The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers are still alive in the playoff chase heading into their Week 16 clash, but both teams are on the outside looking in with two games to play. That means the pressure level will be sky high once the ball is kicked off.
Meanwhile, it's championship week across most of the fantasy football world. Fantasy owners are hoping the game's high level of importance leads to some monster performances from the big-name players to help lead their team to a title.
Knowing that, let's examine the top fantasy stars with the best chance of success along with the playoff implications for each team as the Steelers and Packers face off.
Steelers: Antonio Brown
Brown has been one of the most consistent fantasy players in the league this season. He's caught at least five passes in every game and averages more than 12 points per week. There's no reason to believe that success will end against the 22nd-ranked Packers pass defense.
The dynamic wide receiver has reached double-digit scoring in each of the team's past seven games, catching six touchdowns over that span. His ability to stretch the field, while at the same time understanding how to run effective short routes, makes him a nightmare to defend.
Include the fact that he has the potential to make an impact on special teams and it's easy to see how he ranks inside the top 10 among wide receivers. Another big game should be in store against a lackluster Packers secondary.
Packers: Eddie Lacy
Lacy is another reliable fantasy option. He's scored fewer than eight points just once since the Packers' bye in Week 4. Longtime fantasy owners will attest to the importance of having players you can rely on week in and week out.
The main reason for that success, aside from Lacy's ability, is Green Bay's commitment to the run game. In recent years, the Packers were a pass-heavy offense, which limited the upside of the team's backs. But even when Aaron Rodgers was healthy, they placed a greater emphasis on balance.
This week Lacy goes up against a Steelers defense that's giving up a shade over 115 yards per game on the ground. It should equate to another heavy workload and another fantasy score that approaches 20 points for the rookie sensation.
Of the three teams in the AFC that are still alive in the postseason race but are currently outside the top six, the Steelers are at the bottom at 6-8. In other words, they have no margin for error. They must win both their remaining games and get some help elsewhere.
The good news is that a home game with the Cleveland Browns, who the Steelers beat by 16 on the road a couple weeks ago, is on the slate for Week 17. So if everything falls their way this week, they should be able to hold up their end of the bargain in the finale.
That being said, the amount of help they need is quite staggering. The Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and New York Jets are all involved. Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk gives a quick synopsis of what must happen for Pittsburgh:
Ultimately, the Steelers need to go 2-0 while the Jets go 2-0, the Ravens go 0-2, the Dolphins go 0-2 and the Chargers go either 1-1 or 0-2, and they're in the playoffs. So I'm telling you there's a chance.
Yes, it's a long shot. And with some of those teams playing during the early set of games, the Steelers could be eliminated by kickoff. If they are still alive at that point, all they can do is take care of their own business and hope for the best.
The Packers have been on the playoff brink for each of the past two weeks, but they managed to earn a pair of one-point victories over the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys. As of now, they sit a half-game behind the Chicago Bears for the division lead at 7-6-1, with the Detroit Lions also in the mix at 7-7.
Yet, all Green Bay has to worry about is their own play. With a game against the Bears lurking next week, the Packers control their own destiny with two weeks to go. If they win both games, they punch their ticket to the postseason.
Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel passed along comments from defensive back Tramon Williams, who was impressed with how the team rose to the occasion last week against the Cowboys, a game in which they trailed 26-3 at halftime.
"It keeps us in the hunt," said cornerback Tramon Williams, who along with Sam Shields came up with game-deciding interceptions against Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, a Burlington, Wis., native, who gave Cowboys fans more fodder for their claim he can't perform in the clutch.
"It just shows the character that these guys showed in this room," Williams said. "It is amazing. I don't know if (there) is any other team, if guys would have stood up like we did today."
Green Bay must be careful, however. They are coming off a very emotional win and have the matchup with Chicago on their horizon. This could have the potential to cause the Packers to lose focus on the Steelers. They need to win this week to keep their hopes in their own hands.
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