Green Bay WR Randall Cobb is enjoying a breakout season and closing in on his first 1,000 yard season. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Most fantasy leagues are done after Week 16, so as to avoid playoff-bound teams resting players, like the Falcons, Colts and Bengals might do this week, or to avoid teams shutting down players because of injuries they might normally play through, like what could happen with Trent Richardson (ankle) and Mike Wallace (hip).
But whether you're still playing or not, there are plenty of reasons to pay attention. As we talked about last week, the stats accumulated in Week 17 count the same on the back of a football card (or, in the case of fantasy owners, on the websites and magazines you use to do your pre-draft prep), and a big season finale can make a mediocre season suddenly look like it's worth a third-round pick next year.
Week 17 is also a good time to key in on players you haven't had a chance to see much of this year. Big finishes can sometimes carry over into training camp and open the door for more playing time the following season. Watching these players now can give you a better idea of what to expect next September.
With that in mind, let's take a look at a player from each game who's worth tracking a little more closely, as well as key milestones that are in reach for individual players. You can expect guys chasing these milestones to possibly get a few more looks and touches than normal.
Rams at Seahawks
Player to watch: Darryl Richardson, RB, Rams. Both of these teams have a lot of good, young players, particularly at the skill positions, but Richardson is intriguing because of the talent he's displayed this year (4.9 yards per carry) and the uncertainty about his role next season. He would have big-time upside if he's a feature back, but even if he remains in a complementary role, he'll probably be worth drafting as a flex.
Jets at Bills
Player to watch: T.J. Graham, WR, Bills. Graham has seen a late-season uptick in targets, getting at least seven looks in each of the past three games. That's only resulted in 114 yards, but he has the type of big-play ability that could make him a sleeper heading into next season.
Milestones: Stevie Johnson, 65 yards away from a third-straight 1,000-yard season; Shonn Greene, 11 yards away from a second-straight 1,000-yard season.
Panthers at Saints
Player to watch: Mark Ingram, RB, Saints. Ingram has come on late, scoring in three of the past four games and getting at least 13 carries in each of the past three contests, including a career-high 21 totes last week. If he can continue getting this much playing time and producing, he'll be highly sought after on draft day next season.
Milestones: Drew Brees, 219 yards away from a second-straight 5,000-yard season; Lance Moore, 80 yards away from a 1,000-yard season; Jimmy Graham, 133 yards away from a second-straight 1,000-yard season.
Buccaneers at Falcons
Player to watch: Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Falcons. The Falcons have nothing to play for, so it's unclear how much they'll use their regulars. That could open the door for more playing time for Rodgers, who's disappointed this year despite a lot of preseason sleeper hype. If he's ever going to have a bigger role and become a “Darren Sproles lite,” it would be nice if we could see him take advantage of more playing time in a meaningless Week 17 game.
Milestones: Mike Williams, 69 yards away from a 1,000-yard season.
Bears at Lions
Player to watch: Mikel LeShoure, RB, Lions. We know all about Calvin Johnson's pursuit of history, and Matt Forte is questionable because of ankle injury, but LeShoure is worth paying extra attention to. In what is essentially his rookie season, he's currently the 19th-ranked fantasy back and is one touchdown away from cracking double digits; but he's averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and hasn't had a run longer than 16 yards all season. Is he actually good? A solid performance against a hungry Bears' defense could go a long way heading into next season.
Milestones: Matt Forte, nine yards away from a 1,000-yard season; Brandon Marshall, four catches behind Calvin Johnson for the league lead; Matthew Stafford, 305 yards away from a second-straight 5,000-yard season; Calvin Johnson, 108 yards away from a 2,000-yard season.
Eagles at Giants
Player to watch: Michael Vick, QB, Eagles. With Nick Foles out because of a fractured hand, Vick will make his first start since Week 10. It's widely believed that he won't be back with the Eagles next year, so this is an audition for the rest of the league. It's unlikely that Vick will take any unnecessary risks running the ball, but look for him to showcase his talents.
Milestone: Ahmad Bradshaw, 92 yards away from a 1,000-yard season.
Jaguars at Titans
Player to watch: Jake Locker, QB, Titans. Locker has averaged a respectable 16.2 fantasy points in his nine full games this year, but there's still a feeling of disappointment surrounding him, largely because of his 56.2-percent completion percentage. Locker's running ability (at least 32 yards in each of the past four games) should make him a borderline starting fantasy option, but his passing ability might hold him back.
