For most of you, this is it—championship week.
This is the week where you can earn fantasy football bragging rights for the next year—and maybe even a little spending cash.
Even if you lose, you got to the finals, and that's something to be...well, "proud" might be a little much, but it's something you should be happy with.
There are a lot of variables in any week, and never is your fate more out of your hands than it is at this point in the fantasy season.
It takes skill to get into the playoffs and a fair bit of luck to win the trophy.
Hopefully we've been a help here at Bleacher Report between articles like this and the live fantasy show on Sundays. I've seen plenty of folks helping each other in the comments, which is cool.
So, let's get on with it and help you get set for your fantasy championship.
What Would Bill Belichick Do? Probably not play fantasy football, actually.
I hesitate to say "rules" because these are more like suggestions or guidelines, but I guess rules works since I think they're pretty important.
At least consider these four items "food for thought" as you set your lineups this weekend.
1. Start Your Studs
You might think this is a silly rule—after all, why would you bench any of your best players? Ever?
Yet every week I get questions on Twitter or in my Footballguys email about whether someone should bench a top fantasy player with a bad matchup.
So let’s just get it out of the way right now.
Barring severe injury, if you have a top-end player at any position, you start him.
2. Be careful with your depth players
While there are guys you never sit, this is the week to take a hard look at the players who fill out your No. 2, No. 3 or flex slots.
I’ve been preaching all year that it’s the deeper parts of your roster which will win you a fantasy championship—or lose it.
So while you plug in Calvin Johnson every week regardless of his opponent, you have to be much more careful with guys like Julian Edelman, Giovani Bernard or Greg Jennings.
Players like that can help you or kill you, so make sure you spend some extra time maximizing those slots.
3. Follow your gut
You may have gotten a ton of advice from experts and other players, but it’s been you who set your lineup each week.
There have probably been times when you saw something which flew in the face of everything you were being told by others. You might have followed it and it might have paid off.
Follow your gut—it got you this far, and if you’re feeling something about a player, more than likely it’s worth at least strongly considering.
4. Set your lineup, forget your lineup
Do not spend this weekend stressing about the finals. Worry about your lineup until kickoff of the first Sunday game and then let it go.
Enjoy the weekend and the games. If you’re watching with your opponent, you might keep an eye on the score as the day goes on (because trash talking is fun), but be gracious whatever the result.
You got this far—it doesn’t happen every year. Enjoy it.
Who is this man in the mustache?
I’ve been getting some questions about whether to play Aaron Rodgers if he starts this weekend.
It’s a fair question, and one I thought was worth its own slide.
When we thought he might play last week, most people seemed to feel that it was worth the risk—and if you thought that way last week, you should this week.
I know it seems more serious because, for most leagues, this is the week of the fantasy championship.
The truth is the only thing that has changed is the amount of money you win.
As was stated in the last slide, follow your gut. If you feel too nervous to start Rodgers, then don’t.
Obviously you had a good enough replacement to get you into the finals, so barring a disastrous matchup, you should be fine.
We’ll find out about Rodgers sometime Friday, so don’t worry about it right this second.
For me, if I had Rodgers on a team in the finals (and I don’t) I would start him. The upside is too great to miss out on unless I had a fantastic player matchup.
And even a Nick Foles or Philip Rivers—both of whom will produce a ton this week—might not be enough to bench Rodgers.
This is the reason you held onto him. The matchup isn’t a bad one.
If he plays, I’d play him.
Nick Foles vs. Chicago Bears
Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Wednesday that Nick Foles had an abrasion on the back of his throwing hand, but told reporters it was “nothing.”
Expect Foles to play, but as always, keep an eye on the news and have an alternative ready—just in case.
Foles has an excellent matchup against a Chicago Bears team which allowed 273 yards and a touchdown to Cleveland Browns quarterback Jason Campbell. They did pick off a pair of passes as well, but considering the opposition, it’s nothing to worry about.
It's even less of a concern with Charles Tillman gone for the year.
In Week 14, the Bears held Tony Romo to just 104 yards but allowed three touchdowns.
The Bears will allow touchdowns, yards or both.
Foles will give you the best of both worlds—heavy yards and touchdowns—and while he has turned the ball over once each of the last two games, he also just threw for over 400 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
He’ll be fine.
