From studs to duds, sleepers and more, NFL.com breaks down the biggest fantasy stories of the week.
1. The Colts sit their stars in the second half.Fantasy owners who had Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne or Dallas Clark in Week 16 had to be fearful that coach Jim Caldwell would decide to rest them against the Jets. That scenario came to fruition in the third quarter. Manning finished with seven points and hurt the chances of the 94 percent of owners on NFL.com who started him. Wayne, active in 81 percent, lost his battle with Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and finished with three points. Addai did well to score 10 points, but he didn't see much work in the second half. Clark scored just five points, hurting 97 percent of owners.
If you combined the fantasy production of these four stars (25 points), it was just one more point than Panthers quarterback Matt Moore scored against the Giants. Yes, that's the same Matt Moore who had started just three games at the NFL level entering this season. For owners who play into Week 17, there's no need to start any of this quartet. If the Colts rested them for a half in Week 16, chances are they'll be rested against the Bills. With that said, fantasy owners should start Donald Brown and Austin Collie. Both should be heavily involved in the offense. Brown is especially attractive against the Buffalo defense which has been awful against the run.
2. Injuries affect the outcome of fantasy winners. The NFL season is long and punishing, so it's no surprise that several big-name players went down with ailments in the next-to-last week. The first to go down was Pierre Thomas, who sustained bruised ribs in a shocking loss to the Buccaneers. He did score 12 fantasy points before exiting, but his stat line could have been even better had he not been injured. If the Saints decide to rest him in Week 17, look for Mike Bell and Lynell Hamilton to see a lot of work against the Panthers. Tony Gonzalez missed the second half of his game against the Bills with a injured calf and finished with just one point.
Fantasy owners also lost Ricky Williams, who sustained an injured shoulder against the Texans. While he did return for one play in the fourth quarter, Williams missed a good chunk of the offensive snaps in the second half. Lex Hilliard will become a hot name off the fantasy waiver wire if Williams is unavailable in Week 17. Hilliard scored 20 fantasy points on NFL.com with Williams on the sidelines and would be a viable flex starter against the Steelers. The Panthers-Giants game saw two injuries, one to Brandon Jacobs and one to Carolina's Steve Smith. Jacobs dealt with a sore knee and missed most of the fourth quarter, and chances are he won't see much action in Week 17 with the Giants eliminated from the postseason. That makes Ahmad Bradshaw a great option. Smith's injury was far worse, as he broke his forearm on a 27-yard touchdown catch. Smith is obviously done for the season, so Muhsin Muhammad will have added value for the regular-season finale against the Saints.
3. Tom Brady bounces and wins owners a championship. In this very spot last week, I lamented about how badly Brady had been against the Buffalo Bills. After all, his eight-point dud had cost countless owners a chance at a league title. But for those who somehow survived, Brady made up for his Week 15 failures. The veteran quarterback completed 23 of 26 pass attempts, threw for 267 yards and four touchdowns against the vulnerable Jaguars pass defense. His 34 fantasy points led all players on NFL.com.
Brady's success also meant a huge stat line for Randy Moss, who caught three of Brady's scores and finished with 22 fantasy points of his own. With the win over the Jags, the Patriots clinched the AFC East title and a first-round home game. That means there's a chance that Brady, Moss and the rest of the prominent Patriots could be rested for all or part of next week's game against the Texans. That's the main reason fantasy championships should be played in Week 16, not the season's final weekend.
4. Jonathan Stewart makes an enormous fantasy impact. With superstar running back DeAngelo Williams on the sidelines due to an injured ankle, Stewart took over the featured role for Carolina and rushed for 206 yards (a Panthers club record) and scored a touchdown during what was a 41-0 blowout win. Stewart has rushed for a combined 315 yards and two touchdowns with Williams on the sidelines over the last two games. Imagine if he were ever allowed a chance to be a true featured back? Stewart could be a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy back and worth a second-round selection in all seasonal drafts.
Stewart has to be considered a must-start in Week 17 against the Saints if Williams is out another game. And with nothing to play for in the finale, I wouldn't be shocked to see Stewart in the backfield and Williams on the sidelines. While the future is hard to predict, it seems Stewart is still at least one season from seeing a greater role. Williams is still under contract for one more year, and he too is a beast out of the backfield.
