By Nick Shook
Beacon Journal copy editor
Read full column on Ohio.com
Some of you have seen the season end, many in disappointment, and fewer in unadulterated holiday jubilation. But there are a portion of you who have what I consider the true fantasy championship: a two-week, winner-takes-all showdown for eternal bragging rights.
I am here for you fine folks.
This is the last fantasy column of the season, so before we get into my final picks, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has turned to this page to read my thoughts each week, and on Ohio.com twice a week. I couldn’t have helped you win (or lose) your fantasy title without your loyal readership.
Travis Kelce, tight end, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce has been one of the best tight ends in the game in the past two seasons, and although he got the Pro Bowl nod over this column’s Most Valuable Player, Big Play Gary Barnidge (highway robbery, I say!), I’m not holding that against him. Kelce’s Chiefs face the Oakland Raiders, who are 29th in the league against opposing tight ends.
Take that statistic with a grain of salt, though, as the Raiders have had tight ends score just one point on them (standard scoring) in the past two weeks combined. But as we saw in the Browns’ close loss to the Chiefs last week, Kelce is still a force with which to be reckoned, and a good start this week.
Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
I told you to start him last week, and he flopped. The Ravens beat the Steelers, all of Western Pennsylvania lost its mind for an afternoon and you might have even lit the sports page with this column printed on it on fire. For that, I apologize — but don’t burn the paper for no reason. You can start a good backyard bonfire that way. Save the retaliation for a productive moment.
I won’t admit that I was wrong, though, because the matchup was good. I’m doubling down this week, because the matchup is even better.
I’ve used a chunk of space in this column to tell you to start players against the Browns defense all season. The unit has actually come on stronger as the season has grown older. But with the Steelers needing a win and some help to get into the playoffs, the Browns starting Austin Davis at quarterback (and thus, leaving the defense on the field for much of the afternoon) and a bevy of talented receivers lining up in black and gold, let’s roll with Big Ben for another week.
Add in a Martavis Bryant start if he’s on your team, because he’ll likely go against sixth-round pick Charles Gaines, who’s struggled plenty during his abbreviated rookie season. And of course, start Antonio Brown.
Eric Decker, wide receiver, New York Jets
A win, and they’re in. That’s the scenario for the Jets in Week 17.
Decker makes way more money than he should for his role (as a No. 2 receiver), but the Jets have been the ones cashing in on that signing this season, because Decker has been money in the bank when it comes to scoring touchdowns (11 this season). He scored the walk-off touchdown to beat the New England Patriots in overtime last week and is finally making former General Manager John Idzik look smart, long after a disastrous 2014 sent him packing.
The Buffalo Bills defense has had an up-and-down season against opposing receivers, landing them at 19th. But with little to play for (they’ve been eliminated from postseason contention) and a bit of internal strife about Rex Ryan’s scheme (see: Mario Williams’ quotes), this could be a multi-score day for Decker.
Isaiah Crowell, running back, Cleveland Browns
I’m expecting the Browns to send the season out with a bang, seeing as the rumors about Mike Pettine’s job security are heating up, and they’ve actually shown an improvement in effort from start to finish in the past couple of weeks.
That doesn’t extend to the running game, though.
The Browns rushing attack has gotten better in those aforementioned weeks. Crowell, who has always run with exceptional burst between the tackles, has been at the forefront of that. But the Steelers second in the NFL against running backs in fantasy. They were gashed last week, allowing a season-high 25 points to the Ravens’ tailbacks. But with the Browns starting two average-at-best linemen at both guard positions (Austin Pasztor, Cameron Erving), it’s tough to put your fantasy season on the back of Crowell, or Duke Johnson Jr.
Philip Rivers, quarterback, San Diego Chargers
The Chargers already had their emotionally driven win when they finished their home slate with potentially their last game ever at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Chargers are 20th in the NFL in points scored, but fourth in passing yards. The Denver Broncos already has a playoff spot locked up. That should be encouraging, right?
Wrong. The Broncos still need a win to secure the AFC West title and the second seed, with which comes a first-round bye. And the last time the Chargers faced their division rival, they scored a mere three points.
The Broncos are first in the league against opposing quarterbacks, too. Run from Rivers.
Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook and contact him at email@example.com.