Philip Rivers vs. Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders usually play their fellow AFC West teams tough, but they were absolutely taken apart by the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15.
Although it might be more accurate to say they were more obliterated by Jamaal Charles’ run-after-the-catch ability than Alex Smith’s arm (more on that below).
Rivers has scored a touchdown in every game this season—often more than one. Last week he was shockingly ineffective against the Denver Broncos but still managed two touchdowns and—more importantly—got the win.
The Raiders are not a good defensive team and Rivers is consistently productive.
He should be an excellent start this week.
Alex Smith vs. Indianapolis Colts
This has very little to do with the five-touchdown day because that’s a stat that is the definition of “misleading.”
Four of those touchdowns were to Jamaal Charles and he did the bulk of the work—overall, Smith’s touchdowns traveled a combined 13 yards through the air, according to the Associated Press’ Josh Dubow.
No, the reason you like this matchup is because the Colts are bad against the pass when it comes to teams who are good at passing.
The Cincinnati Bengals’ Andy Dalton threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns in Week 14. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer dropped 314 yards and two touchdowns on them.
While Smith isn’t Peyton Manning, he has proved he can throw the ball well. The Colts are going to have their hands full with the offense and continue to have issues generating pressure.
This is a good matchup, and Smith will have a solid week.
Knowshon Moreno at Houston Texans
Like most of the Denver Broncos offense, Knowshon Moreno choked against the San Diego Chargers, but you can expect him to bounce back in a big way against the Titanic of the NFL: the Houston Texans.
The only worry about him—what keeps him from being a guy who can produce No. 1 running back numbers—is that the Broncos could get out to an early lead and sit him to protect him for the playoffs.
Still, if that happens, he has likely generated enough combined yards to top 100 and you’ll still be very happy.
LeVeon Bell vs. Green Bay Packers
Last weekend Bell topped 100 total yards (receiving as well as ground yards) and he should easily do the same against a Packers run defense which was lit up by Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray.
It would have been worse had the Cowboys not inexplicably stopped running the ball.
Bell will see plenty of carries against a defense which can be run on. He’ll be a rock-solid No. 2 back with upside this week.
Rashad Jennings at San Diego Chargers
If you’re looking for a solid No. 2 running back, Rashad Jennings is your guy.
Coming off a very solid 91-yard game (with another three catches for 12 yards), Jennings also scored a pair of touchdowns against a tough Kansas City Chiefs defense.
The Raiders don’t exactly have a ton to play for, but Jennings is playing for a new contract and the team needs a focal point for the offense—the quarterback play sure isn’t it.
The Chargers can be run on, though it’s not an ideal matchup.
Then again, neither were the Chiefs. Jennings can overcome it.
Pierre Garcon vs. Dallas Cowboys
Well, we learned one thing last week—the Dallas Cowboys can choke a lead away with the best of them.
Also, a quarterback like Matt Flynn can drop 299 yards and four touchdowns on them. Also, a guy like Josh McCown can torch them for 348 yards and four touchdowns.
Short version: You can throw on them.
We saw a huge difference last week with Kirk Cousins utilizing Garcon as the vertical threat he can be. There’s not a ton there other than Garcon, so he should see the bulk of the yards Cousins throws for.
Eric Decker at Houston Texans
Decker—along with the whole Denver offense—struggled against a surprisingly tough Chargers defense, but the Houston Texans won’t be quite the same roadblock.
If Welker is in the game, the defense will have an even harder time covering the myriad of options in the pass game.
Peyton Manning will be dealing out catches this weekend and Decker is someone he looks for often.
He’s a lock to put up No. 2 receiver numbers.
Kendall Wright at Jacksonville Jaguars
Justin Hunter was out last week due to a violation of team rules, and the result was a huge game for Kendall Wright.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were playing well for a while, but the defense hasn’t looked the same recently.
After reminding the coaching staff of what he is capable of, Wright should see more targets in a solid matchup.
He isn’t going to drop 150 yards again, but Wright will produce as a solid No. 3 receiver.
Greg Olsen vs. New Orleans Saints
Olsen is coming off a solid game (five catches for 88 yards) and should be a problematic mismatch for the Saints.
