The issue with a Week 17 edition of Love/Hate is, to be frank, all about the numbers.
Many leagues have finished for the season. So, you know, there's that.
There are leagues that play in Week 17, including ESPN standard leagues, which are heading into the second week of a two-week cumulative-score final.
But for those leagues, well, there are only two members of the original 10 who are playing, so your audience is limited. And then, you know, it's the second week of a playoff, so in theory, most lineup decisions are made at that point. What advice am I going to give you here other than "Don't get cute"?
So yeah, it's problematic. Which means there's only one solution for our open this week: early rankings!
Yes, early rankings are always a fan favorite. Even if you are not playing fantasy football in Week 17, you'll take a few minutes to skim the ranks and see what I'm thinking. Why wait 'til 2017 to yell loudly at your phone or computer screen about how crazy I am? Check out the ranks below and beat the holiday rush!
So here now is my way-too-early, they-will-change-a-million-times, initial Top 100. This is done for ESPN standard leagues, that is to say, 10-team leagues with standard (non-PPR) scoring, four points per touchdown pass, 10 teams, non-keeper, play two wide receivers and two running backs, with a flex.
Where I have players of the same position grouped together, it means I more or less consider them about the same, and it's really personal preference. I have ranked them in order of my preference, but it's more about where that tier is for me.
This is especially true in the top three, where you can make a strong case for any one of those running backs. For now, Le'Veon Bell's track record and surrounding offense put him at the top, despite his injury history and off-the-field issues.
Of course, the standard warning applies. This is insanely early. Week 17 injuries, offseason movement, coaching changes, the NFL draft and many other factors will change these ranks almost daily from now until next August.
Some notable names who just missed the cut in my initial stab at a Top 100: Doug Martin (at the moment, he's a backup running back who is probably looking for work this offseason. I don't think he'll be back with Tampa Bay, and once he lands elsewhere, we can reconsider), Tyler Lockett, Willie Snead, Darren Sproles, Josh Doctson, Matthew Stafford, Ty Montgomery, Terrance West, Adam Thielen, Will Fuller V, J.J. Nelson, Zach Ertz and Delanie Walker.
At some point in January, I will publish my positional ranks. In the meantime, my friend and colleague Mike Clay is putting out his 2017 positional ranks -- I can already tell a few guys we are going to argue about this summer!
And with that, we dive into the final Love/Hate of 2016.
Quarterbacks I Love in Week 17
Aaron Rodgers, Packers: You don't need to give stats about how you want to start the No. 1 quarterback in fantasy indoors in a must-win game. So instead of good Aaron Rodgers stats, I wanted to do something else. You see, after I did my initial open (the rankings, which we decided to do last week), well, Carrie Fisher died. If you've read/followed/listened to me for any amount of time, you know that I, like millions of others, am a huge Star Wars fan. Anyway, lots and lots has been written (and more to come) about Carrie, but because this is my last Love/Hate for quite some time, I wanted to share this quick Carrie Fisher story that was posted on my friend Ed Solomon's Facebook page. Ed is a very famous screenwriter and, with his blessing, this is a condensed version of the story Ed posted:
"WHY I WILL LOVE CARRIE FISHER* FOREVER: When a friend's son -- who was, so tragically, dying from an incurable illness -- made a wish: to meet Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, it fell on me -- the only person the dad knew who worked in the film business -- to make a call. Not knowing either of them, I called Mark's agent and explained that this lovely boy watched Star Wars every day and wanted to meet NOT Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, but, rather, the actual CHARACTERS that they played (the boy's own mental state had devolved past the point of being able to grasp that Luke and Leia were fictional).
The agent begrudgingly said he'd call Mark, but also said not to get my hopes up. 90 seconds later I got a call from Mark Hamill, who immediately said yes and gave me his home address and gave me Carrie's phone number. When I spoke to Carrie she cried about my friend's son and the unfairness of life, at times. And she immediately agreed to do it. No questions asked other than "When?" and "Where?"
(*And Mark Hamill)
Just thought that was worth sharing.
Oh, and start Aaron Rodgers.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks: It's been a weird, up-and-down year for Wilson, but very quietly he's the second-best quarterback in fantasy since Week 9. Anyone who owns him is starting him in season-long leagues, but I'm putting him in here because I like him in daily this week as well. I realize some might worry about Wilson getting pulled or Seattle getting up big against the 49ers, but I'm not worried. That's not Pete Carroll's style, plus the Seahawks are playing for a first-round bye. With a ridiculous 627 total yards and seven touchdowns the past two weeks, Wilson is locked in as a top-five play this week.
