Good morning, Fools. I hope you had a safe and enjoyable New Year's, and you're getting ready to settle in for a day of stress-free football. You shouldn’t be playing fantasy this week, unless it’s in something like a Free for All Bowl. That's what one of my leagues does in Week 17: Everyone, including those who sat out the postseason, sets one final lineup. Highest points for the week wins five percent of the pot. It’s a great way to keep hope alive a little longer, and it gives the losers a final shot at redemption.
So, for the crazies whose championships are on the line in Week 17, or the ones playing Free for Alls, here are a few updates to help you set the best final roster.
First, let's figure out which teams have postseason berths on the line and, therefore, something meaningful to play for.
Baltimore and Pittsburgh both have a shot at the AFC North and a first-round bye. Start your Ravens and Steelers with confidence.
The Falcons are vying for the NFC’s top seed, so expect their starters to lay the hurt on the visiting Panthers, who should already have Andrew Luck’s agent on speed dial. The Saints have a shot at the division, but only if the Falcons trip up. Brees & Co. will be trying.
The Rams, Seahawks, Packers, Giants, Colts and Bucs also have playoff berths and/or positioning on the line.
Meanwhile, all bets are off with the Eagles, Chiefs and Jets, who have nothing significant at stake this weekend. The Bears will know by the time they kickoff whether they have anything on the line (doubtful, since both New Orleans and Atlanta would have to lose).
Judging by recent history, it seems safe to assume that the Pats will play to win. I wouldn’t dream of benching Tom Brady or BenJarvus Green-Ellis against the visiting Dolphins, who will be playing out of their elements, literally. The starters may not get a full workload, but they'll be in long enough to rack up the points. (LATE UPDATE: Welker is inactive, along with Branch.)
For the first time in recent memory, Peyton Manning has something to play for in Week 17. Look for another solid performance from the gunslinger and his receivers, as well as good efforts from both Joseph Addai and, yes, Dominic Rhodes.
David Garrard has been placed on injured reserve, after surgery to repair his broken hand. Trent Edwards pulls a delicious start against the Texans secondary. Consider him an intriguing sleeper play with upside.
Meanwhile, look for Rashad Jennings to put up better numbers in Houston than he did in his first start last week. MJD is out again.
The Seahawks may be forced to roll with Charlie Whitehurst at the helm when they meet the Rams for all the NFC West marbles tonight. Matt Hasselbeck will be a game-time call, due to his hip injury. Whitehurst is not a safe play by any measure, and Hasselbeck isn't much better. I like Bradford in that game, though.
Kevin Kolb should post some serious stats against the Cowboys’ sieve-like secondary. With Vick (quad) out, Kolb will use the opportunity to audition for a starting job elsewhere in 2011. You have to like Jerome Harrison and Jason Avant in this one, too.
It’s hard to expect much out of Carson Palmer on the road against the Ravens, but after his masterful performance against the Chargers’ once-solid secondary, perhaps we shouldn’t be so pessimistic. With both TO and Ochocinco out of the picture, Palmer will try again to make stars out of his up-and-coming WR corps. Which one finds the spotlight this week is anyone’s guess. My pick: Jordan Shipley.
Assuming he starts with his tender knee, Ryan Fitzpatrick should be a solid play against a Jets defense that is expected to rest its starters (including Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie) most of the game. (UPDATE: Fitz is out.)
Favre has passed his concussion tests and will be a game-time call, but I hope you're not counting on him.
Michael Bush could offer some upside despite a tough matchup on the road in Kansas City, as Darren McFadden (toe, ankle) will be a game-time call. Even if RunDMC suits up, he would not be expected to get many reps.
Don’t be surprised if rookie Joe McKnight is the Jets’ leading ball-carrier against the Bills. LT will sit this one out, while Shonn Greene may see only a handful of touches, along with the rest of New York’s key starters. McKnight is an intriguing flex play against the toothless Buffalo run defense.
Peyton Hillis (ribs) will be a game-time call but is expected to play against the Steelers; but as in recent weeks, you can’t count on much out of his battered body. Especially against that defense.
Ryan Mathews won’t have to yield goal-line touches to Mike Tolbert (neck), now that the latter is on IR. Darren Sproles will see more action today too, but Mathews is finally, belatedly, an excellent fantasy start.
Meanwhile, the Chargers should get Malcom Floyd (hamstring) and Legedu Naanee back in the starting lineup against the Broncos, who will probably be missing star CB Champ Bailey. You have to think Rivers & Company will want to wrap up their awful season by making a statement against their division rivals. Consider Rivers, Floyd and Vincent Jackson prime plays. Antonio Gates has been placed on IR.
Derek Hagan will replace Hakeem Nicks (toe) in the starting lineup in the Giants’ must-win contest at Washington. Mario Manningham is an excellent fantasy play, while Hagan should only be deployed by compulsive risk-takers.
Calvin Johnson (ankle) will be a game-time call.
Sidney Rice won’t be suiting up due to a concussion. Bernard Berrian probably will join him on the sidelines thanks to a quad injury.
Consider Jacoby Jones a solid sleeper option again, with Andre Johnson out due to a bum ankle.
Larry Fitzgerald suffered a concussion at the end of the Christmas night game against Dallas. Though his status for today's game has not been released, I can’t imagine the Cardinals risking their only superstar’s health in a meaningless finale.
Chris Ivory (hamstring) could return to action, but I like Pierre Thomas’ odds better against Tampa Bay’s weak run defense. Thomas tweaked his ankle in practice this week, but is expected to play. (UPDATE: Pierre is out.)
Marques Colston almost certainly won’t play after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee earlier this week. Robert Meachem and Lance Moore are in a great position to deliver in Colston’s absence, along with talented rookie TE Jimmy Graham.
That's it for now. Follow my tweets for what is sure to be a long list of inactives. Good luck to those with something on the line.