Welcome to the Super Bowl!
(Or the Battle for 5th or 6th...or the Toilet Bowl for all the teams that didn't qualify for the playoffs)
This is a championship week for a majority of Fantasy leagues, which means that, through a combination of skill, research and absolute, skin-of-your-teeth good fortune, a title is within reach. Good luck grabbing that trophy/belt/plaque/stack of cash for the win. On to the matchups...
No Thursday Games!
Finally, a week where you won't be locked in to starting backup RB Toby Gerhart after he's declared out two days after you set your lineup. That was good news for MIN RB Matt Asiata owners, though. One of those eight people also won the Mega Millions this week, too...stick with them when walking the floor of a Vegas casino.
As the games mean more, the coaches do more posturing to prevent opponents from game planning the injury list. Watch the ones you know are nursing injuries (Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers) for any signs to sway it one way or the other. (I expect both of those to start, by the way. The Packers have something to play for, and AD does not stand for "Actually, Done". Pride will win the debate.)
Miami @ Buffalo (in Buffalo, not Toronto)
The Bills are locked in to a 7-12 pick in the draft, so expect little out of this and be happy about it. QB E.J. Manuel is out for the game (and probably the season), RB Fred Jackson is questionable and the irreplaceable WR Stevie Johnson is doubtful. Good luck fishing out a Buffalo player this time around.
Miami has tiebreakers and standings to play for. Division game, coming off of a big win against the Patriots. Expect QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Lamar Miller, WR's Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace to put forth max effort, and to bulldoze a Bills' squad just trying to get back to the locker room.
Minnesota @ Cincinnati
Can a 4-9-1 team be called 'resurgent'? Can a team with a full game lead in their division with two to play be considered 'struggling'? If you answered yes, you love this matchup. The most physically punishing back in football against what should be a very good defense, outside in the elements.
QB Matt Cassel likely gets the start again for the Vikes, and WR Greg Jennings always benefits from Cassel's presence. WR Cordarrelle Patterson is a dual threat (return game, WR) and Cincinnati's DEF has allowed 58 points the last two weeks.
Bengals offensive players will see little hindering them catching the ball, as the 30th-ranked pass defense has not held any team under 20 points all year. Cincinnati is also playing to clinch the division, so expect QB Andy Dalton and WR's A.J. Green and Marvin Jones should all be plus-starts. Be wary of the RB game for the Bengals. Bench RB Giovani Bernard and the Law Firm (Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis) if you can afford to.
Indianapolis @ Kansas City
The Colts have clinched all they can clinch, while the Chiefs are still in play for the division. Lighter usage for Colts' veterans and skill players should be expected, although WR T.Y. Hilton may play like he has something to prove (needs 124 yards over last two weeks to crack the 1,000 barrier).
RB Jamaal Charles had a game for the ages last week. If you ever expect a Top Three RB to run for 20 yards total, yet still rack up 50+ Fantasy points, you should consult your physician. The Kansas City DEF is as close to a must-start as a DEF can be this week. Use caution on WR/TE combos for either team.
Tampa Bay @ St. Louis
The Bucs are playing to help their coach keep their job. If they come out flat, Coach Greg Schiano will be unemployed by New Year's Day. The Rams could make it back to .500, and the added bonus of having Washington's first-round pick (from the RGIII trade) makes this an interesting time under the Arch. A young-ish roster may be playing to 'build character', meaning they'll go hard trying to prove themselves.
Rams starts: TE Jared Cook, RB Zac Stacy. Bucs starts: WR Timothy Wright (sleeper!) , QB Mike Glennon, WR Vincent Jackson.
Cleveland @ NY Jets
The second Ugh Bowl of this weekend's slate. Advantage Jets, since they are 5-2 at home (and 1-927 on the road). Not sure anyone past CLE WR Josh Gordon should start in this game. The weather promises to make passing slightly difficult, and neither team has a running game to speak of. There will be turnovers, so the NYJ DEF could be an interesting pick-up.
Dallas @ Washington
The Cowboys are not good on the road, yet are 5-0 in division. Washington is winless in the NFC Least, and QB Kirk Cousins continues his three-week audition for a backup role somewhere else. WR Pierre Garcon should benefit from Cousins' efforts, and the Dallas offense will do what it always does. Start DAL RB DeMarco Murray, TE Jason Witten, QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant. The numbers will be there, since every Cowboy fan knows Dallas will win this game, to setup their Week 17 loss against the Eagles.
New Orleans @ Carolina
Blood feud brewing. The Saints brutalized the Panthers at the Superdome two weeks ago, but Cam and Co. are the hottest team in football (IMHO). QB Cam Newton will not throw for gigantic yardage here, and the Saints will not run the ball well against Carolina's stout DEF.
Starts: NO QB Drew Brees, TE Jimmy Graham, WR's Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Lance Moore as a FLEX/WR3 if you have a need. This will be a pass-heavy attack against a very good defense. CAR QB Cam Newton is a must-start, RB DeAngelo Williams if you don't have two premier backs...and TE Greg Olsen, who could have a Stud Game here (sleeper #2!). Olsen is listed as Questionable as of Thursday morning, so monitor this. He didn't practice last week, yet had a solid game. Unless he's listed as Out, he's in.
