What NFL Teams Are Playing For in Week 17 and How It Affects Fantasy Football
I have a policy and it goes like this—I will not participate in head-to-head season-long fantasy football leagues that play their Super Bowl (or any portion thereof) during Week 17.
NFL teams that have already secured their playoff position or are mathematically eliminated treat Week 17 much like their third preseason contest—a time to fire up their second-teamers.
This is more prevalent for teams that have locked up their playoff spots, but guys on teams that have been eliminated that are nursing knee or ankle sprains are probably riding pine by halftime if they play at all.
Who needs 16 weeks of brutal competition to boil down to either? No thanks.
I’m a bit editorially hung over from seven straight months of doing NFL research, but here are a few examples from 2009 off the top of my head:
- The Colts’ starters were all riding pine by midway through Week 16 and most all of Week 17 (playoff spot locked)
- Most of the Saints starters only played in the first quarter of Week 17 (playoff spot locked)
- Adrian Peterson saw only nine carries in Week 17 of 2009 (game was a blowout but playoff spot was locked)
- Cedric Benson did not play in Week 17 (playoff spot locked)
- Steve Smith (Panthers) did not play Week 17 (Carolina was eliminated)
A comprehensive audit of last and previous years will reveal a ton more, but the point is that the allure of extending fantasy leagues to include an extra week is just not worth the heartbreak and frustration that will likely ensue.
On the other hand, the emergence of weekly contests for cash has made Week 17 relevant again as the playing field is level with a weekly draft.
With that, I’d like to take a comprehensive look at what is at stake for all 32 NFL teams and how it could potentially affect fantasy producers during the final week of the regular season.
NFC North: Eliminated, Clinched, Or Something to Play For?
They have won the NFC North but are neck and neck with the Eagles for that valuable No. 2 seed and could possibly catch Atlanta for a No. 1 seed.
In either event, the Bears can earn a first-round bye, so Cutler—who is surging—Forte and Knox should be leaving it all out on the field in Lambeau this Sunday.
A win will guarantee them a Wild Card by way of their romping of the New York Giants last weekend.
Eliminated from the playoffs: Adrian Peterson will be a huge question mark as he is already nursing a bruised thigh injury that kept him out of Week 15.
Eliminated from the playoffs: The Lions have nothing to play for but Megatron was out there producing in Week 17, so just be sure to comb the injury reports before considering any Lions in Week 17.
NFC East: Eliminated, Clinched, or Something to Play For?
They have locked up a division title, but cannot catch the Bears or Falcons/Saints for a first-round bye, so expect that Vick and other key starters will be taking a puff in the second half of Week 17.
They are playing for their playoff lives after dropping their last two and they have a juicy fantasy match up versus the Redskins.
Eliminated from the playoffs: Jason Garrett is still interviewing for the coaching slot in Dallas, so while injury could play a factor (Kitna went down in Week 16) all healthy fantasy 'ballers (Miles Austin) should be given normal consideration.
Eliminated from the playoffs: Ryan Torain should be out there trying to prove his value to the organization, but I’d be wary of an old veteran like Santana Moss.
NFC South: Eliminated, Clinched, Or Something to Play For?
A win in Week 17 and they secure their first division title since 2004 and only the fourth in franchise history, so they’ll be gunning in this one.
A win and an Atlanta loss and they could win the division, but they have locked up a Wild Card at worst. The good news is that both teams kick early on Sunday, so expect a full effort from the Saints.
A win would keep their Wild Card hopes alive, so they will be playing their studs in all four quarters.
Eliminated from the playoffs and then some: The only fantasy consideration is Jonathan Stewart and I expect him to be out there trying to pad his 2010 stats.
NFC West: Eliminated, Clinched, Or Something to Play For?
San Francisco 49ers
Eliminated from the playoffs: Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis should be out there trying to pad their stats, so no real concerns here.
St. Louis Rams
A win and they lock up a division title, with an 8-8 record no less.
