GREEN BAY PACKERS 45, DETROIT LIONS 41
The Packers have had some pretty good quarterbacks run through their franchise, and yet it was Matt Flynn (31-44-480-6-1) in his second NFL start—in relief of the probable MVP, no less—who rewrote the Green Bay record books with single-game marks in yardage and touchdowns. Didn’t hurt to have Jordy Nelson (9-162-3) to throw to, or the Lions’ prolific offense to keep up with as Green Bay rested Aaron Rodgers and a couple defensive starters as well.
It’s not often you throw five touchdowns and are the second-most prolific quarterback on the field. Matthew Stafford (36-59-520-5-2) kept the Lions’ hopes of a five seed alive, leaning heavily on Calvin Johnson (11-244-1) and Brandon Pettigrew (7-116) as the Lions passed almost 80 percent of the time.
FANTASY IMPACT: Pettigrew was targeted 11 times, but it was Tony Scheffler (4-65-1) once again swiping a touchdown. And while Megatron was targeted 17 times and Nate Burleson (6-45) 11, Titus Young (4-24) scored twice as many touchdowns as the two of them combined. Kevin Smith (9-35, 4-26-1 receiving) gave the Lions what little ground game they offered and, if he doesn’t want to return Detroit as Jahvid Best/Mikel Leshoure insurance, should draw attention as a potential starter elsewhere. Also a potential starter elsewhere is Flynn, who can leave via free agency and should be in demand in a quarterback-dominated league. Jermichael Finley (7-64-1) may join him on the open market, but it’s not like the Packers are thin at either position. Even with WR1 Greg Jennings out of the lineup Green Bay got 6-89 from James Jones and 2-52-1 from Donald Driver in addition to Nelson’s home field heroics. By the way, Nelson has more touchdowns at Lambeau than any receiver not named Calvin Johnson has this season… total.
TENNESSEE TITANS 23, HOUSTON TEXANS 22
Chris Johnson (15-61, 4-49 receiving) got the yardage to be half the 2K (and $300K richer than) he used to be. In his stead the Titans needed someone else to carry the offense, and like much of the season it’s been Matt Hasselbeck (22-35-297-2) and the passing game. Sans Kenny Britt, it was Nate Washington (4-92-1) as the go-to guy, with tight end Jared Cook (4-63) continuing his late-season emergence and Donnie Avery (3-45-1) making an impressive Titans debut.
First, kudos to Gary Kubiak for going for two after a late touchdown, eschewing the tie and overtime; makes sense, since the Texans had already lost another quarterback to injury and couldn’t improve their playoff seeding regardless of outcome. With T.J. Yates (4-4-47) out, Jake Delhomme (18-28-211-1) got some work in and seemed extremely comfortable throwing to James Casey (7-91). Not surprisingly, the Texans let the running game do most of the heavy lifting, even with Arian Foster inactive. Ben Tate (16-97-1, 4-24) handled the bulk of the workload, with Derrick Ward (12-50) chipping in as well.
FANTASY IMPACT: Andre Johnson (2-21) got a little work in and should be ready for a more expanded role in the postseason. That’s good because otherwise Houston’s passing game is all backs and tight ends; 15 of the team’s 22 completions went to players other than wideouts, though that might say as much about the Texans being on their fourth quarterback this season as it does the competency of their wide receivers. Avery flashed a little in the regular season finale, but with a healthy Britt back in Tennessee he may be looking for more playing time elsewhere this offseason. Cook will be in the mix as well, and after Hasselbeck’s solid season keeper leaguers shouldn’t be banking on Jake Locker ascending to the starting gig any time soon.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 19, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 13
He’s been carrying this offense all year; why should Week 17 be any different? Maurice Jones-Drew (25-169, 1-4) was the ballcarrier or intended target on more than half of Jacksonville’s offensive plays, and he accounted for more than 60 percent of the team’s yardage en route to the league rushing title as well as the franchise rushing record. No other Jag accounted for more than 33 yards, though Chastin West (1-23) did come up with Jacksonville’s lone touchdown.