Don’t expect touchdowns, because the majority of the red-zone chances are handled by the running backs and quarterback Cam Newton.
However, Olsen has seen 27 targets over the last three games, which leads the team over that span, and he is second on the team behind Steve Smith for the season.
Martellus Bennett at Philadelphia Eagles
This week, against an Eagles defense which looked terribly out of sorts against the Minnesota Vikings of all teams, he should see No. 1 fantasy tight end numbers.
Marcedes Lewis vs. Tennessee Titans
If you’re in a tight spot, you should see if Marcedes Lewis is available in your league (assuming the waiver wire is still open).
Lewis has a touchdown in each of the last three games.
It’s a bit risky—each of those touchdowns were his sole target in the red zone and if he misses out on those, his yardage is only OK.
However, sometimes you need to go with the upside when you don't have a stud player.
On top of that, Cecil Shorts was just placed on injured reserve, meaning more targets for Lewis.
If you need help or have an injury issue at the tight end—or heck if you just need someone with some consistent upside—Lewis is your guy this week.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
With rookie quarterback EJ Manuel out this week, the Bills will be serving up quarterback Thad Lewis, who was decidedly mediocre in his previous three starts where he threw for just 652 yards and three touchdowns while tossing a pair of interceptions.
The Dolphins also may not have to worry about Stevie Johnson since he is expected to miss the game due to the death of his mother.
This is a week where the Dolphins should be able to generate plenty of sacks and some turnovers. They’re a good championship week matchup.
Cleveland Browns at New York Jets
Maybe Geno Smith is the future for the Jets at quarterback, maybe not. Fourteen games isn’t enough to know for sure, though he'll definitely have competition next year.
What we can say with 100 percent certainty is Smith and the Jets are generous whether it’s Christmas or not.
With 21 interceptions to his credit this year—five in the last four games—you can almost guarantee he’s going to turn the ball over at least once this coming week.
A possible bonus for a low score and multiple sacks are also a distinct possibility.
Denver Broncos at Houston Texans
There’s not much we have to say to convince you here, right? A battered and broken Texans offense. No Arian Foster, no Ben Tate and the return of “Pick-Six Schaub!”
If the Broncos (maybe we should say “when”) jump out to an early lead, you might see some garbage yards, but that’s just more opportunity for sacks and interceptions.
Since so much is on the line this week, we thought that not only was it important to give you tips on who to start, but vital that we point out guys who we didn't like—at all—as well.
You may not be able to bench these guys depending on your situation, but it’s a safe bet that you’re going to have to make the points up somewhere else. So, if you have a better matchup, take it.
Andrew Luck at Kansas City Chiefs
After a great Week 14, Luck hurtled back to Earth and was shut down by—wait for it—the Houston Texans.
He did get a pair of touchdowns and the win, so that’s something.
However, this is a Chiefs team which is trying hard to get back into the division lead and will bring a lot of pressure on Luck, who is not being protected well by his offensive line.
On top of that, the Colts might go a bit conservative in anticipation of a wild-card round rematch in just a few weeks.
Don’t risk it if you have a better option.
C.J. Spiller vs. Miami Dolphins
No EJ Manuel and, as we said in the slide about defensive matchups, probably no Stevie Johnson.
That is only going to put the pressure on the ground game.
Spiller’s production is really volatile this year and his use in games has recently been very uneven.
Miami is going to be a really difficult matchup for him to find room to run against and his touches will be another limitation on his ceiling.
Keep him on your bench or, if you can’t, don’t use him as more than a flex play with upside.
Hakeem Nicks at Detroit Lions
Last week? One catch for five yards.
There is no way you can trust him in a championship week.
At best, he’s a flex play with upside, and there are far more reliable and attractive options out there for you to use over him.
Coby Fleener at Kansas City Chiefs
Coming off a week where he saw a grand total of one target—which he didn’t even catch—you can’t trust he is going to be reliable this week.
Maybe he gets nine targets like he did against Cincinnati. Or maybe he gives you another zero.
If you’re hurting for tight end help, there are plenty of other solid options.
Despite some nice games down the stretch, Fleener is not trustworthy enough for you to have in your lineup.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.