They trail the Rams by a game and face them in Week 17, so plenty at stake for them.
Eliminated from the playoffs: Larry Fitzgerald is not nursing any significant injury and is looking to extend his record of a reception in 97 straight games.
AFC North: Eliminated, Clinched, Or Something to Play For?
They are tied with the Ravens in record, head-to-head and conference record, so the bottom line is that they need to win to ensure a division title and first-round bye.
Ditto with the Steelers. This will be a full effort. Also, both the Ravens and Steelers play at 1 p.m., so there is no danger of a rollover in the later games by either.
Eliminated from the playoffs: Guys like Ochocinco will probably ride pine because of injury, but I wouldn’t worry about Cedric Benson taking time off, given that he is playing for a contract and is of full health.
Eliminated from the playoffs: The only worthy fantasy consideration should be avoided (Peyton Hillis) because A) he is playing the Steelers and B) he is nursing a knee injury and there is no point in him risking it further.
AFC East: Eliminated, Clinched, Or Something to Play For?
New England Patriots
They have a No. 1 seed sealed and expect Brady, Welker, Branch, and Benjarvus Green-Ellis to all be riding pine by half-time.
New York Jets
They have a Wild Card berth locked up and all that is at stake is which division winner they face as either the No. 5 or No. 6 seed.
This is where it gets very interesting.
My guess is that they’d much prefer to face the Chiefs than the Colts.
If things ended today, they’d be playing the Chiefs. However that all can change based on Week 17’s games. If the Colts win and the Chiefs lose, the Colts become the No. 3 seed which would pair them up with the Jets if they lose.
There are about five other scenarios that could affect this—getting as granular as common opponent record compared with Baltimore and Pittsburgh—and I don’t pretend to know how much Rexy cares.
Eliminated from the playoffs: The fantasy-worthy players—basically just Brandon Marshall—should be out there padding stats, but ride their news breakers hard this week as well.
Eliminated from the playoffs: I wouldn’t worry about any key Bills’ players sitting this one out, except for the fact that they are playing the Jets.
AFC South: Eliminated, Clinched, Or Something to Play For?
What a difference a year makes.
Owners of Colts do not need to stress in this one as they need a win to secure a playoff spot.
They split games with Jacksonville, which they lead by a game. But with identical conference and divisional records, if they were to lose, it would boil down to common opponent’s record, which will be decided via Week 17.
Ditto above and be mindful that MJD is all kinds of banged up.
Eliminated from the playoffs: CJ28 was running full bore in Week 17 last year with nothing on the line and I see no reason he won’t be seeking to do the same this year. One more factor to consider is that the game is versus the Colts and there is nothing like playing spoiler to a divisional foe.
Eliminated from the playoffs: You can expect Andre Johnson to sit given he is nursing an injury that kept him out of action in Week 16. Arian Foster was out there for a full load despite missing a few practices last week, and with 1,500 rushing yards within grasp, he should be out there for 20-plus touches.
AFC West: Eliminated, Clinched, or Something to Play For?
Kansas City Chiefs
They have locked up a division title and cannot catch either Pittsburgh or Baltimore for a bye week due to their conference record trailing both. They face Oakland in a meaningless game for both and I would not be shocked to see their stars grabbing some pine at halftime.
San Diego Chargers
Eliminated from the playoffs: The Bolts face Denver in a meaningless game for both clubs, but Rivers, Tolbert, rookie Ryan Mathews, and Vincent Jackson should all be competing in the absence of any minor injuries.
Eliminated from the playoffs: As with the Chargers, only dinged up Raiders are at risk of bench time in this one, however extra attention should be paid to their news breakers.
Eliminated from the playoffs: Here is a perfect example—Knowshon Moreno “could have gone” last week after injuring his ribs, but with nothing on the line, why bother? Keep close tabs on all news breakers for fantasy Bronco ‘ballers.