Dan Orlovsky (27-40-264-1-2) continues to play himself into a third-string role with next year’s Colts; read into that what you will. Austin Collie (9-96-1) led what little offense Indy brought to the table, perhaps positioning himself for a larger role in next year’s Indy offense.
FANTASY IMPACT: Reggie Wayne (8-73) might have pulled the curtain on his Indy career with what has unfortunately for him become a typically hum-drum outing. If Manning is back, however, Wayne’s chances of returning to the Colts climb substantially. The Jaguars’ passing game was once again anemic, with Blaine Gabbert (11-19-92-1) at the helm of a nondescript band of pass-catchers “led” by tight end Marcedes Lewis, whose four targets, three catches, and 33 yards were all team highs.
MIAMI DOLPHINS 19, NEW YORK JETS 17
Miami didn’t do much offensively—no player accounted for more than 55 yards of offense—but they turned three interceptions into field goals and held the ball just enough to keep the Jets at bay. Matt Moore (22-32-135-1-2) turned the ball over a couple times himself but capitalized with a TD toss on the Dolphins’ only trip into the red zone.
Mark Sanchez (21-32-207-2-3) will take the heat for his three picks that led to nine points in a two-point loss, but it didn’t help that Santonio Holmes (zero catches, one target) quit on the team and was benched in the fourth quarter. Veteran LaDainian Tomlinson (11-56, 4-23 receiving in what may have been his final NFL game) and rookie Jeremy Kerley (4-71 plus 1-16 rushing) tried to rally the troops, but there wasn’t enough time or ammunition.
FANTASY IMPACT: With Holmes pouting his way into the doghouse and maybe out of town, Kerley could be an intriguing keeper-league find this offseason; he outproduced both Plaxico Burress (4-57) and Dustin Keller (7-45-1) as well as the absent Holmes. The Jets may also be looking for an LT replacement, as Shonn Greene (14-55 plus two targets, one of which he was outfought for on one of Sanchez’ picks) was merely ordinary once again. With Reggie Bush out it wasn’t rookie Daniel Thomas (12-28, 2-12 receiving) but instead trash pile pickup Steve Slaton (11-55, one catch for minus-one yard) who was the most productive back. Brandon Marshall (5-50) got some help in the passing game from Davonne Bess (6-45), but no other Dolphin mustered as much as 20 receiving yards.
CHICAGO BEARS 17, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 13
Any questions about the value of Jay Cutler and Matt Forte to the Bears’ offense can be answered by the season finale: Kahlil Bell (17-54, 5-28) led the team in productivity, the Bears barely mustered 200 yards of offense, and it took a defensive touchdown on a deflected pass to knock off a three-win team. Figures this would be the game where Roy Williams (4-60-1) actually showed up.
The knock on Christian Ponder (4-10-28-0-1) coming out of Florida State was that he was injury-prone, and his getting knocked out of yet another tilt during his rookie campaign won’t help that assessment. Joe Webb (17-32-200-0-2) came on in relief—again—but wasn’t able to mount much of a rally.
FANTASY IMPACT: If the Vikings are to be without Adrian Peterson for any length of time at the start of the 2012 season, at least we know what the game plan will be: a healthy dose of Toby Gerhart (15-67, 1-3 receiving) and plenty of Percy Harvin (10-115 on 16 targets, plus 5-13-1 rushing). Minnesota needs to upgrade at receiver, but they haven’t been shy about taking shots at Devin Aromashodu (3-53 on 11 targets) in lieu of other options. Keep that in mind of free agency and/or the draft don’t yield more help at wideout. The Bears could use help at receiver as well, unless they’re buying Williams’ late-season mini-resurgence. Earl Bennett (3-31) only plays well with Cutler, and Devin Hester (1-14) remains more of a threat in the return game than from scrimmage. Then again, it may be unfair to judge these receivers when it’s Josh McCown (15-25-160-1-1) throwing the ball.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 49, BUFFALO BILLS 21
The Pats opted to challenge themselves, taking the first quarter off and spotting the Bills 21 points. Then it was business as usual: Tom Brady (23-35-338-3-1) to Rob Gronkowski (8-108-2) and Aaron Hernandez (7-138-1) for the win.
