Welp, we've arrived at Week 17 and if you're reading this column one of two truths applies to you: your league is lame and is forcing you to play your championship game in the worst week of NFL football imaginable (congrats by the way), or you're a borderline fantasy football addict who is trying to squeeze the final drops of unreality football out of a waning season. Either way, you're going to be seeing a slightly adjusted Start/Sit from us this weekend.
Going game by game this week will be incredibly difficult because of soo many different teams playing that are either eliminated or locked into their playoff seed. How those teams will deploy their players is an incredibly tough call. This week, I'm going to give you a list of players to start who have something to play for and have a matchup that is favorable. I'll also give you a list of players who you might want to fade based on the opposite situation. Here we go.
START - Philip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes, Ben Roethlisberger, Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Jared Goff
SUB - Drew Brees, Marcus Mariota, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Mitchell Trubisky, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Nick Foles, Dak Prescott
SIT - All Others
Let's start with the guys who make the offenses go and more importantly, score the most point for your fantasy team. Most of the normal names are safe this week - Goff, Mahomes, Rivers Brady, Watson all have must-win games for playoff seeding purposes. The Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots are all in contention for 1st round byes and the losers might have to play in the Wild Card round. These are your elite starts this week.
Jackson and Big Ben are actually playing for their division title and both have great matchups on paper against the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. Cousins and Luck are also in must-win situations to make the playoffs but they're going up against two top-end defenses with the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans respectively. This could make both a little risky, but if there was ever a time for these guys to prove they are "great" quarterbacks, it will be this week.
Ryan is the only passer on my start list with nothing to play for. The Atlanta Falcons have been eliminated from the playoffs and their season is done, but so is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who represent their Week 17 opponent. Ryan might get rested, but more likely they let him play out the season to pad his stats. There's a little risk here, but a higher level of reward against one of the worst defenses in the NFL of late.
Heading up the list of subs are a couple of names you might recognize with Brees and Wilson. Neither team gains much from a win this and both teams could be looking to rest their top weapons. It would be easy to see both Brees and Wilson start their games and come out after halftime. Rodgers is another big name here. I'm a little more comfortable with Rodgers than I am with the previous two because he had nothing to win last week and had his best game of the year, but there's still some serious risk here. The Packers are not going to risk their top asset unnecessarily - be warned.
Mariota, Mayfield, Trubisky are a trio of dice rolls that could go either way for different reasons. Mariota has been hurt and while this is a must-win game for the Titans, his health is a serious red flag, as is the fact that he really hasn't done much from a fantasy standpoint this year. Mayfield is on fire and has been flat out awesome. Since Week 7 Mayfield has 20 TD to only 6 INT and a 69% completion rate, but he has to face a tough Baltimore defense that is in a must-win spot and that could spell trouble for the rookie. Trubisky needs to win for playoff seeding purposes but the Minnesota Vikings defense has been putting up some strong performances of late and is also in a must-win spot. Both QB's have the skills but are in a situation that isn't ideal.
Darnold and Foles are nice upside plays in games against soft defenses. The Jets are trying to get Darnold more comfortable and that means they'll keep him in the game as long as they can. He's also been quite good recently going for 5 TD, 0 INT and a 66% completion rate against the Texans and Green Bay Packers. The Patriots defense is nothing to write home about so this is a solid flier. Foles is in his element. The chips are stacked against him, the playoff hopes are a long shot, he was the forgotten man again this year and now it's his time to shine. The Washington Redskins are a broken team with nothing to play for. This is another good spot for a sub this week.
START - Todd Gurley, Dalvin Cook, Sony Michel, Derrick Henry, James Conner, Damien Williams, Melvin Gordon, Nick Chubb, Jeff Wilson, Jamaal Williams, Royce Freeman, Elijah McGuire
WORRY - Christian McCaffery, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Joe Mixon, David Johnson, Chris Carson, Lamar Miller
SUB - Tarik Cohen, Marlon Mack, Kenyan Drake, Rashaad Penny, TJ Yeldon, D'Onta Foreman, Jaylen Samuels, Wendall Smallwood, Doug Martin, Spencer Ware, Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon
SIT - Jordan Howard, Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy
Alrighty, this is a complicated and explosive group. Let's look at the stone cold locks - Gurley, Cook, Henry, Gordon. It's really odd to type Henry's name in here but you can't leave him out after 532 yards and 8 TD over his last four weeks. All four of these guys are in must-win situations and all four will get all the touches they can handle for their teams. If Gurley gets held out again, CJ Anderson is a good start after a big performance last week, otherwise, deploy these four as your primary weapons.
