With some fantasy championships still to be decided, let's see who will be on the field in Week 17.
The difficulty in figuring out who will and won't play is showcased here. The Pats are always a tough read, but they've also got a combination of different strategies for who plays, who doesn't, and for those that do, how long. Tom Brady will play, though a lead of any sort could get him out. They'll also gameplan to keep him from getting hit. Expect more running than normal, which could be good for Danny Woodhead. (He's more the RB2 than the change of pace this week as I expect BenJarvus Green-Ellis to get less touches in a "rest game.") Players like Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch, and Devin McCourty are less likely to play meaningful games, but each might get a "confidence play" as the team will have the bye week to rest as well. Miami will be tough to read since not only will they be pushing for the win, but there's also pressure to evaluate a lot of players. The coaching staff knows they're being watched closely as well. Anthony Fasano is likely out, but he's the only fantasy-relevant injury.
The Jets appear to be clearing the decks with their players, letting some make cameo appearances while others will get the week off. The inactive list will be very interesting, though it's expected that it won't tell the complete story. Mark Sanchez will play a quarter, at most, while others like Darrelle Revis might not even dress for the game. With a long OIR list this week, any of those, plus any starter, is a tough fantasy play this week. Worse, it's hard to get a read on the value of the backups as well, basically taking a team off the rolls for the fantasy week. The Bills might be without Ryan Fitzpatrick, who didn't practice this week due to an unspecified knee injury. He's a GTD and says he thinks he'll play, but he's hardly a safe bet since this game is essentially meaningless for both teams. If Fitzpatrick is in, Steve Johnson is a better play, but if not, he still might get more targets as the one "safe" WR for Brian Brohm.
The Bengals will be without their big three targets -- Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, and Jermaine Gresham -- come Sunday, but it didn't seem to bother Carson Palmer last week. It will be interesting to see if a tougher defense -- even one that is likely to be resting some key personnel -- will give us a better read on Palmer. The Bengals will be taking a hard look at personnel, with rumors that Mike Brown is going to cut far more than his coaching staff in coming weeks. Baltimore will be resting players, though Joe Flacco and Ray Rice should play significant minutes. It's a bit tougher to get a read on the WRs and on Todd Heap, who's likely to get some light playing time to get some confidence.
Most of the Steelers issues are on defense, where Troy Polamalu is out and several others, like James Harrison and Aaron Smith, are likely to be rested. The offense will be more standard as the team tries to win the game, but they'll look for opportunities to rest and protect players. The Browns have a long list of injuries. Most of it is focused on defense, but Peyton Hillis' general soreness is something they'll watch closely. I expect him to get less touches this week than even last as they try to make sure he leaves his breakout season healthy.
Neither team has much to play for -- one's in, one's out -- but there is some intrigue with both sides' RBs. Darren McFadden has had a solid season between injuries but his latest, an ankle sprain, looks to keep him out this week. He's officially a GTD, but even if he were to play, he'd be limited. On the other side, there might be some thought of resting starters, but the Chiefs are going to let Jamaal Charles go for the rushing title. Richard Seymour is also officially a GTD, but it doesn't look like he'll play. The Chiefs are very healthy, which is one of the reasons they're heading to the playoffs.
Yes, it's possible that Brett Favre will play. Adrian Peterson is expected to play much as he did last week, perhaps a bit less. Completing the set of three, Sidney Rice is out with a concussion. On the Detroit side, Calvin Johnson is a GTD, but should play as he has much of the season. Jahvid Best is a bit more complex, but will play; it's more a question of how much, which will affect his fantasy value.
John Fox will coach his last game, but it's unlikely he'll push players like Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart much. He'll go with depth and be a good soldier despite being stripped of his general's epaulets. The Falcons will rest key players, though they should have a normal starting set. Roddy White is likely to see fewer targets and Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are likely to make early exits.
The Saints were mostly healthy last year and ended up with the Lombardi Trophy. That's no coincidence, but it makes this year's coaching job by Sean Payton even more impressive. The team dealt with a ton of injuries and still are headed back to the playoffs. The Saints are banged up again this week. Pierre Thomas had a setback with his ankle and will be a GTD, meaning Chris Ivory's return from his hamstring strain is even more key. Marques Colston had his knee scoped earlier this week and while he's listed as questionable, there's virtually no chance he'll play. With all this and a playoff spot locked up, the Saints might wave the white flag a little and get Drew Brees out of there early. The Bucs are relatively healthy, or as healthy as any team can be at this stage of the season.