Everybody throws on New England, and Ryan Fitzpatrick (29-307-2-4) was no exception. It was, however, a different group of targets with Derek Hagan (7-89) and Ruvell Martin (4-42) outproducing regulars Stevie Johnson (4-40-1) and David Nelson (2-23). At least C.J. Spiller (13-60, 4-40-1) remained reliable—though that’s a phrase that at the beginning of the season seemed unlikely to be uttered.
FANTASY IMPACT: Spiller wrapped up a productive final month and has to be in the conversation for a key role in Buffalo’s 2012 backfield. If Fred Jackson doesn’t return, Spiller should be a 20-touch per game feature back on an improving offense. Of course, Jackson was pretty good before his injury and is entitled to touches as well if the Bills bring him back. The Patriots’ backfield clarified slightly, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis (7-22-2, 1-53 receiving) and Stevan Ridley (15-81) housing the vast majority of the touches. Could be a recipe for the playoffs, if you’re in a postseason fantasy league.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 45, CAROLINA PANTHERS 17
It was ultimately a futile attempt to steal the 2 seed, but it sure was fun. Drew Brees (28-35-389-5-1) pushed the yardage record out of reach, feeding all of his favorite targets: Jimmy Graham (8-97-1, including a sick one-handed grab as he briefly held the NFL record for receiving yardage by a tight end), Marques Colston (7-145-2), and Darren Sproles (6-40 rushing, 5-29-1 receiving en route to breaking Derrick Mason’s mark for all-purpose yardage in a single season). As an added bonus, Chris Ivory (19-127-1) turned a majority of the backfield workload into an unexpected big fantasy day.
The Panthers hung around for a while with Cam Newton (15-25-158-1-1 plus 6-32 rushing) and Steve Smith (6-86-1) doing the damage, but ultimately Carolina couldn’t keep pace and managed just 66 second-half yards.
FANTASY IMPACT: Single-digit carries for both Jonathan Stewart (9-79-1, 2-7 receiving) and DeAngelo Williams (7-53, 2-20); tough to rely on productivity from such minimal touches, even though between them they averaged almost eight yards every time they touched the ball. Brees and Chase Daniels (3-3-20) involved nine different receivers in the fun, seven of them with multiple receptions. Gives you the impression that even if Colston and/or Robert Meachem (2-30) leave via free agency, the New Orleans offense will keep right on humming. Assuming, of course, Brees comes back.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 34, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 10
It came too late, and it came without LeSean McCoy. But the Eagles’ offense came to life nonetheless behind a monster game from Michael Vick (24-39-335-3-1), getting all of his major targets involved. Jeremy Maclin (8-105) and Brent Celek (6-86-1) both saw double-digit targets, while Desean Jackson (4-86-1) took one last opportunity to remind potential offseason suitors of both his explosiveness (a 62-yard touchdown) and his douchebaggery (his taunting during the final 10 yards of said touchdown).
Rex Grossman (22-45-256-1-1) didn’t do nearly enough to make Mike Shanahan forget about trading up for a quarterback in the 2012 draft, though he did involve target 11 different receivers—none more frequently than Jabar Gaffney (4-28 on 11 targets) and Santana Moss (3-45 on nine targets) and connected with nine of them. And just to give you a taste of what’s in store for next year, Evan Royster (20-113, 5-52 receiving) saw most of the backfield touches but Roy Helu (4-5 rushing, 2-48-1 receiving) got in the end zone. New year, same Shanahanigans.
