StrategyJanuary 20, 2010

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Week 17 Teases

By Tom Docherty

Ah, Week 17 of the NFL schedule. It’s a virtual purgatory for fantasy owners out there. While NFL teams lock up playoff spots and clinch home-field advantage for the playoffs, fantasy owners can only look on and see what might have been.

The majority of fantasy leagues have wrapped up by Week 17, so whatever stats your players may put up that week have no real bearing on your season. However, Week 17 bears watching for savvy fantasy players.

Not only can you get a clue on what young players to watch for the next season, you must also keep a close eye on the NFLers that basically pad their stats in Week 17 — especially those that disappointed their owners during the NFL weeks that mattered. Some of these players put up big stats in the final week of the regular season. Week 17 stats can sometimes cause many magazines and websites to rank these players ahead of others that outperformed them in Weeks 1-16.

Now, I’m not talking about young players that are emerging late in the season (like the Browns’ Jerome Harrison or the Bears’ Devin Aromashodu) when given a chance to prove themselves. I’m talking about the guys that let you down with injuries and below-par performances the majority of the year, only to give themselves a meaningless boost in the final week of the year. They possibly performed well against weaker competition, when playoff-bound NFL opponents are resting their starters.

Here are the guys whose stat-lines should make you raise an eyebrow, and consider ranking a few spots lower on your draft board in 2010, if not just scratch them off altogether.

Let’s start with Baltimore’s Willis McGahee. He was actually a startable RB early in the season, but by Week 5 he had taken a back seat to Ray Rice. McGahee pumped up his season stats with a 167-yard, three-TD performance at Oakland during Week 17 for almost 35 fantasy points in standard formats. Over one-quarter of McGahee’s 2009 fantasy points, and one-third of his rushing TDs, came in Week 17, and against one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL. With Rice establishing himself as a top-five fantasy RB heading into next season, don’t be fooled. McGahee is a TD vulture at best, and is nowhere near worth where his stats may rank him among NFL backs.

The Cowboys’ Patrick Crayton had himself a nice game in Week 17, with a four-catch, 99-yard game and a TD against the Eagles. But his 15.9 fantasy points in that game represent almost one-fifth (17.1%) of his fantasy points for the season. Don’t be fooled; Crayton is a fourth option among Tony Romo’s receivers. He didn’t step it up in Terrell Owens’ absence in 2009 to establish himself, and he likely never will. Crayton is a feast-or-famine player, the type you hate to go up against in a fantasy matchup, because he tends to go off for big points. But the reality is, Crayton fizzles way more often that he sizzles. He was probably worth a fantasy start only three times in 2009. Remember that his Week 17 stats helped next to no one when crossing Crayton off your draft list next summer.

Jay Cutler was easily one of the most overrated Fantasy quarterbacks heading into 2009. He had a disappointing first season with the Chicago Bears. But he showed some of his former brilliance with a 276-yard, four-TD performance in Week 17 against the Lions. Just remember it was against the Lions. That game helped Cutler bump ahead of two QBs, Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb, for fantasy points on the season. Don’t be fooled, however. Warner and McNabb are infinitely better options than Cutler, at least until the Bears do something about getting him a number one WR. Just remember that Cutler’s 35.5 fantasy points in Week 17 were a season best, and the four-TD, zero-INT game allowed Cutler to finish with just one more passing TD than interceptions in 2009.

If you were a fantasy owner that bought into the T.O. hype that surrounded his move to Buffalo, you probably don’t need my advice to stay away from this aging malcontent. But for those of you likely to get fooled by his stats, remember this; Terrell Owens’ four-catch, 65-yard, one-TD game versus the Colts came during a blizzard in Buffalo, and against a disinterested Colts team that had already locked up home field advantage for the AFC playoffs. Keep in mind that his touchdown against the Colts represents one-fifth of Owens’ season total. There might be some excitement about the 36-year-old Owens — should he move to a team with a better QB in 2010 — but don’t buy it. With this big game against inferior competition, Owens climbed statistically ahead of many young WRs like Jeremy Maclin and Hakeem Nicks, and just behind Mike Sims-Walker and Percy Harvin. I’d take any of those young, up-and-coming wideouts heading into 2010 over T.O. in a heartbeat.

Denver’s Jabar Gaffney had a monster game, with 14 receptions for 213 yards in Week 17 against the Chiefs. Just remember this came with receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal out of the Bronco lineup. Perhaps Marshall will find himself on another team in 2010, but don’t let Gaffney’s performance in Week 17 convince you that he will benefit from Marshall’s absence. The production against the Chiefs represented 29% of Gaffney’s yardage on the season, while the two TDs versus Philadelphia the week prior were his only scores in 2009. In his seven prior NFL seasons with stops in Houston and New England, Gaffney has shown he is no more than a third receiver at best. Don’t allow his late-season heroics to affect his rank among your WRs for 2010.

Hopefully you’re a little wiser than the rest of your league when it comes to these five players that had big Week 17 games that served only to help hide they were fantasy disappointments in 2009, and you should be able to rank them accordingly on your 2010 draft boards.

Tom is from Toronto, Ontario, Canada and attended Ryerson University's Journalism School. After two years working for Hockey Night in Canada after graduation, he decided to go into the private sector for employment. He still has a passion for sports, and he's completely hooked on Fantasy Football.
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