Start or Sit: Week 17

Eric Decker looks to continue his hot streak in the final regular season week.

There are plenty of reasons for a fantasy league to continue into Week 17. Perhaps you’re in a massive league, and need the 17th week in order to have a long enough playoff between the multitude of squads. Or maybe you’re in one of those leagues with a two-week championship, extending into Week 17. There’s a chance, too, that your league is a points only league, where single-week matchups won’t dictate or skew season-long results like a single-week championship game will.

Yet, if you’re playing fantasy football in Week 17, and if you let other fantasy degenerates know, I can guarantee you’ll hear backlash.

”Bro, why are you playing in Week 17? Don’t you know that teams are going to rest their starters?”

I won’t be that guy. I’m going to assume you’re aware of why Week 17 fantasy football is unwise, and I’m just going to move forward, giving advice like I would any other week.

But seriously, why are you playing fantasy football in Week 17?

Start 'Em

Week 16 Championships: Smart Choice (Solid Starts)

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

You may be a little hesitant to start Cam after last week’s game against the Saints, but you have to feel confident any time an above average quarterback faces the Falcons.

Though they’re no longer the worst secondary in the NFL according to our metrics – something they’ve been up until Week 16 began – Atlanta still ranks 31st against the pass, and have allowed at least two total quarterback touchdowns in each week outside of when they faced Matt Flynn.

Advantage Newton, who will be leading the Panthers to anywhere from the one to the six seed in the NFC this weekend.

Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

At this point in the season, it’d be quite difficult to sit Foles for nearly any quarterback. Since his seven-touchdown performance against Oakland in Week 9, Foles has scored no fewer than last week’s 18.9 fantasy points, consistently putting up QB1 numbers.

The Eagles will face Dallas in a must-win game this weekend, a team that ranks 31st against fantasy quarterbacks, and one that’s in the bottom half when you adjust their Defensive Passing Net Expected Points numbers for strength of schedule. Foles is a good bet to be a top performer in the final regular season week.

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears

The Bears looked completely lost against the Eagles last week, but are fortunately – for fantasy owners – still playing relevant football here in Week 17. Though quarterback Jay Cutler threw for just 222 yards and one score last week against a bottom-10 secondary, he should bounce back against a Packers defense that ranks 26th against fantasy quarterbacks. When you have the weapons Cutler does, you have to feel confident – last week may have just been Cutler hitting his fantasy floor.

Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers

There’s question as to whether or not Eddie Lacy will play this weekend, but if he does, there may be no better running back play in Week 17. Lacy has scored 63.6 half-point PPR fantasy points over his last three games, and this week will be facing a Chicago rush defense that has been the worst in the entire NFL this year.

And regarding Chicago, it really hasn’t been close. According to our Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP data, Chicago has allowed 74.58 more points than they should have this year on the ground, which is nearly double that of the 31st-ranked team, San Diego. Lacy will punish this defense if he’s healthy.

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh’s rookie runner has been one of the more underrated fantasy assets this year, showing consistency that you really can’t find many other places. He has at least 10 half-point PPR fantasy points in all but one game this season, and has scored a touchdown in three of his last four games. Against Cleveland, ranked 21st when it comes to surrendering fantasy points to the running back position, Bell’s a great bet to finish as a top-10 or -15 back this week.

DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia’s blowout win last week forced the team to run, run, run, and it left DeSean Jackson with just four catches for 29 yards. Prior to the contest, however, Jackson had 14 catches for over 250 yards and two touchdowns in his previous two games.

This week, the Eagles will face the Cowboys, who, as noted with Foles, have a very suspect pass defense. Play D-Jax with confidence.

Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos

If not for the Broncos’ blunder against San Diego on Thursday Night Football a couple of weeks ago, Decker could be having a near flawless last four weeks. Including that game, where Decker caught just two passes for 42 yards, Decker has averaged 9.5 receptions, 116 yards and 2.3 touchdowns per game.