FANTASY IMPACT: Really, the only story in Washington—aside from who replaces Rexy next season—is just how much Shanahan will mess with your head given two talented, productive young backs. If you make only one resolution this year, make it be that you’ll run far, far away from Helu and Royster on draft day no matter how tempting they appear. The Eagles may not want Jackson back, but Maclin’s showing demonstrated he’s more than capable of being a WR1. And Vick flashed some of what made him a first-rounder this year, though that mistake won’t be repeated in 2012. Plan on Dion Lewis (12-58-1) as your handcuff to McCoy.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 34, SAINT LOUIS RAMS 27
A lighter dose for Frank Gore (7-9) meant more work for Kendall Hunter (16-76, 2-11 receiving), though Anthony Dixon (8-21-1, 1-6) stole his touchdown. That put the passing game to work, and while Alex Smith (21-31-219-1) put up the usual humdrum numbers he at least focused all his efforts on Michael Crabtree (9-92-2) and Vernon Davis (8-118).
Kellen Clemens (14-31-226-1-1 plus 2-18-1 rushing) put a decent game on film and should have a backup job waiting for him somewhere next season. Like all Rams quarterbacks, he immediately found Brandon Lloyd (6-100-1) to help throw a scare into the Niners. However, Clemens bowed out early with an ankle injury and Tom Brandstater (0-2) was unable to close the deal.
FANTASY IMPACT: As per usual, Steven Jackson (16-76, 1-15 receiving) was the focal point of the offense; however, he too exited with an injury and Carnell Williams (7-17) swiped a touchdown. David Akers is not only a record-setting kicker, he also posted a perfect passer rating and threw as many touchdowns as Smith. Wonder if the Niners will use the extra week to give Akers more reps under center.
ARIZONA CARDINALS 23, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 20 (OT)
The Cardinals worked overtime (again, an NFL-record fourth OT win), which meant extra work for Larry Fitzgerald (9-149 on 18 targets). John Skelton (22-40-271-1-1) targeted Fitz on almost half his throws, with obvious results; however, it was Todd Heap (2-35-1) getting the TD. Similarly, with Beanie Wells tapping out LaRod Stephens-Howling (21-93) was left to do the dirty work but Chester Taylor (3-8-1) stole the money shot.
Business as usual for the Seahawks: Tarvaris Jackson (21-35-222-1-1) gave you one play—a 61-yard TD to Ricardo Lockette (1-61-1)—of brilliance and a full game of meh. Aside from that play the Seattle passing game was 10 guys all doing nothing, which meant it was up to the running game to keep things interesting—and this time Marshawn Lynch (19-86, 2-5 receiving) got an assist from Leon Washington (7-78-1, 2-12).
FANTASY IMPACT: You have to think that, given the state of their passing game, the Seahawks will back up the Skittles truck to keep Lynch in Seattle. The alternative is essentially a foolproof plan for reuniting Pete Carroll with Matt Barkley, as Seattle would be a virtual lock for the first overall pick in 2013. How’s that Kevin Kolb trade looking now, Arizona? Skelton to Fitzgerald is a money combination, and the Cardinals’ best opportunity at upgrading the supporting cast now belongs to the Eagles. And since the only thing you can count on from Weanie Wells is that you can’t count on him, Fitzgerald remains a fantasy lock—a frustrated lock, but a lock nonetheless.
ATLANTA FALCONS 45, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 24
By the time the Falcons called off the dogs they had a 42-0 lead and had made fantasy owners of Michael Turner (17-172-2) and Julio Jones (4-76-2) extremely happy. Matt Ryan (6-9-106-2) put up subdued numbers, but he fed Jones and Roddy White (4-69) heavily; no other Falcon—including Tony Gonzalez (1-8)—managed more than one catch.
It was all garbage time for the Bucs, and once they took to the air LeGarrette Blount (6-12, 3-14) was rendered impotent—or even more impotent than usual. Josh Freeman (31-45-274-2-3) put up a decent fantasy day playing catch-up, ignoring Mike Williams (1-31) as he continued to develop his relationship with Dezmon Briscoe (8-53-2 on a team-high 11 targets).