Texans at Colts
Player to watch: DeVier Posey, WR, Texans. Most owners will be watching to see if Arian Foster is OK after his irregular heartbeat scare last week, but Posey is worth watching, too. He's only accounted for five catches and 71 yards this year, but he's currently being used as Houston's No. 2 wide receiver, getting six targets last week. With Andre Johnson demanding double teams on one side of the field, Posey could emerge next season as a viable WR3.
Browns at Steelers
Player to watch: Montario Hardesty, RB, Browns. Trent Richardson is questionable because of a sore ankle, and you can bet he'll try to play if possible since he's only 50 yards away from 1,000. But if he doesn't, expect to see a lot of Hardesty, who's actually performed well this year, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. If Hardesty goes somewhere next season where he receives regular carries, he could be solid RB2.
Milestones: Trent Richardson, 50 yards away from a 1,000-yard season.
Ravens at Bengals
Player to watch: Bernard Pierce, RB, Ravens. The Bengals have nothing to play for, and the Ravens can only potentially go from the four to the three seed, so we might see a lot of backups in this one. If we do, that could mean a lot of Pierce, who broke out last week with 123 yards on 14 carries. Ray Rice isn't going anywhere, but Pierce could become a potential flex if the Ravens look to lighten Rice's workload next season.
Milestones: Anquan Boldin, 79 yards away from a 1,000-yard season; A.J. Green, five catches away from 100, two TD catches behind James Jones for the league lead.
Cardinals at 49ers
Player to watch: Randy Moss, WR, 49ers. This is an odd choice, especially since Beanie Wells has already said he doesn't think he'll be back in Arizona next season. But the Cardinals' best replacement, Ryan Williams, is on IR due to a shoulder injury, so there's really nothing to see in the Arizona backfield. Instead, focus on Moss, who should get more targets with Mario Manningham (torn ACL) out and Vernon Davis (concussion) possibly out. If he looks good on Sunday and during the playoffs, it could bode well for his fantasy value next season – if he's still around.
Milestone: Michael Crabtree, 67 yards away from a 1,000-yard season.
Raiders at Chargers
Player to watch: Terrelle Pryor, QB, Raiders. It's unclear if Pryor or Matt Leinart is going to start in place of Carson Palmer (ribs), but fantasy owners should hope they get at least an extended look at Pryor under center. He hasn't played much in his first two seasons, and it's tough to say if he has what it takes to be a starting NFL quarterback, but his skill set is the kind that fantasy owners drool over. Week 17 could provide a sneak peak at one of next year's biggest draft-day sleepers.
Chiefs at Broncos
Player to watch: Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos. Moreno has been a revelation since taking over for Willis McGahee (knee, leg) in Week 12, averaging 11.2 fantasy points per game. A strong finish to the season, including the playoffs, should have him in line to start next season, which would likely mean a spot in the top two rounds of fantasy drafts. Is this is a fluke or is Moreno finally making good on his first-round billing?
Milestones: Eric Decker, 12 yards away from a 1,000-yard season; Jamaal Charles, 44 yards away from a 1,500-yard season.
Packers at Vikings
Player to watch: Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings. Sure, we could tell you to watch the development of Jarius Wright or how the targets are divvied up if Jordy Nelson (hamstring) and Randall Cobb (ankle) are both active -- but that would just be silly. It's not often you get to see one of the greatest players of all-time at his peak, let alone when he's chasing history and a playoff spot in a huge rivalry game. This is why we love football, right?
Milestones: Randall Cobb, 46 yards away from a 1,000-yard season; Adrian Peterson 102 yards away from a 2,000-yard season and 208 yards away from setting the single-season rushing record.
Dolphins at Patriots
Player to watch: Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins. It doesn't sound like Rob Gronkowski (forearm) will return for this one, otherwise he would be a must-watch as always. Instead, we'll focus on Miami's backup RB, who actually led the team with 73 yards on 10 carries last week. There's a good chance that Reggie Bush won't be back in Miami next year, which would clear the way for Miller, who's averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season, to take over. The talent seems to be there for big things.
Milestones: Reggie Bush, 40 yards away from a second-straight 1,000-yard season; Brandon Lloyd, 98 yards away from a 1,000-yard season.
Cowboys at Redskins
Player to watch: Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins. Griffin didn't look as comfortable running last week coming off a knee injury. Rushing yards are obviously a big component of his fantasy value, and he'll likely have to play hurt in the future, so it will be good to see how he responds to being less than 100 percent.
Milestones: Alfred Morris, 87 yards away from a 1,500-yard season; Tony Romo, 315 yards away from a 5,000-yard season; Jason Witten, 17 yards away from a 1,000-yard season; Miles Austin, 57 yards away from a 1,000-yard season; Dez Bryant, one TD catch behind James Jones for the league lead.
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage.