ATLANTA FALCONS 31, BUFFALO BILLS 3
Matt Ryan snapped out of his sophomore slump with 250 yards and three touchdowns against the formerly stout Bills’ secondary. Not surprisingly, Roddy White (8-139-2) was his primary target, though Marty Booker (4-57-1) also got in on the action as well; somewhat surprisingly, Tony Gonzalez (2-17) was an afterthought. With Michael Turner inactive, Jason Snelling (15-68) and Jerious Norwood (13-52) took turns gashing one of the league’s softer run defenses.
Brian Brohm’s first NFL start could hardly be construed as a success. He completed 17 of 29 passes for just 146 yards and threw two picks. As a direct result no Bills receiver topped 43 yards. The running game was even less effective, with Fred Jackson (13-39) getting the bulk of the carries.
FANTASY IMPACT: Terrell Owens (4-39) has never minced words when it comes to his quarterbacks. How excited do you think he’ll be to come back to Buffalo if it’s a three-headed mix of Brohm, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and/or Trent Edwards? Sans Turner the Falcons split the running game almost equally between Snelling and Norwood. Snelling would appear to be the handcuff to have to Turner next year; while not as explosive as Norwood, he’s a better between-the-tackles runner and an underrated pass catcher as well.
CINCINNATI BENGALS 17, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 10
Shouldn’t it have been easier? A home date with the Chiefs, Cedric Benson rushing for 133 yards, Carson Palmer throwing two touchdowns... all the pieces were there. But it took a late Palmer-to-Chad Ochocinco hookup to clinch the AFC North title for Cincinnati. And Larry Johnson (4-11) didn’t get much of a chance to hammer at his former team.
Jamaal Charles saw his six-game scoring streak end, but with 24-102 on the ground against a very good run defense and another 3-22 as a receiver he’s making a solid case for being the Chiefs’ feature back in 2010. Matt Cassel (22-37-180-1-2) rekindled his relationship with Dwayne Bowe, finding his top receiver nine times for 61 yards.
FANTASY IMPACT: The knock on Charles has been that he’s too small to hold up to a full workload. But the only other Chiefs to carry the ball against Cincy were Cassel and punter Dustin Colquitt on a bad snap. Maybe KC looks for an inside guy to pair with him, but Charles still looks like he can handle 20 touches a game. Palmer’s stat line of 17-25-139-2-1 screams “game manager”, but there’s no question Ochocinco (4-31-1) is his go-to guy—even when Laveranues Coles (3-43-1) is the team’s leading receiver.
CLEVELAND BROWNS 23, OAKLAND RAIDERS 9
Where have the Browns been hiding Jerome Harrison? A week after setting the team single-game rushing record, Harrison came back with 148 yards and a touchdown on 39 carries. That accounted for more than half of the team’s offense and was more than enough to subdue the Raiders. More importantly, it allowed the Browns to limit Derek Anderson to just 17 passes, which he turned into eight completions, 121 yards, and a touchdown. Half of Anderson’s production, including the score, went to rookie Mohamed Massaquoi.
The Browns have the 28th-ranked run defense; Oakland has the 31st-ranked passing offense. So it goes without saying that the dysfunctional Raiders handed off to Michael Bush (10-52) and Darren McFadden (7-23) on roughly one-fourth of their offensive snaps while having Charlie Frye throw 45 passes. The 333 yards were nice; the three interceptions were not. Zach Miller, the team’s most reliable target, caught nine balls—more than any two other teammates combined—for 110 yards as the majority of Frye’s yardage went to backs and tight ends.
