The final week of the regular season is here, which means one more painstaking week of teeth-grinding decisions for owners as they peruse their lineup for the best possible combination.
This is the week that separates the best from the rest, and funnily enough, there is nothing different about it from any other. Well, expect for watching which players may sit because their teams are already sitting pretty with postseason seeding secured (hint—this is why owners should play in leagues that end before the real season).
Like every week, smart decisions based on a variety of factors will win the day. Factor in health, trends, matchup analysis and even postseason scenarios and the picture becomes clear as to whom to start and sit.
Note: All fantasy scoring info courtesy of ESPN standard leagues. Points-against info courtesy of ESPN.
Start 'Em: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals (vs. BAL)
Andy Dalton has been hit-or-miss all year for the Cincinnati Bengals, catching fire at some points and disappearing the next.
But Dalton's game against Baltimore has major playoff implications as the team chases a No. 2 seed in the AFC. Better yet, Dalton is at home, where the Bengals have scored 40 or more in four straight and Dalton has thrown 15 touchdowns to three interceptions in the same span.
Dalton has scored 30 or more in two of three, and while he may not reach those heights again, he has to be in the lineup if owned.
Sit 'Em: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (at MIN)
Some fantasy stars drop off the face of a cliff as the season gears toward its conclusion.
This year, Matthew Stafford is the poster boy. Stafford has thrown five interceptions to one touchdown in his last three games and has scored seven or fewer points in that same span.
Sports Illustrated's Peter King sums up Stafford's typical play in December nicely:
Matthew Stafford in 5 most recent Det losses: .507 completions, 12 picks. Careless.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) December 23, 2013
Week 17 is a great matchup against Minnesota, but history and recent trends say to avoid at all costs. Stafford has ruined enough fantasy seasons this year.
Start 'Em: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys (vs. PHI)
DeMarco Murray has now scored 20 or more points in three of his last four games, but he gets a mega-boost in the final game of the season thanks to the strange status of quarterback Tony Romo.
Per EPSN's Adam Schefter, Romo will miss the rest of the year:
Cowboys QB Tony Romo has been ruled out the rest of the season due to his back injury, per league source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 23, 2013
But head coach Jason Garrett has backpedaled on the report, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network:
Jason Garrett on Tony Romo: “He’s going to get treatment, we’ll see what his status is for Wednesday and this coming week.” OK…— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 23, 2013
Regardless of how this shakes out, Murray is now a must-start option as he appears in line for heavy usage against the Philadelphia Eagles. It helps the Eagles allow an average of 16.1 points to running backs, but Murray is due for much more with an increased workload.
Sit 'Em: Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts (vs. JAC)
Before the game on Sunday night in Week 16, Indianapolis Colts running back Donald Brown was the second-highest scorer at his position with 22 points.
Quite the shock considering it came against the stout Kansas City defense.
Just do not expect it to happen again.
That was Brown's second foray over 20 points on the year, and only his fourth over 10. Brown is seeing more work than usual and scored seven points against Jacksonville in Week 4, but he is not the type of player to count on with everything on the line.
Start 'Em: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (vs. PHI)
Oh yes, do not let the strange cloud of confusion around Tony Romo deter feelings toward Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant—he must remain in any and all lineups.
Regardless of who is under center, the quarterback will spam it to Bryant. He has scored 12 times this year for good reason—not many can match up with him in the red zone.
Romo's injury could not have come at a better time for Bryant owners. The Philadelphia Eagles are the NFL's worst defense against wide receivers and allow an average of 29.2 points per game.
Bryant is a receiver who thrives regardless of quarterback. Owners should not overreact to news about Romo.
Sit 'Em: Jarrett Boykin, Green Bay Packers (at CHI)
Make no mistake, Jarrett Boykin is destined for big things in Green Bay. Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon sheds a bit of light on the situation:
The emergence of Jarrett Boykin is actually huge for Green Bay. It's going to allow them to let James Jones walk after this year.— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) December 22, 2013
Boykin is no Bryant in that he can survive a quarterback change with consistency. If he is, he has yet to show owners anything of the sort.
Regardless of Rodgers' health, Boykin needs to be on any and all benches as the Packers will be looking to run it more than anything against the NFL's worst run defense.
Start 'Em: Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears (vs. GB)
In the fantasy landscape this season, around eight points is a quality outing for a tight end. Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett hit that last week against Philadelphia.
While it was just his fifth journey to eight or more points, owners will be hard-pressed to find much better at the position. Bennett now gets a shot at a Green Bay defense that allows an average of 8.1 points to tight ends.
In a game that crowns the NFC North champion, expect a solid line from Bennett.
Sit 'Em: Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles (at DAL)
As sexy as the matchup looks for Philadelphia against a horrid Dallas defense, the good vibes do not extend to every member of the offense.
For instance, owners should not fool themselves into thinking Brent Celek will have a major impact.
Celek has suffered in Chip Kelly's offense and has seen some of his targets go to Zach Ertz in recent weeks. Eight of Celek's games this year have gone for two or fewer points, and that is the type of consistency owners should shy away from at this point in the season.