The Broncos are still playing for the one seed in the AFC this weekend, and will do so against an Oakland secondary that ranks third-to-last against the pass according to our metrics. It’s a good thing Denver did lose to San Diego two weeks ago, because it’s allowed fantasy owners to continue to reap the benefits of their offense during this final week.

Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers

Davis is the second-best tight end this season despite last week’s goose egg, and has the best tight end matchup imaginable in Week 17. Arizona, San Francisco’s opponent, has allowed 12 tight end touchdowns over their last 10 games, a ridiculous total given the position’s inherent volatility. Vernon is a must start.

Points Only Leagues: Not Bad (Sneaky Starts)

Terrelle Pryor, QB, Oakland Raiders

Terrelle Pryor will be getting the starting nod for Oakland this week, playing against a Denver team that ranks 23rd when it comes to surrendering fantasy points to quarterbacks and 21st against the pass when it comes to Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points.

The last time Pryor played Denver, he was able to score 20.8 fantasy points – albeit mostly in garbage time – en route to his second-highest total of the season. Of all the fill-in passers, Pryor has the most upside.

Kyle Orton, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Another quarterback option this week, though not as attractive as Pryor, is Kyle Orton. And it doesn’t really have much to do with him, as he has just 12 completions since the 2011 season ended. Rather, it has to do with Philadelphia, his opponent, who have the ninth-worst pass defense in the league in NEP terms, and the sixth-worst one when it comes to giving up fantasy points to quarterbacks. If you’re in a severe pinch, you could do worse than Orton, a top-20 passer this week according to our projections.

James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers

Take everything I said about Eddie Lacy above, subtract some talent and ceiling, and attribute it to James Starks if Eddie Lacy can’t go. If he’s still on your waiver wire, it may be a worthwhile add in case that happens.

Knile Davis, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have the five seed locked up in the AFC, and it’s already been reported that they’ll be treating their final game like a fourth preseason game. In other words, the starters may play a drive or two, but expect a heavy dose of backups.

That leaves rookie Knile Davis to replace stud Jamaal Charles, meaning a waiver wire guy – Davis – could end up seeing 15 or so touches this week. Against a bad defense, that’s always a positive thing for fantasy owners to note.

Nate Burleson, WR, Detroit Lions

The Lions were eliminated from the playoffs by the Giants last week (we all saw that coming, right?), making this Week 17 game irrelevant to the team. Calvin Johnson’s questionable with a knee injury, so when you combine these two facts, it would make sense for Megatron to sit out.

In place of Calvin comes the disappointing Nate Burleson (I say disappointing because of the way he played in his debut post-pizza accident), who would slot in as the Lions top receiver. He’s worth a look if you have a questionable starter in your lineup.

Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks

Tate has a sprained thumb, which has made him questionable to play this week. If he does end up going against St. Louis, a team that is listed as a bottom-10 one against the pass defensively, he could come up big. The last time he faced them, Tate caught five balls for 93 yards and two scores.

Coby Fleener, TE, Indianapolis Colts

It’d be pretty tough to trust Coby Fleener in any sort of game with pride or money on the line, considering he’s caught just two passes for eight yards over his last two games combined. However, Jacksonville ranks 31st against tight ends, having allowed four or more tight end receptions in every game since Week 10. Oh, and the last time Fleener faced Jacksonville, he caught five passes for 77 yards and a score. I like his upside.

Defense to Start: Washington Redskins (vs. New York Giants)

Sit 'Em

Two-Week Championships: Could Be Better (Risky Starts)

Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

As I wrote about earlier in the week, Andy Dalton is a fantastic real (and fake) football quarterback when facing bad defenses. This week, however, Dalton will go up against Baltimore, who come in with the 14th-best pass defense in the NFL. Moreover, Baltimore’s held Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford to a combined 19.2 fantasy points over the last two weeks. I’d have a hard time playing Dalton this week, and wouldn’t come close to assuming he’ll match his Week 16 totals.

