Matt Pitzer

Halftime Adjustments

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To play or not to play?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


So you're still playing? Good for you. Try not to let it happen again.

But since you're here now, you need the help. You know the drill about teams resting starters, about some clubs not exactly going out with a bang (thanks for showing up, Broncos) and other guys resting supposedly minor injuries.

That's the mess that is Week 17; that's the reason you should have wrapped up your league already. If you didn't do it this year, do it next year; you'll save yourself plenty of aggravation.

And you'll also wind up saving yourself from going through a wild batch of roster moves before reaching this final weekend. Tony Romo might have carried you all season, and now you're scrambling to pick up Chris Redman just so you have a quarterback who figures to play in Week 17.

This supposed to be representative of who is the best team in your league? Count me out. I hate wasting 5.9% of the season as much as anybody else, but comparing this week to the final preseason game is doing a disservice to the preseason.

You're here, though, and wondering who will not be playing. Only two playoff spots are still up for grabs. More disturbingly, eight of the 10 teams that have clinched also have secured their playoff position. And one of the teams fighting to get in the playoffs can't do anything to improve its chances.

Those teams literally have nothing to play for yet you can't assume all of those clubs will or won't play their starters any particular way. Let's take a look, in alphabetical order, at what each team is likely to do with some key players and who the replacements might be.

Cleveland. The Browns actually have almost nothing to play for as their future depends almost entirely on what Tennessee does. So they could use the week to rest, though that would be an absurd position for a team still trying to make the playoffs. Don't wait for that to happen.

Dallas. Even if they had something to play for, the Cowboys still might have tried to get some rest for the injured Tony Romo and Terrell Owens. But it's virtually certain now that guys such as QB Brad Johnson, RB Tyson Thompson, WR Sam Hurd and TE Tony Curtis will play out the string. The Redskins are trying to make the playoffs, though, and will not make things comfortable for any of them.

Green Bay. That was a costly flop by the Packers in Chicago last week and it brings them into a game you should stay far away from. Between the Packers having nothing to play for, the Lions' inconsistency and possible bad weather in Green Bay, there is no telling how this will play out. It's not even clear whether Aaron Rodgers or Craig Nall would play after Brett Favre's token appearance. Brandon Jackson figures to sub for running back Ryan Grant, but Jackson has been a bust all season.

Indianapolis. The Colts already have admitted they will not play their starters much. Peyton Manning et al might get a series or a quarter, but Jim Sorgi will get plenty of time. He would not be a good play, however, against a Titans team fighting for the playoffs. Clifton Dawson figures to be the main running back, Devin Aromashodu be the best wide receiver and Bryan Fletcher the top tight end.

New England. You never know with the Patriots, and they were liberal with substitutions throughout last week's game, but if they sat any key players on the brink of a perfect season, it would be a stunner. The only concern is if they jump out to a big lead against a Giants team that is unlikely to care too much and then sit on the ball. They got the 28-0 lead against Miami last week but a poor second half kept Tom Brady from putting up the dominant numbers he has had at times this season. Otherwise, the Patriots are the least-worrisome playoff team out there.

Jacksonville. You know about Fred Taylor's dominant stretch of five 100-yard games, and that has earned the 31-year-old veteran a chance to rest this week. LaBrandon Toefield and Greg Jones would be the main runners and they could get a TD against the Texans. Don't be too quick to jump on Quinn Gray and the receivers will be unpredictable. Matt Jones and tight end Richard Angulo both could get extra time.

New York Giants. If anybody needs a break, it's the Giants so you can forget about them trying to end the Patriots' undefeated run. WR Plaxico Burress and RB Brandon Jacobs are both banged up and the most likely players to get a week off. In a difficult matchup against the Patriots, in which the Giants are likely to be far behind very quickly, don't dream about playing any of the replacements.

Pittsburgh, San Diego. These are the two playoff teams who have not clinched their seed so they still could go all out in a fight to be the AFC's No. 3. The Steelers do not seem very interested in that, however, having lost running back Willie Parker to a broken leg and seeing Ben Roethlisberger sprain his ankle last week. So don't be surprised when Charlie Batch gets snaps. And with new starting running back Najeh Davenport having his own spotty injury history, new backups Gary Russell and Carey Davis will get to prove themselves.

As for the Chargers, LaDainian Tomlinson has left each of the past two games after feeling a pull in his hamstring so don't expect more than perhaps a half out of him, as well as Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates. The toughest decision is whether Darren Sproles or Michael Turner is the next-best back to play. Sproles has been the better guy while Turner has been banged up, but Turner has been Tomlinson's long-term backup. The Chargers might as well let Turner get healthy too for the postseason.

Seattle. The Seahawks always seem to make noise about playing their regular guys when they hit a game with nothing to play for, but reality also seems to set in about halfway through the second quarter. That's when you can expect QB Seneca Wallace and RB Leonard Weaver to take over. At least Seattle has a good matchup against the Falcons, which might make WR D.J. Hackett worth considering. He has missed four games because of an ankle injury but could be a big threat in the playoffs if he gets back in the flow of the offense.

Tampa Bay. The Bucs showed their hand last week and it's pretty clear we won't get much out of Jeff Garcia, Joey Galloway or Earnest Graham. The Panthers have been all over the place all season, but they don't seem likely to be all that interested in playing either, which would open the door for RB Michael Bennett or one of the tight ends, Alex Smith and Jerramy Stevens, to get a TD chance.


Matt Pitzer writes about fantasy football for USAToday.com.
Email :Matt Pitzer



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