ATLANTA FALCONS 31, CAROLINA PANTHERS 10
The Falcons shot their big guns early, with Matt Ryan (22-32-236-2) hitting Tony Gonzalez (6-53-1) and Roddy White (6-62-1) for scores before Michael Turner (17-67-1) closed out the scoring. That opened the door for backups like Chris Redman, Gartrell Johnson, and Brian Finneran to finish off the hapless Panthers.
Carolina couldn’t get beyond the Atlanta 45 on its first seven drives, then had to settle for a field goal after reaching the Falcons 5 to open the second half. By the time Jimmy Clausen (19-33-182-1-1) threw a late touchdown to tight end Jeff King (2-1-1) it was far too little, far too late.
FANTASY IMPACT: It’s almost impossible to take anything away from the Panthers; they were abysmal offensively, and anyone who did anything of note—say, rookie Brandon LaFell who led the team in receiving with four catches for 53 yards, took an end-around for a team-high 60 rushing yards, and also attempted a pass—will be reevaluated anyway by the new coaching staff. As for the Falcons, it was the same studs doing the same damage. Michael Jenkins (5-52) keeps threatening to be a fringe fantasy factor, but never quite gets over the hump.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 13, CINCINNATI BENGALS 7
Perhaps playing with one eye on the scoreboard, the Ravens produced just enough offense to outdistance the Bengals. It didn’t take much: 20-77-1 rushing from Ray Rice and 14-19-125-0-1 from Joe Flacco, with only Todd Heap (3-53) topping 35 yards receiving.
Carson Palmer (32-45-305-1-2) is enjoying life without his diva receivers, as both Jerome Simpson (12-123-1) and Andre Caldwell (7-94) posted solid outings. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Simpson also fumbled twice and Palmer threw two picks and lost another fumble. And with two shots from the two-yard line at the end of the game, Palmer failed to connect on a potential game-winner.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Bengals don’t appear as if they’ll miss either Terrell Owens or Chad Ochocinco, with Simpson and Caldwell stepping nicely into their roles. But has Palmer jumped the shark? The 305 is nice, the three turnovers and two misses at crunch time are not. The most notable development on the Baltimore side was the return of the vaunted Ravens defense we’ve come to know and love, though Ray Lewis (two fumble recoveries) and Ed Reed (two INTs) are both creeping up there in age. As for the offense, the passing game was spread all over (again), but when push came to shove it was Rice getting the ball more than Willis McGahee (2-5, 1-8 receiving) and LeRon McClain (1-0, 3-4 receiving) combined.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 41, CLEVELAND BROWNS 9
Ben Roethlisberger (15-22-280-2) started with a 56-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace (3-105-1) on his first attempt and didn’t let up until the Steelers had built a five-touchdown lead. He got an assist from Rashard Mendenhall (14-36-2, 1-24) and Heath Miller (4-55-1), as well as a little trickery from Antwan Randle El (2-21 plus 1-1-3-1 passing), who hit Hines Ward (5-45-1) for the Steelers’ final touchdown.
Aside from the three picks, Colt McCoy (20-41-209-1-3) wasn’t bad; he certainly didn’t get much help. Peyton Hillis (6-13, 1-3) looked completely out of gas, Mike Bell (5-14, 4-14) was no help, and the wide receivers were once again trumped by tight end Ben Watson (7-67).
FANTASY IMPACT: Hillis continues his free-fall out of next year’s top running backs, and workload has to be a factor. Consider: coming into this season, Hillis had 81 career carries; through his first six games (88 carries) he averaged 4.4 yards a carry and scored four times; his next four games (92 carries) yielded six touchdowns and 4.6 yards per carry; the last five games (71 carries, beyond twice his career total) produced 3.8 yards per carry and zero scores. While Ward remains the PPR Steeler to have, Wallace has moved right into Santonio Holmes’ role as playmaker. You’ve missed out on your chance to pick him up on the cheap.
DETROIT LIONS 20, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 13
Detroit’s future at quarterback is Matthew Stafford, but Shawn Hill (28-39-258-1-1) is the kind of quality backup any team would love. With no Calvin Johnson, Hill went to Nate Burleson (6-83-1) and Tony Scheffler (6-50) to produce just enough offense to overcome the Vikings.
