The best fantasy owners have made it this far through careful navigation of the minefields that are weekly lineup decisions.
As much pressure as fantasy owners surely feel, it is integral to remember that, despite the importance of the final week, the decision-making process must remain the same.
This means that you should not put loyalty or fandom into decisions. Stick with what works through careful analysis of matchups and other factors. Some stars have favorable matchups, some are matchup-proof options, and other must be avoided entirely.
Riskier options are worth a play if owners can properly read the cards right.
Note: All fantasy scoring info courtesy of ESPN standard leagues. Points-against info courtesy of ESPN.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (vs. BAL)
There is nothing Andy Dalton can do to shake the stigma that he is a risk.
The TCU product hit a three-game stretch starting in Week 6 where he scored 24 or more points each week. He had finally arrived as an elite fantasy option in an absolutely loaded offense.
He then turned around and posted a six-point outing followed by two games with less than 15 points.
But here we are again with Dalton—two of his last three matchups have resulted in 30 or more points. So does he keep the trend alive for Week 17?
Week 17 sees the Bengals welcome the Baltimore Ravens to town. The Bengals are already AFC North champions but surely want to play for the No. 2 seed, which would guarantee them home-field advantage—they are 7-0 at home this year and have scored 40 or more in four straight at Paul Brown Stadium.
This bodes well for Dalton. As NFL.com's Chris Wesseling writes, Dalton has been amazing at home this year:
Andy Dalton has been Peyton Manning at home, Eli Manning on the road http://t.co/Rh41xTEJ1x— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) December 22, 2013
To play off Wesseling's point, Dalton has 15 touchdowns to three interceptions in his last four home games. That is what we call a trend, and owners would be wise to cash in right now.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks (vs. STL)
What's that, Marshawn Lynch is a reliable option?
Risky star most worth the start?
Lynch has scored seven or fewer points in two of his last four, which means he has scored less than 10 points five times. Even worse, Week 17 is a date with St. Louis, a team that held Lynch to just two points in Week 8.
Beast Mode is anything but a sure thing to close a long, grueling season.
But there is reason to have hope. Lynch leaves much to be desired when he does not find the end zone, but he should this time around against the Rams, owners of the fourth-worst run defense on a unit that allows an average of 19.8 points per game.
Add in the fact Seattle is still gunning for the playoffs and NFC West while the season for St. Louis is over regardless of the outcome, and Lynch is a name owners should lean on in the final week of the season.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington Redskins (at NYG)
ESPN does a sound job of illustrating how consistent Pierre Garcon has been in Washington this year despite quarterback issues:
Pierre Garcon ties Art Monk's record for most catches in single season for Redskins. Monk had 106 in 1984— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 22, 2013
Garcon was the third-highest scorer at his position in Week 16 before the Monday night game, making it two straight weeks he scored 18 or more points.
But will it hold up to close the season? After all, Garcon scored six or fewer in four straight before that and has nine games where he failed to eclipse double-digit production.
Perhaps former backup quarterback and current starter Kirk Cousins put it best, per WAVY-TV:
He's fearless. He plays very hard. He made some great plays for us today. He's the kind of guy that you want on your side when you're backed into a corner. You want Pierre standing with you. He's put together a good season individually
Speaking of Cousins, he is the reason Garcon should be trusted against the New York Giants. They held Garcon to four points in Week 13, but Cousins and the star wideout clearly have great chemistry and have produced consistently since Robert Griffin III took a seat.