McGuire, Wilson, Williams, and Freeman are thrust into feature back roles as the only healthy, talented options left on their respective teams. This list could potentially include Yeldon and Martin as well depending on whether the eliminated teams decide to hold Leonard Fournette and Jalen Richard back. The previous four names all have something to prove this week and that means they'll be going 100% making them great volume plays.
Conner, Williams, Michel, Chubb are a different class of starts. They're all talented enough or have produced at a high enough level that you have to start them at this point. All of them carry a little risk due to the presence of other bodies in the mix. Conner is the preferred workhorse back in Pittsburgh but Jaylen Samuels proved a capable backup and could get some touches. Spencer Ware is healthy now and it's possible the Chiefs split touches between Williams and Ware, giving Williams more work in passing downs. Chubb is probably the safest bet of this group but he's playing against a tough defense and if the game gets out of hand the Browns could pull their young stars to protect the future. Michel is fighting with Rex Burkhead and James White for touches and he's probably the riskiest play here, but he's should get the opportunities.
The "worry" group is a new group I made up for this week and it is exactly what it says - guys, you can't bench but should be very worried about. Every one of these names could see their playing time slashed for numerous reasons including protecting their health and rest. There's not a lot of reason for these stars to play full games this week and I'd be surprised if they all did.
The sublist is pretty thin this week with Yeldon and Martin as my favorites subs as I already mentioned. Mack should get a lot of touches so he'll be a solid volume play, but the Titans defense is really tough on opposing running backs. Samuels, Cohen, Ware, Drake, Smallwood, Edwards, Dixon are all in unpredictable roles but in a thin week like this, they are reasonable emergency starts. Foreman is a potential breakout candidate for this week with the Texans desperate for a running back to step up if Lamar Miller can't go. Penny is a name to watch if the Seahawks outright rest Carson and give the first round pick a chance to shine.
Stay away from Fournette, Howard, and McCoy in games that are awful matchups on paper and likely won't have a script that benefits their styles. McCoy and Fournette could be held out for big chunks of their games for healthy purposes.
START - Tyreek Hill, Keenan Allen, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Calvin Ridley, Jordy Nelson, DeAndre Hopkins, TY Hilton, Corey Davis, Alshon Jeffery, Julian Edelman, Robby Anderson, Kenny Golladay, Jarvis Landry, Adam Humphries
SUB - Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, Chris Hogan, Devonta Adams, Mike Evans, Amari Cooper, Antonio Callaway, Dede Westbrook, Ty Lockett, Doug Baldwin, DJ Moore, Courtland Sutton, Mike Williams, Curtis Samuel
SIT - Larry Fitzgerald, Odell Beckham, Jr.
For the most part, a lot of big names are safe plays this week. Hill, Allen, JuJu, AB, Thielen, Diggs, Nuk, etc. They've all got something to play for this week and a lot of them have favorable matchups, at least on paper. Where this field gets dicey is some of the big names that you might want to fade.
Thomas, Jones, Adams, Cooper, Evans are the group that scares me this week. It's pretty hard to bench any of them, but there's not a lot of logic to these five getting serious playing time. Thomas is especially frightening because the Saints have thrown to all their backups before when it mattered, and now when it doesn't matter? Of this group, Evans and Jones are probably the safest bets but be prepared for them to check out mid-game.
Jones and Evans potentially taking it easy is what pushes guys like Humphries and Ridley into the starting categories. Both ball catchers are still trying to prove themselves and are looking at favorable matchups (against each other's teams in fact). They could each see a bump in targets if the stars take it easy in this one.
Davis, Jeffery, Cooks, Landry, and Woods are all guys who have flashed big upside but also been wildly inconsistent. All of them will need to put their best games forward for their teams this week. Alshon has been much better with Foles at QB with 11 catches and 242 yards over the past two weeks. Woods has been a good start most of the year and that should continue against a beatable SF defense, as should a rebound game for Cooks in a must-win spot. Davis has to help out his QB's in a do or die game on Sunday night to see who gets into the playoffs, the time is now for the youngster to blow up. Landry is a wild card, but Baker is going to throw often and that should mean volume, even against a tough defense.