FANTASY IMPACT: As long as the Man in Black has input on the offense, it won’t make sense. So despite Bush’s five yards per carry, the Raiders didn’t run the ball against one of the league’s worst run defenses. And with multiple backs in the mix—including the force-feeding of first-round bust McFadden—the situation is pure fantasy disaster, with no hint that things will get better. Cleveland, on the other hand, may have their answer for who to give the ball to after Jamal Lewis retires. Of course, Mike Holmgren might have some say in the matter this offseason.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 48, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 10
The Packers actually ran fewer offensive plays than the Seahawks; they just did a whole lot more with them. One problem with the 48 points they put up: too many of them went to guys not in fantasy lineups. Ryan Grant’s 16-97-2 was nice, but Brandon Jackson (5-20-2 on the ground, 3-19-1 as a receiver) stole three touchdowns and Ahman Green (8-29-1) swiped one in garbage time. That means despite 237 yards Aaron Rodgers accounted for just one touchdown—and it didn’t go to Greg Jennings (4-111) or Donald Driver (3-33) or even Jermichael Finley (3-80).
Whatever yardage the Seahawks compiled—Justin Forsett’s 14-70 on the ground, Deion Branch (5-53) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (4-51) through the air, Julius Jones (14-39, 6-51) with a little of both—mattered not with Matt Hasselbeck (19-37-198-1-4) posting a second consecutive four-pick game.
FANTASY IMPACT: John Carlson’s (2-24-1) mini-resurgence came at the right time for fantasy owners as he scored in each of the last three weeks. His slump up until that point will bring down his season numbers, and those who held him from Weeks 2 through 13 with just one TD to show for it might have him pegged as a bust; however, those that rode him to a fantasy title might have a soft spot for him next year on Draft Day. Not much to say about the Packers, who were firing on all cylinders; unfortunately for those who rode Rodgers or his receivers into Championship Week, they picked this particular game to unveil a ground game.
HOUSTON TEXANS 27, MIAMI DOLPHINS 20
The Texans need to work on their second acts. It was just a couple weeks ago that Matt Schaub threw for 300-plus yards in the first half, then added next to nothing after the break. This time around it was a total team effort as Houston rolled to a 27-0 lead behind Schaub’s 286 yards and two touchdowns, then sweated out a Miami comeback that fell just short. Andre Johnson (5-71-1) was Schaub’s favorite target, but Jacoby Jones (2-79-1) turned in a nice catch-and-run and Joel Dreesen (4-65) did a somewhat serviceable Owen Daniels impression.
Dan Marino better check his records; all of a sudden Chad Henne is a throwing machine. The Dolphins aren’t exactly set to throw 55 times, but an early deficit and an injury to Ricky Williams (10-35) forced Henne into that corner and he responded with 322 yards and a touchdown. Lex Hilliard was Miami’s jack-of-all-trades with 3-12-1 on the ground and 9-74-1 as a receiver, though the Dolphins’ other top four pass catchers were all wideouts led by Ted Ginn (5-82).
FANTASY IMPACT: Ronnie Brown likely returns to the Dolphins next year, but Henne’s play has likely relegated the Wildcat back to gimmick status in Miami as well as made the former Wolverine QB a viable fantasy backup. In Houston, a special thanks to Gary Kubiak for going back to Arian Foster (19-97-1) one week after benching him because of a fumble. Raise your hand if Kubiak’s hook hosed your fantasy squad in the semis; now keep your hand raised if you’re never ever going near a Kubiak backfield again. Thought so.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 23, BALTIMORE RAVENS 20
The Steelers didn’t exactly follow a blueprint for beating the Ravens. They didn’t run the ball well (Rashard Mendenhall used a touchdown to salvage a 17-36 outing), they didn’t win the time of possession battle, and Ben Roethlisberger (17-33-259-1-1) completed barely half of his passes. But they hung around long enough for the Ravens to shoot themselves in the foot, aided by solid outings from Santonio Holmes (5-86-1) and Mike Wallace (3-83) and three short field goals from Jeff Reed.
Baltimore inflicted 11 penalties on itself, two of which wiped out touchdowns, and Derrick Mason (7-77) flat-out dropped another score. Even a mammoth effort by Ray Rice (30-141 on the ground, another 14 on a catch) and two unexpected touchdowns from Todd Heap (2-37-2) wasn’t enough to overcome that many mistakes.