Joe Webb’s (20-32-145-0-1, 5-35) second career start wasn’t nearly as impressive as the first; he looked indecisive as to when to run and when to throw and was too reliant on Percy Harvin (8-69). He appeared as if he’d be leaning heavily on Adrian Peterson (14-31) as well, but the Lions were hip to that plan as well and swarmed AP every time he touched the ball.
FANTASY IMPACT: Webb didn’t have Sidney Rice to throw to, but if he’s to be Minnesota’s solution at quarterback he’ll need a better line to shake AP free; he’ll also need to make better decisions as to when to run, when to throw, and who to throw to. Whether the Vikings will endure the growing pains or opt for a veteran to show him the ropes remains to be seen. The Lions attempted to use a one-two punch in the running game, splitting 22 caries between Jahvid Best (10-34) and Maurice Morris (12-21-1, 2-24). The production was lacking, but perhaps a healthy Best will help this unit break off a run of double-digit yardage—something that was lacking in Week 17.
OAKLAND RAIDERS 31, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 10
The Chiefs entered the game with the league’s top running game but even without Darren McFadden it was the Raiders who pounded it on the ground. Michael Bush (25-137-1, 4-34 receiving) accounted for the bulk of Oakland’s offense, with a little Jacoby Ford (2-22-1 rushing, 1-35 receiving) mixed in. Jason Campbell (15-25-155-1, 4-33 rushing) was knocked out of the game early on but returned to oversee the upset.
Kansas City limps into the playoffs with their tails between their legs after taking a thumping at the hands of the Raiders. Matt Cassel (11-33-115-0-1) was awful, though at least he pooled the bulk of his yardage with Dwayne Bowe (5-68). Jamaal Charles (14-87-1, 2-13 receiving) held up his end of the backfield tandem, but Thomas Jones (10-17, 1-(-2) receiving) did not.
FANTASY IMPACT: Maybe next year we’ll get less Jones and more Charles; the latter produced six yards per touch, the former a shade over one. At present there’s no one threatening to horn in on Bowe’s action; Chris Chambers (2-22) and Dexter McCluster (1-15) were the only other wideouts with receptions. If the Raiders decide to let Bush go via free agency this offseason, it should make fantasy studs out of both McFadden (with no one to steal his goal line looks) and Bush (who would likely leave to take a starting gig elsewhere). Check out Bush’s four receptions in addition to his healthy rushing total; he’s definitely capable of being a full-time every-down back somewhere. Cincinnati, perhaps?
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 38, MIAMI DOLPHINS 7
At least you can count on Bill Belichick to keep his first-teamers on the field in a meaningless game at least long enough to get their fantasy numbers. Tom Brady (10-16-199-2), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (20-80-1), and Rob Gronkowski (6-102-1) all got theirs before giving way to Brian Hoyer (7-13-122-1), Fred Taylor (10-35), and Ben Tate (2-82-1).
Well, Tyler Thigpen (10-21-169-1) looked like he could be a capable backup quarterback in this league—but the Dolphins may want a better starting option than Chad Henne (6-16-71-0-1).
FANTASY IMPACT: Brandon Marshall (5-97) was the Dolphins’ closest thing to a go-to guy, though it was Davonne Bess (3-35-1) with the touchdown. Both would benefit from an upgrade under center in 2011. Green-Ellis stuck around long enough to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the season; he and Danny Woodhead (2-19, but a fumble that ended the Patriots’ run of turnover-free games) will provide a formidable backfield going forward... unless Belichick opts to resurrect a Sammy Morris (5-18, 1-8)/Kevin Faulk tandem.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 23, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 13
The Saints can say they called off the dogs, but until they were convinced the Falcons had their game well in hand they were playing to win—and losing to Josh Freeman (21-26-255-2) and the Bucs. This time around Freeman didn’t get much help from LeGarrette Blount (19-66), so he turned to his young receiving corps—specifically Mike Williams (4-40-1) and, as if the Bucs needed yet another stud rookie receiver to emerge, Desmond Briscoe (4-65-1).
No Marques Colston and only a little Robert Meachem (1-5)? No problem for Drew Brees (22-38-196-1-1), who went back to rookie tight end Jimmy Graham (2-15-1) and introduced Adrian Arrington (7-79) to his lexicon of receivers. Of course, once Sean Payton realized there was nothing to play for, Brees gave way to Chase Daniels (2-3-16) and the Saints went into “stay healthy” mode.