FANTASY IMPACT: Wherever the Bucs go offensively next season is anyone’s guess, but it’s a good bet Briscoe will be along for the ride. Kellen Winslow (7-56) might be there, too, but Tampa’s offense enters the offseason at the opposite end of the potential spectrum as last year. With the mileage piling up for Turner, it was interesting to see Jacquizz Rodgers (8-24-1, 1-5 receiving) get the Falcons’ first touchdown. Jason Snelling (9-50, 1-4) is still around as a handcuff, but Rodgers’ upside is intriguing.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 24, CINCINNATI BENGALS 16
Two long Ray Rice (24-191-2 plus 2-8 receiving) touchdown runs carried the Ravens to the AFC North title, as the rest of the Baltimore offense could muster just 152 yards. Not that Joe Flacco (15-19-130-1) was bad, just overly subdued. Sans Anquan Boldin the passing game ran through… Dennis Pitta (6-62-1)? Yep; non-Pitta Ravens receivers accounted for 9-68.
It was another uphill battle for the Bengals offense against an elite AFC North opponent, and it didn’t help that their only two red zone drives ended in field goal attempts. Andy Dalton (22-44-232) carried the brunt of the load as Cedric Benson (13-51) was unproductive, though Bernard Scott (6-34-1) broke off a 25-yard TD to salvage the running game. However, Dalton could only connect on two of nine throws at his favorite target, A.J. Green (2-26), and half of his 10 shots at Green’s running mate Jerome Simpson (5-54).
FANTASY IMPACT: With Simpson and Green held in check, it was Jermaine Gresham (5-72) who stepped up to aid the Cincy offense. Scott was the other shot in the arm, making a late run at inheriting Benson’s feature-back gig should the long-time Bengal not re-sign in Cincinnati this offseason. Torrey Smith (5-33) attempted to help fill the void left by Boldin’s absence, but he’s most effective as a deep threat; when your tight ends are making the passing game plays downfield, something might not be right.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 13, CLEVELAND BROWNS 9
Pittsburgh’s offense came in small bites; for example, their first three drives encompassed 30 plays but covered just 79 yards and netted zero points. The Steelers bracketed halftime with their two longest drives of the game to produce matching chip-shot field goals, then followed up with the game’s only touchdown as Isaac Redman (19-92, 3-18) found the end zone. Redman and Antonio Brown (6-90) accounted for 200 of the team’s 382 yards, with no other individual Steeler producing more than 45.
If there’s a playmaker on the current Cleveland roster it’s Josh Cribbs (7-91), who outgained any two other Browns combined. That could very well be why they went without a touchdown, and why they’ll be targeting playmakers in April’s draft.
FANTASY IMPACT: Seneca Wallace (16-41-177-0-1, 3-44 rushing) says he wants to be Cleveland’s starting quarterback, but with a 39% completion percentage—and given the ineptitude of Peyton Hillis (10-30) and Montario Hardesty (two carries, -2 yards)—maybe he should take snaps at running back instead. You can also keep wide receiver on the Browns’ wish list, or at least one who can catch; Mohammed Massaquoi (2-16) and Greg Little (donut) averaged just over one yard per target on 14 unproductive looks. With Rashard Mendenhall (8-38, 1-7 receiving) likely done for the year with a knee injury, Redman and John Clay (9-31) will have to carry the ground game. And Ben Roethlisberger (23-40-221) better get healthy—and find a way to get the ball to Mike Wallace (1-11)—or it’ll be a short postseason run for the Steelers.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 7, DENVER BRONCOS 3
There wasn’t much offense to be had, but when Dexter McCluster (12-61-1, 3-25 receiving) broke off a 21-yard touchdown to cap a 90-yard drive that took the better part of the first quarter you didn’t necessarily think there wouldn’t be another touchdown on the afternoon. And actually there wasn’t much offense period from the Chiefs, who mustered just five first downs and seven punts the rest of the way.
You knew the Broncos would run the ball, and Willis McGahee (28-145) didn’t disappoint. But Denver’s only two forays inside the KC 40 resulted in a fumble and a field goal as the rest of the Broncos could come up with just 131 yards of offense to complement McGahee.
