Week 17: Start 'em/Sit 'em: Grand finale

Happy New Year, everyone!

Let’s not waste any time. Here are your NFP-approved Starts and Sits for Week 17.


Jay Cutler QB Chicago Bears: It’s been a rough season in the Windy City for J-Cut, but the Bears signal-caller stepped up big last Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings, throwing for 273 yards and a season-high four touchdowns. Look for Cutler to close out the season on a high note as he and the Bears travel to Detroit to take on a Lions defense that’s giving up an average of 21.9 fantasy points per week to opposing quarterbacks, which ranks dead last in the NFL.

Josh Freeman QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers: There are better options out there for Week 17, but with so many teams likely to rest their star quarterbacks, Freeman’s a nice substitute for the final game of the season. The rookie from Kansas State has nine touchdown passes in eight starts and has thrown for over 200 yards in three of his last four games. Freeman will struggle at times with his accuracy and decision-making, but he and the Bucs have a very favorable matchup Sunday with the Falcons. Atlanta ranks 29th in points allowed to opposing fantasy quarterbacks (20.2) and boasts a secondary that’s been repeatedly torched throughout the season.

Donald Brown RB Indianapolis Colts: The rookie from Connecticut has spent a good portion of his first NFL season on the sidelines battling shoulder and chest injuries. However, now that the possibility of going 16-0 is off the table, look for the Colts to again rest their starters in an effort to get ready for their upcoming playoff run. With starting running back Joseph Addai on the sidelines for the majority of Week 16, Brown saw a season-high 15 carries and even scored a touchdown. Expect the shifty rusher to get plenty of work in Week 17 against a Buffalo defense that’s giving up more fantasy points to opposing running backs (26.0 pts/game) than any other team in the NFL.

Mike Bell RB New Orleans Saints: Just as we mentioned with Donald Brown, Bell is likely to see plenty of action in Week 17 since the Saints have nothing left to play for. Home-field advantage is locked up, and starting running back Pierre Thomas injured his ribs in last Sunday’s loss to the Buccaneers. While Thomas said he would be ready to go this weekend, don’t expect head coach Sean Payton to risk further injury to his No. 1 running back by feeding him carries in a meaningless game. The Saints travel to Carolina for a showdown with a Panthers defense that ranks 24th in points allowed to opposing fantasy running backs (21.3).

Hines Ward WR Pittsburgh Steelers: Santonio Holmes is an obvious start, but make sure Ward is in the lineup as well as the Steelers travel to Miami for a must-win game against the Dolphins. The Fish are giving up an average of 21.8 fantasy points per week to opposing wide receivers (27th in NFL) and have a young secondary that has had trouble with their assignments at times this season. Ward has seen a rock-solid 52 targets with 34 receptions over his last six games, so you know he’ll be involved in the offense.

Michael Crabtree WR San Francisco 49ers: First off, don’t expect Mike Singletary’s team to lay down just because it doesn’t have a shot at the postseason. The Niners will be playing for pride and the chance to put their eighth win on the board this Sunday, which would be the first time they’ve won that many games since going 10-6 in 2002. Crabtree is averaging 8.0 targets per game over his last four outings and will have the pleasure of running wild on a St. Louis secondary that ranks 24th in points allowed to opposing fantasy wide receivers (21.3). Consider Crabtree a reliable WR3 in smaller leagues and WR2 in deeper leagues for Week 17.

Visanthe Shinacoe TE Minnesota Vikings: There are several reasons you should be looking to get Shiancoe in your starting lineup this Sunday. He’s one of quarterback Brett Favre’s favorite red-zone targets as the big tight end has hauled in 10 touchdown passes on the season (tied for second among NFL tight ends). In addition, no NFL team is giving up more fantasy points to opposing tight ends than the New York Giants (10.4 pts./game). Shiancoe has found the end zone four times in his past six games and is averaging a healthy 5.4 targets per game at home.

Three defenses to consider

1. San Francisco 49ers (at St. Louis Rams)
2. Baltimore Ravens (at Oakland Raiders)
3. Chicago Bears (at Detroit Lions)

These three teams square-off with squads that rank in the bottom six in points allowed to opposing fantasy defenses.


Carson Palmer QB Cincinnati Bengals: There are two big reasons owners should leave Palmer on the bench in Week 17. First off, the Bengals travel to New York to take on a Jets defense that ranks first in the league in points allowed to opposing fantasy quarterbacks (10.9). As if that weren’t enough of a reason, Cincinnati doesn’t kick off until 8:20 p.m. eastern time Sunday, meaning its playoff seeding could already be set by the time it takes the field. Find another option and go with it.

Matt Cassel QB Kansas City Chiefs: For those who may be in a pinch at the quarterback position in Week 17 and are considering Cassel, don’t do it. Kansas City’s big offseason acquisition has been brutal this season, throwing just 16 touchdown passes with 15 interceptions in 14 games. He’s completing only 55 percent of his passes and has a quarterback rating of 70.1. In addition, Cassel and the Chiefs head to Denver this weekend to take on a highly motivated Broncos defense that’s still looking to earn a playoff berth. The Broncos rank third in the NFL in points allowed to opposing fantasy quarterbacks (13.8), so there’s no reason for this guy to be in your lineup.

Michael Bush RB Oakland Raiders: Bush has 28 carries over the past two weeks and went for 133 rushing yards and a touchdown in Week 15 against the Denver Broncos. His recent increase in production has prompted many owners to give him a roster spot at the flex position in the hopes of generating some quality fantasy points late in the year. But Sunday in Oakland, the Raiders host a potential playoff team in the Baltimore Ravens, who rank third in points allowed to opposing fantasy running backs in 2009 (14.2 pts./game). If you’re still not sold on sitting Bush, ask yourself this: “Fighting for a playoff spot, will Ray Lewis allow an opposing running back to put up big numbers?”

Philadelphia Eagles Running Backs: This goes for Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver. While all three running backs have had success at varying times this season for the Birds, none will see enough touches at Dallas to warrant a starting roster spot. The Eagles have thrown the ball 59.6 percent of the time (seventh highest pass-to-run ratio in the NFL), meaning that the few times they do decide to run the football this weekend, three different guys will be sharing in the workload. You can’t like those odds.

Chad Ochocinco WR Cincinnati Bengals: Ocho can tweet all he wants about how he’s going to post big numbers Sunday night, but the fact is that not one single receiver has put up a solid point total against Jets lockdown cornerback Darrelle Revis this season. The Jets rank first in the league in points allowed to opposing fantasy wideouts (12.2 pts./game) and will be looking to solidify their place in the postseason, while the Bengals could already be slotted by the time the game kicks off. Look for a more reliable option to get you through the final week of the season.

Dwayne Bowe WR Kansas City Chiefs: He’s dropping passes, running lazy routes and playing with a quarterback we’ve already recommended you sit this Sunday. Throw in a date with Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and this recipe gets disastrous.

Antonio Gates TE San Diego Chargers: What’s left to play for? The Bolts have already locked up a first-round bye and can’t help or hurt their cause against the Redskins. Meanwhile, as bad as Washington has been the past two weeks, they still rank seventh in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends (5.7 pts./game). Gates may open this game in the starting lineup, but expect him to finish it on the sidelines.

Three defenses to avoid

1. Philadelphia Eagles (at Dallas Cowboys)
2. New York Giants (at Minnesota Vikings)
3. Minnesota Vikings (vs. New York Giants)

These three units take on opponents that are giving up just 8.1 fantasy points per game or less to opposing fantasy defenses (Dallas ranks sixth, Minnesota and New York are tied for 13th).

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