Deciding on a starting lineup this late in the season is always tricky. The stakes are higher in fantasy playoffs, and not knowing which players will see time because of the playoff picture adds to the guesswork.
Fortunately, most NFL teams still have something to play for and will lean heavily on starters. Even the Patriots, with home field wrapped up, are playing for history and appear incapable of taking their foot off the gas pedal.
Against the Dolphins, the Patriots' starters may see less than 60 minutes, but quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Randy Moss will fill the stats sheet. Already at a career high in scoring, Moss is seeking his 20th touchdown catch of the year, while Brady is three touchdown passes shy of an unbelievable 50 on the season.
Don't think for a second that Brady and Moss aren't aware of their numbers, and not everyone is as unselfish - and upsetting to fantasy owners - as Eagles running back Brian Westbrook was Sunday when he intentionally took a nap at the 1-yard line to kill the clock rather than score.
This week, it is Westbrook's teammate, quarterback Donovan McNabb, who will play a big role in fantasy outcomes. McNabb knows he is auditioning to keep a starting job in the NFL with the Eagles or elsewhere. He couldn't ask for a better matchup than the Saints' third-worst pass defense, which permits 250 passing yards a game and ranks near the bottom in touchdown passes allowed. McNabb's fan club is shrinking, but it's OK to hop on the bandwagon this week.
Players who should be kept out of starting lineups include Bears deep threat Bernard Berrian, who isn't the same player without quarterback Rex Grossman under center. And we also recommend keeping a safe distance from any Oakland Raider. With quarterbacks Josh McCown and rookie JaMarcus Russell sharing time, likewise for LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes in the backfield, the offense is a mess.
Five to start
Here are five players with favorable matchups for Week 16:
Earnest Graham, RB, Buccaneers - Who is this guy? A touchdown machine since taking over the starting job. This weekend, the 49ers will be asking the same question.
Ryan Grant, RB, Packers - Grant has become a catalyst for the Packers' offense. In a classic divisional battle with the Bears, expect a score for the fifth consecutive week.
Chad Johnson, WR, Bengals - No introductions are needed when Johnson takes the field opposite the Browns' secondary. In Week 2, he torched it for 209 yards and two TDs. Though scoreless in 11 of his last 12 games, Johnson could return to the end zone at long last.
Jamal Lewis, RB, Browns - Like Johnson in Week 2, Lewis also broke the 200-yard mark in that wild contest. This time, a more realistic 100 yards sounds about right.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers - He hasn't reached 200 yards in a game in six weeks. But the Rams' defense is playing worse than its statistics. The Rams are not good at bringing down quarterbacks, and Big Ben is like a sturdy oak tree that can throw passes.