Thursday, December 25, 2008

Game-planning for Week 17? Good luck

Week 17 of the NFL season is probably the trickiest one to predict from a fantasy standpoint.

You’ve got a handful of teams that already have their playoff positioning locked in. Will they opt to rest their key starters? We saw how that strategy backfired on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. So do teams instead go the New York Giants’ route and give 100 percent in a “meaningless” finale? The Giants players credited their Week 17 loss to the New England Patriots last year as a catalyst for their Super Bowl run.

NFL coaches face some serious conundrums when it comes to resting starters who are nursing injuries and risking their teams losing momentum or getting out of synch come playoff time. And then there are the non-playoff teams: Are they motivated to play spoiler or end the season on a high note, or have they already mentally packed their bags for some sunny offseason locale?

It’s an interesting dilemma, and it makes for some difficult roster calls. Here’s some advice for those whose fantasy teams are still alive this week:

g The Arizona Cardinals clinched a playoff spot weeks ago, but I’d still expect to see at least a few quarters out of Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and the still-healing Anquan Boldin against Seattle. Those three need to get their aerial act together if they want to avoid getting bounced in the first round, so count on them seeing significant time against a bad Seahawks defense coming off an emotional win with little left to play for.

g I’m avoiding Marion Barber and his toe troubles this week unless I have no other choice — and that includes Dallas Cowboys rookie backup Tashard Choice, who’s run for 88, 91 and 90 yards against three of the league’s toughest run defenses the past three weeks.

g Use caution if you’re starting any Indianapolis Colts or Tennessee Titans, as both of those teams already have their playoff spots locked in. A quarter or two of Peyton Manning is probably too good to pass up, but I’d be a little hesitant about starting anyone else in that game.

g Start all your noteworthy San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos in what will be a win-or-go-home, defensively challenged shootout: Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson, Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles, Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler and Eddie Royal. Just bench Broncos RB Tatum Bell — the position’s cursed this year.

g The New Orleans Saints are out of it, but Drew Brees is only 402 yards shy of Dan Marino’s single-season passing record. Brees, Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Pierre Thomas are worth starting, even against the Carolina Panthers, whose playoff positioning has yet to be determined.

g If the Detroit Lions want to avoid an 0-16 season (let’s assume they do) they would be wise to utilize running back Kevin Smith against Green Bay. The rookie matched his single-season high for carries (24) last week and had his second-best rushing total (112) along with a TD. With enough work he could match those numbers against the Packers’ so-so run D.

g If last week taught us anything, it’s to start your New England Patriots no matter what the weather forecast looks like. QB Matt Cassel was simply awesome in the snow, and with a playoff spot still a possibility I expect he and the Pats’ passing game will crush the Buffalo Bills.

g This sounds crazy after the Giants just rushed for 301 yards, but you may want to avoid all of Big Blue’s running backs this week. New York has nothing to play for against the Minnesota Vikings, so they could opt to rest Brandon Jacobs and his ailing knee — which limits Derrick Ward’s threat as a change-of-pace back. Ahmad Bradshaw might end up seeing the most touches, but he faces a stout run defense and a team that still hasn’t clinched a playoff spot.

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