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Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em

Week 17 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em

by Nick Mensio
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

It’s Week 17. Most season-long fantasy football leagues packed up shop and handed out money last week. The regular season’s final week can be a real hassle with teams locked into playoff spots resting starters and teams already out of it giving younger players a little bit more work. If you’re playing fantasy this week, you’re probably playing DFS. Or you’re using your Sunday for something more productive and gearing up for the playoffs. We’re going to keep it short this week.

QUARTERBACK

Start of the Week: Kirk Cousins vs. Giants: One club with a lot on the line is the Redskins. Win and they’re in the postseason as long as the Packers and Lions don’t play to a tie Sunday night. Giants coach Ben McAdoo insists he’s going to play his starters, but avoided questions about how long they’ll be in the game. Cousins has notoriously played better at home and could be facing backup defenders for part of this one. The Redskins won’t be letting off the gas pedal. Cousins threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns against the Giants back in Week 3. He’s been a QB1 all year long.

Starts

Matt Ryan vs. Saints: Ryan and the Falcons have plenty to play for Sunday. Atlanta can clinch a first-round bye with a win, and Ryan is in the MVP hunt and could use this as a final statement. Saints-Falcons has easily the highest total of the week and one of the highest I’ve personally seen all season at 56.5 points. This has shootout written all over it. Ryan threw for just 240 yards and two touchdowns when these teams met in Week 3, but Atlanta hung 45 points on the board. Devonta Freeman had a massive game. Ryan is a top-three play this week.

Andrew Luck vs. Jaguars: In a week chock full of low totals due to the threat of backups and shoddy football, Jaguars-Colts has the third-highest total of the week at 47.5 points. The question of Luck being sat down and preserved for 2017 was brought up to him on Wednesday, but he essentially laughed to reporters, suggesting that’s not on the table. The Jaguars have played solid pass defense for a large chunk of the season, but this one will be played in the dome between two teams possibly going through the motions on defense. Luck will be without Donte Moncrief (shoulder), but the rest of the Colts’ offense should be out there. Fire Luck up as a top-five quarterback.

Blake Bortles at Colts: As mentioned above, this Jacksonville-Indianapolis game sports the third-highest total of Week 17 at 47.5 points. The Jaguars got up off the mat and played hard for interim coach Doug Marrone in his first game at the helm, blowing out the Titans by 21 points and ending Tennessee’s playoff hopes. Bortles threw for 325 yards and a score and got Allen Robinson cooking with a 9-147 line, setting a new season-high in yards for Robinson. The Colts have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks on the year and have next-to-no pass rush.

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Sits

Dak Prescott at Eagles: The Cowboys insist they’re going to play their starters Sunday, even with absolutely nothing to gain. Dallas has already locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC and secured home-field advantage. Prescott will likely start this one, but it makes no sense to expose him to potential injury by playing him more than a few series just to stay fresh. There has been word that the Cowboys will activate No. 3 QB Mark Sanchez as the No. 2 this week to let him play behind Prescott, and not force Tony Romo into awkward mop-up duty with a bunch of backups.

Matthew Stafford vs. Packers: The Lions need Stafford to step up more than ever Sunday night. But it’s really hard to get excited about a quarterback that has thrown one or zero touchdowns in seven of his past nine games and has thrown for more than 278 yards just once since Week 3. This isn’t the same offense that allowed Stafford to hang 385 yards and three touchdowns on the Packers in September. The Lions have slowed their pace considerably since then and have focused more on controlling the ball and the clock to keep a suspect defense off the field. Expect OC Jim Bob Cooter to try this same approach Sunday night in order to keep Aaron Rodgers on the sideline.

Eli Manning at Redskins: The Giants are already locked into the No. 5 seed in the NFC. They can’t move up or down, and have no real reason to play their starters the full game. The only case one could make for coach Ben McAdoo doing so is to beat the Redskins and keep them out of the playoffs. But Manning’s health is far more important than worrying about Washington’s postseason aspirations. The Redskins admitted they’re also preparing for No. 2 QB Josh Johnson.

