Free-agent finds for Week 17

With the No. 4 seed clinched, will Andrew Luck, left, be given a chance to bounce back? And will the Colts put T.Y. Hilton on the field if his hamstring allows? Joe Robbins/Getty Images

For Week 17, let's do something different with Free-Agent Finds. Face it: If you're playing in your fantasy finals, you probably shouldn't be adding too many free agents. Dance with who got you here, all that.

But the larger point is, Week 17 is kind of a disaster. Figuring out your lineup Sunday will be less about finding good football players, and more trying to guess what coaches plan to do. Will they play Week 17 like a regular game? Will they err on the side of caution with injured players? Will they start young players to get a jump on 2015?

The truth is that we don't know. Coaches will universally say they'll play to win, and then some of them will replace their starters by halftime. And unfortunately, they have no incentive to clue us in beforehand. That leaves you in the awkward position of having to guess whether your regulars are likely to sit, and the best I can do is guess along with you.

Teams who may rest

New England Patriots: They'll be the AFC's top seed no matter what happens in Week 17. Bill Belichick has famously played his starters deep into meaningless late-season games in the past, including the '09 campaign when Wes Welker tore up his knee, crushing the team's playoff hopes. So I'm betting we'll see Tom Brady & Co. on Sunday, at least in the first half. After that? Nobody knows. It's the Patriots, which means it's akin to a state secret.

Dallas Cowboys: The most likely scenario has them as the NFC's 3-seed, and they just happen to have a starting running back with a broken hand. Yeah, I know what Jason Garrett said. If he plays his regulars all day Sunday, he's a fool. To me that means DeMarco Murray is a mighty risky start. I'm not saying you have to bench him, but I'd think about it, and I'm likely to rank Joseph Randle (owned in 22.6 percent of ESPN leagues) higher. I also won't be shocked to see Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten sitting in the second half. Again, though, I emphasize: I'm guessing.

Indianapolis Colts. They're the AFC's 4-seed no matter what happens Sunday. Yes, Chuck Pagano also painted a rosy playing-time picture for his regulars, and perhaps his is more believable, as the Colts seek to shake the rust off after a Week 16 embarrassment. But even the most optimistic fantasy owner would have to admit there's not much incentive here to tough out an injury. So maybe T.Y. Hilton gives it a go on his balky hammy, and maybe he's his usual terrific self. But any sign of trouble and he's riding pine. Donte Moncrief (20.4 percent) flopped along with Andrew Luck and the rest of the Colts' offense in Week 16, but he figures to play a bunch, regardless of who else is in there.

Arizona Cardinals: Their offense is so crippled by awful quarterback play that you're probably not super-invested in Arizona's weapons regardless. Logan Thomas (0.0 percent) will get the start at QB and is a freakish athlete, but you'd have to be a pretty optimistic soul even to consider using him in daily leagues.

Teams who are probably safe

Skill players on the following teams will play as long as their bodies allow them: Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.

However, there are a few injury issues on these squads. A.J. Green suffered an arm injury Monday night; Mohamed Sanu (54.3 percent) is owned in just more than half of leagues and would be a decent fill-in if Green can't go in Week 17. There probably isn't another reliable WR option on the Bengals' roster. ... Steven Jackson left Week 16's contest with a quad injury, and while the Falcons say they expect him back, they're often disingenuously optimistic in public injury statements. Should Jackson miss Week 17, Jacquizz Rodgers (0.4 percent) and Devonta Freeman (1.9 percent) would likely split time. Rodgers looked more like the lead back to me in the second half Sunday, though Freeman scored a TD. ... Ryan Mathews has missed the Chargers' past two games (and nine games overall), and his ankle may not allow him to play in Week 17. If Mathews is out again, Branden Oliver (15.3 percent) would be my favorite option against a soft Chiefs run defense, but Oliver probably won't be used as a pure lead back. Last week, he saw 31 snaps, Donald Brown (3.3 percent) played 26 and Ronnie Brown (0.0 percent) played 23. I just think Oliver has juice the other guys don't. ... Keenan Allen missed Week 15 with a broken collarbone and ankle injury but Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said it's possible Allen could return for the finale. It's hard to imagine Allen being his normal self even if he were able to go, which means the Chargers are casting around for receivers. Malcom Floyd (24.9 percent) caught the game-winner Saturday, but as usual is mostly a situational deep threat. Dontrelle Inman (0.0 percent), a Super-Deep Sleeper of mine this summer, posted a solid game and could be worth a look in deep leagues. ... Dwayne Bowe sprained a shoulder in Week 16. While Bowe is expected to play in the finale, Albert Wilson (0.0 percent) continues to be a high-volume guy, with over 200 yards receiving in his past three contests. Of course, you know the stat about Alex Smith throwing TDs to WRs (hint: he never does), so you'd have to be in a really deep league to trust Wilson.

Non-contenders playing against contenders

Perhaps you subscribe to the theory that for the "integrity of the game," teams eliminated from the playoffs are likelier to keep pushing when facing squads who are still alive. If that's the case, perhaps we're likelier to see these guys tough it out in Week 17. (Or perhaps not.)

Toby Gerhart left last Thursday night's game late because of a rib injury. He was the Jacksonville Jaguars' lead back to that point, though Jordan Todman (0.4 percent) made a big play in the fourth quarter. If Gerhart can't go, it looks like Todman would get the nod over Storm Johnson (0.4 percent). ... The status of Carlos Hyde (16.3 percent), who didn't play in Week 16, is still up in the air. But Frank Gore is a free agent and the San Francisco 49ers are eliminated from playoff contention. If Hyde recovers, the team would be smart to give him a long look. ... Michael Crabtree tried to play on an injured knee in Week 16, but was in and out all game. If he sits out for the 49ers Sunday, it's possible Quinton Patton (0.0 percent) gets a further look, provided he's not in the doghouse after an overtime fumble. You'd have to be desperate in a deep league to look Patton's way.

Non-contenders playing against non-contenders

There are a bunch of injured players who have precious little incentive to tough it out in Week 17, and I won't be shocked if they sit. Unfortunately, in many of these cases, there aren't obvious fill-ins you'd consider trustable for the back half of your fantasy finals.

Rashad Jennings finally offered clarity in Week 16 after teasing us for a couple weeks with an ankle injury. He sat, and the starting gig went to Andre Williams (46.4 percent). Williams isn't a great player, but his volume has been strong. I expect Jennings to sit again, and Williams to be worth using. ... Since Jordan Matthews played through his knee injury Saturday, my assumption is that he'll give it a go in Week 17, but Riley Cooper (4.1 percent) is coming off a two-TD effort and makes an acceptable Hail Mary if Matthews is still limited. ... Percy Harvin left Week 16 with a rib injury and was ruled out quickly, but I can't imagine Jeremy Kerley (0.2 percent) makes your heart beat faster. ... Charles Johnson has a hamstring pull, but I probably can't consider using Cordarrelle Patterson (18.1 percent) after all the nonsense he's put us through in '14.

Streaming a defense

If the Houston Texans (54.0 percent) happen to be available in your league, they're the right answer, as they face Blake Bortles and the Jaguars. If not, take a look at the Indianapolis Colts (19.5 percent), as they face Charlie Whitehurst and the Titans.