FANTASY IMPACT: We finally saw the Reggie Bush (9-70, 5-55 receiving) we’ve been waiting for. Those may be a little aggressive for weekly expectations for Bush, especially considering Chris Ivory (7-33) didn’t get his usual workload here, but it’s a sign the Saints remember how to use him. Last week Freeman made a statement with five TDs, and this week he made another by winning on the road against the defending champs; he has blow-up potential written all over him. The same could be said for Blount, though his inability to convert short-yardage situations is disconcerting. A guy that big needs to learn how to hit the line hard rather than tiptoe up looking for a hole; maybe a phone call to Mike Alstott is in order?
NEW YORK JETS 38, BUFFALO BILLS 7
Mark Sanchez started and didn’t throw a pass, but three other Jets did as they steamrolled the Bills behind the passing of Mark Brunell (6-12-110-2-1) and the running of Joe McKnight (32-158, 2-15). That sentence alone tells you just about everything you need as to why you don’t play your title game in Week 17. At least Santonio Holmes (1-17-1) and Braylon Edwards (1-52-1) hung around long enough to get theirs.
The best thing you can say about the Bills’ season is that it’s over.
FANTASY IMPACT: No Ryan Fitzpatrick—not to mention no David Nelson or even Donald Jones—skews the results, but Stevie Johnson (5-72) stayed hot... except for his fumble. He should be a fantasy factor next year. Can the same be said for C.J. Spiller (3-5), who even in a meaningless game brought absolutely nothing to the table? The plan in New York is for McKnight to eventually take over LaDainian Tomlinson’s role as the change-of-pace guy to Shonn Greene. Tearing up the Bills isn’t that noteworthy, but five yards a carry suggests McKnight will be ready when LT passes the torch.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 33, DENVER BRONCOS 28
Now Ryan Mathews (26-120-3, 3-19 receiving) shows up? Too late to save him from the wrath of those who spent an ill-advised first-round pick on him back in September, but it certainly bodes well for his NFL future. Aside from that it was business as usual for Philip Rivers (21-37-313-0-1), except for the zero touchdowns. And in a foreshadowing of next year without Vincent Jackson (3-53)—assuming he leaves via free agency or some sort of sign-and-trade—Rivers used 10 different receivers, none with more then Legedu Naanee’s four catches or 79 yards.
The Tebow Show continued, as Tim Tebow passed (16-36-205-2-2) and ran (13-94-1) the Broncos into shouting distance. Once again he found Brandon Lloyd (5-73-1) more frequently (and productively) than any other receiver. Outside of Tebow, however, the Broncos’ offense was stagnant.
FANTASY IMPACT: With Tebow handling the Broncos’ rushing chores as well as the passing, the 2011 fantasy value of Knowshon Moreno (6-41, 35 of them on one carry, plus 1-2 receiving) is in free-fall. Of course, a new regime might not be so attached to Tebow... unless new director of football operations John Elway is, in which case the coach will need to fit the quarterback rather than vice versa. The Bolts may not be comfortable with Mathews in passing situations yet—Darren Sproles (4-43, 2-26) still saw some snaps—but he sure looked good on the ground. Yes, it was against one of the league’s worst run defenses, but it’s a defense he’ll see twice next year.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 10, CHICAGO BEARS 3
It’s a good think this game happened in Week 17 so, rather than bemoan the lack of fantasy numbers, we could sit back and enjoy a good ol’ fashioned Black & Blue Division scrum. Aaron Rodgers (19-28-229-1-1, 7-21 rushing) got no help from his ground game—in fact, he was the leading rusher. But he got 4-97 from Greg Jennings and one big one-yard catch from Donald Lee for the game’s only touchdown.
Kudos to the Bears for playing their regulars in a game that meant nothing to them—other than a chance at keeping the Packers out of the postseason. Unfortunately, it also exposed Jay Cutler (21-39-168-0-2) as susceptible to pressure—though that’s hardly news. What was a bit interesting was that all but one of his completions were condensed into three receivers: Rashied Davis (7-63), Greg Olsen (5-29), and Matt Forte (15-91 rushing, 8-60 receiving).
FANTASY IMPACT: Forte’s 151 combo yards against a good and motivated defense confirms his late-season surge is no fluke; he’ll be creeping up the fantasy running back rankings this offseason. So too might Ryan Grant, as evidently he’s something special; the Packers have simply not been able to replace him. Or Rodgers could continue to provide the bulk of the offense—in this game, all but 39 yards of it.