RUNNING BACK

Start of the Week: Jacquizz Rodgers vs. Panthers: The Bucs’ backfield got a shake-up on Wednesday. Charles Sims (pectorals) was sent to I.R., and Doug Martin revealed he was slapped with a four-game suspension and will be away from the team seeking treatment for his Adderall problem. Martin will miss Week 17 and the first three games of next season. In three games without Sims and Martin earlier this season, Rodgers averaged 24.6 carries and caught a total of seven passes. One of those games was against the Panthers in Week 5, when Rodgers managed 129 total yards on a whopping 35 touches. Carolina is now without stud MLB Luke Kuechly, who has been shut down with his concussion history. Rodgers is a legitimate RB1 option who should be a lock for 20-plus touches.

Starts

Fitzgerald Toussaint vs. Browns: Coach Mike Tomlin confirmed on Wednesday that the big three of the Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown will rest on Sunday. DeAngelo Williams is technically the “No. 2” running back, but he’s 33 years old and has played all of five snaps since undergoing a knee scope in October. There’s no reason for the Steelers to push him, either. Toussaint is no world-beater, but the matchup is incredibly prime. He’s averaging 4.0 YPC on very limited action this season but could be in line for 15-20 touches Sunday. The Browns have surrendered the second-most fantasy points to running backs this season and don’t want to win.

Darren McFadden at Eagles: As previously mentioned, I don’t believe the Cowboys are going to run their starters out there for the entire game Sunday. Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott are the biggest pieces to the puzzle if Dallas is going to make a Super Bowl run. They need to be protected, and I expect coach Jason Garrett to pull Elliott out of the game first. He was the first one to get rest last week against Detroit, and McFadden handled the entire fourth quarter as an every-down back. McFadden managed to see 14 carries in just over a quarter of action. If he gets a half or even three quarters against the Eagles, it would be an upset if McFadden didn’t see 20-plus touches. McFadden showed last season that he can put up serviceable fantasy numbers if given the reps.

Thomas Rawls at 49ers: Rawls was a massive flop last week in the Seahawks’ home loss to the Cardinals. He rushed eight times for eight yards before missing the entire second half with a shoulder injury. Coach Pete Carroll said afterward that the injury wasn’t serious, and Rawls practiced in full on Wednesday. Seattle still has something to play for with the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye on the line. San Francisco is dead last in fantasy points allowed to running backs and 11 of those running backs have ran for 100-plus yards. Rawls has been really bad this season, playing at less than 100 percent and behind one of the worst offensive lines. But even Todd Gurley managed 67 yards and a touchdown against the Niners last week. Rawls is a fine RB2 option.

Sits

DeAngelo Williams vs. Browns: Some in the Twitter world are confused as to why Williams isn’t the next man up this week with Le’Veon Bell resting for the playoffs. Common sense tells us Williams won’t be the man Sunday because he’s still not over an October knee scope, is 33 years old, and has played just five offensive snaps since Week 9. The tea leaves say Fitzgerald Toussaint is the Steelers’ running back to play against Cleveland. Williams very well could be inactive.

Melvin Gordon vs. Chiefs: Gordon has missed the past two games with his hip and knee injuries suffered against the Panthers in Week 14. He returned to practice Wednesday and is pushing hard to play in the finale. While it’s meaningless to the Chargers, there’s something on the line for Gordon. He’s three yards shy of 1,000 on the season and admitted it’s important to him to reach the milestone. There’s no way Gordon is anywhere near 100 percent, but he’s expected to get an opportunity to get the three yards. Once/if he does, that could be it for Gordon on Sunday. He’s the future in San Diego, and there’s no point in risking him further injury. It wouldn’t be a surprise if all three of Gordon, Ronnie Hillman, and even Andre Williams split the load.

