Starts & Sits: The Grand Finale

It’s been one hell of a run, but the 2010 regular season is set to conclude Sunday evening in Seattle. I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone for reading this column this season and wish all of you a Happy New Year.

If you’ve still got that fantasy itch, CLICK HERE for a chance to win some cash this weekend in the NFP/FanDuel Salary Cap Challenge. It costs $5 to enter, but you’ll get your money back if you can score more points than yours truly.

In addition, the NFP and FanDuel will be running a fantasy challenge throughout the NFL playoffs, so I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted on the details as I receive them.

And before we get to our final Starts & Sits of 2010, here is your motivational moment of the day…

START ‘EM UP

Sam BradfordICONBradford will try to lead the Rams back to the playoffs on Sunday night.

Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams: Bradford’s only thrown one touchdown pass over his last four games, but with St. Louis going after an NFC West title this Sunday, you know the rookie from Oklahoma is going to show up prepared and motivated—which is more than you can say about several other NFL signal-callers. The last time Bradford went against this Seattle defense (Week 4), the 23-year-old threw for 289 yards and two scores in a 20-3 win. Since then it hasn’t gotten much better for this Seahawks team that ranks 29th in the NFL in pass defense (257.1 yds/gm) and is currently allowing 21.6 fantasy points per week to opposing quarterbacks (third-most in NFL).

Joe McKnight, RB, New York Jets: Why would we recommend a guy who has carried the football just seven times in eight games this season? Simple. LaDainian Tomlinson isn’t expected to play very much on Sunday (if at all), as head coach Rex Ryan wants him to be rested for the first-round of the playoffs. In addition, McKnight has been impressing the New York coaching staff, as Ryan told the media this past week, “I think he’s [McKnight] going to get a ton of playing time…He’s earned his stripes.” If the carries are there, the rookie from USC could be set for a breakout performance against a Bills team that ranks dead last in the league in run defense (162.5 yds/gm) and is currently surrendering an average of 23.4 fantasy points per week to opposing running backs (third-most in NFL).

Jacoby Jones, WR, Houston Texans: With Andre Johnson expected to miss the Texans’ regular season finale this weekend, Jones is in position to close out his fourth NFL season with a bang. The 26-year-old wideout amassed 115 yards on five receptions (seven targets) in Week 16 at Denver and has another favorable matchup this Sunday against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that currently ranks 26th in the league in pass defense (250.1 yds/gm) and is giving up an average of 24.2 fantasy points per week to opposing wide receivers (fifth-most in NFL). Consider Jones a solid WR2.

Ryan MathewsICON

Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers: It’s been a very disappointing season for the rookie from Fresno State, as Mathews has rushed for only 558 yards in 11 games this year. However, the 23-year-old from Bakersfield, California will have a chance to send fantasy owners out on a positive note Sunday in Denver against a Broncos defense that ranks 31st in the NFL against the run (153.9 yds/gm) and is giving up more fantasy points per week to opposing running backs (26.2 pts/gm) than any other team in the league. Mike Tolbert is expected to miss the Chargers’ finale due to a neck injury he suffered in Week 16 at Cincinnati—the same neck injury that opened the door for Mathews to rush for 55 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries against the Bengals last Sunday.

Mario Manningham, WR, New York Giants: With Steve Smith out for the season, Manningham has stepped up in a big way over the past two weeks by hauling in 12 receptions for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 18 targets. The Giants have to win this Sunday if they want any chance of qualifying for the postseason, so you know this team is going to come out prepared. That’s good news for fantasy owners since Manningham and Big Blue head to Washington on Sunday to take on a Redskins defense that ranks 31st in the NFL against the pass (262.9 yds/gm) and is surrendering an average of 23.5 fantasy points per week to opposing wide receivers (ninth-most in NFL). Make sure this guy is in your lineup this weekend.

Owen Daniels, TE, Houston Texans: Daniels has only logged ten games so far this season due to injury and got off to a slow start after suffering a torn ACL back in 2009. But very quietly, the Houston tight end has started to regain his playmaking form. Daniels is currently averaging 8.7 fantasy points per game over a three-week stretch that includes 32 targets and 17 receptions. Consider the 28-year-old a solid start in Week 17 as Daniels is going up against a Jacksonville Jaguars defense that is currently surrendering 8.5 fantasy points per week to opposing tight ends. Keep in mind that with Andre Johnson on the shelf last weekend, Daniels found the end zone for the first time in 2010.

