Week 17: Resting This Week
Only a couple teams are truly locked into their playoff seed. The Atlanta Falcons have the NFC's No. 1 spot and both Green Bay and San Francisco are vying for the second seed. Seattle is in and Washington needs a win to take the NFC East. Minnesota, Chicago, Dallas, and New York are all vying for the final NFC wildcard. Both of the top-two seeds are open for contention in the AFC as Houston, Denver and New England have a slew of scenarios to clinch those spots. Baltimore can still sneak into the third seed, but will need Miami to upset New England. Indianapolis and Cincinnati have the two AFC wildcards and cannot improve their standing.
Rather than attempt to overthink these scenarios, only seriously consider benching players from locked-in teams. Any team that can move up will play like they can still move up.
Facing J.J. Watt and the rest of his Houston defense will be a tall task for Andrew Luck. The rookie has already sealed the AFC's No. 5 seed and with no way to improve their playoff situation, Luck could take an early seat. The Texans have something to play for since a win would guarantee them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs while a loss, a Broncos win, and a Patriots win would give them the third seed. An argument could be made that Luck needs all the big-game experience he can in his first-year, but the potential for injury may be too much to risk.
Since Denver plays later in the afternoon (4:25 EST), they will already know the outcome of Houston's early game against Indianapolis. If the Texans lose, Denver would seal the No. 1 seed with a win over Cleveland. With all this in mind, should the Broncos jump out to a big lead over the inferior Browns, there is no good reason to keep the less-than-agile Peyton Manning out on the field. Of course, if Houston wins their game, Denver has to win to receive a first-round bye. If your fantasy quarterbacks play in late games, this should give you the flexibility, just like Denver, to start Manning or go in a different direction. What is likely though is that Manning will suit up and play a full game, so this whole exercise could be moot.
The Atlanta Falcons have clinched the NFC's No. 1 seed and the accompanying home-field advantage and there is little else to play for other than pride. Head coach Mike Smith has already stated, "We're going to play the game to win." Sure thing, Mike. The NFL is still a business and they have to sell tickets, so announcing outright they are going to shut it down after the first quarter would not exactly be a great idea. Matt Ryan is one good hit away from riding the pine for fear of a potential injury. Should the Falcons jump out to an early lead, do not expect Ryan to stick around long. The complication here is Atlanta faces Tampa Bay's league-worst pass defense (303 ypg), which should provide plenty of scoring opportunities while Ryan is in the game.
The Ravens have already won the AFC North since they have a better divisional record than the Bengals. They can move to No. 3 up from No. 4 should they win and New England loses later in the day against Miami. What makes this more convoluted is Cincinnati has nothing to gain or lose in this game, which may mean that Baltimore turns on cruise control after taking an early lead. Ray Rice is irreplaceable any time of year, but right now, he is even more important. Cincy also has the NFL's eighth-ranked rush defense, which could stymie Rice regardless. Rice did gain 118 total yards and reach the end zone twice way back in Week 1 against Cincinnati. Keep in mind that game occurred about four months ago, which is ancient history in the NFL.
If anyone could use an extra week off, it would certainly be Michael Turner. The ninth-year vet has certainly hit the wall this season and has only carried the ball 20 or more times twice last season, after seven such games in 2011 and eight in 2010. The shift to Jacquizz Rodgers has been gradual as both players have been in the mix in recent weeks. Look for Turner to play very little in Week 17. Rodgers may have only had six carries last week, yet the diminutive speedster is likely to play more with the Falcons locked into the NFC's top playoff seed. Atlanta probably does not want to lose heading into their bye, but Turner's age and injury risk should be serious concerns. The veteran core of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, White, Tony Gonzalez, and even rookie Julio Jones should all be treated as part-time players.