Kirk Cousins, Redskins: I know people are nervous about how well the Giants are playing defense and that coach Ben McAdoo says they are playing to win the game, but I'm not worried. First, what's McAdoo going to say? "We're lying down for these guys?" I don't expect to see the starters all game here, and even so, are they really going to risk borderline guys like Janoris Jenkins out there? Exactly. Cousins had 19 points against the G-Men in Week 3, and that remains the most points a quarterback has scored against New York all season. He threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns in that one, and he's playing a lot better now than he was then. With Washington's defense still a mess, the only way the Redskins make the playoffs is behind the offense. He's a solid top-10 play this week.
Others receiving votes: I feel fairly confident that Green Bay will put up points on Detroit, which means Stafford will have to throw a ton. With all due respect to Zach Zenner, I don't think the Lions can run the ball, so it's all going to be on Stafford's arm against a Packers squad that has allowed 744 passing yards and five passing scores the past two weeks to Sam Bradford and Matt Barkley. ...It's certainly not without risk, but Blake Bortles going off in a meaningless game between two teams that are going nowhere is only the most Bortles thing a guy could do. The Colts have the fourth-fewest interceptions this year (so hopefully there will be none of those pesky pick-sixes) and have allowed at least 16 points to opposing quarterbacks in nine of the past 12. (Only Ryan Fitzpatrick/Bryce Petty, Brock Osweiler and Sam Bradford haven't gotten there.) ...You know what they say. You can take the Rams away from Jeff Fisher, but you can't take the Jeff Fisher out of the Rams. No team in the NFL has allowed more points to opposing quarterbacks the past eight weeks than the L.A. Rams, making Carson Palmer (averaging 17 fantasy points per game since Week 12) a viable option this week.
Quarterbacks I Hate in Week 17
Philip Rivers, Chargers: The game is in San Diego. That's the good news. And we know Rivers will keep chucking it. But he's facing a motivated Chiefs team (which still has a shot at a first-round bye) that has not allowed a passing touchdown in three straight games (including games against Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota), is ninth against the pass over the past four weeks and is tied for the third-most interceptions in the NFL this year. Rivers has 19 picks on the season and has thrown a pick in six straight games. Volume will keep his floor high enough, but the ceiling isn't there for him to be a top-10 play for me this week.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys: Sorry, I just don't think he will play the whole game. Maybe he plays a half; maybe he plays a series; maybe he goes the distance. But with reports out there that Mark Sanchez will be active for this game and the Cowboys having nothing to play for, it's too risky for me to trust Dak as the top-10 play that he normally is. He's a shaky QB2 for me this week.
TMR note: Hates are going to be extra scarce this week for all positions. It's Week 17. Anyone with a pulse, you know?
Running Backs I Love in Week 17
Bilal Powell, Jets: Averaging 5.3 yards per touch over his past three games, Powell has looked every part the workhorse back. Known as a good pass-catcher, he's a very underrated runner as well, gaining positive yardage on 52 of his 60 carries in the past three weeks, a rate of 86.7 percent (a very good rate). Only Le'Veon Bell has more touches in that stretch, and this is a nice matchup against a Bills squad that has ranked last in the NFL against the run the past four weeks.
Mark Ingram, Saints: It's been an up-and-down season for Ingram, but I'm on him this week against a Falcons team that allows the third-most yards per carry after first contact this season. Ingram has 35 carries the past two weeks while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Tim Hightower, meanwhile, is at just 19 touches and 3.5 yards per carry. Ingram, who had 107 total yards and a score the first time he faced the Falcons, should find success this week against an Atlanta team that is in the top 10 in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs.
Darren Sproles, Eagles: With Ryan Mathews suffering a season-ending injury, you'll see some Byron Marshall, but ultimately I expect this to be the Darren Sproles show against Dallas, a scenario we've seen before. Sproles had 20 touches for 103 total yards against the Cowboys in Week 8, and if you're looking for a spot-start running back, you could do a lot worse.
Others receiving votes: In the Redskins' past four wins, Rob Kelley has averaged 21 touches a game. If Washington wants to win this game, expect a heavy dose of Kelley against a Giants team that has allowed more than 105 rushing yards or a rushing TD in six of its past eight games. ... Off a productive, 20-touch game, Isaiah Crowell faces a Steelers defense that has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to running backs this year, has allowed a rushing touchdown in three straight games and whose coach has already said they will rest some starters.