Atlanta Falcons, D/ST: The Falcons may have dropped a pivotal NFC South showdown to the New Orleans Saints last Monday night, but this D/ST racked up 15.0 fantasy points in the process (ninth-most in Week 16) against one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Because of the loss, Atlanta will have to go full tilt this Sunday when they welcome in a Carolina Panthers team that ranks dead last in both total offense (256.3 yds/gm) and scoring (12.4 pts/gm). As far as Week 17 matchups for D/STs are concerned, you won’t find a better one anywhere on the board.

SIT ‘EM DOWN

Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears: Yes, the Bears have said they plan on treating this weekend’s game at Green Bay like any other, but where’s the motivation? Chicago has already locked up the No. 2 seed in the NFC and can only improve their playoff position with a win and losses by both the Saints (unlikely) and Falcons (even more unlikely). Cutler has been productive as of late, but he’s about to run into a hungry Packers team that ranks fifth in the NFL in passing defense (199.3 yds/gm) and is giving up an average of just 15.9 fantasy points per week to opposing quarterbacks (sixth-fewest in NFL). There are better matchups out there.

Peyton HillisIt's been a solid year for Hillis, but Week 17 offers another difficult challenge.

Peyton Hillis, RB, Cleveland Browns: Hillis has been one of this year’s top waiver wire acquisitions, but keep in mind that the big bruiser has rushed for just 94 total yards over his last two games and hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 12. To make matters worse, Cleveland plays host to a Pittsburgh Steelers team this weekend that leads the league in run defense (64.1 yds/gm) and is surrendering fewer fantasy points to opposing running backs than any other team in the NFL (11.1 pts/gm). As if that wasn’t already enough, keep in mind that the Steelers have allowed only five rushing touchdowns all season (fewest in NFL).

Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It’s been one hell of a 2010 for the rookie from Syracuse as Williams currently ranks 15th in scoring among fantasy wide receivers and has posted four touchdowns over his last four games. But this weekend’s matchup at New Orleans offers the 23-year-old his toughest test of the season. The Saints currently rank second in the NFL in pass defense (191.3 yds/gm) and are giving up fewer fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers than any other team in the business (13.4 pts/gm). When these two squads got together back in Week 6, Williams was held to just four receptions for 45 yards and no touchdowns.

Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills: Jackson’s been a decent play for the majority of the 2010 fantasy season, but owners are advised to go in a different direction in Week 17. The 29-year-old running back hasn’t scored a touchdown in any of his last four outings and is averaging just 65.2 rushing yards per game over his past five contests. That little slump should continue this Sunday in New York against a Jets defense that ranks fifth in the league against the run (94.5 yds/gm) and is giving up an average of only 13.4 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs (second-fewest in NFL).

Dwayne BoweHow many snaps will Bowe get on Sunday?

Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: Bowe went nuclear against the Tennessee Titans last week when he racked up 153 yards and a touchdown on six receptions. However, owners are advised to keep in mind the fact that Kansas City has already locked up the AFC West and doesn’t have a lot to play for in Week 17. That could lead to Bowe receiving a limited amount of playing time against an Oakland Raiders team that ranks third in the NFL in pass defense (196.1 yds/gm) and is surrendering just 19.3 fantasy points per week to opposing wide receivers (ninth-fewest in NFL). You may want to look for a wideout who is guaranteed to play for four quarters.

Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders: Miller finally broke through and found the end zone last week vs. Indianapolis, ending a six-game scoreless skid that had led many fantasy owners to the waiver wire in search of a replacement. But despite the recent success, keep in mind that the 25-year-old has only topped 70 receiving yards one time in 14 games this season. It won’t be easy for Miller Sunday at Kansas City against a Chiefs defense that is surrendering only 5.8 fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends (tied for second-fewest in NFL).

Miami Dolphins, D/ST: How much motivation do you think this team has to pull out a win in New England against the Patriots on Sunday? Keep in mind that Miami has lost three of their last four outings at Gillette Stadium and is giving up an average of 22.8 points per game in their last five trips to Foxborough. Not only that, but opposing D/STs are averaging just 4.5 fantasy points per week against Tom Brady and the Patriots this season (fewest in NFL). I don’t know about you, but I have a tough time backing a team that spent the last two weeks losing to the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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