FANTASY IMPACT: If you had any doubts about Rice being worthy of a top-five pick next year, let his 130 yards against the Steel Curtain help you decide. What would significantly help is if touchdown vulture Willis McGahee (2-17, plus a TD run that was wiped out by a penalty) isn’t wearing a Ravens uniform next season. Roethlisberger’s passing day put him over the 4,000-yard mark, the first Steeler QB to do so—and officially completing the Steelers’ transition from “defensive team that runs the ball” to “passing team that plays aggressive defense”. Ultimately that might tweak Mendenhall’s fantasy value down just a bit, but it opens the door for Wallace to have value even if he’s locked in as a WR3 behind Holmes and Hines Ward (4-37).
CAROLINA PANTHERS 41, NEW YORK GIANTS 9
Who woulda thunk that DeAngelo Williams was part of the Panthers’ problem? Carolina was without their star back once again, so once again they turned to Matt Moore and Jonathan Stewart. Moore (15-20-171-3) threw three TDs for a second straight week, while Stewart (28-206-1) carried the ground game and narrowly missed a second score when he was pulled down at the one after a 52-yard jaunt. Steve Smith (5-60-1) was the focal point of the passing game once again, but that might change after he suffered a broken arm on his touchdown catch. Hey, he hung on to the ball.
Evidently the Giants though the Meadowlands had already closed, because they really didn’t show up for this one. It didn’t start out that way, as an apparent Steve Smith (7-70-1) touchdown was waved off by a penalty; on the next play Mario Manningham (6-87) fumbled after making a catch across the middle, and the rout was on. As a result Eli Manning (29-43-296-1-2) was forced to throw almost three times as much as he handed off.
FANTASY IMPACT: Brandon Jacobs (6-1) was a non-factor, while Ahmad Bradshaw (11-53) was one of the few bright spots for the Giants. It was supposed to be the other way around heading into the season, but after this season—of which this game was a microcosm—you have to consider Bradshaw the more productive fantasy back and Jacobs the handcuff/afterthought. Carolina may have a decision to make with its backs—not just quarter, where Moore has been efficient enough that Jake Delhomme might not be handed the starting gig in 2010, but also at running; the two-pronged attack of Williams and Stewart might be a luxury that Carolina either can’t afford or a new coach doesn’t want to deal with.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 35, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 7
That one-catch game is a distant memory; this week Randy Moss (4-45-3) hit the trifecta as the Patriots blew up the visiting Jaguars. Tom Brady (23-26-267-4) was spot on, using Moss in the end zone and Wes Welker (13-138) everywhere else. New England also ran the ball 34 times; they started with Laurence Maroney (5-22), but after he fumbled at the goal line the Pats turned to Sammy Morris (12-95-1) and even worked in a little Fred Taylor (11-35) against his former squad.
Not much worked for the Jaguars. Maurice Jones-Drew (18-63 on the ground, 3-35 as a receiver) was the lone bright spot, and with less than 100 yards from scrimmage he wasn’t all that bright. David Garrard provided the only points for the Jaguars on a quarterback scramble; his 19-25-185-0-2 was a typically unproductive road outing for him. And rather than Mike Sims-Walker (2-19) being the target of Garrard’s affection, it was rookie Mike Thomas (6-57) leading the team in receiving.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Jaguars’ passing game has been virtually non-existent on the road; if Jacksonville fancies itself a contender in the AFC South that will need to change, and that change might come at quarterback. After all, MoJo can’t do it all himself. The Patriot’ offense, with a four-headed RBBC and Moss back on board, is firing on all cylinders for the postseason. Fantasy-wise it’s nice to have Moss and Welker back in their roles, but consolidating the ground game would sure be nice. Maybe next year veterans like Morris and Taylor and even Kevin Faulk (6-41) might be out of the picture; then again, the way Belichick values his veterans, that’s not likely.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 20, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 17
The Bucs spotted the Saints a 17-point lead, didn’t reach the end zone until the fourth quarter, and made three unproductive trips into the red zone. That’s not exactly the recipe for a road upset of the top team in the NFC. But Tampa Bay never abandon the run, giving Carnell Williams 24 carries which he turned into 129 yards and a touchdown. And they overcame two picks by Josh Freeman (21-31-271-0-2) to do so. A 77-yard punt return touchdown helped the cause, but not as much as a missed field goal by the Saints at the end of regulation.
