Fantasy football start/sit advice, Week 17: Panthers vs. Falcons

Jeff Gross

The Panthers are playing for a first-round bye. The Falcons are playing because the NFL says they have to.

After a win over the New Orleans Saints in Week 16, the Carolina Panthers can lock up the NFC South crown and a first-round playoff bye with a win. They could slide as high as the NFC's top seed if things go their way; on the flip side, a loss could push them all the way down to the six seed. To that end, all that is left for the 2013 Atlanta Falcons is to play a slight spoiler for the Panthers, as Atlanta finishes up a hugely disappointing season that will end with either four or five wins. The two teams play Sunday in Atlanta at 1 p.m. ET; here's a look at the fantasy players worth considering:

Carolina

Start in every league: Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Greg Olsen, Graham Gano, Defense/special teams

Start if you're desperate: ...

Bench: Mike Tolbert, Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr., Domenik Hixon

The three bad fantasy days Newton has had this year -- Week 5 against Arizona, Week 10 against San Francisco, Week 16 against New Orleans -- have all come against top-flight defenses (though, oddly, two came in Panthers wins); the quarterback happily beats up on middling-to-worse defenses, and Atlanta's unit definitely fits into the "worse" category. ... With Jonathan Stewart likely out again Sunday, Williams should continue the strong performances he's up as the team's feature back. ... Olsen's numbers have slipped a bit of late, but he's still scored eight or more fantasy points in four of his last six. He's a must-start tight end. ... Unsurprisingly, Gano's fortunes have mirrored the team's; his big games have come when the Panthers do well, and there's every reason to expect the team to do well Sunday. ... The Panthers' defense put up 20 the last time the team played Atlanta, and has scored double-digit fantasy points 10 times in 15 games.

Tolbert had himself a nice stretch in the middle of the season, but he's averaged three fantasy points a game in the last seven games; his value is negligible at this point. ... And then there's the confusion of the Panthers' wide-receiver situation. Smith looks exceedingly unlikely to play, but it's not like LaFell or Ginn have done enough to trust in Week 17, and Hixon has had barely one play to his resume this season. Better to just avoid the whole thing.

Falcons

Start in every league: Steven Jackson, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez

Start if you're desperate: Matt Ryan

Bench: Harry Douglas, Matt Bryant, Defense/special teams

Even against a top-tier defense and playing on the road Monday night, Jackson and White had big days. White's was bigger, with 20 fantasy points, but Jackson has been more consistent, scoring 11-plus in four of his last five and seven-plus in all five. Both have made themselves low-end every-week starters again. ... Also back to fully trustworthy status is Gonzalez, who has scored in four straight as the team looks to send him into (probably) retirement with a bang. He's up to No. 4 among tight ends in fantasy scoring.

You'd have to be really desperate to start Ryan, who hasn't scored more than 17 fantasy points since Week 7, averaging less than 12 a game in that time, and facing a good Panthers' defense. He's still got Matt Ryan upside, though. It isn't Drew Brees or Cam Newton upside, but it makes him tough to completely slam the door on.

Douglas' breakout season has tailed off of late, with the receiver totaling nine fantasy points in his last three games. The improved health of Jackson and White have rendered Douglas an afterthought. ... Bryant has only missed three field goals all season, but he just hasn't been in position to accumulate much. ... The Falcons' defense is pretty darned terrible.

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