Instant Replay: No-names get their shot

Fantasy football history is littered with these types of games. In Week 17 last year, Hank Baskett caught seven passes for 177 yards and a touchdown for the Eagles. In Week 16 of 2005, Rams quarterback Jaime Martin threw for 354 yards and a touchdown, and Troy Walters had 91 yards and a touchdown for the Colts. My favorite came in 1999, when Chargers running back Jermaine Fazande rushed for 183 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries in the season finale at Denver. That game gave him a team-high (!) 365 rushing yards for the season. Incidentally, the Chargers won eight games in '99 with their leading rusher gaining 365 yards, their leading passer throwing 10 touchdown passes, and Alfred Pupunu being prominently involved. And if you think I should have better things to do on Christmas Eve than look at Chargers stats from eight years ago, well … you're sadly mistaken.

History tells us to expect more of these types of games, and 2007 might set an all-time record. Not only are 10 of the 12 playoff berths already secure, but an unbelievable eight teams are already locked into their seed. Only five teams -- the Browns, Titans, Redskins, Vikings and Saints -- truly have something to play for. Sure, talking heads are going to burn up a lot of time and energy this week debating whether the Giants have an obligation to resist the Patriots' pursuit of perfection or whether the Colts owe it to the Browns to play hard against the Titans, but the bottom line is that nobody cares. Tony Dungy doesn't care whether the Browns or Titans get the final playoff spot in the AFC. Tom Coughlin doesn't care whether the Pats go undefeated so long as Brandon Jacobs and Plaxico Burress are healthy for the playoffs. (I'm not sure he's similarly interested in protecting Eli Manning this week; we might see him returning punts.)

History also tells us that it's extremely difficult to predict which starters will play (and for how long) among the teams with nothing to play for. With that in mind, here are 10 bold predictions for Week 17:

  1. Tom Brady will play long enough to give the Patriots a safe lead, throwing at least two touchdown passes in the process.

  2. Jim Sorgi will have more passing yards than Peyton Manning.

  3. Ahmad Bradshaw will once again lead the Giants in rushing, as Brandon Jacobs is shut down after a series or two.

  4. Leonard Weaver will lead the Seahawks in rushing.

  5. The combination of LaBrandon Toefield and Greg Jones will score more touchdowns than the combo of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.

  6. Lorenzo Booker will have 100 yards of total offense for the Dolphins.

  7. Aaron Rodgers will throw for more than 200 yards with at least one touchdown for the Packers.

  8. Whomever you think will lead the Broncos in rushing will not.

  9. Wade Phillips is more likely to be found backstage at a Jessica Simpson concert than he is to let Tony Romo play more than a quarter.

  10. Bill Belichick will appear on "Dancing with the Stars" before he lets Laurence Maroney carry the ball more than 15 times.


  • Packing it in

    Here's hoping you didn't head into Week 16 looking for the Packers to lead you to glory. With the exception of Ryan Grant (14 carries, 100 yards, TD), the Packers were poison for fantasy owners. Brett Favre's bad track record (referenced in last week's trends for Week 16 reared its ugly head again, as Favre completed only 17 of 32 passes for 153 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Donald Lee -- not surprisingly -- were also big disappointments, and kicker Mason Crosby managed a lonely point after scoring seven or more in every game since Week 6. One of the most frustrating things about fantasy football: If the best players aren't at their best when it matters most, you're out of luck.

  • Duckett stars after Jones injured

    The star-crossed career of Kevin Jones suffered another blow Sunday when the oft-hurt running back suffered a right knee injury. Head coach Rod Marinelli said that he thinks the injury is "pretty serious" and it's apparent that Jones' season is over. T.J. Duckett took over and rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries. With the Lions facing the mailing-it-in Packers next week, Duckett makes a must-add in all competitive fantasy leagues. Whether you need a running back or not, you don't want your opponent picking up Duckett and using him against you. Meanwhile, it's a virtual certainty that the Lions will bring in someone other than Jones, Duckett or (obviously) Tatum Bell to be their starting running back in 2008.

  • McGahee leaves with rib injury

    A season of redemption for Willis McGahee probably came to an end Sunday. According to the AP, McGahee suffered two broken ribs. It simply doesn't make sense for McGahee to risk further injury by playing in a meaningless Week 17. To the surprise of some, Mike Anderson -- and not Musa Smith -- replaced McGahee, but Anderson was slowed by a hamstring injury. That potentially puts Smith in line to start next Sunday's season finale against the Steelers. While it's a bad matchup on paper, opposing teams have had pretty good success running against the Steelers lately, so Smith could be a decent desperation play.

    Player Tracker

    Laurent Robinson, WR, Falcons: The Falcons have finally found their No. 1 receiver in Roddy White. I sincerely doubt that Joe Horn or Michael Jenkins will be back with the team in 2008, and Robinson could get a shot next week to prove he can be the No. 2.

    Gary Russell, RB, Steelers: In the wake of Willie Parker's season-ending injury, everyone was rushing to pick up Najeh Davenport. But will Davenport play extensively in a relatively meaningless Week 17? I'm not sure. Erstwhile third-stringer Gary Russell could easily get the bulk of the carries.

