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Keep close eye on who's playing Week 17

12/31/2010

Let's get positive, shall we? I feel like we've spent so much time leading up to Week 17 discussing top players unlikely to play much or at all -- Philadelphia Eagles and otherwise -- that we've lost sight of the good stuff. Consider yourself lucky that Week 17 matters for your team or teams. It's an achievement to watch January games with something on the line. Plenty of football players will indeed suit up this weekend and will produce statistics that can help you, the deserving fantasy owner, win your league. The trick is finding them ... and keeping focus.

If anything, fantasy owners relying on Eagles have been given a valuable gift: knowledge. We know Michael Vick is out and Kevin Kolb is in, for example. Same with DeSean Jackson, so learn the name Jason Avant. Perhaps you don't want to rely on Kolb this week in what really could be an exciting, if relatively meaningless, home tilt with the Dallas Cowboys, but at least you have clarity. We can't say this about Tom Brady and his New England Patriots teammates.

My best advice on this Friday morning is, if you're still playing for a fantasy championship, the least you can do is pay attention to the news this weekend and trust your gut Sunday morning. Watch "Fantasy Football Now" on Sunday morning for more opinion and the latest updates. At least all games this week are on Sunday, starting with the 1 p.m. ET matchups and ending with the nighttime meeting between NFC West heavyweight behemoths. No Thursday or Saturday games and, we pray, nothing next Tuesday!

I don't think I made many tangible updates to the Friday rankings this week. Frankly, little has changed since Wednesday. I can tell you I'm not backing off some of my out-of-the-ordinary predictions for the week -- that Denver Broncos rookie Tim Tebow is terrific, that Washington Redskins running back Ryan Torain is that team's offense and that both wide receivers named Mike Williams are in for big performances.

My trust in the Seattle Seahawks' top receiver is not, it should be noted, in any way related to the fact I will get to see him play in Sunday's prime-time game against the St. Louis Rams and want to win my leagues at the latest possible, dramatic time. However, don't underestimate the significance of players -- they are, after all, human beings -- stepping up on football's biggest stage with unexpected performances. Everyone should be watching this game because one of these sub-.500 teams will (presumably) win and host the New Orleans Saints (likely), and everybody and their plumber will pick the Saints to win the following week. In your playoff pools, you'll flock to Drew Brees and pals. And you know what? Maybe the Rams or Seahawks will shock you like Kurt Warner's Arizona Cardinals (9-7) did a few years back. That team led in the Super Bowl with seconds remaining. It's football, expect the unexpected.

Rams running back Steven Jackson is an attractive play, as always, and obviously I think the Seahawks' Williams can exploit the St. Louis secondary. Maybe Marshawn Lynch can punch in a one-yard plunge or two. I ranked Sam Bradford in the top half of quarterbacks and actually ranked Charlie Whitehurst, which in itself is a statement, I suppose. In nearly half of ESPN's leagues -- not just the standard ones but the custom ones, as well -- this week matters. All the games matter somewhere. I'm not complaining that I actually will be relying on Kolb in one of my leagues. In Week 17, I'm just happy to get that choice!

Here are some other things to watch leading up to Sunday's action.

New in New Orleans: I dropped Marques Colston from the rankings, because I seriously doubt he'll suit up after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday. That's right, it happened this week! The Saints might have something to play for, if the Carolina Panthers can upset the Atlanta Falcons, but it seems to me Brees has enough options. Lance Moore moves into my top 20, and Robert Meachem is up a bit. I also moved tight end Jimmy Graham up to the top 10. He does appear to be a Brees favorite in the red zone, and losing Colston doesn't hurt Graham. I also reranked running back Chris Ivory, as he is likely to play. That does not help Pierre Thomas. Neither makes my top 20.

Payin' the Bills: Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn't been practicing because of his knee injury, leaving the possibility Brian Brohm starts. While I tend to be optimistic and don't simply assume Brohm cannot perform at a high level, I adjusted the Steve Johnson ranking, if you know what I mean -- and not in the good direction. I could see the Bills, fresh off a 34-3 loss, having a similar result even if the New York Jets use backups. I'm avoiding Bills, and after seeing that Jets coach Rex Ryan intends to let third-string running back Joe McKnight run wild I ranked him.

Enjoy the ride: By Friday afternoon, and certainly on Sunday morning, some news will have changed. Maybe the Jacksonville Jaguars officially rule out running back Maurice Jones-Drew well in advance of the game, and you decide to trust Rashad Jennings. I might. The point is all a fantasy owner can do is remain informed, set the lineups, hope for the best and have some fun along the way. We cannot play for the players. Perspective is a wonderful thing. Please be safe on this New Year's Eve and best of luck Sunday. And best of all, next week I will be back with playoff rankings!

Happy New Year!