Any veteran fantasy football owner playing for a championship in Week 17 knows the drill. Strange things happen this week. You almost need to forget what you know. For example, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is fantasy's top player. He'll likely finish that way. Well, this week his backup appears more valuable. Anyone that owns Houston Texans running back Arian Foster wouldn't think of sitting him, except this week when his backup is more valuable. See what's happening here? Yep, it's odd. We call it Week 17.
I don't fault those who choose to settle their fantasy championships in Week 15 or 16. More power to you. I'm also cool with the leagues that decide to complete things this week. I play in both formats. Congrats to the winners -- and the pending winners! Some people are adamant that this pending week is a joke and cannot be trusted for fantasy normalcy. Well, I don't really agree. You just have to work a bit harder, that's all. No matter how you settle things, there's much to consider. Our Week 17 rankings not only show some oddities, like Matt Flynn being ranked ahead of Rodgers by two staff members (myself included), but we're all over the map in guessing who really will and will not be a factor.
I never speak for colleagues, but I like Ben Tate quite a bit more than others this week. The Texans are set for playoff positioning in the AFC's No. 3 spot, unlike Tom Brady's New England Patriots, three AFC North entrants, a pair of AFC West teams and, I believe, all the NFC playoff-bound teams except the Packers. Yes, Tate hasn't done much the past two weeks. In Week 16, he was provided six rushing attempts against a bad Indianapolis Colts defense, and in sum actually lost one yard. Tate has 15 fantasy points combined since Week 10. But this guy is good, and I don't see the Texans pushing Foster, perhaps not even dressing him for the Sunday game. Tate needs 155 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season. Say what you will about individual goals for players, but you can't tell me the Texans wouldn't love to get him those yards. Not too many NFL teams get a pair of running backs over 1,000 yards.
Tate is a top-20 running back for me this week, unless we hear later that he too will be limited. It's certainly possible Derrick Ward, a gentleman who knows a bit about multiple rushers reaching 1,000 yards (he and Brandon Jacobs turned the trick for the 2008 New York Giants), will get the chance to show his stuff Sunday. Pay attention to the latest news, even on Sunday morning, and we'll help you the best we can. For now, I like Tate a lot. This has that Week 17 monster performance feel to it, like last season when backups Michael Bush, Joe McKnight and Rashad Jennings produced three of the five 100-yard rushing games in the final week (Foster and Ryan Mathews were the other two).
When it comes to personal accomplishments, fantasy owners shouldn't diminish their potential impact in a week that otherwise means little to some players. For example, look at the running backs who could get to 1,000 rushing yards. There are 13 running backs already there. Shonn Greene of the New York Jets needs one yard. I say he gets it. Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans needs 14 yards. Don't be surprised if he gets 15 and then Jamie Harper gets to have all the fun. Michael Bush of the Oakland Raiders is 89 yards away. I see that Darren McFadden is talkin' about playing this week. Well, I'll believe it when I see it! As any player agent can report, this stuff matters come contract time.
Chris Johnson has been one of the most maddening fantasy options this season, with three games of 130 or more rushing yards, and six others with less than 35 yards rushing. But when he hits 1,000 rushing yards, even though his contract is, ahem, taken care of, it strengthens his considerable résumé. It would be his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season; only the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson, with seven straight, has more among active folks. I didn't rank Johnson very well this week, but he might be among the best you've got.
Here are some other thoughts I had while ranking for Week 17:
Quarterback: I don't think Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger will play enough to help most fantasy teams. The Pittsburgh Steelers say they want Big Ben to get 20-25 snaps. Awesome. Don't count on 200 passing yards or touchdowns there, especially when the Cleveland Browns are among the best teams at shutting that down. I like both quarterbacks in the Sunday night NFC East title game (Eli Manning over Tony Romo), I think Tim Tebow, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Carson Palmer can be trusted and I hedged some on Drew Brees. Will he play the entire game? He's already got the passing yards mark. Don't get too cute and use the Packers' Flynn, either. There are better choices.
Running back: It remains to be seen whether the NFC wild-card teams, the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, play their studs. I think Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are safe. I think Matt Ryan and Roddy White are safe. I don't think Michael Turner, struggling for a month, necessarily is. I ranked him 16th. I like Toby Gerhart, Cedric Benson and Shonn Greene more than everyone else. Gerhart has been in double digits for fantasy five consecutive weeks. Adrian Peterson isn't in the way. Benson scored two touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 11. And Greene faces a Dolphins team that hasn't been so dominant against the run lately.
Wide receiver: These rankings are all over the place, but we all agreed you can't trust Andre Johnson on Sunday. He a great player, of course, but I doubt he gets much work. As for Johnson in the actual NFL playoffs, well, I'll have my postseason rankings next week!