By Eric Mack
December 27, 2012
Atlanta's Matt Ryan has been an excellent fantasy quarterback all season, but he's a very risky start in Week 17 since he might not play the entire game.
Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

Fantasy football leagues should end in Week 16. Need convincing? Just look at the Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez led countless teams to the fantasy playoffs, but they're all lineup question marks this week because the Falcons have home-field advantage and can afford to sit their stars.

Head coach Mike Smith didn't offer much clarity for indecisive owners, saying: "We're gonna do whatever it takes to win this ball game in terms of game planning."

Ryan, White, Jones and Gonzalez will play for the Falcons, but for how long? Ryan is the only one owners are forced to sit this week, because the quarterback position needs to deliver so many points for championship fantasy teams. We explore this and other lineup questions in the final Start 'Em, Sit 'Em of the season.


Three starts:

1. Russell Wilson, Seahawks: This rookie has earned must-start status, particularly at home. His matchup isn't particularly favorable -- only the 49ers, Falcons and Ravens have allowed fewer touchdown passes than the Rams -- but Wilson is scorching.

2. Michael Vick, Eagles: This is Vick's big opportunity to earn a starting job elsewhere next season, and he's going against a terrible Giants secondary and a failed pass rush. The Giants are the sixth-worst in fantasy against quarterbacks and have been abused in recent weeks. The conditions are perfect for Vick to finish strong.

3. Philip Rivers, Chargers: Rivers is another mostly down veteran quarterback who can finish strong. Rivers is trying to help Antonio Gates pad his career numbers and will get the Raiders, who are the 10th-worst in fantasy versus quarterbacks, to beat on at home.

Three sits:

1. Eli Manning, Giants: The Eagles are a favorable matchup -- they're the eighth-worst in fantasy versus quarterbacks -- but Manning has choked away the end of this season and just cannot be trusted. Victor Cruz is too dependent on the big plays that just aren't there anymore and Hakeem Nicks disappeared a week ago. There are as many as 15 quarterbacks worth starting over Manning right now, even with the Giants playing for an outside shot at a postseason berth.

2. Joe Flacco, Ravens: He is coming off a career game and has delivered three consecutive solid fantasy performances, but in addition to questions about how much he might play into the second half, he is also facing the Bengals' defense. The Bengals are the sixth-best in fantasy versus quarterbacks, having given up 300 yards only once (in Week 2) and not having allowed multiple touchdown passes since Week 9 (to Peyton Manning).

3. Matt Ryan, Falcons: This sit comes with a caveat: Owners who sit Ryan need to have a strong alternative who will be good for more than 250 yards and two scores. Ryan is going to start and get some easy early points against the worst team in fantasy versus quarterbacks (Tampa Bay). Expect 180 yards and two touchdowns out of him before the Falcons take him out to make sure he's healthy for the postseason. If that's enough production, keep Ryan active. If it isn't, look elsewhere. Don't even think about backup Luke McCown, though.

Running backs

Five starts:

1. LeSean McCoy, Eagles: McCoy was more receiver than rusher in his return last week, but that was against a top-five run defense in Washington. The Giants have the eighth-worst run defense in the NFL and McCoy should get close to 20 carries and more than 100 yards and a touchdown here. He didn't get his owners to the dance, but they should still dance with him.

2. Chris Johnson, Titans: He is easily the most frustrating player in fantasy, because he is so darn promising yet so darn inconsistent. After dropping a mere three points against the Packers, he can be trusted more against the awful Jaguars. The Jags are the second-worst against the run in the NFL and the third-worst against running backs in fantasy.

3. Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell, Jets: It's unlikely owners with championship-caliber fantasy teams need these guys, but both should be good for 60 yards and a score this week. The Bills are last in the NFL against the run and last in fantasy against running backs, having allowed a league-high 21 rushing touchdowns. Plus, the Jets can't do anything on offense but run the ball.

4. Mark Ingram, Saints: Here is your dark horse running back of the week. Ingram got a career-high 21 carries last week and has scored a touchdown in four of his past six games. The Saints still inexplicably give Pierre Thomas starts and double-digit touches -- not to mention Darren Sproles being the most frequently targeted running back in the NFL -- but Ingram's usage has gradually increased as the year has gone on. Ingram should be good for 60 yards and a score (or two) against the eighth-worst team in fantasy versus running backs.

5. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers: After a couple of impressive weeks, D-Will failed against the Raiders last week. Well, he gets a do-over against the fourth-worst team in fantasy versus running backs (New Orleans). Williams will be featured on the ground and through the air against a suspect defense. Consider him good for double-digit fantasy points as he tries to earn a starting job for 2013, either in Carolina or elsewhere.

Five sits:

1. Trent Richardson, Browns: He has been banged up down the stretch and his ankle injury makes him an extreme risk. Even if he were 100 percent, you wouldn't be able to expect more than 50 yards against the Steelers, who are No. 2 in fantasy versus running backs.