Maybe New Orleans let its collective foot off the gas after rolling to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter. Maybe they just played this one not to lose instead of to win. Maybe they got away from the running game after Pierre Thomas (6-60-1) left with bruised ribs; Mike Bell (7-20) and Lynell Hamilton (7-21) were hardly effective in his stead. Drew Brees (32-37-258-1) was efficient, completing at least five passes to five different Saints headed by Marques Colston (8-77) and Robert Meachem (5-66-1), but ultimately Garret Hartley’s missed 37-yarder cost the Saints a chance to seal home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
FANTASY IMPACT: The loss of Thomas six carries into what was promising to be a big game hurt fantasy owners as much as it did the Saints. But perhaps more frustrating was the inability of Bell and Reggie Bush (2-16 rushing, 6-37 receiving) to pick up the slack against one of the softer run defenses in the league. The final kick in the store was Brees failing to capitalize on the opportunity provided to him when New Orleans was made one-dimensional. Aside from the picks, Freeman’s stat line suggests that the Bucs have their QB of the future; the question is, next year who’s he throwing to? Antonio Bryant (5-52) was franchised and not happy about it; Kellen Winslow (4-76) can only do so much, and after that the cupboards are pretty bare.
ARIZONA CARDINALS 31, ST. LOUIS RAMS 10
The Cardinals took advantage of a soft match-up to get everyone on track for the postseason. Kurt Warner (24-38-313-2) fired up the passing game, led by Anquan Boldin (8-116) and Larry Fitzgerald (5-48-1) and joined by a surprise appearance from Steve Breaston (4-64) and Early Doucet (2-43-1). The running game used Tim Hightower (10-32-1) early and closed with Chris Wells (17-68-1) as Arizona rolled up 407 yards in total offense. Yep, they’re playoff ready.
With Steven Jackson inactive, the Rams were left with zero offensive firepower. Keith Null (20-31-171-1-3) managed a touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson (5-51-1), but Chris Ogbonnaya (9-45 rushing, 1-19 receiving) was the only other Ram to muster more than 50 yards from scrimmage.
FANTASY IMPACT: When Jackson was deactivated for this late game, his fantasy owners were left to scramble for a replacement. Kenneth Darby (11-40, 1-6) was the likely solution but Ogbonnaya was more productive; file that information away for next year when you’re looking for Jackson’s handcuff, as that’s the next time any Ram will have fantasy relevancy. The Cardinals managed to get every key member of their offense a fantasy mark: Hightower and Wells got TDs, Boldin topped 100 yards, and Fitz scored Arizona’s first touchdown. About the only player left out of the fun was Breaston, highlighting the risks of banking on a third target even in a potent offense with a cushy match-up.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 20, DETROIT LIONS 6
The Frank Gore Show was on full display; he took 28 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown while also leading the team in receiving with four catches for 81 yards. Against the Lions that was enough, though Alex Smith (20-31-230-1) also worked regulars Michael Crabtree (4-68) and Vernon Davis (3-18-1) into the mix. Auxiliary contributors? No other Niner contributed as much as 40 yards to the effort.
Drew Stanton (11-21-130-0-3) threw three picks before Daunte Culpepper (7-12-51) mopped up. The only Lion anyone cares about, Calvin Johnson, carried twice for 32 yards and added 7-96 as a receiver; that’s all there was, unless Maurice Morris and his 18-37 on the ground and 4-29 as a receiver does anything for you.
