Most fantasy owners check out after Week 16, treating Week 17 contests as if they're exhibition games where the stats don't count. If a player has a big game, it can go unnoticed until draft prep the next season: “Wait, I don't remember that guy having that good of a season.”
There weren't a lot of crazy Week 17 outbursts this year (aside from LeGarrette Blount and Knile Davis, of all people), but there were some players, for good or for bad, whose stats were affected by what they did during the season's final week. Here's a look at a few guys to note at each offensive position so you're not caught off guard next August.
Notable Riser: Peyton Manning and Drew Brees both had monster Week 17s to further separate themselves from the QB pack, but Andy Dalton had a solid 23.5 points despite four interceptions. That gave Dalton enough of a cushion to finish third among all quarterbacks in standard-league fantasy points. Dalton's big season was mostly the result of two big stretches, including the final four weeks, so fantasy owners shouldn't put him in the Cam Newton/Tony Romo class just yet; but they also shouldn't ignore his strong numbers and big finish.
Notable Faller: Matthew Stafford will have to face questions all offseason about his late-season slide. It's easy to pin his Week 17 troubles on not having Calvin Johnson, but in a favorable matchup against Minnesota, that's really no excuse. Besides, if Stafford really is an elite (or near-elite) quarterback, he should be able to put up stats even without Johnson. Stafford had a chance to regain some of his lost value, but he ultimately just made things worse.
Notable Riser: Complaining about Chris Johnson early in the season has become a fantasy tradition, but just like last year, Johnson finished strong. After failing to crack double-digits in Weeks 1-4, Johnson averaged 14.1 fantasy points from Week 11 on, twice going over 20 points like he did in Week 17. Johnson will turn 29 next September and has a fair amount of tread on his tires, but it's clear he still has plenty of talent. Fantasy owners seem to enjoy mocking him for not being as good as he once was, but he's still better and more consistent than most backs.
Notable Faller: Fantasy owners know about Ray Rice's struggles this year, but he hit another low in Week 17, rushing just six times for 15 yards. He did add seven catches for 35 yards, but Rice did nothing to enhance the perception of him heading into the offseason. Trent Richardson, another first-round bust, at least managed to get in the end zone last week. With the possible exception of Richardson, no back fell out of favor as swiftly as Rice.
Notable Riser: This past season has mostly been a lost year for Atlanta's Roddy White, but he ended strong, catching eight passes for 91 yards and a score in Week 17. Over his final five games, he caught 43 balls for 432 yards and two TDs. His lack of production early on was due to a high-ankle sprain, and once he finally got healthy, he put up vintage Roddy White numbers. His stats might have been inflated by Julio Jones' absence, but it looks like White is still a borderline WR1.
Notable Faller: Calvin Johnson limped into the offseason, literally and figuratively. He sat out Week 17 and finished the year with just 12 catches and 193 yards over the final four weeks. Fantasy owners will likely still have Johnson at the top of their WR draft boards next year, but it's important to remember that his final numbers were affected by injury and Stafford's bizarre slump. Johnson is still in the running as the No. 1 overall player next season. Receivers like Wes Welker (concussion), Steve Smith (knee), Dwayne Bowe (concussion), Victor Cruz (knee) and Stevie Johnson (personal) were also shut down early and had diminished stats because of it.
Notable Riser: Prior to scoring in Week 17, Carolina's Greg Olsen had been held out of the end zone since Week 12. Because of that, some owners might have soured on Olsen, but he was actually one of the more consistent TEs in a down year for the position. He finished the season by scoring at least 8.5 fantasy points in five of Carolina's final seven games, and he received at least seven targets in each of the final seven games. Carolina's offense could change if they bring in another good receiver during the offseason, but as long as Olsen is back, he figures to be a key cog. You can't ask for much more at the TE spot.
Notable Faller: Cleveland's Jordan Cameron missed most of Week 15 and and all of Week 16 because of a concussion, and fantasy owners probably wouldn't have cared if he missed Week 17, too. But Cameron suited up and caught a respectable five of seven targets. However, that was good for just 69 yards, and Cameron finished the season by scoring fewer than seven fantasy points in six of his final seven games (and eight of nine weeks overall). By adding another mediocre game to his ledger, his final statline actually looks a little worse. Hopefully, fantasy owners won't think he was just an early-season wonder.