Tennessee @ Jacksonville
RB Jordan Todman is the first serious wrinkle that Jacksonville has thrown into Fantasy mixes this year. His 25/109 line from last week makes the prospect of resting RB Maurice Jones-Drew not feel so outlandish. Both teams are out of the playoffs, so expecting anything near a star performance is unrealistic. WR Kendall Wright will be solid for the Titans, but no one else should be counted on.
Denver @ Houston
Remember the Week Six line for the Broncos hosting the Jaguars? As it worked out, it was the lowest score of the season for Denver (although it was still 35 points) to that point. This line cannot be high enough as a bettor, and Houston has a responsibility to their fans to stink it up enough to draft Teddy Bridgewater. Denver will boat-race this one, meaning QB Peyton Manning and most of the receivers will have short days. Start anyone on offense with caution, including WR Wes Welker, who is still nursing a hamstring. Once Manning throws TD Pass #51 on the season (new NFL record), he should not see another snap, despite not necessarily having the division locked up. WR Demariyus Thomas will get most of the action until the record breaks.
Houston sucks, and anyone who shows signs of life will be pulled.
Sunday Late Games:
NY Giants @ Detroit
Detroit is motivated, and NYG QB Eli Manning appears to be color-blind again this season, as he completes many passes to teams wearing a different color jersey than his. RB Andre Brown will get his, but no other Giant should be expected to exceed season averages. Lions to start: WR Megatron, QB Matthew Stafford, RB's Reggie Bush (RB1) and Joique Bell (FLEX/RB3). Over/under will reach 55.
(A caveat: no games affecting the Lions' playoff chances are happening earlier, so they won't be scoreboard watching. Next week is a different story if they win Sunday)
Arizona @ Seattle
This game smells like a 37-3 curb stomping by the Seahawks, but Arizona is still in the hunt for a Wild Card berth. Seattle is vicious at home, and the Cardinals are reliant on timing...something Seattle is good at disrupting. If QB Carson Palmer manages to get the team on the board once or twice early, this game could be very interesting. The Niners don't play until Monday, so Seattle would like to lock them out of the division crown...start SEA RB Marshawn Lynch, QB Russell Wilson. WR is a pick 'em between Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Percy Harvin. Only one of them will have a great game. (My money is on Tate, but not much of it) Do NOT start RB Andre Ellington, unless the SEA DEF gets into a scuffle before the game with craft beer vendors, forcing massive ejections. Just say No!
Pittsburgh @ Green Bay
This whole matchup, on both sides of the ball, hinges on the health of GB RB Eddie Lacy. If Lacy isn't good to go by Saturday morning, coaches may force QB Aaron Rodgers back a week earlier than they'd like to. That makes WR values go up and DEF ratings go down for the Steelers, which means the Pittsburgh offense will throw more (playing from behind against a newly-aggressive Packer O), which will limit what short-range options like TE Heath Miller and WR Emmanuel Sanders.
Must starts remaining after that statement: GB WR Jordy Nelson (regardless). PIT RB LeVeon Bell, WR Antonio Brown. All other starts hinge on the above paragraph. Re-visit that debate with your Honey Nut Cheerios on Saturday morning.
Oakland @ San Diego
Ron Burgundy's home market will stay classy against the hated rivals from the north. Start QB Philip Rivers, RB Ryan Mathews, WR Keenan Allen and TE Antonio Gates. RB Rashard Jennings will be worth something in this one for the Raiders, but the days of fantasizing about QB Matt McGloin are gone for this season. SD's DEF should get plenty of turnovers.
New England @ Baltimore
Juicy matchup, as both teams have something left to play for, a need for revenge against the opponent, and a long history of screwing each other over in the playoffs. This will be an instant classic, with plenty of defensive plays that don't result in turnovers, but WILL result in stops.
Starts: NE QB Tom Brady, RB Shane Vereen, RB Steven Ridley, WR Julian Edelman. BAL QB Joe Flacco, WR Torrey Smith, TE Dennis Pitta, WR Marlon Brown, K Justin Tucker (Ye Ole Hot Foot).
Sunday Night Game:
Chicago @ Philadelphia
The pundits like this game as a proving ground for CHI QB Jay Cutler. This confirms that I am not a pundit. If Cutler plays here, it will hurt your chances at winning this week. It may make the Bears better later, but the time is now if you're still setting a lineup.
Starts: CHI RB Matt Forte, WR's Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. PHI RB Shady McCoy, TE Brent Celek, WR DeSean Jackson, QB Nick Foles and WR Riley Cooper. PHI DEF will get turnovers and special teams plays.
Monday Night Football:
Atlanta @ San Francisco
The Niners will paste the Falcons. Start all of your possible for SF (QB Kaepernick, RB Frank Gore, WR's Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, TE Vernon Davis and SF DEF. ATL TE Tony Gonzalez will get his, as will WR Harry Douglas. QB Matt Ryan will be average...say 18-29, 262 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT. If that's good for you, start him. If it's not...run.
No closing thought this week. It's the Super Bowl. Go get us a trophy.
Good luck, and good scoring.