By Christopher Harris

ESPN.com

(Archive)

Week 17

Arizona Cardinals

(5-10)

San Francisco 49ers

(5-10)

Analysis: In Week 17, the Cardinals will: keep looking at John Skelton to see if he's their quarterback of the future, and keep trying to score improbable defensive touchdowns. In Week 17, the 49ers will: begin their recovery from the disorganized Mike Singletary era, in which Singletary revealed he never met an offensive philosophy he could settle down with. Alex Smith will start here, and it will be his last game in a San Francisco uniform.

Fantasy Up: Skelton's presence in the starting lineup isn't the only reason to be wary of Larry Fitzgerald this week. Those who braved the Christmas night game between the Cardinals and Cowboys last week saw Fitz take a shot to his head, after which he stayed in the game (and in fact made the contest's key play, a fourth-and-long conversion that kept Arizona's winning drive alive), but spent some time blinking and shaking himself, trying to get his mind clear. Days later, Fitzgerald told reporters he didn't remember much about the game. Uh-oh. If Fitz is active, he stays in fantasy lineups as a No. 2 receiver; he may not have produced much in Week 16 (just that single catch for 26 yards on only three targets), but he still has at least 70 receiving yards in six of his past nine games. But keep your ear to the ground on this one; this is a late game, so if there's uncertainty about Fitz's availability leading into Sunday morning and most of your other good options are playing early, I wouldn't necessarily feel obligated to wait for Fitzgerald. … Vernon Davis turned it back on in Week 16 after vanishing in a puff of fantasy smoke the weekend before: He has at least 70 yards receiving in three of his past four. There's no such thing as a bulletproof tight end this year. It's maddening but true. But you have to keep rolling Davis out there.

Fantasy Down: As I wrote last week, the Cardinals backfield is clearly tipping back in Beanie Wells' favor, but that doesn't make him a fantasy starter. Versus the Cowboys, Wells nearly doubled Tim Hightower's carries (11 to six) and played both in a clock-killing drive in the middle of the fourth quarter (he had five carries in eight plays) and in the two-minute drill at the end of the game. There's no question if I had to take a chance on a single Cardinals back, it would be Beanie. … The 49ers backs have a much tastier matchup; the Cardinals defense may be fifth in fantasy points among all defenses this season, but you can chalk that up to weirdness: they're the fifth-worst scoring defense in the league (allowing an average of 26.4 points per game), they're fifth-worst in total yards allowed, and third-worst in rushing yards allowed. However, which Niners rusher do you play? Brian Westbrook had 10 carries in St. Louis last week, while Anthony Dixon had six (showing that his ankle injury is OK). The temptation is to select Westbrook as a high-upside flex, but my concern is that with the playoffs finally (and mercifully) ruled out, Singletary gone, and the team squarely focused on figuring out its future, why wouldn't the team give more work to Dixon? I mean, Westbrook won't be back. As a result of this uncertainty, I actually view Dixon as the much higher-upside play, though I have no actual proof that he'll be the lead dog. Really, neither guy should be starting on a potential title team in fantasy.


Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy and follow him at www.twitter.com/writerboyESPN.

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