Most of the other guys on the sub list are playing for teams that are either safe, or out of contention and they're all valuable enough assets that their various coaching staffs may elect to rest them or dial back their workloads with nothing left to prove this year. The exceptions here are Samuel, Sutton, Williams, Westbrook, Callaway, and Hogan who are all trying to carve out a starting role for next year or being asked to step up for the postseason. This latter group provides some big upside plays that I'd be comfortable starting.
Fade Fitz this week in an injured destroyed Arizona Cardinals offense that wasn't any good to begin with. Just avoid that situation. I'm also pretty sure OBJ is on vacation somewhere else already.
START - George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Ian Thomas, Evan Engram, Eric Ebron, Chris Herndon
SUB - Kyle Rudolph, Jeremy Sprinkle, Jared Cook, CJ Uzomah, David Njoku, Blake Jarwin, Vance McDonald, Cameron Brate, Austin Hooper, Rob Gronkowski
SIT - All Others
Here's the thing when it comes to tight ends, they're pretty flaky. The only exceptions to this rule are Ertz, Kittle, and Kelce who are intentionally implemented into their teams offensive game plans, the rest of the world of the tight ends is just hoping for a couple of plays to break down just right for them.
For Burton, Thomas, Engram, and Herndon the games have broken down great for their production more often than not in recent weeks. Aside from a brief Stumble in Week 15, Thomas has been a fantasy stud since Greg Olsen went down and is a trustworthy option yet again. Burton was banished to nothingness for the middle of the season but has bounced back for nine catches and a TD on 12 targets the last two weeks. Engrams been a target monster the past two weeks in a sputtering New York Giants offense and Herndon emerged as a favorable option for the other New York team's rookie QB - Sam Darnold. If Ebron is healthy and on the field, Ebron is scoring touchdowns. This is a solid group of fantasy starters.
Rudolph, Njoku, Cook, Gronk, Hooper are all kind of the same guy. Loads of talent and upside that is inexplicably never capitalized on. It's frustrating seeing what these guys can do when they blow up for 25 points one week, and then for the four weeks surrounding that one, they put up zeroes and two or three points. That said, all of these guys have good matchups and could turn in quality games this week. You probably won't find better production in many other places.
Jarwin, Uzomah, and Sprinkle are upside plays as young tight ends trying to prove they deserve to be featured in that job in 2019. The Dallas Cowboys have no other options and with Jordan Reed hurt yet again, neither do the Washington Redskins. Uzomah is stake his claim to the Bengals gig. Brate and McDonald are your veteran TD vultures who might get there's this week with favorable matchups. There are worse options if you're desperate.
START - New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings
SIT - Tennessee Titans, Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, New England Patriots
Quietly having one of the more consistent fantasy seasons this year, the Saints are a safe play who should be able to hold a wounded Carolina Panthers offense in check at home most of the day. It's a prime matchup on paper as are the Chargers, Seahawks, Rams, and Texans. All of these teams are playing bottom of the barrel offenses and, except for the Seahawks, they all need to win this week.
The Titans have been a solid fantasy defense this year but this week they get Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in, essentially, a first-round playoff game. Win and you're in, lose and go home. I don't foresee the Colts whimpering away in this one and the last time these teams met the Titans scored -3 fantasy points. The Broncos have the sack brothers in Bradley Chubb and Von Miller, but after that, they are a depleted shell on defense. They had been a steady defense much of the year but Rivers and company should have no problem shredding them this week. The Bears, yes the Bears who scored 15 points against Kirk Cousins the last time these two teams met in Chicago, are another team I'm fading. Bold call though it may be, Cousins must have a signature win in his first season as the Vikings franchise quarterback and this is going to be it. At home, with the playoffs on the line, it's now or never. Never, by the way, is when you should start the Patriots defense this week. They are completely turnover dependent, although they do seem to find a way to get a couple every week. Darnold and the Jets will find a way to keep the ball handy and score some points this week. Avoid.