2. Mikel Leshoure, Lions: He has good fantasy value because of his rushing scores, but Joique Bell steals carries in a timeshare and the matchup is bad. The Bears have allowed just seven touchdowns to running backs this season. Only the Texans have allowed fewer (five). Leshoure will be kept out of the end zone this week.

3. Vick Ballard, Colts: He has become a feature back on a potent offense that is headed to the postseason, but his disappointing performance against the Chiefs should scare owners away this week. The Texans are still No. 1 in fantasy versus running backs, and they held Adrian Peterson to a season-low eight fantasy points last week. Don't trust Ballard here.

4. Beanie Wells, Cardinals: Not only was Wells benched in favor of La'Rod Stephens-Howling last week, but he has to face a fierce 49ers run defense that is looking to salvage some pride after the abuse it took in Seattle. No Cardinals are useful in fantasy against the 49ers.

5. Michael Turner, Falcons: Sure, owners can pray for the one-yard score again from Turner, but it is more likely Turner gets an abbreviated appearance in a meaningless game. Heck, the Falcons changed the way they approach offense in the regular season to save the wear on Turner for the important games down the stretch. This one does not qualify. Oh, and the Bucs just happen to be the No. 1 run defense in the NFL.

Wide receivers

Five starts:

1. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles: Corey Webster showed against the Ravens that he's one of the easiest targets in the NFL right now. He and the scrub corners who play opposite him are the reason the Giants are the fourth-worst team in fantasy versus receivers. Maclin is a must-start, even if the Eagles are changing quarterbacks again.

2. Antonio Brown, Steelers: While Mike Wallace (hip) is questionable, Brown is a must-start for the eliminated Steelers, who will be playing for pride against a Browns team that dealt them a damaging loss a few weeks ago. Ben Roethlisberger is healthy and should find Brown frequently, perhaps for as much as 120 yards and two scores if Wallace winds up inactive.

3. Danario Alexander, Chargers: After being shut out in Week 15, Alexander returned with a touchdown last week and gets the weak Raiders at home as the Chargers coaching staff vows to go out with a bang. Alexander should be considered among the top 20 wide receivers this week, despite his inconsistency.

4. Julio Jones and Roddy White, Falcons: Ryan was a sit above, but receiver is a different bird (no pun intended). Owners just need a touchdown to get a viable fantasy week from their receivers. Both Jones and White could be good for a score before giving way to Harry Douglas and the backups in the second half. Owners have to keep these guys active if they're starting.

5. Greg Jennings, Packers: He hasn't been a frequent target since his return from sports hernia surgery, but Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson are questionable with ankle issues. James Jones remains a must-start and Jennings should be at least as productive as he was a week ago, when he managed seven catches for 45 yards and a score.

Five sits:

1. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: The move to Brian Hoyer as the starting quarterback might seemingly give Fitzgerald a chance, especially after his eight catches for 111 yards a week ago, but he isn't worth the risk against a 49ers defense that is the fourth-best in fantasy against receivers.

2. Danny Amendola, Rams: He is mostly intriguing in PPR formats, but it's hard to feel confident in him after he caught just two passes for five yards last week and lost a fumble. That was against a Bucs secondary that is the second-worst in fantasy versus receivers. Now, Amendola draws the Seahawks in Seattle. Not only is that an awful place to play for visiting teams, it's also the No. 1 team in fantasy versus receivers.

3. Lance Moore, Saints: He has largely been a matchup play this season in fantasy because of his week-to-week inconsistency. While he is just eight yards from a career high, it is doubtful he is going to get the 80 yards he needs for his first 1,000-yard season. The Panthers have quietly been good against receivers all season, and they are somewhat surprisingly the third-best team in fantasy against them. Moore is a bad matchup play.

4. Josh Gordon, Browns: He's had a solid year by rookie receiver standards, but potentially having to rely on Colt McCoy against the best pass defense in the NFL is a bad, bad thing. Owners should put their Week 17 faith elsewhere.

5. Mike Williams, Buccaneers: No team has allowed fewer touchdowns to receivers than the Falcons, and Josh Freeman has looked like anything but a sure thing down the stretch. Williams is difficult to trust, even if he is coming off his best fantasy week of the season.

Tight ends

Three starts:

1. Antonio Gates, Chargers: He has surpassed five catches and 50 yards only once this season, all the way back in Week 6 versus Denver, but Gates is finishing strong with touchdowns in his past two games. The Chargers have made a concerted effort to help him chase down the franchise record for touchdowns, and he should continue to start for fantasy owners at the erratic position against the seventh-worst team in fantasy versus tight ends. Only four teams have given up more receptions to tight ends than the Raiders.

