Though NFL teams continue to jostle for playoff positioning heading into Week 17, fantasy owners no longer have that problem.
By the regular season's final Sunday, you're one of two places: playing for the league title or drowning your fantasy shame in a bowl of Cherry Garcia ice cream and wondering where things went wrong.
If you're part of the latter group and are masochistically reading this, stop. You're only hurting yourself.
However, if you're a member of the former group and are competing for fantasy glory, setting your lineup takes precedence over just about everything else. Once that submit button is clicked, everything is out of fantasy owners' hands and the onus is placed on the guys who actually play on Sundays.
Which guys will shine brightest in championship week? Here are a few players who will be starters in all leagues and should come up huge in your fantasy league finals.
Cam Newton (QB, Carolina Panthers—at New Orleans Saints)
While the Panthers quarterback's second-half ascent back to stardom hasn't exactly helped the team's draft prospects, it has certainly propelled fantasy owners. In Carolina's last six contests, Newton has scored no fewer than 17 fantasy points and even had a three-week stretch where he averaged a whopping 33.7 fantasy points.
Obviously, no one is expecting a 30-plus point game on Sunday. Nonetheless, it would be irresponsible to dismiss the possibility altogether.
Heading into Week 17, the Saints have given up the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in the NFL. Last week, Tony Romo threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns, which was good for 31 fantasy points. It was the second time in the past three weeks an opposing quarterback had thrown four touchdowns against the Saints, and they have given up a league-high 31 scores through the air this season.
In other words, Sunday should be a fantasy paradise for Newton. He's never thrown for more than three touchdowns in a single game in his two-year career, so it's unlikely that Newton hits that lofty level. However, four touchdowns are within the realm of possibility considering the young quarterback's goal-line running prowess.
Projected Stats: 250 YDS Passing, 60 YDS Rushing, 3 Total TDs (1 Rushing) (30 PTS)
C.J. Spiller (RB, Buffalo Bills—vs. New York Jets)
This may come as a shock to Chan Gailey, but when you put the ball in Spiller's hands, great things tend to happen. In the two games since a knee injury ended Fred Jackson's season, the Bills' running back has topped 100 yards and kept up his record-setting production.
Heading into Week 17's slate of games, Spiller is averaging 6.48 yards per carry. If Spiller keeps that rate up on Sunday against the Jets, he would break Jim Brown's record of 6.40 for a rusher with this many carries.
Considering the state of the Jets' defense (and team as a whole), it's a pretty good bet that Spiller will break that record. Once respected among the league's best units, New York's front seven has fallen off a cliff this season. Rex Ryan's bunch gives up an average of 135.3 rushing yards per game (27th in the NFL) and has allowed 15 rushing touchdowns.
What's more, Spiller has some fantastic recent history against the Jets. The Bills' star rushed for a season-high 169 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries in the season's first week. With Spiller's increased workload coming into play, I have a hard time seeing him falling short of those numbers in Week 17.
Projected Stats: 175 Total YDS, 2 TDs (29 PTS)
Dez Bryant (WR, Dallas Cowboys—at Washington Redskins)
The second half of the 2012 season may forever go down as the time Bryant took a leap to superstardom. After working his way through a middling first half of the season, Bryant became one of the league's best receivers and a top fantasy option down the stretch.
Just take a look at Bryant's splits, keeping in mind that he still has one game remaining in the second half of the season:
First Half: 42 REC, 503 YDS (12.0 YPC), 2 TDs
Second Half: 46 REC, 808 YDS (17.6 YPC), 10 TDs
It may have taken two-and-a-half seasons, but Bryant's second half alone is enough to justify Jerry Jones' continued belief in the troubled young wideout. He has a touchdown reception in seven straight games and has come through with multi-score games three times.
With a matchup against the Redskins coming on Sunday, it's hard to see Bryant's streak ending. Washington has given up the third-most passing yards per game (287.7) and is tied for the second-most touchdown passes allowed (29).
Bryant and Tony Romo may not be able to single-handedly carry Dallas to the playoffs, but may be able to win a few fantasy titles here and there.
Projected Stats: 130 YDS, 1 TD (19 PTS)
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