Andre Johnson is out for Sunday and is headed for surgery. This isn't a surprise, but it will be interesting to see just how bad it is and what he's been playing through this season. Not to mythologize here, but Johnson's production this season has to be re-contextualized in light of just how serious this ankle injury is. We can assume that it fluctuated in severity, but finally gave out, the normal course of a pain management injury. My guess is that Johnson's ankle never lost complete structural integrity, but that keeping it braced became ineffectual as the forces he placed on it continued to undue any healing effects. The Texans also have a number of other GTDs. Jacksonville, in a must win, will have to do it with backups. David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew are both out. Garrard had surgery on his hand this week and Jones-Drew is holding off on his knee surgery until the Jags are eliminated. Jones-Drew is getting the "what a tough guy" treatment from all, including his offensive coordinator, but let's consider what might have been. Jones-Drew did put up solid numbers on a sore knee, but he could have had surgery earlier this season, even in the preseason if some sources are to believed. If he had, he likely would have missed just one or two games and would be available for this must-win affair. That's easy to say in hindsight, but being tough doesn't always work out. If you think that's not possible, ask Beanie Wells or Marques Colston. The Jags are also likely to be without Mike Sims-Walker, though there's a chance he can play despite his ankle injury. Playing against the Texans defense, Trent Edwards and Rashad Jennings might be decent, if speculative, fantasy plays.
The Cowboys will be without Jon Kitna, leaving Stephen McGee to play a last game that will see the Eagles resting many of it's key players. McGee won't have Roy Williams and other key players who while the Cowboys evaluate players on their roster. On a fantasy level, you could try to guess right about the RB mix. My guess is that Tashard Choice gets the most looks. The Eagles might let Michael Vick start, but he won't play long. The same goes for DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and others.
With Hakeem Nicks (toe) out, that puts Eli Manning back to that mid-season form of having Mario Manningham and Kevin Boss to throw to. Manningham has had his moments, but the Giants showed a bigger commitment to the run, specifically to Brandon Jacobs, during that point. There's no reason to think that will change, especially with the Redskins unlikely to turn this into a shootout. Ahmad Bradshaw is also hurting, pushing some of his touches to Jacobs, but it appears Bradshaw will play. The Redskins are playing spoiler, so will be less committed to playing injured players like Ryan Torain. He should play, but not be pushed. The same goes across the board, though with Mike Shanahan looking for some positive to end the season on, all bets are off for a normal Week 17 plan.
Mike Tolbert is on IR, giving Ryan Mathews one last chance to prove himself. Tolbert will have company on the sidelines with Antonio Gates and Patrick Crayton. It looks like Malcolm Floyd will give it a go this week. This is interesting only in the sense that Philip Rivers does have a chance for the passing yards title. Denver has a couple key GTDs in Knowshon Moreno, Eddie Royal, and Champ Bailey. All are expected to go, but it's unlikely they'll be pushed too hard, so don't expect big fantasy numbers.
Neither team has any significant fantasy injuries, but the troubling case of Larry Fitzgerald has to be noted. Reading Larry Fitzgerald's
This is a tale of two OIRs. One team is healthy and headed to the playoffs. The other has been fighting injuries all season -- key ones -- and is on the edge of missing the playoffs. Chicago's in, so look for them to be very careful with key starters, including Matt Forte and Jay Cutler. The Packers will have to be less careful. Aaron Rodgers looked fine last week after coming back from concussion and shouldn't have any issues this week. The rest of the long list from their OIR this week will try to get out there and play in whatever sense they can. Watch to see how the Packers use Charles Woodson, who's really banged up, for some key on how aggressive they'll be.
The Colts are in a must-win to avoid the Super Bowl loser's "curse", but they'll be scoreboard watching a bit. The Jags are decimated and if they fall behind the Texans or if the Colts get a big lead, look for the starters -- or what remains of them -- to get rested. That basically means Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, though Jeff Saturday has been fighting through knee problems all season. Manning is in a tight race for the passing yardage title, something he'll notice. The Titans are relatively healthy and will be playing hard. Keep an eye out for Chris Johnson, who has an outside shot at the rushing title, something that would salvage his disappointing campaign.
Matt Hasselbeck is a true GTD with the Seahawks hoping that he's able to take the snaps. The Rams think they'll have Michael Hoomanawanui back and it's pretty fitting that he's the last name in this year's series of Med Checks. They never make it easy for me, do they?