Although most leagues concluded in Week 16, Championship Sunday is on the horizon for some fantasy owners.
First and foremost, we'd suggest leagues that extend into Week 17 stop doing so. Fantasy football is inherently unpredictable, and willingly adding in the volatility that accompanies the final NFL Sunday, when many teams rest their starters, is cruel.
But fear not, brave Week 17-ers, our final exploit and avoid suggestions serve as your eyes and ears for which clubs are all in and which key starters likely sit out ahead of the real postseason kicking off next week.
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
49ers (vs. Rams)
Maybe you heard by now: Jimmy Garoppolo is undefeated as an NFL starter and just dropped a 44-burger on the vaunted Jaguars 'D.' Perhaps you've also heard that Sean McVay intends to rest some starters with L.A.'s wild-card weekend ticket punched.
Indeed, this section pretty much writes itself — Garoppolo, QB8 overall since taking the starting reins four games ago, is a great play. So are Marquise Goodwin, who finally came down to earth but has 39 targets in December; Carlos Hyde, the increasingly inefficient bell cow whose 24 touches Sunday were his most since September; and, barring McVay's decision behind center, perhaps a Niners 'D' that picked Blake Bortles thrice in Week 16.
Chargers (vs. Raiders)
Melvin Gordon reportedly expects to play despite suffering an ankle sprain Sunday, which would obviously be a huge boon, as he racked up 150 total yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting and the Bolts are playing for their postseason lives.
It's certainly possible embattled Jack Del Rio's 'D' on short rest can conjure up a second consecutive stingy showing on the road. It's far more likely, however, that Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates deliver big performances in doing their part to get the Bolts to the postseason.
Gates, in the Chargers' first game without Hunter Henry, had his best showing in more than a year, and Allen can avoid a hot Sean Smith — who just put the clamps on Alshon Jeffery in a catch-less performance for the Eagles' No. 1 wideout — by working from the slot.
Saints (at Buccaneers)
New Orleans will win its first division title since 2011 by taking care of business in Tampa, where a Bucs 'D' that showed fleeting signs of life last week awaits. Alvin Kamara amassed 152 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns in the first meeting, when Drew Brees completed more than 80 percent of his passes, including a couple of scores.
Ted Ginn had his best game (4-76-1 on five targets) Sunday since — wait for it — his first matchup with Tampa Bay, which has allowed a league-high 2,773 yards — plus 16 touchdowns — to wideouts this season.
Ginn is as sneaky a Saints play as we're comfortable recommending, but our level of comfort in their stars shining to lock up the South is as high as Dirk Koetter's level of distraction (his admission) over his job security.
Vikings (vs. Bears)
Minnesota needs a win to lock up a first-round bye, and unlike a far-more-desperate Falcons club at home vs. a tough 'D,' the Vikes have displayed consistency owners can count on.
Case Keenum completed 81 percent of his 21 attempts upon entering just before halftime of the first matchup, one dominated even more by Jerick McKinnon (146 total yards and a touchdown), and should enjoy getting back in climate-controlled U.S. Bank Stadium after enduring rare struggles at frigid Lambeau on Saturday night.
Stefon Diggs, not Adam Thielen, has been the Vikings' best fantasy wideout over the past month and tends to get up for Chicago — with four combined touchdowns in his three full games. Plus, the Vikings' No. 1 scoring 'D' welcomes the 29th-ranked scoring offense, which could have just two remaining starters up front to counter Everson Griffen and Co.
MATCHUPS TO AVOID
Giants (vs. Washington)
This is the week's lowest projected point total (37 1/2), and it could continue dropping with news that a Big Blue offense shutout in the desert Sunday may be without TE Evan Engram and WR Sterling Shepard — both sidelined with injuries Wednesday.
The Giants already bounced Ben McAdoo; will Washington inexplicably hand Jay Gruden his walking papers? Regardless, one of Gruden's best achievements this season has been getting his injury-ravaged squad to show up every week — Sunday should be no different.
The last time Eli Manning faced Washington — a 20-10 defeat on Thanksgiving night — immediately preceded the halt to his ironman streak. Though it was an inexcusable move by the Giants, it didn't come out of thin air; Manning was awful with a season-low 48.1 completion percentage and 113 passing yards. That was with a healthy Engram.
Cardinals (at Seahawks)
If this is Bruce Arians' last stand, he's likely to go out with guns blazing. That may work with Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck or Carson Palmer, not Drew Stanton, who threw two picks alongside two touchdowns in his return to the starting lineup Sunday.
Arians' Cardinals have played well in Seattle, but Stanton in the first meeting managed 5.8 yards per attempt, with one touchdown... far better than his 2015 finale vs. the Seahawks (4.7 YPA, three giveaways).
Larry Fitzgerald had 10-113 receiving in the first meeting and is coming off a 9-119-1 game Sunday. He's a safe start but the plays on Arizona's side stop there.
Titans (vs. Jaguars)
A torn MCL for DeMarco Murray seems likely to sideline Tennessee's lead back — not its best back — which, ironically, could create the shakeup this broken offense needs. Still, there's far more evidence to believe Jacksonville's 'D,' full of humble pie from its trip to San Francisco, is the the more likely unit to respond to adversity.
Notice the Titans are the only team in our avoid column still playing for something. That's how little confidence we have currently in Marcus Mariota, who hasn't stacked solid games together this season, and Mike Mularkey, who hasn't helped his young quarterback with an offense that lacks innovation and its best players seeing the field consistently.
Chiefs (at Broncos)
We wrap with a game that shouldn't be avoided for viewing purposes — it's Patrick Mahomes' unveiling — but is nothing if not risky for fantasy purposes.
Mahomes likely won't have his studs in Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce on the field a whole lot when he gets his first regular-season reps in the NFL. The Broncos, though, will still have all kinds of Pro Bowl talent from its second-ranked 'D.' And unlike Arians, who's almost out of horsepower after Fitzgerald, embattled Vance Joseph has not only the incentive but ingredients to call an aggressive game against the rookie.