5. A number of postseason seeds were wrapped up. If your fantasy league extends into Week 17, then you need to know which teams have something to play for and which teams could rest their starters. In the AFC, the Jets (8-7) will reach the Wild Card round with a win over the Bengals. Obviously, it's safe to use anyone wearing a green and white uniform in that contest. The Broncos (8-7), Ravens (8-7), Texans (8-7), Steelers (8-7), Dolphins (7-8) and Jaguars (7-8) all have a chance to make the postseason. As a result, fantasy owners should feel safe using players from these teams. The Colts, Chargers, Patriots and Bengals have all clinched and could rest their starters. Considering the Colts already started to rest their stars, it's hard to imagine any of them playing much of a role in the regular-season finale in Buffalo.
In the NFC, the Cowboys and Eagles are both in the playoffs but are playing for the NFC East title in Week 17. As a result, all of their top players are great fantasy options. With seeding implications possibly still on the line, the Saints, Vikings and Cardinals will all likely use their starters. Of course, much depends on Monday night's Vikings-Bears contest. If the Bears win, the Saints will clinch home-field advantage throughout the postseason and could decide to rest players in Week 17. If the Vikings win, however, they'll have a chance to gain home-field advantage in the NFC with a win over the Giants in Week 17 and a Saints loss to the Panthers.
News and notes
- Rams RB Steven Jackson was a late inactive against the Cardinals, as the herniated disk in his back forced him to the sidelines. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the talented runner plans on playing in Week 17, but it remains to be seen if that happens. If he is active, it will be hard to bench Jackson with so many other backs possibly being rested. Be sure to monitor his status throughout the week.
- Falcons QB Matt Ryan reminded us all why he was considered a major fantasy breakout candidate back in the preseason with his three-touchdown performance against the Bills. Interestingly, Buffalo had entered the week having allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. With his turf toe issues seemingly behind him, Ryan should be seen as a viable fantasy starter in Week 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- Fantasy owners have to be furious with Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who said he would feature RB Arian Foster in Week 15 only to bench him after a lost fumble. Well, Kubiak went back to Foster in Week 16, and the rookie posted an impressive 97 rushing yards and a touchdown against a tough Dolphins run defense. While Kubiak is hard to predict, it seems like Foster has secured the top spot on the depth chart. I think.
- Jets CB Darrelle Revis made Colts WR Reggie Wayne (three catches, 33 yards) look invisible in Week 16. Revis has now shut down stud wideouts like Andre Johnson, Marques Colston, Steve Smith (CAR), Roddy White and Randy Moss, to name a few. With that said, I think you have to bench Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco in Week 17. He's next to face "the wideout eraser" Revis, and the Jets have much more to play for in the contest.
- Browns RB Jerome Harrison, a preseason super sleeper on NFL.com, led countless fantasy owners to a title. After posting 47 fantasy points in last week's game against the Chiefs, Harrison had 39 carries for 148 yards with one touchdown and scored a solid 18 fantasy points in a win over the Raiders. While the future promises to be different with Mike Holmgren at the helm, Harrison is making his case to be a starter in 2010.
- Speaking of running backs on the rise, fantasy owners in keeper and dynasty leagues now have consider Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles a viable option. He rushed for 100-plus yards for the third straight game in Week 16 and has now averaged a solid 19 fantasy points on NFL.com in his last three games. Even against a formidable defense like the Broncos, Charles should be seen as a solid fantasy option in the regular-season finale.
- It's pretty apparent that Cardinals RB Beanie Wells has become the top option in the team's backfield rotation. In Week 16, he posted 68 rushing yards and scored this third touchdown in as many games. The rookie out of Ohio State has averaged over 16 carries in his last three contests as well. Now a viable No. 2 fantasy back, Wells is showing the skills that made him a first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
- Steelers WR Hines Ward aggravated his injured hamstring against the Baltimore Ravens and is in danger of missing the team's finale in Miami, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. That would be bad news for fantasy owners, as Ward has a great matchup against a vulnerable Dolphins pass defense. If the veteran can't play, look for WR Mike Wallace to be a huge sleeper candidate in most leagues.