Latavius Murray at Broncos: After dominating the running back snaps Weeks 12-14, Murray has reentered a three-man timeshare in Oakland’s backfield. DeAndre Washington was inactive for three weeks, but has been back in the fold the past two games and scored twice last Saturday. Murray played just 50 percent of the snaps in Week 15 and 40.8 percent of them in Week 16. The Raiders could be trying to get him fresh for the playoffs. Either way, it’s impossible to trust Murray in this committee, even in a plus matchup. Murray hung 114 yards and three touchdowns on the Broncos in Week 9. The Raiders should be run-heavy with Matt McGloin at quarterback, but it’s tough to see Murray repeating that performance.

WIDE RECEIVER

Start of the Week: Steve Smith Sr. at Bengals: “89” announced on Wednesday that Week 17 will be his final NFL game. The 37-year-old got emotional talking about it, especially when saying his daughter keeps begging for him to be home more. This will be Smith’s last hoorah. Expect Joe Flacco to pepper Smith with targets, and look for Smith to be all sorts of juiced up for this one. He could conceivably see 15-20 targets. Smith is 237 yards shy of passing Tim Brown for sixth on the all-time list. The Bengals have been playing solid pass defense of late, but throw that out the window here.

Starts

Eli Rogers vs. Browns: No Antonio Brown. No Le’Veon Bell. Likely no Ladarius Green. That essentially leaves Rogers as one of the top pass-game options for QB Landry Jones, who will be making the start in place of Ben Roethlisberger. The Browns have struggled with slot receivers all season. Rogers is locked into a big offensive role the rest of the way for the Steelers.

Pierre Garcon vs. Giants: Garcon has topped 65 yards and/or scored a touchdown in seven of the past eight games. He’s been super consistent and was well on his way to a monster afternoon last week against the Bears before the Redskins squatted on the ball in the second half with an enormous lead. The Giants aren’t expected to play top CB Janoris Jenkins (back), and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could also get much of the day off. With Jordan Reed (shoulder) still not close to 100 percent, Garcon has become Kirk Cousins’ safety blanket. Garcon posted a 5-59 line against the G-Men back in Week 3. He’s a solid, if unspectacular, WR3 option.

Golden Tate vs. Packers: Over the past four weeks, Tate is fifth among all wide receivers in targets per game, averaging 10 in that span. While it’s hard to love the Detroit pass game as a whole Sunday night, Tate is the best option of the bunch. He has two 100-yard games over his past four and hasn’t been held below 58 yards in any of his past five. The Packers have allowed the most touchdowns and fantasy points to opposing receivers this season. Tate passed Marvin Jones a long while ago as the Lions’ No. 1 receiver. Lions-Packers may be the top game of the weekend.

Sits

Amari Cooper at Broncos: The Broncos have nothing to play for, but they have pride and can help knock the Raiders out of the No. 2 seed in the AFC with a win and Chiefs victory over the Chargers. Cooper has had some massive games this season, but he’s also mixed in a ton of duds. He hasn’t had a 100-yard game since Week 8 and has failed to top 60 yards in 6-of-7 games since. One of those was a 6-56 line against the Broncos in Week 9. That’s a respectable line, but not one that is going to win fantasy games. The Broncos are No. 1 against the pass and have allowed the fewest fantasy points to receivers. They’ve only given up six touchdowns to the position. And with Derek Carr (leg) out, it makes even more sense to avoid Cooper.

DeVante Parker vs. Patriots: The Dolphins have already clinched a Wild Card berth. it remains to be seen if they’ll be the No. 5 or 6 seed, which is big since the No. 5 will travel to Houston, while the No. 6 will travel to Pittsburgh. Not only does Miami have something to play for in this spot, but New England does as well. The Patriots can lock up the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage with a win. Parker had a big Week 16 with a 4-85-1 line against the Bills, but he was mostly nonexistent the previous 2-3 weeks as he continues to battle nagging injuries. Expect Parker to see a lot of Malcolm Butler in this one. Butler is Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 cover corner out of 120.

