Imagine making it all the way to your Fantasy league's championship game with Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback and not having him available in Week 16.
Could happen. Seriously.
Over the next two weeks, circumstances as they relate to the end of the regular season and postseason alter the personnel teams choose to put on the field. For most teams, nothing will change as winning is all that matters. But for teams locked into a playoff spot with no hope of improving, the goal changes from winning to staying healthy for the postseason. And playing time in such situations varies from team to team.
Green Bay Packers
Playoff scenario: First-round bye clinched. Team clinches home-field advantage with 49ers loss Saturday or win Sunday vs. the Bears. The only way they don't get the No. 1 seed is if they lose their next two and the 49ers win their next two.
Could the studs sit? It's possible that the Packers begin limiting their starters' playing time as soon as this week. If the Seahawks beat the 49ers (not a stretch), there's no reason for the Packers to roll out their studs for a meaningless game against a bitter division rival. If the Niners win and the Packers win, then Week 17 will become meaningless for the Packers and the chances of Rodgers playing a lot then dwindle considerably. In 2007 head coach Mike McCarthy pulled his starters in the second quarter in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Lions (their Week 17 opponent this year, coincidentally) after building a 21-3 lead.
If you own them ... Complicating the issue is that the Packers don't play until Sunday night after most other teams play on Saturday. Rodgers becomes a very risky proposition if the Seahawks win because he might not play a full game. Backup Matt Flynn would probably see considerable playing time (but not necessarily start) in place of Rodgers, but he could be asked to do the minimum against a good Bears defense. Your only other option, unless you're loaded with studs at quarterback, is going with whomever the Bears start, which is gross. Flynn is a must-grab if you own Rodgers and don't have another quarterback you'd start ahead of him. Other Packers starters like Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson and Ryan Grant would likely take a seat if Rodgers takes a seat. James Jones might see a decent amount of playing time along with rookie Randall Cobb.
Suffice to say, Aaron Rodgers' Fantasy owners are big 49ers fans on Christmas Eve, and they should probably find a replacement for Week 17.
San Francisco 49ers
Playoff scenario: NFC West clinched. Team clinches a first-round bye with a win at the Seahawks and a Saints loss vs. the Falcons in Week 16. If both teams win the Niners have to beat the Rams next week for the No. 2 seed.
Could the studs sit? Highly unlikely this week unless they blow the Seahawks out of the water (or get blown out themselves). Week 17 could be tricky, however; the team knows they're running Frank Gore at less than 100 percent and might opt to use more of Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon for their finale. They'll almost certainly do that if the Week 17 game is meaningless. Rookie Colin Kaepernick could also see some snaps under center.
If you own them ... The only thing to do is back up Frank Gore with Hunter and/or Dixon, assuming you don't have a good backup running back already on your roster. Vernon Davis owners should look for another tight end if one isn't owned already. Most people who own Michael Crabtree had him as a bench player earlier in the year and should have an alternate in case he sits. David Akers will still kick regardless of the situation, but his field-goal attempts could be severely cut.
New Orleans Saints
Playoff scenario: The Saints have a playoff berth, that's it. They win the NFC South with a win Monday vs. the Falcons. They land a first-round bye if they win in Weeks 16 and 17 (vs. Carolina) and if the Niners lose one game.
Could the studs sit? Zero chance of that happening this week and it's probably not going to happen next week either. Even if the Saints win this week and the Niners lose, the Saints still need to win against the Panthers to clinch the No. 2 seed. And if the Saints lose and if the Niners win, the Saints still need to play to win against the Panthers so that the Falcons don't jump them for the NFC South crown.
Playoff scenario: Nothing clinched yet. If they beat the Eagles at home and if the Giants lose to the Jets, they'll clinch the NFC East. If the Cowboys and Giants both win they face off next week in New York for the NFC East title. They have no chance at a first-round bye or the No. 3 seed.
Could the studs sit? Not in Week 16, but possibly in Week 17. The Cowboys have to beat the Eagles and the Jets have to beat the Giants for that to happen. The last time a playoff-bound Cowboys team had a meaningless Week 17 was in 2007 when the starters played into the third quarter in a blowout loss at Washington. Several key players nursing injuries didn't play at all. Jason Garrett was the offensive coordinator at the time.
If you own them ... Be prepared to go in another direction come Week 17. Miles Austin (hamstring) and Laurent Robinson (shoulder) could sit the entire game; Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Felix Jones and Jason Witten could play a half, maybe less. Make sure you have some backups.
New York Giants
Playoff scenario: Nothing clinched yet. In fact, even if they win this week they still can't clinch anything until Week 17. Like the Cowboys, if they win out they land the NFC East crown. They have no chance at a first-round bye or the No. 3 seed.
Could the studs sit? With something to play for this week and next (if they win), there's hardly any reason to believe the Giants will rest their prominent players. Fuggedaboutit!