HOUSTON TEXANS 34, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 17
Arian Foster (31-180-2, 2-10) busted off a 56-yard run to cement the rushing title, then teamed with Derrick Ward (4-63-1, 1-7 receiving) proceeded to crush any playoff hopes the Jaguars had. He had plenty of help from the passing game, with Matt Schaub (18-22-253-1)—having no Andre Johnson at his disposal—spreading the ball amongst Jacoby Jones (5-70), Owen Daniels (5-62-1), Kevin Walter (3-54), and Joel Dreesen (2-50).
When you’re banking on Trent Edwards (12-25-140-1-1) with a division title on the line... well, you only have yourself to blame. Edwards didn’t have Maurice Jones-Drew to help him, but Rashad Jennings (22-108-1, 4-34 receiving) provided a reasonable facsimile. As for Edwards’ targets, Mike Sims-Walker was nowhere to be found and Mike Thomas (1-12) was only slightly more visible. Jason Hill (3-68) led the team in receiving yardage while Marcedes Lewis (4-26-1) caught Edwards’ touchdown.
FANTASY IMPACT: Jennings was a dog last week, but this week’s effort might be enough to get him back on the radar as a handcuff to MoJo—especially if Jones-Drew is slowed in training camp by the arthroscopic surgery he’s soon to have. Ward could be a handcuff to Foster as well, though Foster seems to have trumped Gary Kubiak’s inclination to shuffle his backs; consider Ward inexpensive insurance that Kubiak doesn’t revert to form.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 23, TENNESSEE TITANS 20
Indy came out like a team on a mission as Peyton Manning (27-41-264-2) directed them to scores on their first three (and four of their first five) drives. He divvied up the receptions evenly between Pierre Garçon (7-78-1), Reggie Wayne (9-68-1), Jacob Tamme (7-67), and Blair White (4-51). But then the Colts went cold, and after it appeared as if Dominic Rhodes (11-48) had fumbled away the division title the Titans gave it right back, and a late Adam Vinatieri field goal clinched the AFC South for Indy.
The Titans put up more of a fight than many expected, especially when you consider Chris Johnson (20-39, 6-51-1) averaged less than two yards a carry. Kerry Collins (28-39-300-2) picked up the slack, primarily feeding Kenny Britt (5-85-1) and Jared Cook (7-58) among the eight different Titans who caught a pass. But Collins’ fumbled snap cost Tennessee a shot at a win, giving that chance instead to the clutch Vinatieri.
FANTASY IMPACT: Check out the emerging Cook, who gives the Titans their best receiving presence at tight end since Frank Wycheck retired. Tennessee has several questions to answer heading into next season—coach or quarterback is the biggie—but Cook would appear to be in line to be a security blanket or a go-to guy, depending on how the offense is positioned. Joseph Addai (11-44) is due for free agency, and given that he’s splitting the workload with Rhodes and Donald Brown has demonstrated flashes of competency, he may be priced out of Indy. If he’s back, he’s doomed to be a committee guy; if he goes elsewhere he may not hold up to the workload, but at least he’d be given a shot.
DALLAS COWBOYS 14, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 13
Stephen McGee (11-27-127-1, 9-55 rushing) waited until the final minute of the game before hitting Jason Witten (4-46-1) with the game-winning score. Up to that point it had been a pretty hum-drum affair, with the Cowboys using Felix Jones (11-81) and the occasional deep toss to Miles Austin (2-62) to keep things close.
Philly brought out the B-team and got solid performances from Jerome Harrison (21-99, 5-17) and Chad Hall (6-84-1). However, they could have used a much better showing from Kevin Kolb; instead, they got 18-36-162-1 along with three INTs and a lost fumble.
FANTASY IMPACT: Kolb did little to spark trade interest in the offseason, but Harrison could receive some suitors. He’s a versatile back who has played well when given the opportunity; could a back-needy team opt for him as a less-expensive alternative to DeAngelo Williams? The Cowboys’ backfield triumvirate continues to flummox; this week Jones got most of the work while Tashard Choice (7-20) and Marion Barber (3-3) were afterthoughts. This needs to be winnowed down to two before any can be trusted with regular fantasy play.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 38, ARIZONA CARDINALS 7
Alex Smith (15-29-276-2) closed the San Francisco chapter of his career with a flourish, ravaging the Cardinals to give interim coach Jim Tomsula a win in his first game as head honcho. He went to trusted target Vernon Davis (3-96-1), but also involved wideouts Josh Morgan (3-59), Michael Crabtree (4-47), and even Ted Ginn (2-41-1). The 49er ground game also had its way with the hapless Cardinals, primarily Brian Westbrook (13-79-2, 1-14).
