- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Notes: Doing these rankings on Tuesday night, I'm obviously making some pretty bold assumptions about Week 17 playing time. Be gentle on me as you read. The Steelers and Chargers both play late games, which bodes well for their efforts. There should be no reason (other than a potentially balky ankle) that Roethlisberger shouldn't light up the decimated Ravens secondary. Defenses don't appear to be doing anything different to Derek Anderson; he's just making bad throws. Did the snow game get in his head? He was just awful against Cincy. Still, he's gotten you this far. Of the game's real stars at quarterback, Brady seems like the safest bet, but even he's without his usual ridiculous upside. The Pats will be invested in getting him two touchdown passes, then getting him out. Where the heck did that first-quarter scramble come from by McNabb? All of a sudden he looked 22 again. The Bills' lack of depth has caught up to them in spades, and if this is McNabb's last game in Philly, he'll make it a good one. Favre is one guy who might be a lot higher here than he should be. Hopefully the Packers will tell us something about their plans later in the week; for now, I've assumed Favre plays a good amount, if only to wash away last week's bitter taste. It pains me to have Cutler and Young this high, because neither player's recent play has warranted it. But with so many studs almost certain to sit after first quarters, there's little choice. Here's hoping you don't have to rely on either guy. Collins is a sneaky start with Jason Campbell's knee still not ready. Collins uses Chris Cooley a lot, and he seems to have good chemistry with Santana Moss. And Washington won't lack for motivation. Note to Collins: Step one, find Jacques Reeves; step two, throw at him. Orton isn't very good. But neither is the Saints' secondary. I've given Sorgi the nod over Peyton Manning because the Colts are so brazen about treating Week 17 like Week 4 of the preseason. Similarly, I just don't envision the Cowboys using Romo for very long. The Giants are probably a little more likely to stick with Eli Manning, but the first sign of trouble, you have to believe he's out. Matt Hasselbeck, too. I'm betting Jeff Garcia doesn't even play and Luke McCown gets the start. Croyle hurt his hand in Week 16, so it's possible Damon Huard, who was a lot more effective than Croyle in Week 16, could get one final start.
Notes: I'm looking for one more huge day from Minnesota's Peterson. I know he has been a disappointment lately, but the Broncos still can't stop the run. The Browns don't have much to play for, but don't think that'll stop Lewis from pounding the rock. Portis is high here thanks to his recent hot play, and he should be in for another big week. The Cowboys won't strain themselves Sunday, and Portis might just be Week 17's most emotional player on Week 17's most emotional team. He's a no-brainer start. Watson almost killed the Bengals (and the Titans) with a stupid late fumble versus Cleveland, but he had a good game otherwise: 30 carries, 130 yards and a score. Rudi Johnson might be able to play against Miami, but here I've assumed he won't. Stecker makes for a difficult decision. He probably has been the surprise MVP of a lot of fantasy playoffs, but he hurt a ligament in his foot against the Eagles and was seen hobbling around the Saints' facility. With Reggie Bush nearing a return, I can see any number of scenarios here. For the moment, barring any official news from coach Sean Payton, I'm going to assume that Bush's torn ligament won't allow him to reassume a large role and that Stecker will continue to be the workhorse. But this scenario could change during the week, so keep your ear to the ground. As well as he's running, it hurts me to put Tomlinson 12th, but frankly, that still might be a little high. He kills the Raiders, but he has felt hamstring twinges in consecutive games. The Chargers need this one in order to lock up the AFC's third seed, so they'll do a delicate dance with LT. I think he'll start. I just worry he might not play long. Taylor and Jones-Drew are ranked as though they'll play only the first half. Davenport gets the start in place of Willie Parker, but as the game wears on, if the scoreboard has the Chargers pounding the Raiders, I wouldn't be shocked to see Dookie come out. I know Brandon Jacobs needs 56 yards to reach 1,000 yards for the season, but the Giants would be stupid to play him. I think Bradshaw gets the lion's share of the work, with Droughns spelling him at the goal line. It might be worth taking a risk on Maurice Morris, since Seattle has precious little running back depth, and the banged-up Alexander doesn't figure to play much in a meaningless game. Grant is a great story, but again, the Packers won't use him much, if at all, in the second half. Joseph Addai might get a carry or two, but unfortunately I don't think he's a good fantasy start.