DeAndre Hopkins at Titans: Coach Bill O’Brien said the Texans will play to win the game Sunday, but they’re another team that has nothing to gain or lose this weekend. Houston is already locked into the No. 4 seed and could use this week as a mini-bye to get Hopkins and Lamar Miller (ankle) some needed rest. The Titans’ pass defense is brutal enough that even one half of Hopkins would be worth firing up in season-long leagues, but he’s off the table in daily formats.

TIGHT END

Start of the Week: Zach Ertz vs. Cowboys: Ertz has been the king of the final month of the season the past two years. Prior to last week’s 2-30 line against the Giants, Ertz had 80 yards and/or a touchdown in three-straight games. Over the past four weeks, Ertz is second among tight ends in targets per game with a 9.5 mark. Dallas has allowed the second-most catches for the third-most yards to tight ends this year. And over the past five weeks, Dallas is dead last in catches and yards given up to the position. Carson Wentz has been leaning on his tight ends for the past month-plus.

Starts

Kyle Rudolph vs. Bears: Rudolph’s targets are as consistent as it gets at the tight end spot. He’s seen at least nine passes come his way in four of the past five games and is No. 1 among tight ends in targets per game over the past four weeks. With Sam Bradford checking the ball down at will and taking what the defense gives him, it leads to a ton of opportunities for Rudolph. The Bears have smothered tight ends for the most part, but Rudolph’s workload is too safe to overlook.

Jesse James vs. Browns: Ladarius Green (concussion) returned to practice Wednesday after missing Week 16, but it would be a surprise if the Steelers push him to play in a meaningless game. With Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell sitting out due to rest, James and Eli Rogers might be Landry Jones top-two pass-game targets, with Cobi Hamilton and Fitzgerald Toussaint in the mix. James caught four balls last week in Green’s absence and showed a nose for the end zone earlier in the year when Green was on the PUP list. The Browns have allowed the most touchdowns and fantasy points to tight ends. James is on the streaming radar for this matchup.

Charles Clay at Jets: After not scoring a single touchdown Weeks 1-12, Clay has scored in three-straight games and has four in that frame. He’s averaging over seven targets per game in that span. That was with Tyrod Taylor under center. The Bills are shaking things up this week, benching Taylor and inserting E.J. Manuel at quarterback after firing coach Rex Ryan earlier this week. Interim coach Anthony Lynn will be trying to make an impression, so it’s doubtful the Bills bench any of their healthy veterans. The Jets have given up and laid down. Over their last five games, Gang Green has allowed seven touchdowns and the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.

Sits

Jordan Reed vs. Giants: After sitting out Week 16, Reed was back at practice Wednesday and is expected to be active for the important finale. It will be all hands on deck for the Redskins as they try to earn a playoff spot. But given how unhealthy Reed looked in Weeks 14 and 15, it’s extremely hard to trust him as a fantasy play at far less than 100 percent. Reed played just 29 total snaps Weeks 14 and 15 and saw only two targets. Vernon Davis remains the better play.

Martellus Bennett at Dolphins: In the absence of Rob Gronkowski, it hasn’t been Bennett picking up the slack. Instead, Julian Edelman is leading the league in targets in that span, while Bennett has drawn no more than four targets in any of his past six outings. Miami has been dreadful against the tight end position and just lost starting FS Isa Abdul-Quddus (neck) to injured reserve on Wednesday, but Bennett has let us down in multiple plus spots. The Patriots aren’t going to change their game plan.

Jason Witten at Eagles: Witten is sure to start Sunday, but how long he will play is anybody’s guess. Expect him to be one of the first ones to sit down when/if the Cowboys start pulling their starters. Not only is Witten unlikely to play the entire game, this matchup is incredibly tough. The Eagles have allowed the fewest catches, fewest yards, and second-fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Witten was held to just two catches for 16 yards when these two teams met in Week 8, but he did get lucky enough to catch the game-winning touchdown.

Nick Mensio

Nick Mensio has been covering the NFL for NBC Sports Edge since 2012. He can be found on Twitter at @NickMensio.