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Start 'Em & Sit 'Em: Week 17

Note: Sleeper alert focuses on players who aren't considered regular starters but have favorable matchups and could produce at a high level. Owners beware focuses on prominent players with unfavorable matchups who could fail to meet statistical expectations.

START OF THE WEEK

 

Kurt Warner, Arizona: It's hard to predict what will happen in Week 17, since postseason teams will rest their starters on both offense and defense. That alters the dynamics of the matchups and makes it difficult to set the best possible lineup. With that in mind, it's important to activate hot players who will start and be involved in an entire contest. That defines Warner, who has a great matchup against his old team, the St. Louis Rams. The veteran should be active in most formats.


QUARTERBACKS: START 'EM

 

Marc Bulger, St. Louis: Bulger appears to be closer to 100 percent after his three-touchdown performance last Thursday night, and he'll start this week in Arizona against a porous Cardinals defense. The Red birds have been awful against the pass in recent weeks -- Chris Redman went for 315 yards and two touchdowns against them last week -- so Bulger should make some noise. This NFC West battle has shootout written all over it, so look for Bulger to end a bad season on a high note.

More quarterbacks with favorable matchups: Derek Anderson vs. San Francisco, Tom Brady at N.Y. Giants, Jay Cutler vs. Minnesota, Carson Palmer at Miami, Vince Young at Indianapolis.

Sleeper alert: Cleo Lemon vs. Cincinnati.

QUARTERBACKS: SIT 'EM

 

Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Manning has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL in recent weeks, as he's thrown for eight touchdowns in his past three starts. But with the No. 2 seed in the AFC clinched and little to play for in Week 17, Manning will see limited work against Tennessee. In fact, he might not see more than one series in the contest. If you want to start an Indianapolis quarterback, it should be No. 2 man Jim Sorgi, who should see most of the time under center.

Tony Romo, Dallas: Much like Manning, Romo will see little or no work this weekend. Dallas has now locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the postseason, so Romo and his injured thumb will spend quite a bit of time on the sidelines when the Polks face Washington. Veteran signal-caller Brad Johnson will see most of the work under center in the contest, and he could be a viable sleeper in deeper leagues against the team that quit on him earlier in his career.

More quarterbacks with unfavorable matchups: Jeff Garcia vs. Carolina, David Garrard at Houston, Tarvaris Jackson at Denver, Eli Manning vs. New England, Philip Rivers at Oakland.

Owners beware: Ben Roethlisberger at Baltimore.


RUNNING BACKS: START 'EM

 

Frank Gore, San Francisco: Gore had been a disappointment overall this season, but he has been better in recent weeks. The Miami product has totaled over 100 all-purpose yards in five consecutive starts, and he found the end zone in last week's win over Tampa Bay. The Niners will look to finish the season with two straight wins in Cleveland, where the Browns and their 28th-ranked run defense awaits. In their effort to find success, look for Gore to be the centerpiece of their offensive attack.

Kenny Watson, Cincinnati: Watson was tremendous last week in the absence of Rudi Johnson, as he totaled 150 all-purpose yards and one touchdown in a 19-14 win over Cleveland. With Johnson still at less than 100 percent and No. 3 runner De De Dorsey out for Week 17, Watson has a chance to once again be the featured back for Cincinnati in their regular-season finale in Miami. The Dolphins field one of the NFL's worst run defenses, so Watson should make some noise in this AFC battle.

More running backs with favorable matchups: Jamal Lewis vs. San Francisco, Edgerrin James vs. St. Louis, Thomas Jones vs. Kansas City, Adrian Peterson at Denver, Brian Westbrook vs. Buffalo.

Sleeper alert: Kolby Smith at N.Y. Jets.

RUNNING BACKS: SIT 'EM

 

Earnest Graham, Tampa Bay: Graham entered last weekend's contest in San Francisco with a touchdown in six consecutive starts, but to the surprise of fantasy footballers all over the world, he was rested for most of the contest. Rather than pursue the No. 3 seed in the NFC, head coach Jon Gruden instead rested his starters for much of the afternoon. That scenario is expected to occur again in Week 17, so Michael Pittman, not Graham, should see the lion's share of the carries against Carolina.