Notes: Look who's ranked No. 13! Our old buddy Steve Smith (of the Panthers) has made a triumphant return to fantasy relevance since the cavalcade of David Carr and Vinny Testaverde starts has finally ceased in Carolina. Who knew all it would take was an undrafted rookie out of Oregon State to get Smith going again? By the way, did you know that the Panthers are the first team in NFL history to start four quarterbacks in the same season? Right on Smith's heels is another vertically challenged favorite: Santana Moss. Moss is clicking with Todd Collins and is also the healthiest he has been all season. Granted, it was against Minnesota's bad secondary, but Moss might have been the best player on the field Sunday night. I've assumed Green Bay will rest Greg Jennings, and that if Brett Favre does throw a touchdown or two, Driver will be the leading candidate, just like old times. It's hard not to salivate at the prospect of any deep threat running against a Saints secondary that just lost its only above-average player (Mike McKenzie). So Berrian should start in most formats. I have the usual Seahawks suspects ranked pretty low. Sure, the Falcons aren't good on defense, but coach Mike Holmgren is smart enough to get his regulars out early. Reggie Wayne probably plays only two series, but the way his season has gone, he might still score double-digit fantasy points. Did you see Gaffney's catch over or, rather, through Lance Schulters in Week 16? Special effects magic like that play is what has people still believing the moon landing was faked. Terrell Owens won't go, and I have a sneaking suspicion Patrick Crayton might not, either. That would leave Sam Hurd, Miles Austin and maybe, it has been rumored, Terry Glenn. If Brad Johnson is the one throwing to them, I'll stay away entirely.
Notes: Gates' game matters and Witten's doesn't, which explains why the former sank less than the latter. But Gates came out of Monday night's game early, and I wouldn't be shocked to see it happen again against the hapless Raiders. As for Witten, he needs six catches to reach 100, so it wouldn't shock me to see him perform better than I've ranked him. But Dallas can go to the Super Bowl, and it would be pretty stupid for them to put their best remaining pass catcher at risk in a contest like this one. Daniels would be more valuable if Matt Schaub returns. At the moment, however, I've assumed Sage Rosenfels will quarterback the Texans once more. I considered putting Utecht a lot higher because there's little chance Dallas Clark will get more than a pass or two thrown his way before Tony Dungy calls the bullpen. But then I thought: Utecht might get rested, too. A few weeks back, I remarked on Michael Gaines, and he has eight targets and a score in his past two games. He's not fantasy-relevant yet, but could be a sleeper in '08.
Notes: The Chargers and Steelers are still battling for the AFC's No. 3 seed, so they'll be less likely to call off the dogs against dramatically inferior opponents. The Bucs will rest everyone they can, but still will field a defense, and against the Panthers, that tends to be enough. Same with Seattle against Atlanta. Again, I judge the Colts most likely to field second- and third-stringers earliest in their Sunday night tilt versus the Titans, but the dirty secret in Indy is that their defensive second-stringers, at least in spots, are as good as a lot of teams' starters. Indy will be one scary draw in the playoffs. You could do worse than the Bengals' defense if you're in a pinch. They held up very well against the Browns, intercepting Derek Anderson four times, and have stopped the run acceptably well (especially against lower-ranked offenses) in the second half. Thanks for another great season of the Rotowski. This is one heck of a great job, and I know that I wouldn't get to do it without your interest. I continue to be humbled and extremely appreciative. I hope you'll check in with me for the baseball and NASCAR seasons beginning early in 2008.
Don't forget to read The Breakdown on Fridays, for more detailed thoughts on every team and every game.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com.
You can e-mail him here.