Week 17 fantasy picks: Grand prize up in air

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New week, same story: Johnson still makes a great fantasy play.

The title is up for grabs in the final week of the free HoustonTexans.com Home Team Challenge. Although atop the Texans fan standings, "H-Town Chiefs" is operated by a member of the Texans staff and therefore not eligible for the grand prize, a Texans 2008 Home Opener Dream Package.

Only 58 points separate the remaining top five teams in the standings, so it should be a frantic race to the finish. Additionally, the Week 17 winner will take home a nice consolation prize in a Texans football autographed by Andre Johnson, Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Matt Schaub, Anthony Weaver, Ahman Green, Amobi Okoye and Dunta Robinson.

The key this week is finding players who won't be sitting out their season finales because their team has already solidified its postseason standing.

In the AFC, New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Jacksonville have locked up their respective spots in the postseason and stand to gain nothing in their last games other than momentum. These teams are expected to rest their starters for at least part, if not all, of their respective games.

The one exception, however, is New England. With Bill Belichick's team going for 16-0 and QB Tom Bradyand WR Randy Mossboth only two TDs away from their positional season touchdown records, I would expect their starters to play long enough to ensure a win, which would result in numbers pleasing to fantasy owners.

In the NFC, Dallas, Green Bay, Seattle, Tampa Bay and New York have clinched their respective seeds.

Green Bay, after a sloppy losing effort last week, may end up playing their regulars at least three quarters against a giving Lions defense. Seattle coach Mike Holmgren has a history of playing his players to keep momentum heading into the postseason and said QB Matt Hasselbeckwill start in a favorable matchup against the Falcons, although there's no telling how much he'll play.

Even using players from those two teams is risky, but at least somewhat defensible if you must.

It all may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for those setting weekly fantasy lineups. In general, the top fantasy performers and most expensive players are on the playoff teams. By looking elsewhere this week with those players out of commission, you'll wind up selecting from a much cheaper pool of players and end up with a more balanced roster.

Here are five of my favorite plays for the final week of the season:

QB Kurt Warner, ARI, 55 (vs. STL): The Cardinals have nothing to hold back in their regular-season finale as they look to finish 2007 on a positive note. Warner has scored at least 16 fantasy points in seven games since Week 10, with multiple TD passes in each game and three TDs in three straight. He's averaging over 40 passing attempts in his last five starts, so it would be shocking if he did anything less against his former team that has the league's 19th ranked pass defense.

RB Adrian Peterson, MIN, 54 (@ DEN):Peterson's last four games have been a fantasy heave-ho, with 24, 0, 20 and 4 point-showings. The Redskins effectively stopped him last week by throwing eight and nine men in the box with regularity, but they have a top-10 rushing defense. The Broncos, even if they try to follow Washington's game plan, give up more than 140 yards a game on the ground, which ranks 30th in the NFL. "All Day" should live up to his nickname in this one.

RB Clinton Portis, WAS, 48 (@ DAL):The Cowboys are expected to rest their starters. The Redskins, meanwhile, have everything to play with a playoff berth on the line against a hated rival. Portis had a big day last week against Minnesota, which has the best rushing defense in the league, with 124 rushing and receiving yards, plus both a rushing and passing TD. He has more than 100 yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games and could be in line for big numbers against the Cowboys' reserves.

RB Frank Gore, SF, 41 (@ CLE):Gore has re-emerged as a fantasy force in the past several weeks, topping 1,000 rushing yards on the season and 10 fantasy points in four of five games. Cleveland is 28th in rushing yards allowed (130.7/game), which compares mighty favorably with Gore's 144.2 all purpose yard average over his last five games.

WR Andre Johnson, HOU, 29 (vs. JAC): Along with the good karma that comes with using a player from your hometown team, you'll be rewarded by Johnson's unflappable consistency. The Texans' two-time Pro Bowler has eight TDs in eight games this season and nearly 800 yards to go along with it. That equates to a little more than 15 fantasy points per game, which is great to know is the very least you can count from a player who costs a mere 29 points.

Haven't signed up yet? It's still not too late to *register for the Home Team Challenge. Make sure to set your lineups by Thurs., Dec. 27 at 5:00 p.m. CST.*

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