John Skelton (14-25-92-1-1) hit Larry Fitzgerald (11-125-1) for Arizona’s lone score before giving way to Richard Bartel (16-28-150-0-1), whose audition proved the Cardinals’ search for a quarterback will extend into the offseason. Maybe the guy who just torched them for 276 and two?
FANTASY IMPACT: The Cards might also be in the market for a running back, as neither Tim Hightower (12-30) nor former first-round pick Beanie Wells (5-16) demonstrated anything that would warrant job security. In short, Arizona has plenty of holes to fill. The Niners don’t have as many holes, but considering they’ll be looking for both a coach and a quarterback they certainly have big gaps to address. With a healthy Frank Gore returning and a decent receiving corps in place, whomever they tab should walk into an opportunity to produce points immediately.
NEW YORK GIANTS 17, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 14
The Giants certainly didn’t make things easy on themselves, failing to turn any of the Redskins’ four turnovers into points. The tandem of Brandon Jacobs (13-49-1) and Ahmad Bradshaw (15-22, 2-8 receiving) struggled behind a banged-up offensive line that lost another key component, Rich Seubert, to injury. But that line kept Eli Manning (17-29-243-1-1) upright all game, giving him time to find Mario Manningham (4-101-1) and Derek Hagan (6-70).
So long as Mike Shanahan can live with the turnovers, he’s found his quarterback: Rex Grossman (26-44-336-2-1) giveth in the form of the home run ball to Anthony Armstrong (2-84-1) and underneath completions to Santana Moss (9-74) and Chris Cooley (5-53); he also taketh away in the form of a pick and two fumbles.
FANTASY IMPACT: It wasn’t a beauty, but Ryan Torain (18-61, 1-8) continues to stake his claim to the starting gig next fall. He may cede some third-down work to Keiland Williams (1-4, 4-47 receiving), but barring a Danny Snyder splash in the offseason (DeAngelo Williams? Ronnie Brown?) Torain looks to be Shanny’s guy. The Giants don’t seem to be missing Hakeem Nicks or Steve Smith all that much, with Hagan and Manningham filling in nicely. It’ll be a position of depth in the offseason that could lend itself to a trade somewhere along the way.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 16, SAINT LOUIS RAMS 6
If you’re into games with inexperienced quarterbacks (neither starter had thrown an NFL pass prior to this season) leading sub-.500 teams into a battle for a division title, then this was a beauty. Charlie Whitehurst (22-36-192-1, 8-30 rushing) delivered a stunningly competent performance that hinged primarily on an opening drive that saw him go 5-for-5, hit Ruvell Martin for a 61-yard completion, and dodge a drive-killing sack thanks to a ticky-tack defensive holding call. Seattle later benefitted from a horribly inaccurate spot on a key second-and-short, but a defense that had been carved up all season stood firm and a running game that had been largely absent showed up behind 20-75 from Marshawn Lynch and a smattering of Justin Forsett (3-28 rushing, 33-22 receiving).
Sam Bradford (19-36-155-0-1) finally looked like the rookie he is, though he received absolutely no help from his receivers: Danario Alexander (3-14) dropped two key passes that Bradford put right on the money, either of which could have led to a go-ahead touchdown. Instead, no Ram receiver topped 40 yards and Steven Jackson (11-45, 4-39 receiving) couldn’t carry the offense himself; hence, two Josh Brown field goals and a trip back to St. Louis without a playoff game on the immediate horizon.
FANTASY IMPACT: If the Rams were looking for another indication of their glaring need for a go-to receiver, they received it in this game. Donnie Avery can’t stay healthy, Mark Clayton is a question mark, Danny Amendola (2-9) is a slot guy, and Alexander, Brandon Gibson (3-30), and Laurent Robinson (2-14) aren’t the answer. Sidney Rice could hit the free agent market, as could Vincent Jackson; either would likely have provided the difference in this game. Matt Hasselbeck was active for this one, but Whitehurst proved for one game at least that trading for him and then giving him $10 million wasn’t a huge mistake. Curious to see what Pete Carroll does when the Saints come to town on Saturday, and what his quarterback does with the opportunity. There’s some talent in this receiving corps, and if the offensive line can stay healthy long enough to provide the quarterback with time, there’s fantasy potential there as well.