Playoff scenario: Nothing clinched yet. They land a playoff berth with a win or a combination of Cowboys/Giants, Bears and Cardinals losses. There is a chance they could earn a playoff berth before they play the Saints Monday, but if they win out and the Saints lose out they take home the NFC South, so they'll have something to play for.
Could the studs sit? Matt Ryan & Co. definitely will not rest on Monday regardless of the outcomes of other games on Christmas Eve. The only situation where they might rest players in Week 17 vs. the Bucs is if they're locked into a road playoff game before they kick off. They would need for the aforementioned combination of losses to happen, along with a loss to the Saints on Monday.
If you own them ... Expect them to play out the rest of the regular season, but it wouldn't hurt to have backups for the primary studs just in case they lock up the fifth or sixth seed.
Playoff scenario: Nothing clinched yet. A win vs. the Chargers on Saturday and they're in as a wild-card team. A combination of losses from other NFC teams would also back them into the postseason if they lose. Either of those things would make Week 17 at Green Bay meaningless since they cannot win the NFC North.
Could the studs sit? It's possible they could in Week 17 if they beat San Diego. Then again, the Lions might be cunning enough to realize that their playoff chances improve if they don't play the No. 3 seed (either the 49ers, Saints or Falcons) and take their chances against the NFC East winner. To do that they'll have to win out. Their matchup against the Packers in Week 17 could be a cakewalk if the Packers clinch the top seed before then.
If you own them ... It's also possible they rest their key players, notably the banged-up Matthew Stafford, if they win in Week 16. Have backups ready for Week 17 as a precautionary move.
New England Patriots
Playoff scenario: AFC East clinched. Team clinches a bye with a win and some help; team clinches the No. 1 seed with a win and losses by the Texans, Ravens and Steelers.
Could the studs sit? Not a chance this week, and with home-field advantage an unlikely clinch in Week 16, you can pencil in the Patriots starting their key guys against the Bills at home in Week 17. They might not play that entire game, but three quarters of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker should still be pretty darn good.
If you own them ... Don't sweat a thing ... unless the Colts, Rams and Browns pull off Week 16 upsets.
Playoff scenario: Playoff spot clinched. Team clinches the division with a win and a Steelers loss; team clinches a first-round bye with a win, a Steelers loss and a Texans loss. They cannot clinch the No. 1 seed this week.
Could the studs sit? They might after they put up 28 points on the Browns in Week 16. As for Week 17, there isn't a scenario where the Ravens have nothing to play for. If they win and the Steelers lose this week they can still compete for the No. 1 seed in the AFC in Week 17. If they lose and the Steelers win this week, for instance, the Ravens can still win the division with a win and a Steelers loss in Week 17.
If you own them ... You might not get 20 carries out of Ray Rice (more like 15), but you'll still get quality numbers. No need to sweat your Ravens studs.
Playoff scenario: Playoff spot clinched. The Steelers need to finish with one more win than the Ravens to land a home playoff game (they're both currently 10-4). They'll need even more help to get a first-round bye.
Could the studs sit? Your Steelers are good to go for Week 16, though we're pretty sure that the very second the Steelers coaches feel they've clinched a win vs. St. Louis on Saturday they'll pull Ben Roethlisberger and other starters. So there's a chance he doesn't play four quarters but it might be more like three-and-a-half. The same thing goes for next week at the Browns; the Steelers need to win both games to have a chance to move anywhere in the AFC playoff picture.
The only way the Steelers might entertain sitting their studs in Week 17 is if they lose to the Rams at home in Week 16 and the Ravens beat the Browns. In that situation the Ravens would win the AFC North and the Steelers would lock in a wild-card spot.
If you own them ... Finding a reliable starter in place of a banged-up Roethlisberger might be a good idea for this week since the Steelers face a matchup that's very favorable for their ground game. Roethlisberger might not be asked to do much; he could come up with one touchdown with some decent yardage. We're reasonably confident the Steelers will win this week and have something to play for in Week 17, so finding backups for Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Rashard Mendenhall (Isaac Redman is a good one for him) isn't a must.
Playoff scenario: AFC South clinched. They could land a first-round bye but they'll need to win out and have the Ravens and/or Patriots lose along the way to get there.
Could the studs sit? Andre Johnson has already been ruled out for Week 16 and chances are he'll miss some if not all of Week 17 vs. the Titans. If they lose to the Colts on Thursday they'll essentially be locked into the No. 3 seed, in which case we could see very little of Arian Foster and Ben Tate too.
If you own them ... As long as the Texans keep winning, there's nothing to sweat. If you'll sleep easier at night backing up Arian Foster with Derrick Ward, who would probably see snaps in a meaningless Week 17 game if push came to shove, then go for it.
Playoff scenario: Nothing clinched yet, but the best they can do is clinch the AFC West with a win at the Bills and a Raiders loss vs. the Chiefs on Saturday. They cannot improve from the No. 4 seed. The Broncos could clinch a playoff berth if they win and the Jets, Bengals and Titans all lose.