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

Outside of the crazy Drew Brees performance against Carolina in the Superdome, the Panthers have given up, at most, just one passing touchdown in each game this season. Given the fact that Matt Ryan has struggled down the stretch, I’d be fearful to play him against the Panthers.

Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

Like I said with Knile Davis, Kansas City will more than likely be resting their starters, including fantasy football MVP candidate Jamaal Charles. This is the first and only time he’s been on this list all season long, and just gives you another reason to stop playing in fantasy leagues where Week 17 matters. Just saying.

Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens

After Rice’s 131-yard game against Chicago in Week 11, he’s combined for 225 rushing yards in his four games since. The reason? Well, Rice, all year long, has only been able to perform against bottom-of-the-barrel defenses.

Things won’t be getting any better this week against the Bengals, who play better at home than they do on the road defensively, as shown by our own Leo Howell in this article. Despite the injury to Geno Atkins earlier this year, the Bengals still rank 14th against the run according to our Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP metric.

Anquan Boldin, WR, San Francisco 49ers

Boldin’s been fantastic this season, and currently leads all wide receivers in Target NEP, a statistic that looks at how many points a pass-catcher is adding on all targets. If not for volume restrictions in the San Francisco offense, Boldin could have been a legitimate stud in fantasy this year.

But despite his six-catch, 72-yard, one-touchdown line last week, Boldin faces an uphill battle in Week 17 against Arizona’s fifth-best defense against fantasy wideouts. He faced them in Week 6, and caught just three passes for 28 yards. To make matters even worse, Arizona has had just two games since their bye where they’ve allowed a wide receiver touchdown.

Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers

If you’re an Antonio Gates owner, you know that he’s fallen off over the past five weeks, catching no more than five passes in a game (usually getting three or so), and seeing zero games with 50 or more yards. Trusting him against the best team versus tight ends, Kansas City, even if they rest starters on defense, is a risky proposition.

Week 17 Championships: Why? (Bad Starts)

Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants

If I could use two words to describe Eli Manning’s fantasy (or non-fantasy) season, it’s “Eli face.”

Think about this: Eli has had two games – just two – this season where he’s thrown for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Two. And in Eli’s 15 starts through Week 16, he has three games with fewer than 200 yards, and 12 with one or zero touchdown passes. In today’s NFL, that’s atrocious.

Starting Eli Manning in a fantasy championship is like being upset over Justin Bieber’s retirement – a terrible idea.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Though Mendenhall sees decent volume in Arizona’s offense, he still hasn’t rushed for over 70 yards in a game dating back to Week 10, despite having at least 12 carries in each game. San Francisco, his Week 17 opponent, ranks 10th against fantasy running backs, and is a top-12 unit according to our metrics at stopping the run. If I’m in a ‘ship, I wouldn’t use Mendenhall as anything but a desperation flex.

Harry Douglas, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Douglas has rewarded his owners more than they could have asked for since Julio Jones went down for the season with an injury, but has recently become a simple PPR WR3 in fantasy, thanks to Roddy White’s reemergence. He has 12 catches over his last three games, which is fine, but he’s also combined for just 103 yards and hasn’t hit the end zone once. If you’re in a standard league, you’re hoping for a Douglas touchdown which hasn’t been happening, making him a risky, risky play.

Zach Miller, TE, Seattle Seahawks

Miller did score last week in a game against the aforementioned tight end-friendly Arizona Cardinals, but he still only has three catches over his last three contests, seeing targets that are on par with tight end teammate Luke Willson. St. Louis, his opponent this week, is a sneaky team against tight ends, ranking second against the position in fantasy points allowed. Miller can help win a championship from your bench.

Defense to Sit: Kansas City Chiefs (vs. San Diego Chargers)

For any other start or sit questions, visit numberFire’s Questions section and take a look at our weekly rankings.