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It’s Week 17 and you’re still playing fantasy football. It’s a bold move, one that’s fraught with more obstacles than a Sunday drive with Penelope Pitstop. Teams with nothing to play for and dinged-up players looking to avoid aggravating their injuries heading into the offseason have frequently conspired to sink fantasy title contenders on a yearly basis. It’s a fear that is likely front and center in the minds of owners in 2012.
Or is it?
As NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal recently detailed, early indications point toward every team in the league playing its stars in the final week of the regular season. Considering what’s still up for grabs in a lot of situations, it’s not completely surprising. Here’s a look at a few potential fantasy potholes and what owners might be able to expect in the season’s ultimate week.
Houston Texans: There is still work to be done with the top seed in the AFC still up for grabs. A win by the Texans would cement a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That means Arian Foster, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson aren’t likely to let their foot off the gas pedal against the Indianapolis Colts. If the second meeting is anything like Week 15’s showdown, Houston won’t have the luxury of easing up if they plan to claim the win.
Denver Broncos: The hottest team in the NFL not only needs to win, but needs the Texans to lose in order to earn the top spot in the conference. So, no rest for Peyton Manning and his hands team. Ditto for Knowshon Moreno. Not that Manning would be willing to sit idly by when there is more work to be done. After all, we’re talking about the same quarterback who was reluctant to hand things over to Curtis Painter in a meaningless regular season finale with the Colts during the 2009 season.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady and company not only need to win, but they also need a loss from either Houston or Denver to pick up a first-round bye. They would need losses from both Houston and Denver to pick up the top seed in the conference. Sure, it’s a long shot, but when have you ever known a Bill Belichick-coached team to care what outsiders think?
Indianapolis Colts: Indy is locked in as the fifth seed in the AFC, but this could be as much a playoff warmup for returning coach Chuck Pagano as it is for rookie QB Andrew Luck and his teammates. A chance to get some serious work in against a division (and potential playoff) opponent with something to play for is as much of a postseason simulation as any coaching staff could ask for. Look for the youngsters to go all out.
Atlanta Falcons: This is potentially the only team that could cause fantasy headaches. The Dirty Birds have already secured home field advantage throughout the postseason and have absolutely nothing to play for. But coach Mike Smith says he doesn’t plan to sit his guys in a division game. Does that mean Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and the rest of their mates see action for an entire four quarters? That remains to be seen. For now, you have to take Smith at face value. But, as with many things in life, a little of bit of skepticism might be healthy.
Green Bay Packers: They’ve already won the division, but there’s still an opportunity to solidify the second seed in the NFC and a first-round bye. Plus there’s still the memory of last season, when the Packers rested some of their starters in the regular season finale only to come out flat two weeks later in a division-round loss to the Giants. Expect Aaron Rodgers and crew to be on alert this week.
San Francisco 49ers: Last week’s embarrassing loss to Seattle should be motivation enough for the Niners to want to come out strong in Week 17. But just in case they need more, a win earns the team a second straight division title. A win plus a Packer loss gives San Francisco a first-round bye. Jim Harbaugh’s crew still has questions to answer on offense, but four quarters from the team’s defensive starters is all fantasy owners could ask for.
Seattle Seahawks: Just getting into the dance likely won’t be enough for these birds. After dismantling their last three opponents, Seattle sits one win (and a 49ers loss) away from winning the NFC West. Not to mention they’re the team that no one wants to deal with in the first round of the playoffs. Why ruin that momentum by sitting Russell Wilson when you don’t have to?
Of course there are still teams with playoff aspirations, (you can read all the playoff scenarios here) and plenty more with absolutely nothing at all to play for. While there’s no guarantee that the latter group won’t use this week to evaluate talent for next season, for the time being, it looks like everything will be status quo. Set your lineups as normal and hope for the best.
— Marcas Grant
Follow Marcas on Twitter @MarcasG