Running Backs I Hate in Week 17
Todd Gurley, Rams: Yay! He was useful last week! And then, just like that, back to not-so-much land. Arizona has allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points and the third-fewest yards per carry to opposing running backs the past four weeks and has ranked ninth against the run during that time. Gurley won't be in my lineup this weekend if I can help it. He had just 33 yards on 19 carries in his first game against the Cardinals this year. I'm the lowest of our rankers on Gurley in the rematch.
Alfred Blue, Texans: I'm not expecting Lamar Miller to play, so this isn't about that. I'm not in love with Blue's skill set, and I'm not convinced that volume will be enough here. The Titans allow the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs and have allowed opposing running backs to run for more than 77 yards in just two of their past 11 games. I don't see Blue, who averaged just 1.14 yards after first contact per carry last week, making it three of 12.
Wide Receivers I Love in Week 17
Michael Thomas, Saints: Jordy Nelson. Odell Beckham Jr. Antonio Brown. Michael Crabtree. Sorry, I'm just listing the players with more fantasy points than Thomas since Week 3. Don't worry, I'm done. That's it. That's the whole list. With at least nine points in eight of his past 12 games, at least eight targets in three of the past four and facing a Falcons secondary that has coughed up 17 touchdowns to opposing wide receivers this year, Thomas is a must-start in Week 17.
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks: With more receptions than any other player in the NFL since Week 12, Baldwin is in a great spot for both season-long and daily play this weekend. Before last week's game against the Rams (which doesn't count), the 49ers had given up 90-plus yards or a score to the slot in nine, count 'em, nine games. With only three players having more targets than Baldwin the past five weeks, he is primed for another big week.
DeSean Jackson, Redskins: He's ready for free agency and is one of the hottest wide receivers going in, with over 100 yards in three straight games and four of his past five. Only Jordy Nelson has more receiving yards since Week 12 than D-Jax, who caught five passes for 96 yards and a score the last time these two teams met, and it's not a shock: No team gets challenged more downfield than the New York Giants (142 deep passes against, a league high), and I don't expect Janoris Jenkins to suit up in the Giants' secondary. D-Jax is a top-20 play for me again this Sunday.
Others receiving votes: I can certainly understand why EJ Manuel would scare you, but the volume of targets and the matchup (the Jets have allowed the most deep passing touchdowns the past four weeks) keeps Sammy Watkins as a viable starter this week. ... It's amazing that you are still standing in Week 17 if Allen Robinson was a high draft pick, but I do like his chances of a repeat this week against Indy. ... If you're scraping, Kenny Stills has a score in three straight games, and the Patriots have allowed a league-high 60 deep completions this season. Stills scored the last time he faced New England as well. ... With more than 100 yards and/or a score for Cameron Meredith in three straight, I expect volume keeps him afloat against a suddenly vulnerable Vikings defense. It's worth noting that Meredith has more yards and catches, and twice as many touchdowns as Alshon Jeffery this season despite two fewer targets. Meredith has been a top-10 fantasy wide receiver the past two weeks.
Wide Receivers I Hate in Week 17
Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, Raiders: You had me at Denver. Wait, you had me at Matt McGloin. Wait, you had me at the fact that Amari Cooper is averaging just 46 yards a game since Week 9. And that Crabtree, as a Raider, is averaging less than 35 yards per game against the Broncos and has never scored. Yeah, these are not the Week 17 wideouts you're looking for.
Jarvis Landry, Dolphins: I know, he had a few big games before last week's bomb. But look closer: It's been three straight games now with fewer than five catches; he's needed the big play recently to make it worth it. And I don't see that happening against a Patriots team that has allowed just one slot-receiver touchdown in the past five weeks. New England has allowed the fewest total points and seventh-fewest passing yards the past four weeks, and I don't see Miami putting up a big score in a game the Patriots need to win to secure the No. 1 seed.
Robby Anderson, Jets: Once Bryce Petty went, so did late-season sensation Robby Anderson. The Bills are fifth in sacks and well, Fitzy does not respond well to pressure. Expect lots of looks to Brandon Marshall and dump-offs to Bilal Powell in this one, making Anderson no more than a WR4 hope-and-pray flier.