Selvin Young, Denver: Young has clearly passed veteran Travis Henry on the Broncos' depth chart, but it seems he has hit the old rookie wall. He has a combined 73 rushing yards in his past two starts, and now he'll have to face a Minnesota defense that ranks No. 1 in the league against the run. Young will also continue to share at least some of the workload with Henry, especially inside the opponent's 5-yard line. Unless you're desperate for a flex starter, Young should be left on the sidelines.

More running backs with unfavorable matchups: Joseph Addai vs. Tennessee, Shaun Alexander at Atlanta, Marion Barber at Washington, Laurence Maroney at N.Y. Giants, Darius Walker vs. Jacksonville.

Owners beware: Brandon Jacobs vs. New England.


WIDE RECEIVERS: START 'EM

 

Steve Smith, Carolina: Smith broke out of his statistical hibernation last Thursday night with an impressive 137-yard, one-touchdown performance in a loss to Dallas, and his success should continue against Tampa Bay in Week 17. The Buccaneers are expected to rest their starters, so Smith won't have to deal with CB Ronde Barber for much of the contest. The veteran has also developed a nice rapport with Matt Moore, who will no doubt continue to look in Smith direction in this NFC South clash.

Andre Johnson, Houston: Johnson's production has been incredible this season (when he's been at 100 percent), and he could be the top wide receiver in fantasy football in the regular season's final week. Johnson, who has found the end zone in three consecutive weeks and five of his past six starts, will face a Jacksonville defense that could rest some of its starters for the postseason. The Texans will look to finish the season with a win, so Johnson should see numerous offensive opportunities.

More wide receivers with favorable matchups: Donald Driver vs. Detroit, Braylon Edwards vs. San Francisco, Torry Holt at Arizona, T.J. Houshmandzadeh at Miami, Brandon Marshall vs. Minnesota.

Sleeper alert: Santana Moss vs. Dallas.

WIDE RECEIVERS: SIT 'EM

 

Plaxico Burress, N.Y. Giants: Believe it or not, but there's a chance Burress won't reach the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season. He is still 59 yards short of the mark, and chances are he'll see limited work on Saturday night against New England (8pm EST, NFL Network). Burress has had a bad ankle all season, so head coach Tom Coughlin could rest him against the Patriots for the postseason. Even if he does see action, the matchup doesn't scream a huge stat line.

Hines Ward, Pittsburgh: Ward does have a favorable matchup this week against a Baltimore defense that's riddled with injuries. But like Burress, Ward (like Ben Roethlisberger) could be rested for the postseason. The veteran has also failed to record 60-plus receiving yards in three consecutive weeks, as the Steelers have instead used Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington to stretch defenses in the pass attack. He's still a viable fantasy option, but don't be shocked if Ward fails to produce.

More wide receivers with unfavorable matchups: Dwayne Bowe at N.Y. Jets, Chris Chambers at Oakland, Jerricho Cotchery vs. Kansas City, Lee Evans at Philadelphia, Roddy White vs. Seattle.

Owners beware: Reggie Wayne vs. Tennessee.


TIGHT ENDS: START 'EM

 

Kellen Winslow, Cleveland: Winslow has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season and established himself as one of the elite tight ends in fantasy football, so it's no shock to see him in the start portion of this column. The Browns don't control their path to the postseason (Tennessee is in with a win and out with a loss), but head coach Romeo Crennel will still use his starters against a mediocre San Francisco defense. That means Winslow should see more than his share of chances to contribute.

Chris Cooley, Washington: One of the most underrated tight ends in the league, Cooley has recorded 744 yards and a career-best eight touchdowns in 15 starts. He should build on those numbers this weekend against Dallas, which could rest a lot of its defensive starters for the postseason. Cooley should be prominent on offense as the Redskins look to secure a postseason berth, and his career dominance of the Cowboys makes him an attractive starter in fantasy circles.

More tight ends with favorable matchups: Owen Daniels vs. Jacksonville, Vernon Davis at Cleveland, Donald Lee vs. Detroit, Tony Scheffler vs. Minnesota.

Sleeper alert: Desmond Clark vs. New Orleans.

TIGHT ENDS: SIT 'EM

 

Antonio Gates, San Diego: Most fantasy footballers won't sit a tight end the caliber of Gates, but there are a few reasons to be think he could fail to meet expectations. First, he has recorded a combined two catches for 32 yards in his last two starts, and he has one touchdown in his last dour starts. Second, Gates faces an Oakland defense that ranks 10th in pass defense, Third, Gates could be rested for the postseason for part of the contest, so his numbers could be less than stellar.

