be the same next year, making him a likely underdraft. We've seen his potential go down, but don't discount him as a solid RB2.
UPGRADE: Michael Turner
The Falcons are locked into the playoffs, but a win could get them out of a trip to New Orleans (or San Francisco). They'll want to rest their banged-up roster, but only after they get a lead on the Bucs. That means Turner, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas will all play. There are some defensive depth issues, but Tampa won't challenge those much. The Bucs are more likely to rest players like Albert Haynesworth and Arrelious Benn, but they're also looking to play spoiler.
The Bengals clinch the playoffs with a win, so they'll be going for it. A.J. Green is the only concern, but his shoulder was no problem last week. He should be fine. Baltimore has no major injuries but could rest players, especially if it gets a lead. Watch to see how much Ray Lewis plays. The toe is still a major issue for him and reminds me of Troy Polamalu last year with his Achilles strain. Like Polamalu, Lewis is a step slower due to the injury, and it affects the whole defense. The bye would really help.
UPGRADE: Peyton Hillis
DOWNGRADE: Ben Roethlisberger
With Colt McCoy still out, the Browns have no other major injuries. Not many seem to have noticed how well Hillis has played when healthy this year, but he's making his case to be a solid comeback player next year wherever he ends up. Pittsburgh would love to get the bye, but it will have most of its dinged-up players, including Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey, on the field to start the game. I think the Steelers will protect Roethlisberger and rest him later in the game, lead or not.
UPGRADE: Dexter McCluster
DOWNGRADE: Jackie Battle
With Battle out, McCluster becomes an interesting play. Denver's only injuries are on the defensive side, which again helps McCluster. The Tim Tebow-Kyle Orton shootout is likely to be a grinder game that could be decided by stamina more than health.
UPGRADE: Curtis Brinkley
DOWNGRADE: Ryan Mathews
The Chargers' disappointing season can't be hung on any one man. In fact, the RB tandem gets some of that blame since they weren't healthy at the same time all season. Week 17 is no different, with Mike Tolbert and Mathews both banged up again. Mathews is less likely to play with his calf strain, though he'll be a GTD+. Tolbert will play but won't get his normal touches, even without Mathews spelling him. Jacob Hester and Brinkley will get some touches depending on role. The Raiders won't have Darren McFadden again, but they should get Jacoby Ford back. He's not 100 percent, but he'll go as the Raiders try to sneak into the playoffs.
UPGRADE: Victor Cruz
DOWNGRADE: Jake Ballard
The playoffs start a week early for Sunday Night Football. The winner is in as the NFC East champ and, as usual, it could come down to health. Tony Romo comes off a hand injury, and early signs are positive. He's been able to grip the ball and throw, but there's still some swelling and the worry is that any contact might make the hand swell again. That could cost Jason Witten some catches and keep Laurent Robinson off the field if they go two TEs to help protect Romo. Felix Jones is also expected to be back. He's running well, but he's always a risky start, let alone so close to a hamstring strain. The Cowboys have some other minor injuries, but all are expected to play. The Giants have a number of injury concerns. They have positive reports on Ahmad Bradshaw and expect Osi Umenyiora back, though he'll be rotated in with Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are both GTD+ with leg injuries. Nicks' status is the one to watch leading up to kickoff. Ballard is going to try to go on a sprained knee, but there's no telling what he will or won't be able to do.