PFW's 2016 Fantasy Football Awards, plus matchups to exploit and avoid for Week 17

Published:
Dallas Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott (21) breaks through the line for a long run and a touchdown against the Detroit Lions in the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 26, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade) — Brandon Wade

Most leagues ended their fantasy seasons in Week 16. For the true die-hard leagues that play on through the fantasy wasteland of Week 17, we offer some fantasy notes for the final week. For those of you celebrating a championship, or looking ahead to next year, we’ve included a fantasy awards segment.

On to Week 17…

MATCHUPS TO CONSIDER

Just because a team has secured a playoff spot doesn’t mean that team will be resting their fantasy studs in Week 17. Several teams are in the playoffs, but still will be motivated to win. The Patriots can lock up the No. 1 seed with a victory. Although they can do no worse than the No. 2 seed, having the AFC Championship at home is a worthwhile goal. The Falcons, Raiders, Chiefs and Seahawks are trying to secure a bye, and should be playing full throttle this week.

Their game in Tennessee means nothing to them, so you have to think the Texans will again rest Lamar Miller and let Alfred Blue take the bulk of the carries. Should you jump on the Adam Thielen bandwagon? His 12-catch, 212-yard performance against the Packers is obviously an outlier. Thielen had no catches against the Colts in Week 15. However, he caught 24 balls combined in the four weeks previous to Week 15. Let’s call him a reasonable WR2 this week.

In order to secure a bye, Oakland will very much want to beat the Broncos this week. Although Latavius Murray was third – on his team – in rushing yards last week against the Colts, a bounce back game is a possibility. Denver has a great pass defense, but is vulnerable to the run. Murray had two TDs last time these teams faced each other.

The Bills fired coach Rex Ryan. Who could have possibly seen that coming? In spite of that (and perhaps because of that) we like LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins against a Jets team that has completely quit. The Bills D/ST isn’t a bad play either.

And speaking of defense, the Steelers look to be a good play against the Browns. True, Pittsburgh has nothing to play for, but the Steelers can only rest so many starters. They’ll be playing loose. If you’re looking for Steelers this week, consider DeAngelo Williams and Eli Rogers. QB Landry Jones might limit Rogers, but Williams could have a very good game.

The Saints and Falcons, respectively, have produced the most yards this year in the NFL. Atlanta wants to earn a bye and New Orleans will want to finish up with a win. That will make Matt Ryan and Drew Brees two of the three top QB options this week. The Falcons' defense is 23rd and the Saints are ranked 25th. Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Julio Jones, Mark Ingram and Brandin Cooks are all must starts.

The top QB spot goes to Aaron Rodgers. The Lions seem to be limping toward the finish line. Expect big days from Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Ty Montgomery. Mason Crosby is also a good play.

Washington needs a win and some help to make the playoffs. The Giants have nothing to play for, but will be obligated to put up a fight. We still like Kirk Cousins, Rob Kelley and DeSean Jackson. Washington is 25th against the run. Paul Perkins of the Giants is worth a look.

Just when we told you to dump Allen Robinson, he goes for 147 yards against the Titans. Maybe he’s worth a shot at Indy. The Vikings' defense is a shell of its early season self. Don’t be surprised if Alshon Jeffery goes for 100 yards and a score.

MATCHUPS TO BEWARE

The obvious concern this week is teams that have secured a playoff start resting their best players to ensure they are healthy for the playoffs. The Texans, Giants, Cowboys, and Steelers are locked into their current playoff spot, thus have nothing to gain from a victory this week. This is a confusing mess for fantasy owners. Even if a coach says he’ll play his starters, you have no idea if that’s true. And, if they do start, there’s a good chance they’ll be on a pitch count. The Dolphins are locked into the No. 5 or No. 6 seed, but the difference between the two seeds is negligible. You’ll want to do your research this week before plugging in a player from the Texans, Giants, Steelers, Cowboys or Dolphins.

Martellus Bennett sat nearly the entire second half as New England cruised to a victory over the hapless Jets. He’s banged up and might be used sparingly in Week 17. Todd Gurley could manage just 2.9 yards per carry last week versus a historically bad 49ers run defense. Total bust. Ryan Mathews has a herniated disc in his neck and is out. If Jeremy Hill can only average 1.1 yards per carry at Houston, he should be benched against the Ravens and their No. 2 run defense. No Bengals are worth starting this week.

Justin Forsett has not been the answer for the Broncos' pathetic run game. Hunter Henry played only 19 snaps in the Chargers loss in Cleveland. He might be great next year, but has no value in Week 17. Doug Martin was a healthy scratch against the Saints. Tampa lost the game, so perhaps he plays this week, but we have zero interest in him.

Brandon Marshall is engaged in a war of words with other players in the Jets locker room. This comes as no surprise to anyone in Chicago, Denver or Miami. Marshall’s act may finally be coming to an end. He has six catches in his last five games and his last 100-yard performance was in Week 5.

Rishard Matthews had a nice thing going with Marcus Mariota. With Matt Cassel behind center, Matthews is not worth considering. The Colts are playing musical chairs at tight end. Jack Doyle, Dwayne Allen and Erik Swoope are as likely to go without a target as they are to score a TD. The Miami passing game is not worth considering. Jarvis Landry has six catches in the two games Matt Moore has started. Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker have five apiece.

FANTASY AWARDS

Most Valuable Player: David Johnson

Biggest Surprise: Dak Prescott

Biggest Bust: Cam Newton, Todd Gurley (tie)

Most promising rookie: Ezekiel Elliott

Dream Team:

QB: Aaron Rodgers

RB: Johnson, Elliott

WR: Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown

TE: Travis Kelce

Flex: Le’Veon Bell

PK: Matt Bryant

D/ST: Chiefs

All-Bust Team (not injury related):

QB: Newton

RB: Gurley, Lamar Miller

WR: DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson

TE: Gary Barnidge

PK: Chandler Catanzaro

D/ST: Jets

All-Injury Team:

QB: Tony Romo

RB: Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy

WR: Keenan Allen, Eric Decker

TE: Rob Gronkowski

Flex: Jamaal Charles