Could the studs sit? If the Broncos win and the Raiders lose and the AFC West is all theirs, Week 17 would probably be a formality for them. John Fox never had a game where he pulled his starters for rest in Carolina (the closest they came was a 2005 Week 17 win over the Falcons where they blew them out and rested their starters in the fourth quarter). If they have zilch to go for we could see the Broncos rest banged-up starter Willis McGahee and possibly not chance it with injury-prone receiver Demaryius Thomas.
If you own them ... Count on them in Week 16; Week 17 might be different so having a backup for Tim Tebow (which is a must in the first place) is a grand plan.
New York Jets
Playoff scenario: Nothing clinched yet and nothing can be clinched this week. The Jets can't win their division and can only claim the sixth seed. They have to fend off the Bengals among others over the next two weeks to get it. They play at Miami in Week 17.
Could the studs sit? Not a chance -- they have to win.
If you own them ... Count on them, with "them" being Shonn Greene and possibly Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Dustin Keller and Mark Sanchez. Obviously their matchups vs. the Giants and at the Dolphins are not gimmes for stats.
Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs: These teams are clinging to playoff hopes and need two wins and help to make it. They're not resting anybody.
So we've outlined several Fantasy-impact scenarios that could result in some studs getting the baseball-cap-and-sports-drink treatment down the stretch. It wouldn't be nice of us to tell you this without laying out some decent alternatives, many of whom are available via free agency, for the final two weeks of the season, now would it?
Listed in order of most-to-least valuable over Weeks 16 and 17. Please consult our rankings for replacements for just Week 16.
|Quarterbacks||Running backs||Wide receivers||Tight ends||DSTs|
|Rex Grossman (vs. MIN, at PHI)||Kahlil Bell (at GB, at MIN)||Titus Young (vs. SD, at GB)||Brent Celek (at DAL, vs. WAS)||Broncos (at BUF, vs. KC)|
|Carson Palmer (at KC, vs. SD)||Jackie Battle (vs. OAK, at DEN)||Malcom Floyd (at DET, at OAK)||Brandon Pettigrew (vs. SD, at GB)||Cardinals (at CIN, vs. SEA)|
|Mark Sanchez (vs. NYG, at MIA)||Chris Ivory (vs. ATL, vs. CAR)||Plaxico Burress (vs. NYG, at MIA)||Anthony Fasano (at NE, vs. NYJ)||Titans (vs. JAC, at HOU)|
|Matt Moore (at NE, vs. NYJ)||Isaac Redman (vs. STL, at CLE)||Andre Roberts (vs. CIN, at SEA)||Joel Dreessen (at IND, vs. TEN)||Chiefs (vs. OAK, at DEN)|
|Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. DEN, at NE)||Ricky Williams (vs. CLE, at CIN)||Nate Burleson (vs. SD, at GB)||Visanthe Shiancoe (at WAS, vs. CHI)|
|Kyle Orton (vs. OAK, at DEN)||Lance Ball (at BUF, vs. KC)||David Nelson (vs. DEN, at NE)|
|John Skelton (at CIN, vs. SEA)||Doug Baldwin (vs. SF, at ARI)|
|Christian Ponder (at WAS, vs. CHI)||Steve Breaston (vs. OAK, at DEN)|
|Alex Smith (at SEA, at STL)||Golden Tate (vs. SF, at ARI)|
|T.J. Yates (at IND, vs. TEN)||Randall Cobb (vs. CHI, vs. GB)|
|Caleb Hanie (at GB, at MIN)||Kevin Walter (at IND, vs. TEN)|
The splendid art of Fantasy blocking
You better believe there's late-season gamesmanship to be played! If you're in the final game of your Fantasy season, go take a look at who your opponent is starting. If his or her lineup is loaded with studs expected to play and if his or her bench is robust and deep, chances are there's nothing you can do to hurt his or her chances. But if the owner made it this far and has holes in his or her roster, you can and definitely should try to pick up players that could help the owner get over the top against you.
You're playing defense in Fantasy Football!
After evaluating your opponents' roster, take a look at Jamey Eisenberg's Waiver Wire column. Anyone who could help out your rival via free agency will be listed there. If he or she has a hole at DST or even kicker, it's completely normal to load up on those positions to make it harder for the opponent to make a good pickup.
Of course, if you're stockpiling players to hurt your opponent then you have to drop someone. Take a look at the players you know you won't use in the final week of your league. And make sure they wouldn't improve your opponent's team! If you're positive you or your foe won't use them, drop them. Unless you're a sentimental schmo who thinks it's lucky to carry LaDainian Tomlinson on your roster, there is no purpose to carrying players who you won't use. You have absolutely no reason, allegiance or commitment to anyone in Fantasy except yourself. So load up that bench with players your opponent can't use!