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Fantasy & Reality: Who's in and who's out?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Right off the bat, you should know that Week 17 is always a mess for Fantasy owners. Studs sit or disappoint because they don't play as much, unknowns come out of nowhere and put up great numbers and we as a collective base of football fans who play a game to enhance our love of the sport are either grossly letdown or thoroughly overjoyed with the results.

Actually, when I put it that way it sounds like each of the previous 16 weeks.

I get the challenge of playing into Week 17. A Fantasy owner worth his weight in chicken wings should be able to put a good lineup together and outscore his opponent. But is it really fair to have a game with so much meaning (assuming you play for a championship in Week 17) go down without one or more of the guys who got you to that point? For instance, I weep (figuratively) for the Aaron Rodgers owners who got such a great boost from him in Week 16 and will probably see him give way to Matt Flynn before halftime against the Lions. The 20-to-40 point per week Fantasy stud is now bench-worthy. It's not cool.

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But if you play into Week 17, you knew it was coming and you can't do anything about it now. So let's run down the Week 17 slate and figure out who's playing for what and who we'll see.

Playoff implications for both teams

Cowboys at Giants: Winner hosts a playoff game, loser goes home. No one is sitting.

Ravens at Bengals: The Ravens clinch a bye with a win and potentially fall into a wild-card berth with a loss. The Bengals clinch a wild-card berth with a win and potentially fall out of the playoffs with a loss. No one is sitting.

Playoff implications for one team

Steelers at Browns: The Steelers need a win and a Ravens loss to clinch the AFC North and a bye. Playing against their bitter rivals you can be sure they'll roll out their starters -- including Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers would love to have their cake (get Roethlisberger to the playoffs healthy) and eat it too (get the first-round bye). Chances are they can beat the Browns with minimal help from Roethlisberger, who could at least force the Browns to defend the pass whereas Charlie Batch wouldn't scare them off. The Browns might run Peyton Hillis into the ground before setting him free this offseason.

Jets at Dolphins: The Jets need a win, a Bengals loss, a Titans loss and either a Raiders or Broncos loss to claim the final playoff spot in the AFC. Because they play early and won't know their fate until later on, their starters are expected to go four quarters. The Dolphins shouldn't rest anyone.

Titans at Texans: The Titans need a win, a Bengals loss and a combination involving two wins from the Jets, Raiders and Broncos to land the No. 6 seed in the AFC. They'll play to win, of course. The Texans, however, are locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC and are expected to pull their starters at some point. We'll see a healthy dose of Jake Delhomme and Derrick Ward.

Chiefs at Broncos: Tim Tebow's Broncos can land the AFC West with a win against Kyle Orton's Chiefs. Obviously the quarterback storyline is intriguing, but so is the fact that both defenses are trending in different directions -- Kansas City is on the rise and Denver is slipping. This should be a fun game where both teams rest no one.

Chargers at Raiders: The Raiders clinch the AFC West with a win and a Broncos loss. The Raiders can also sneak into the playoffs as a wild-card team with a win, a Bengals loss and either a Titans loss or a Jets win. With the Bengals playing at the same time, there's no doubt that Oakland will run its starters. Darren McFadden and Jacoby Ford might play this week. Vincent Jackson might rest given that the Chargers have nothing to play for.

49ers at Rams: The 49ers clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a win. They'll play their starters until they feel like they have the win clinched. The Niners blew out the Rams 26-0 in Week 13 but didn't get 20 points until early in the fourth quarter. Alex Smith is also the most recent quarterback to throw two touchdowns against the Rams. St. Louis might give a spirited effort for their head coach, Steve Spagnuolo, in what might be his last game with the team.

Panthers at Saints: The Saints need a win and a loss by the 49ers to land the No. 2 seed in the NFC. They play at the same time on Sunday so they won't learn their fate until late in the game, if at all.

Lions at Packers: The good news: The Lions can clinch the No. 5 seed and a date with the NFC East winner in the first round of the playoffs with a win. A loss combined with a Falcons win would pit them at New Orleans or San Francisco as the No. 6 seed. Speculation is that the Lions will try to win and clinch that game with the Giants or Cowboys.

The bad news: The Packers have the No. 1 seed all locked up. As we noted last week, Mike McCarthy was once in this position and pulled his starters in the second quarter of a meaningless Week 17 game. McCarthy has already said he'll rest the players nursing injuries and chances are other starters will follow. Expect limited production from Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley and the Packers DST.

Buccaneers at Falcons: The Falcons can get the No. 5 seed with a win and a Lions loss. Otherwise, they'll play at the Saints or 49ers on Wild Card Weekend. Here's the catch: This is among the late games, so the Falcons will know their fate before kickoff. So while they might be in a position to rest their starters plenty before a big playoff matchup, chances are head coach Mike Smith will want to see some strong performances as a tune-up against the lowly Bucs before resting his starters. There shouldn't be much fear in starting Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez; Michael Turner might need the rest and could be limited against this Bucs defense but he could play one or two series and be solid for Fantasy.

Bills at Patriots: The Patriots clinch the top seed in the AFC with a victory. Bill Belichick typically does not rest his starters and certainly won't pull Tom Brady & Co. until they build a huge lead on the Bills. After losing to them back in Week 3, you can almost sense that the Pats will lay it on thick to end Buffalo's campaign.

