For NFL teams, Week 17 is either a chance to end the nightmare of their 2012 campaign or one last chance to keep their Super Bowl dreams alive. Fantasy owners still playing in Week 17, meanwhile, are already living their Super Bowl dream.
Though most fantasy leagues wrapped their season up in Week 16, there are still a few stray leagues out there that continue through the NFL season's final Sunday. In most leagues, Week 17 counts due to a two-week playoff system or simply because it's an old-school rotisserie league.
In both formats, this presents a problem. While most teams have something to play for on Sunday, there are enough teams locked into the playoffs that there may be some stars sitting on the bench.
That's particularly the case at running back, where teams will want to limit their best players' exposure to the weekly grind. With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of the best running backs of Week 17.
1. C.J. Spiller (Buffalo Bills—vs. New York Jets)
If Spiller's play down the stretch this season doesn't make him the Bills' unquestioned RB1 next season, I'm not sure what will. In the two games since Fred Jackson's season ended, the third-year back has gone over 100 rushing yards and scored 16 fantasy points both weeks.
In and of itself, that's not supremely impressive. Well, of course, that is until you take a look at the schedule and realize those performances came against the Seahawks and Dolphins, two teams that rank inside the top 11 in rushing yards allowed.
Before Spiller, the Dolphins had not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 10.
Luckily for Spiller, his opponent this week isn't what you would consider sterling against the run. Heading into Week 17, the Jets rank 27th in the NFL against the run and give up an average of 135.3 yards per game. More importantly for fantasy owners, they have also given up 15 rushing touchdowns, which is more than all but five teams in the league.
A red-hot Spiller plus an ice-cold Jets defense should lead to massive rewards for owners of the Bills' back.
2. Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings—vs. Green Bay Packers)
No matter what the ultimate outcome of this game is, the Vikings coaches will make sure Peterson gets his due. Even if he's running poorly, Peterson will undoubtedly get enough carries to get the 102 rushing yards necessary to hit the 2,000-yard plateau and could get even more work if he's nearing the 207 to match the all-time record of 2,105.
In other words, you're looking at a bare minimum of 10 points on Sunday. And considering the Packers are a middle-of-the-road run defense, I may be putting the minimum far too low.
Coming into this Sunday's slate of games, Green Bay is 14th in the NFL against the run yardage-wise (111.9 per game) and in terms of touchdowns allowed (11).
Peterson also has a little bit of history working the Packers like a speed bag. In the teams' Week 13 matchup, the Vikings star ran for 210 yards and a touchdown on just 21 carries, continuing a careerwide trend of torching Minnesota's biggest rival. In 11 career games against the Packers, Peterson averages 113 rushing yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry, both of which are his best among intradivision opponents.
With history on his side and possibly in his future, look for the Vikings to ride Peterson hard on Sunday en route to another brilliant performance.
3. Arian Foster (Houston Texans—at Indianapolis Colts)
Following a scary irregular heartbeat that forced him out of last week's game against the Vikings, Foster gave the scoop on his own health and said everything was back to normal via Twitter:
I appreciate all the concern and support. I am doing well. Saw a cardiologist today and everything is back to normal.
— Arian Foster (@ArianFoster) December 24, 2012
We'll obviously need to see how and if he's used all week in practice to feel comfortable fantasywise. However, if Foster is in the lineup, he should have no problem rampaging all over the Colts' front seven.
The Chiefs rushed for 352 yards on only 42 carries last week against Indianapolis, as they became the first team in NFL history to lose when rushing for over 350 yards. Jamaal Charles torched the Colts for 226 yards and a touchdown, while his backup, Peyton Hillis, added 101 for good measure.
Foster himself even has a history of Colt-crushing. In their Week 15 matchup, the Texans star rushed for 165 yards on 27 carries, which is actually his only 100-yard rushing game in the past four weeks.
If he's in the lineup, you're starting him and he's going to have a great game.
Rest of the Week 17 Fantasy Running Back Rankings
4. Marshawn Lynch (Seattle Seahawks—vs. St. Louis Rams)
5. Doug Martin (Tampa Bay Buccaneers—at Atlanta Falcons)
6. Jamaal Charles (Kansas City Chiefs—at Denver Broncos)
7. Alfred Morris (Washington Redskins—vs. Dallas Cowboys)
8. Reggie Bush (Miami Dolphins—at New England Patriots)
9. Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans—vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)
10. Knowshon Moreno (Denver Broncos—vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
11. Frank Gore (San Francisco 49ers—vs. Arizona Cardinals)
12. Shonn Greene (New York Jets—at Buffalo Bills)
13. Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens—at Cincinnati Bengals)
14. Stevan Ridley (New England Patriots—vs. Miami Dolphins)
15. DeMarco Murray (Dallas Cowboys—at Washington Redskins)
16. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Cincinnati Bengals—vs. Baltimore Ravens)
17. LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles—at New York Giants)
18. Matt Forte (Chicago Bears—at Detroit Lions)
19. Montell Owens (Jacksonville Jaguars—at Tennessee Titans)
20. Ahmad Bradshaw (New York Giants—vs. Philadelphia Eagles)
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