Ten most intriguing players of Week 17

Posted Dec. 29, 2010 @ 7:42 p.m.
Posted By Pat Fitzmaurice

Updated Jan. 1, 2011 @ 1:47 p.m. ET

1. Steven Jackson — For years Jackson has been playing his keister off for one lousy Rams squad after another. Now the playoffs are oh-so close. Jackson will make a well-deserved postseason appearance if the Rams can go into Seattle and knock off the Seahawks on Sunday night. The winner of this game can lay claim to being king of the garbage heap that is the NFC West. The Seahawks have been especially putrid of late, having been pasted in three consecutive games in which they have allowed a total of 112 points. Jackson had 70 rushing yards and 54 receiving yards against Seattle back in Week Four but didn't find his way into the endzone. The Buccaneers' LeGarrette Blount gored Seattle for 164 rushing yards last week, so unless the Seahawks have suddenly figured out how to stop big, punishing running backs, Jackson should be in for a big game.

2. Aaron Rodgers — A win over the Bears this week would get the Packers into the playoffs, so there's no shortage of motivation for Rodgers, who threw for 404 yards and four TDs last Sunday in Green Bay's 45-17 demolition of the Giants. Rodgers sustained his second concussion of the season in Week 14 and sat out in Week 15. After his masterful outing last week, he spoke of feeling physically rejuvenated from the week off. That could mean another big performance in this must-win affair. The Bears beat the Packers 20-17 in Week Three, which is why the Bears have already clinched the NFC North title and the Packers are still fighting for a postseason berth. But the earlier loss to the Bears was hardly Rodgers' fault. He completed 34-of-45 passes for 316 yards and a TD in that game and also ran for a TD.

3. LeGarrette Blount — Isn't it fun to watch this guy run? After taking apart the Seahawks last week, Blount faces a stiffer challenge this week against the Saints, who completely shut down Michael Turner in a big Monday-night win over the Falcons. If Blount is able to dent the New Orleans defense in a way Turner could not, perhaps that would speak volumes about where Blount should be taken in 2011 fantasy drafts vis-à-vis Turner.

4. Ryan Mathews — Touted as a preseason favorite for Rookie of the Year honors, Mathews has been a big-time disappointment as a rookie, battling injuries and losing playing time to the previously unheralded Mike Tolbert. But Tolbert got hurt last week and won't play in San Diego's season finale, so Mathews will have a chance to demonstrate why the Chargers spent the 12th overall pick in this year's NFL draft on him. He'll be facing a collapsible Denver defense that ranks 31st against the run and has allowed a league-high 23 rushing touchdowns.

5. Mike Wallace — Entering this season, it was widely believed that Wallace was ready to emerge as one of the better receivers in the league, but some fantasy owners were slightly unnerved by the stately presence of Hines Ward, who figured to nab his share of passes. Indeed, Wallace's 57 receptions barely top Ward's 54, but in other statistical categories, the gap between Wallace and Ward is nearly as big as the chasm separating starting Atlanta WRs Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. Uh, OK … maybe not THAT big, but still big. Wallace has 1,152 receiving yards and nine TDs to Ward's 710 receiving yards and four TDs. Ward still might be the alpha dog in Pittsburgh, but Wallace is the one protecting the house. With the Steelers needing a win against the Browns this week to ensure a playoff quarterfinal game in their house, expect Wallace to do some barking.

6. Brandon Marshall — It's too little, too late for the Dolphins, but Marshall has been feeling frisky lately, with 21 catches for 208 yards and a TD over the past two weeks. Talk about an enigma. The Marshall we've seen in recent weeks is the same guy who at times during his stay in Denver looked as if he might be the best receiver in the league. But Marshall wasn't a significant factor earlier in the season, then he was troubled by a hamstring injury for several weeks. Now we're seeing what he's capable of when healthy, even without a good quarterback to deliver him the ball. It'll be interesting to see who's taking snaps for the Dolphins next season and whether that mystery quarterback is able to help turn Marshall into a consistent force. As for this week, Marshall faces a New England defense that may or may not be giving top effort, with the Patriots already having clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

7. Hakeem Nicks — (Note: After this article was posted, Nicks was ruled out for Week 17 with a broken big toe.) The Giants are still alive in the playoff race, although meltdowns in consecutive weeks have put them on a respirator. The G-men will still be going all-out against the Redskins this Sunday, although it's fair to wonder what "all-out" means for the Giants these days. If there's good news for this stumbling bunch, it's that the final week of the season brings a date with the Redskins, whose pass defense is easier to carve than an especially moist holiday ham. The Redskins rank 31st against the pass and have no single defender capable of stopping Nicks. (Only the scatter-arm tendencies of Giants QB Eli Manning are capable of doing that in this particular matchup.)

8. Michael Turner — The Falcons' normally reliable running game failed them in Monday night's loss to the Saints, with Turner rushing for only 48 yards and coughing up a costly goal-line fumble. Now the Falcons need to win a home game this week against the lowly Panthers in order to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If Turner doesn't have a better day against Carolina, Falcons fans will be wearing the same expressions as the Atlanta-area zombies from "The Walking Dead."

9. Joseph Addai — So Addai finally returned from his shoulder injury last week to relieve subs Donald Brown and Javarris James, and in a critical game against Oakland the Colts give a team-high 17 carries to … Dominic Rhodes? Hmmm. No doubt the Colts were trying to spare Addai a heavy workload in his first game back. But with the season on the line, in a game that wasn't wrapped up until the fourth quarter, you'd think Addai would have played a slightly larger role. (He had 12 carries for 45 yards and one catch for six yards.) For the first time in a long time, the Colts will be giving top effort in Week 17, so it will be interesting to see if Addai plays a supporting part again or moves back into a starring role.

10. David Garrard — (Note: After this article was posted, Garrard was ruled out for this game after it was determined that he needed surgery on a finger.) Garrard and the Jaguars visit Houston this weekend, which means a date with the Texans' pass defense. I'm running out of ways to make fun of the Texans' secondary, but consider this: Tim Tebow is to accurate passing as Arby's is to fine dining. Last week, in the second start of his professional career, Tebow recorded his first 300-yard passing game. Can you guess which team he was playing? And in the lead-up to next year's fantasy drafts, if anyone tries to suggest that Garrard's late-season success in 2010 portends a good season for him in 2011, be sure to remember that Garrard's last two regular-season games were against the Redskins and Texans.