Alge Crumpler, Atlanta: Crumpler is at the end of one of his worst seasons in the NFL. His 39 receptions and 377 yards are his lowest totals since 2002, and his three touchdowns are his worst since 2003. He does seem to have some name value in fantasy land, but it's hard to trust him in what is championship week for some owners. Crumpler, who has recorded one contest with 60-plus yards since Week 3, also faces a Seattle defense that has allowed the fewest receiving touchdowns this season.

More tight end with unfavorable matchups: Chris Baker vs. Kansas City, Dallas Clark vs. Tennessee, Randy McMichael at Arizona, Heath Miller at Baltimore.

Owners beware: Jason Witten at Washington.


KICKERS: START 'EM

 

Shayne Graham, Cincinnati: Graham has had a roller coaster ride of a season in 2007. He was selected as a top-five kicker in most drafts but landed on the waiver wire after a mediocre start. He turned it on at midseason with a monster 21-point performance against Baltimore in Week 10, but his numbers have since been inconsistent. This week his statistical totals should see a spike, however, as he faces a porous Dolphins defense that has allowed 44 touchdowns and 27 field goals.

Mason Crosby, Green Bay: Crosby has developed into one of the top kickers in fantasy football in his rookie season, as he leads the entire position in points on NFL.com. He did have a mere one point in last week's loss to Chicago, but Crosby should bounce back and put up a nice stat line against Detroit in the regular-season finale. The Packers should move the football on the Lions' vulnerable defense, so look for Crosby to see more than his share of chances to score points.

More kickers with favorable matchups: Josh Brown at Atlanta, Neil Rackers vs. St. Louis, Nate Kaeding at Oakland, Jeff Reed at Baltimore.

Sleeper alert: Josh Scobee at Houston.

KICKERS: SIT 'EM

 

Matt Stover, Baltimore: Stover started the season as one of the hottest kickers in fantasy football, but he has floundered down the stretch. In fact, the veteran has scored double-digit points on NFL.com twice since Week 7. He'll be hard pressed to do much in the regular-season finale, as the Ravens will be without their No. 1 quarterback and their No. 1 running back against Pittsburgh. The Steelers also field one of the league's best defenses, so Stover's numbers could be minimal at best.

Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland: Much like Stover, Janikowski was one of the hottest kickers in fantasy football during a stretch earlier this season. But over the last several weeks, Sea Bass has fallen back onto the waiver wire in most formats. He has averaged an awful 2.3 fantasy points on NFL.com in his past three starts, and now he'll face a San Diego defense that is tied with New England and Indianapolis for the fewest field-goal conversions allowed (12) on the season.

More kickers with unfavorable matchups: Rob Bironas at Indianapolis, John Kasay at Tampa Bay, Lawrence Tynes vs. New England, Adam Vinatieri vs. Tennessee.

Owners beware: Kris Brown vs. Jacksonville.


DEFENSES: START 'EM

 

Pittsburgh defense: The Steelers face a Ravens offense that will start rookie Troy Smith at quarterback and will be without stud running back Willis McGahee, so fantasy footballers should expect some solid numbers in what could be a lopsided affair at M&T Bank Stadium.

San Diego defense: The Chargers have fielded one of the hotter defenses in fantasy football in recent weeks, and their success should continue in Oakland against a Raiders team that will start rookie JaMarcus Russell and has lost Justin Fargas for the season.

More defenses with favorable matchups: Green Bay defense vs. Detroit, Philadelphia defense vs. Buffalo, Seattle defense at Atlanta, Washington defense vs. Dallas.

Sleeper alert: Cincinnati defense at Miami.

DEFENSES: SIT 'EM

 

Baltimore defense: The Ravens are without their top cornerbacks, Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, and standout linebacker Ray Lewis could miss this week with an injured finger. If that weren't bad enough, they also have to face the high-octane Pittsburgh offense.

Tampa Bay defense: The Buccaneers have a nice matchup on paper against Carolina and undrafted rookie quarterback Matt Moore, but reports indicate that head coach Jon Gruden will rest his starters. That makes this unit far less attractive in fantasy football circles.

More defenses with unfavorable matchups: Denver defense vs. Minnesota, Miami defense vs. Cincinnati, N.Y. Giants defense vs. New England, St. Louis defense at Arizona.

Owners beware: Indianapolis defense vs. Tennessee.

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