No playoff implications

Redskins at Eagles: Philadelphia's fighting for .500 while Washington's fighting for Mike Shanahan's 12th win in two seasons. LeSean McCoy should be a decent part of the offense for the Eagles assuming he practices in advance of the game. Evan Royster will be in a position to rack up stats if Roy Helu is out again; if Helu plays they'll probably split.

Bears at Vikings: Like many of these games, the Bears and Vikings will give their young players a chance to put themselves on tape for evaluation as neither coaching staff is expected to go anywhere. Joe Webb, Toby Gerhart and Kahlil Bell should be prominently featured. Both defenses could struggle.

Seahawks at Cardinals: The winning team will be 8-8, which would be an improvement for the Seahawks (they won the NFC West at 7-9 last season). Marshawn Lynch will attempt to extend his touchdown streak to 12 games while John Skelton will attempt to give the Cardinals coaching staff a reason to consider him for a quarterback competition next summer. Larry Fitzgerald is two touchdowns away from his fourth double-digit scoring season in five years.

Colts at Jaguars: The Colts can end the season on a three-game win streak and potentially lose the No. 1 overall pick in the draft with a win. The Jaguars will battle to give interim head coach Mel Tucker his second win and Maurice Jones-Drew can cement his grip on the rushing title with a solid game (he's 63 yards from 1,500).

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Short week will make it hard for Brandon Flowers to play
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:23 pm ET) Chargers starting cornerback Brandon Flowers, who suffered a concussion Sunday against the Chiefs, "very well could be sidelined" for Thursday's game at Denver, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. The paper noted it's generally difficult for players who sustain concussions on Sunday to play on Thursday.

Flowers has 23 tackles and two interceptions this season.


Steelers RT Marcus GIlbert out with concussion
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:08 pm ET) Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert has a concussion and won't return to Monday's game against the Texans. Mike Adams will continue to fill in.

Report: Bucs reach deal with return man Trindon Holliday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:06 pm ET) The Buccaneers agreed to terms with receiver/returner Trindon Holliday, reports the Tampa Tribune. He was released by the Giants this month after going on IR with a hamstring injury in late August.

Steelers RT Marcus Gilbert checked for concussion
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:25 pm ET) Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert left the game against Houston in the second quarter and was being evaluated for a concussion. Mike Adams came in to replace him.


Report: Colts WR Reggie Wayne could miss one or two games
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:14 pm ET) Colts wideout Reggie Wayne, who had an MRI on his elbow Monday, could miss one or two games, reports WRTV in Indianapolis. Wayne sustained the injury in the first quarter of Sunday's win over the Bengals.

The MRI results have not been released.


Seahawks CB Byron Maxwell might return Sunday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:50 pm ET) Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell, who missed the loss at St. Louis with a calf injury, has a chance to play Sunday at Carolina, coach Pete Carroll told reporters. Maxwell suffered the injury Week 6 against Dallas.

Seahawks TE Luke Willson, C Max Unger could return Week 8
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:02 pm ET) Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said tight end Luke Willson (groin) almost certainly will play Sunday at Carolina, and that center Max Unger (foot) has a chance to play, reports the Seattle Times. Both missed the Week 7 loss at St. Louis.

Jeff Fisher: Zac Stacy 'could get 25 carries this week'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:46 pm ET) Rams coach Jeff Fisher said the team's running back situation will continue to be a "week-to-week thing," adding Zac Stacy's lack of playing time Sunday wasn't an indicator of things to come. Stacy played one snap and got zero carries in the win over the Seahawks.

"We’ve got three outstanding runners," Fisher said, referring to Stacy, Benny Cunningham and rookie Tre Mason. "And as I mentioned, we think Trey Watts can also help us, so we’re going to use them all. It’ll be a week-to-week thing. Zac could get 25 carries this week. We had some things in early this week. It was working so we decided to stay with ‘Mase.' It’s nothing that Zac has done or hasn’t done. He’s been a little banged up the last couple of weeks, but obviously he’s an outstanding runner as well. We clearly have significant depth there at the position."

Fisher noted Stacy missed practice time the past couple weeks due to calf and ankle injuries.

"The good thing about this is he’ll come back and should be 100 percent this week and just see where it goes," Fisher said.

The Rams visit the Chiefs in Week 8.


Injured Texans cleared for action
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:35 pm ET) Several Texans who were on the injury report are active for Monday's game at Pittsburgh.

The list includes defensive end J.J. Watt (thigh), guard Brandon Brooks (illness), linebacker Brian Cushing (knee), wideout DeAndre Hopkins (hand), defensive end Tim Jamison (groin), cornerback Johnathan Joseph (knee), offensive tackle Derek Newton (elbow), linebacker Brooks Reed (groin), linebacker Jeff Tarpinian (knee). All were listed as probable.

Also suiting up is linebacker Mike Mohamed, who was questionable with a thigh injury.

Arian Foster, Andre Johnson set for MNF
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:23 pm ET) Texans running back Arian Foster (groin) and wideout Andre Johnson (ankle) are active as expected for Monday's game in Pittsburgh after being listed as probable.

 
 
 
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