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Fear the Falcons in Week 17
It’s a perilous week in fantasyland. Many players are listed as “questionable” or carry the dreaded “game-time decision” designation as we head into this final week of the regular season. Coaches choose their words carefully at press conferences as they address injuries, playing time and the potential for sitting normal starters in the finale.
We at FOXSports.com are parsing through the practice notes, play-by-play accounts and injury rosters to get you set the close things out with a dominant performance. Keep it locked onto FOXSports.com for the latest player news and notes as kickoff looms.
Let’s get things started with this final round of “Lineup Calls.”
Steve Smith at NO
Smith scored for the third time in four games in the Panthers’ 17-6 win over Oakland. He’s produced four or more receptions in six consecutive games, producing 60 or more receiving yards four times (two 100-yard games). He’s on the board for a big finish to 2012 against the porous New Orleans secondary. Smith caught three passes for 104 yards against the Saints in Week 2.
Eric Decker vs. KC
Decker needs 12 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. That will happen fairly early in what could become a blowout win for the Broncos at home. Remember, the top AFC teams are still jockeying for seeding. Decker has come on strong in the home stretch, producing 22 receptions for 286 yards with three touchdowns in the past three weeks. He registered four receptions for 64 yards in the first meeting with the Chiefs.
Pierre Garcon vs. DAL
Garcon produced another strong game in support of RGIII against the Eagles. He caught 7-of-9 targets for 89 yards, his fourth game with at least 83 receiving yards since returning to action (three touchdowns). Garcon celebrated his return to action with a huge game on Thanksgiving Day against the Cowboys, producing 86 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown, on four receptions.
Danario Alexander vs. OAK
Alexander rebounded nicely against the Jets after being shut out in Week 15 by the Panthers. He caught three passes for 69 yards and scored his sixth touchdown of the season. Since joining the starting lineup, he’s topped 60 receiving yards in seven of his eight games. Look or him to post another big game against the Raiders at home (14th-most fantasy points allowed to wide receivers).
James Jones at MIN
Jones caught seven passes for 100 yards and scored his 13th touchdown of the season as part of the Packers’ domination of the Titans. He’s been a red zone beast, but has produced only five games with more than 60 receiving yards. With Randall Cobb possibly sidelined, Jones becomes a better WR2 option against Minnesota (15th-most fantasy points allowed to wide receivers).
Jeremy Maclin at NYG
Maclin posted his second 100-yard game with a touchdown in three week against the Redskins in Week 16. He’s produced 21 receptions for 293 yards in the past three weeks and will be in line for another huge stat line in Week 17 against the Giants … if he plays. Maclin was seen at Friday’s practice, leading to speculation that he’ll be ready to play on Sunday. If he does, he’s a borderline WR1 option.
Miles Austin at WAS
Austin caught four passes for 45 yards and scored for just the second time since Week 4 against the Saints. He’s not topped 80 receiving yards since Week 8, so it’s hard to push him too far up the rankings. However, Austin has been targeted 28 times in the past three weeks despite operating in Dez Bryant’s shadow. Get the popcorn ready for Sunday night. There will be points.
Brandon Lloyd vs. MIA
Lloyd has taken on a huge role for the Patriots in the past three weeks. Fantasy owners are still wondering why it took so long for him to find a role. Regardless, Lloyd has piled up 37 targets in the past three weeks, producing 23 receptions for 341 yards. The Dolphins are a middling pass defense, having produced better efforts in the second half of the year. I look for Tom Brady and company to come out full-throttle and put up points.
Justin Blackmon at TEN
The Jaguars declared Cecil Shorts III “OUT” for Week 17, thereby putting Blackmon into the top slot against the Titans in the finale. Blackmon has come alive down the stretch, producing 32 of his 58 receptions in the past six weeks. He’s been targeted 35 times in the past three weeks. The Titans have allowed 17 receiving touchdowns this season, including a grab by Blackmon in Week 12 (five receptions for 62 yards).
T.Y. Hilton vs. HOU
This midseason fantasy hero’s production has slowed down in the past three weeks, but Hilton did find the end zone in Week 15 against the Texans (three receptions for 78 yards). The Texans will work to erase Reggie Wayne, thereby putting Hilton in line for another high target count.
Emmanuel Sanders vs. CLE
Sanders takes on a starting role in Week 17 against Cleveland, as Mike Wallace will be shut down because of a hip injury. Sanders rose to prominence during a four-game stretch earlier this season. He amassed 27 targets during a four-game period (Weeks 10-13). He caught 5-of-6 targets for 75 yards in the first meeting with Cleveland.
Jason Avant at NYG
Avant has taken on a prominent role in the Philadelphia passing game in the past three weeks. He’s amassed 18 receptions for 247 yards during this period, including two games with 12 targets. Jeremy Maclin has been slowed because of a knee injury, leaving the door open for Avant to emerge as a leader for Michael Vick.
Harry Douglas vs. TB
I leave the “sleepers” section of the Week 17 roster with a speedy second-team receiver in Atlanta. Douglas has amassed 34 receptions for 375 yards this season, his fifth with the Falcons. He’s clearly a second-team option in Atlanta, but he just might take on a more prominent role in the finale if Mike Smith should decide to rest his starters. Douglas has caught multiple passes in six of the past seven games (48, 49 and 83 receiving yards in three of those games).
Fear The Falcons
On the surface, it’s a fantastic matchup for the Atlanta passing game. The Tampa Bay pass defense has been generous all season, ceding the second-most fantasy points to wide receivers. However, there is the distinct possibility that Mike Smith pulls his starters or rotates Roddy White and Julio Jones as the game progresses.
Stevie Johnson vs. NYJ
Johnson’s pattern of alternating good and bad performances continued in Week 16. He produced four receptions for 44 yards on 10 targets. In theory, that pattern puts Johnson in line for a big effort in Week 17 against the Jets. I believe the streak ends against Antonio Cromartie and the still-strong New York pass defense. The Jets have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers this season. Johnson scored and posted 55 receiving yards on four receptions in the season opener.
Hakeem Nicks vs. PHI
Nicks failed to record a reception on three targets in the Week 16 loss to Baltimore. He’s been limited in practice this week and may be unavailable to Eli Manning in the finale. Nicks has been a difficult play for fantasy owners all season. His lone game with more than 80 receiving yards came in Week 2 against the Buccaneers. I’d make a speculative play on Domenik Hixon (11 receptions, including two touchdowns, in the past three weeks) instead.
Randall Cobb at MIN
Cobb did not participate in Thursday’s practice, leaving open the door that the budding star of the Green Bay receiving corps will sit out the finale. He left the Week 16 blowout win over Tennessee after recording three receptions, including his eighth touchdown of the year. With Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and touchdown king James Jones (see above) at the ready, there’s no reason to risk Cobb ahead of a playoff run.