2. Dennis Pitta, Ravens: He has become more of a factor in the passing game down the stretch, even if he's coming off a disappointing effort against the Giants. The Bengals are in the bottom-half of fantasy against tight ends and Pitta is good enough to keep active in all leagues now.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers: He has saved his best for last, surpassing 50 yards in five of his past six games. The Vikings are the 12th-worst in fantasy versus tight ends and Aaron Rodgers has targeted Finley more of late than he has all season. This has been an awful season for Finley's fantasy owners, but it should be noted that he is going to set a career high in catches if he can reel in just three more passes. The injury woes among the Packers' receivers should help Finley do that.

Three sits:

1. Martellus Bennett, Giants: Bennett was able to replicate his hot start against bad pass defenses in Weeks 13 and 14, but that went down the drain the past two weeks against elite secondaries. Manning's struggles haven't helped. Bennett is a bad play against the Eagles, a top 10 team in fantasy against tight ends.

2. Brandon Myers, Raiders: After a career day against the Browns in Week 13, Myers has fallen flat on his face, combining for just six catches and 32 yards in the following three weeks. Those numbers would be a sub-par output for one game, much less three. The Chargers are also the seventh-best team in fantasy against tight ends.

3. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots: He is practicing on a limited basis, but fantasy owners should not trust him even if he's active against the Dolphins, a top-10 team versus the position. Aaron Hernandez remains the play among Pats tight ends.


Three starts:

1. Matt Prater, Broncos: He hasn't been a top-10 kicker all season, but he is finishing that way. The Broncos should get ample opportunities to use Prater in the event that Manning and company don't want to show all of their best red-zone plays against the Chiefs, who have allowed the fourth-most field goals this season.

2. Garrett Hartley, Saints: He has made multiple field goals in four consecutive games and now he faces the Panthers on his home turf. It should be a three-plus field goal outing for Hartley against the team that has allowed the second-most field goals this season.

3. Rob Bironas, Titans: He hasn't been the trustworthy kicker he was a few years ago, but this is a good week to expect some numbers out of him. The Jags have an awful run defense and the Titans should be able to move the ball at home. The Jags have given up the most field-goal attempts and the most field goals made this season.

Three sits:

1. Jason Hanson, Lions: He is a top-five fantasy kicker and has been a consistent force all season, but it will be a bad week to hope for him to reach double-digits in fantasy points, which is what owners need in the finals. Hanson faces a Bears team that is No. 1 in fantasy versus kickers, thanks to a league-low 23 extra points allowed.

2. Greg Zuerlein, Rams: Most jumped off this rookie's bandwagon weeks ago. Those who haven't should avoid him this week against the Seattle defense, on the road, in front of the 12th man. The Seahawks are the third-best in fantasy versus kickers and only one team has allowed fewer field-goal attempts this season.

3. Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders: He's one of the more beloved kickers in fantasy -- having missed just three kicks, all from longer than 50 yards -- but it's hard to trust him after the dud he put up last week. Also, the Chargers have allowed the fewest field-goal attempts this season. Janikowski is one of fantasy's best kickers, but he may only manage a couple of extra points this week.

Defense/Special teams

Three starts:

1. San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers are coming off a disastrous week in Seattle, but they draw the woeful Cardinals in a rebound game at home. Owners drafted or picked up the 49ers for matchups like this. The Cardinals are the worst team in fantasy versus D/STs and the disappointing 49ers' defense is due for a huge performance here.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers: The NFL's No. 1 total defense hasn't translated into fantasy points, but this week could be an exception against the Browns and their shaky quarterback situation. Consider the Steelers good for a handful of turnovers and at least one defensive score.

3. San Diego Chargers: The Raiders haven't been particularly forgiving against opposing D/STs -- surprisingly ranking 11th toughest -- but that was mostly with Carson Palmer under center. Expect the Chargers to continue their surprising defensive run this week against the likes of Matt Leinart and Terrelle Pryor.

Three sits:

1. Miami Dolphins: This is a no-brainer sit. The Dolphins have served many fantasy owners well as a sleeper against their favorable schedule, but their toughest game of the year is on tap -- even if the Pats might not come full force. The Pats are the third-toughest opponent for D/STs in fantasy and the Dolphins have to be avoided.

2. Dallas Cowboys: The injuries have taken their toll all season and, while the Cowboys need their best performance of the season in a must-win game for the division championship, the Redskins have proven to be the toughest team in fantasy against D/STs. The Redskins have turned the ball over a league-low 14 times this season.

3. New York Jets: The Jets still have a capable defense, but the Bills run the ball well, and the Jets have struggled to stop that threat all season. Also, shaky QB play will continue to plague this unit with poor field position and gaggles of turnovers.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for Track his weekly starts and sits every Thursday, his last-minute Cheat Sheet on Sunday mornings and his Fantasy Fast Forward on Sunday nights. You find also him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice or challenging him to a head-to-head fantasy game @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).

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