By Christopher Harris

ESPN.com

(Archive)

Week 17

Cincinnati Bengals

(4-11)

Baltimore Ravens

(11-4)

Analysis: In Week 17, the Bengals will: continue the youth movement that saw them shock the Chargers last Sunday. Marvin Lewis is a dead man walking, but he no doubt has orders from above to look longer at the kids on his roster. In Week 17, the Ravens will: play hard, at least until they look at the scoreboard and see that the Steelers are throttling the Browns. If Baltimore wins and Pittsburgh loses, the Ravens win the AFC North and earn a first-round bye. And because Bengals/Ravens and Steelers/Browns take place at the same time (1 p.m. ET), you shouldn't see many starters resting early. But there's added risk using your Ravens, because if Pittsburgh gets up big, Baltimore will know they're playing a road wild-card game and will probably sit players.

Fantasy Up: Ray Rice probably has to be in most fantasy lineups anyway. No, he didn't follow up that legend-making Week 15 performance against the Saints with a dominant effort versus the Browns last week: 26 touches for 92 yards and no scores. Most disappointingly, a week after he saw seven targets, he only had two in Cleveland. The most important factor, though, is Rice's usage these past three weeks: 27, 36 and 26 touches. Even if he plays only three quarters, at that rate he should see 20. … I don't consider anyone else in this game a top start (no running backs or receivers in the top 20; no quarterbacks or tight ends in the top 10), which I suppose makes this a good time to mention that the Ravens defense has really come on of late. In the season's first seven weeks (before Baltimore's bye), the Ravens averaged 18.4 points allowed and 4.7 fantasy points per game. Since then, they've averaged 16.7 points allowed and 9.9 fantasy points per game. The difference, no doubt, has been an improved pass rush (24 sacks the past eight games, compared to 12 the first seven) which has led to more interceptions (five the first seven games, 12 since). Do I love guys like Josh Wilson and Chris Carr playing so much in the secondary? I do not. But facts are facts and, last week's result notwithstanding, it hasn't been a bad thing to have your fantasy defense face Carson Palmer.

Fantasy Down: Given the risk of the Ravens potentially sitting guys late, and given Joe Flacco's fade into the game-planning background, you'd be forgiven for looking elsewhere this week. The Bengals defense did a shockingly good job shutting down Philip Rivers last week; while that had much to do with the scoreboard (the Chargers were perpetually coming from behind in the second half), corners Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph played well, too. Meanwhile, Flacco has an aging receiver corps that doesn't get open, even when the Ravens do decide to throw. Anquan Boldin has faded badly, Derrick Mason has an injured ankle, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh seems capable only of poking his head above ground once every few weeks to catch a touchdown. It's hard to get excited about Flacco a week after he passed for 102 yards. … And Palmer may have tossed for 269 himself last week (his first time topping 250 since Week 10), but c'mon, 59 of those came when Antoine Cason decided to pay attention to cheerleaders or something at the snap, and Jerome Simpson simply ran past him. Palmer played well. But this game means something to the Ravens. I couldn't start ol' Carson, with or without Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco (they're both definitely out). Andre Caldwell is my fave Cincy receiver here, but he's only a deep-league option. … Cedric Benson didn't build on his big output against the Browns a couple weeks back, sinking back down to a 2.2 per-carry average while Bernard Scott looked like the spryer player versus San Diego. Benson is a flex at best. … Todd Heap was able to practice this week, and barring a setback sounds likely to return for this game, replacing Ed Dickson. Heap is certainly more likely than Dickson to be a consistent pass-catching target, and I suppose those wanting a Week 17 lottery ticket could do worse. But who knows? Dude could re-pull his hammy on the game's first snap.


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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