FANTASY IMPACT: There was no Tim Tebow (6-22-60-0-1, 6-16 rushing) magic to be had; his red zone fumble cost the Broncos their first scoring shot and his inability to drive Denver down the field left them on the short end of the score—but backing into the playoffs. As you might imagine given the sorry passing numbers there wasn’t a receiver play to be had; Demaryius Thomas (3-34) accounted for a third of the targets, half the catches, and nearly 60 percent of the yardage. Dwayne Bowe (6-93) didn’t dominate the targets as thoroughly for KC, but he was responsible for more than half of the yardage posted by Kyle Orton (15-29-180) in his triumphant return to Denver.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 38, OAKLAND RAIDERS 26
Go ahead, you know you want to ask: where has this Chargers offense been all season? Philip Rivers (19-26-310-3-1) fed Antonio Gates (5-106-1) and Malcom Floyd (7-127-1), Vincent Jackson (1-41 rushing, 2-29-1 receiving) dropped a touchdown but caught another, Mike Tolbert (9-58-1, 1-13 receiving) banged home a score… substitute Curtis Brinkley (16-52 rushing, 3-12 receiving) for the injured Ryan Mathews and this was pretty much what the plan was back in September.
Despite his best efforts, Carson Palmer (28-43-417-2-1) couldn’t give Oakland enough offense to overcome their defense; on the bright side, it saves them a first-round pick. And going forward, if the Raiders can ever keep all their receivers healthy they’ll have quite an arsenal. Even after Denarius Moore (3-101) went down, and with Jacoby Ford (2-19) still not quite 100 percent, the Raiders got production from Darrius Heyward-Bey (9-130-1 on 17 targets) and 99 total yards from Louis Murphy (5-72 plus 1-27 rushing).
FANTASY IMPACT: Michael Bush (19-66, 2-13 receiving) wore down as the season progressed, but he still did enough to possibly earn a franchise tag (depending on how Darren McFadden’s foot checks out in the offseason) or some serious attention in free agency. Then again, franchising a guy who will share carries seems counter-productive for a team that mortgaged its future for a quarterback and has a gaggle of receivers. But hey, it’s the Raiders. The Chargers will also have story lines this offseason, perhaps beginning at the top with Norv Turner. What will a new offense mean in San Diego? Will Jackson be a part of it? Floyd has done enough of late to warrant a shot at WR1 work, but with Gates aging this attack could look extremely different come September.
NEW YORK GIANTS 31, DALLAS COWBOYS 14
Everybody salsa! An early Victor Cruz (6-178-1) touchdown set the tone for the Giants; he also made some key plays late to stave off a late Dallas rally, accounting for more than half of the yardage posted by Eli Manning (24-33-346). Hakeem Nicks (5-76) also made his presence felt, but with Mario Manningham absent from the score sheet backs and tight ends picked up the slack—not just Ahmad Bradshaw (16-57-1 rushing, 3-12-1 receiving) but Bear Pascoe (2-14), Travis Beckum (2-13), and Henry Hynoski (4-31).
Don’t pin this one on Tony Romo (29-37-289-2-1), unless he was supposed to also play cornerback. With a hand that looked like a catcher’s mitt and no running game or offensive line to keep the Giants’ pass rush at bay Romo nonetheless fired bullets; Jason Witten (7-69), Dez Bryant (6-70), and Laurent Robinson (4-61-2) helped, but Miles Austin (2-20 on five targets) was surprisingly quiet. And Felix Jones (11-30, 7-47 receiving) padded his stats late as Romo dinked and dunked the Boys into scoring position, in part because Jones’ 2.7 yards per carry left them trailing on the scoreboard.
FANTASY IMPACT: Have we seen enough from Jones to no longer project him for a full workload? Between his injuries, his struggles, and DeMarco Murray Felix should return to the draft day back burner next August. The receiver situation will have to shake itself out as well; Robinson is great Austin insurance but could find more looks elsewhere, which in turn would help everyone’s fantasy production. The Giants have clearly found a star in Cruz, who heads into the playoffs with the franchise receiving yardage record. If Cruz draws more attention next season, does that make Nicks a sleeper? Are the Giants headed the route of the pass-heavy Cowboys, and if so what does that mean for the futures of Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs (7-16)? All those questions will have to wait until after New York’s postseason run.