    Lorenzo Booker, RB, Dolphins: The rookie couldn't even get on the field earlier this season, but he had 82 yards of offense in Week 16 and has 21 receptions in the past three games.

    Devin Aromashodu, WR, Colts: He caught three passes for 42 yards Sunday and, along with Craphonso Thorpe, should get most of the playing time at wide receiver for the Colts in Week 17.

    Clifton Dawson, RB, Colts: Joseph Addai has been nicked up a lot this season, so I can't see the Colts risking Kenton Keith for more than a quarter or two next week.

    Studs and Duds


    Stud: Kurt Warner (361 yards, 3 TDs)

    Honorable Mention: Tarvaris Jackson (220 yards, 1 TD, 2 rushing TDs)

    Dud: Brett Favre (153 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs)

    Dishonorable Mention: Carson Palmer (115 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs)

    Running backs

    Stud: Najeh Davenport (167 total yards, 2 TDs)

    Honorable mention: Brandon Jacobs (145 rushing yards, 2 TDs)

    Dud: The "good" Adrian Peterson (48 total yards)

    Dishonorable mention: Earnest Graham (32 total yards)

    Wide receivers

    Stud: Anquan Boldin (13 catches, 162 yards, 2 TDs)

    Honorable mention: Jerricho Cotchery (8 catches, 152 yards, 1 TD)

    Dud: Plaxico Burress (1 catch, 6 yards)

    Dishonorable mention: Joey Galloway (1 catch, 29 yards)

    Tight ends

    Stud: Dallas Clark (6 catches, 60 yards, 2 TDs)

    Dud: Owen Daniels (2 catch, 27 yards)


    Stud: Martin Gramatica (3 FGs, 2 PATs)

    Dud: Mason Crosby (1 PAT, 0 FGs)

    Team Defenses/Special Teams

    Stud: Chicago Bears (2 INTs, 1 sack, 7 points allowed, 2 TDs)

    Dud: Green Bay Packers (0 takeaways, 0 sacks)

    Training Room

    Quick thoughts on injuries not covered elsewhere. For detailed injury analysis, check out Stephania Bell's injury blog.

    Anthony Gonzalez left with a foot injury. The Colts are likely to be cautious with him next week.

    Joseph Addai suffered back and shoulder injuries. While neither is considered serious, I'd be shocked if he played more than a series or two in Week 17.

    Marques Colston suffered a chest injury and was seen coughing up blood. He'll be evaluated today.

    Quick observations

    Fred Taylor was too good Sunday. I had a (for bragging rights) wager with Eric Kuselias that Taylor would get 150 yards of total offense against the Raiders. Unfortunately, Taylor and the Jags were so good early in the game that he didn't see much action after the first quarter. Meanwhile, that's five straight 100-yard games for a guy most fantasy owners had left for dead coming into the year.

    Coming into the season, conventional wisdom on Brandon Jacobs went something like this: "He scored nine touchdowns as a vulture last year, so he'll easily hit double digits as the featured back." I disagreed, but even I'm stunned that Jacobs' two rushing touchdowns Sunday were just his third and fourth of the year.

    David Garrard has 12 touchdown passes in his last six games. If you were drafting right now for 2008, how many quarterbacks would you definitely take ahead of Garrard? I made a list and came up with nine, and Donovan McNabb, Marc Bulger and Vince Young weren't on it.

    Dominic Rhodes ran extremely well against a strong Jacksonville defense and should be a safe play as a flex in Week 17.

    You can blame it on Rudi Johnson's injuries, but Kenny Watson is flat-out a better football player right now. Watson is averaging 4.4 yards per carry this season, which is better than nine of the top 13 rushers in the NFL. Johnson is averaging 2.9 yards per carry.

    Tony Gonzalez caught 10 passes for the third time this season and is only eight receptions shy of his second 100-catch season. Tight end is deeper than ever, but Gonzalez is still (easily) a top-five guy.

    Negative Nate

    Warrick Dunn is as good a person as there is in the NFL, but it might be time for him to hang 'em up. Dunn is a game away from his fourth straight season of playing in all 16 games, yet he has only 648 rushing yards and is averaging only 3.0 yards per carry.

    It was a nice run, Samkon Gado, but you're done.

    Right now, I couldn't draft Adrian Peterson ahead of Brian Westbrook, let alone LaDainian Tomlinson, for 2008. Since his 296-yard, three-touchdown explosion, Peterson has played two excellent games, missed two because of an injury and laid three absolute eggs. He's amazing, but he and the Vikings have some work to do.

    Five early trends for Week 17

    1. Steve Smith had four consecutive 100-yard games against the Buccaneers (averaging nearly 20 yards per catch) before being held to five receptions for 32 yards in Week 4. He has 39 receptions in his last six games against the Bucs.

    2. Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor combined for 215 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Week 6 against the Texans. Neither is likely to play much in Week 17, but that trend could bode well for Greg Jones and LaBrandon Toefield.

    3. Santana Moss caught nine passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in Week 11 against the Cowboys.

    4. Torry Holt has scored a touchdown in five straight games against the Cardinals.

    5. Jon Kitna was held to 135 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions against the Packers at Lambeau Field last season.

    Nate Ravitz is an editor and analyst for ESPN.com Fantasy.