Tight Ends I Love in Week 17
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings: Greg Olsen. There. Sorry, couldn't help myself from also listing all the tight ends who have more targets this year than Kyle Rudolph. In fact, the list of all the NFL players with more targets the past five games than Rudolph is pretty short: Odell Beckham Jr., Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, Doug Baldwin and Michael Crabtree. That's it. For the past five weeks, that's the whole list. With at least five catches or a score in five straight games (and in 12 of 15 games this year), Rudolph should be a big part of the plan against a Bears team that has given up at least 90 yards or a score to a tight end in four of the past seven.
Zach Ertz, Eagles: I know, I know. He was brutal last week. Yet, even with that stinker, he has four more targets than any other tight end since Week 9. Sensing a theme here with Ertz and Rudolph? Yeah, outside of the obvious names, I like the guys who get the ball a lot -- it's not exactly brain surgery. In a game in which I am not convinced that Dallas plays all of its starters the whole time, Ertz should rebound from last week and finish strong against the Cowboys, who are allowing the second-most receptions and eighth-most fantasy points to tight ends.
Others receiving votes: In a game that I expect to be a shootout, Eric Ebron becomes interesting. He ranks fifth among tight ends in both receptions and targets the past four weeks, and the Packers are top-12 in points allowed to opposing tight ends. ... Once you get past the studs, it's really just about which tight end you think gets into the end zone. And while I certainly understand not wanting to trust Jordan Reed after his recent performance, my expectation is he'll be active and, in a win-or-go-home scenario for the Redskins, he'll be involved. To me, even at 50 percent or whatever he is healthwise, he's got as good of a shot to score as anyone. It's a total gut call here, but I like his chances at a top-10 finish against a Giants team that has nothing to play for and is a bit banged-up on defense.
Tight Ends I Hate in Week 17
Antonio Gates, Chargers: In case you were excited after last week, I would, as a wise man once said, curb your enthusiasm. You just don't start your tight ends against the Chiefs if you can help it. Kansas City has given up one, count it, one touchdown to a tight end this entire season, and it has allowed five or fewer TE points in 12 of 15 games this year, including a two-point game to Gates at the start of the year. With fewer than 40 yards in nine of 13 games this year, Gates is a TE-or-bust option this week, and I don't love his chances. The same goes for Hunter Henry, by the way.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, Texans: Scoreless in his past six games, Fiedorowicz is no guarantee to play the entire game because it is meaningless to the Texans. Week 9 was the last time the Titans gave up a touchdown to a tight end, and while they haven't faced the toughest competition the whole time, that streak has included a game against Travis Kelce. With less than 50 yards in his past four games and in five of his past six, he put up a toothless 4-for-42 in his first game with Tom Savage, making him another touchdown-dependent option at tight end this week. He's outside my top 10.
Defenses I Love in Week 17
Kansas City Chiefs D/ST: Do you think Philip Rivers throws a pick or two in this game? Me, too.
Arizona Cardinals D/ST: Opposing defenses have scored at least seven points in 14 of 15 games against the Rams. This week, the Cardinals play the Rams. #Analysis.
Houston Texans D/ST: Well, hello, Matt Cassell! The Titans have allowed 27 points to opposing defenses in the past three weeks, fourth most in the NFL. And that was with Marcus Mariota as their QB. The Texans are available in 40 percent of leagues.
Others receiving votes: Defenses have fared well against the Broncos this year, including Week 9, when the Raiders had eight points against them. Oakland has something to play for here; Denver doesn't. I like the Raiders' chances in a game the defense knows it needs to carry the offense.
Defenses I Hate in Week 17
New York Giants D/ST: On the road, banged-up, with nothing to play for and facing an offense that has moved the ball all season long? No thanks.
San Diego Chargers D/ST: They've been hot recently, but I feel that ends against a Chiefs team that doesn't turn over the ball very much. Opposing defenses are averaging fewer than four points a game against K.C., and that includes a single-point effort from these Chargers at the start of the season. Outside my top 10.
And that'll do it for 2016! My sincere thanks to Kyle Soppe for his research help with this column throughout the year; to Keith Lipscomb, Pierre Becquey and the ESPN.com copy desk for their editing help this season and mostly to you, for once again coming along this journey with me. It means more than you know.
Here's to this weekend and 2017 bringing you everything your heart desires, including, of course, backup running backs who explode.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, needs a tropical island and an umbrella drink, not necessarily in that order. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a paid spokesman for DraftKings.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app.