FANTASY IMPACT: With Kevin Smith out, Megatron is the only Lion fantasy owners need pay attention to—and with Detroit’s quarterback play hitting rock bottom, even he’s a risky play at best. The hope is that next year Smith and Matthew Stafford will give Johnson some help, but that always seems to be the hope in Motown. The Niners are a hard team to pin down; after switching to the spread and having Smith throw at will, San Fran is now getting Gore more involved—especially at home. Somewhere in between Smith in the shotgun and Gore as the workhorse lies the Niners’ offense; and where that “somewhere” winds up will determine the fantasy value of Gore, Smith, Crabtree, and Davis heading into 2010.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 30, DENVER BRONCOS 27
It was billed as the return of Brian Westbrook (9-32, 2-5), but as per usual Philly was all about the passing game. Donovan McNabb (20-35-322-3-1) choreographed the attack that prominently featured Brent Celek (4-121-1) but also found DeSean Jackson (4-33-1) and Jason Avant (2-25-1) for touchdowns. And Jeremy Maclin (6-92) was certainly not overlooked. The running game, on the other hand, divided 22 carries between Westbrook, LeSean McCoy (6-27) and Leonard Weaver (7-20), but McNabb was just as effective with 29 yards on five carries.
The Broncos abandon the run early on, with Knowshon Moreno (9-18 on the ground, barely salvaged by 3-17-1 as a receiver) ineffective and Correll Buckhalter (5-42) underused. That left Kyle Orton (27-41-189-3-1) to direct a 17-point comeback pinned heavily to Jabar Gaffney (7-69-2) and Brandon Marshall (8-39), but the inability to go deep—a 26-yard completion to Tony Scheffler was Denver’s only passing play of more than 18 yards—made moving the ball an arduous task for the Broncos.
FANTASY IMPACT: It was a tough road match-up for the Broncos, but elite fantasy players need to do more than average five yards a catch like Marshall did. At least Moreno was able to salvage that score, but 35 yards on 12 touches doesn’t provide confidence that the rookie is ready to step up to a feature fantasy role. That the Eagles will use their tight end is a given, and Celek has certainly cemented a place in next year’s top 10 at the position. But the emergence of Maclin in this game opposite Jackson, for the most part shut down by Champ Bailey, bodes extremely well for Philly’s downfield passing game—the rest of 2009 as well as next season.
NEW YORK JETS 29, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 15
The Jets did what they needed to do to keep their playoff hopes alive: they ran the ball extensively, giving Thomas Jones 23-105-1 and Shonn Greene 16-95, and waited for Indy’s backups to hand them the game. A kickoff return TD to open the second half gave the Jets their first touchdown; a Curtis Painter fumble gave them the lead; and Jones’ one-yard plunge cemented the win. Passing game? The Jets barely bothered, with Mark Sanchez (12-19-106) merely staying interception-free to complete his assigned duties.
Those who rode Colts to their fantasy finals had their worst fears realized: with a solid 14-21-192 in the bank Peyton Manning sat down after giving Indy a 15-10 lead, and from that point in the third quarter on the Colts managed just 34 yards and turned the ball over twice. Joseph Addai (6-40-1) got his early, and Donald Brown (15-22-1) was around long enough to get his as well, but aside from Austin Collie’s 6-94 the passing game contributed little.
FANTASY IMPACT: Tough to know how much of Reggie Wayne’s 3-33 was due to Darrelle Revis and how much due to the regulars’ early exit. But with Pierre Garçon inactive, it was Collie who saw his numbers climb; Hank Baskett had just two grabs for 16 yards. The Jets will go as far as their ground game takes them, which is great if you have Jones (or Greene in a keeper league) but lousy if you’re looking for any sort of significant fantasy contribution from Jerricho Cotchery (4-45) or Braylon Edwards (2-18). Dustin Keller (3-19) is pretty much off the board as well, though he did catch a two-point conversion. We’ll need to see significant improvement from Sanchez before Jets pass-catchers can be banked on for fantasy purposes.
DALLAS COWBOYS 17, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 0
Tony Romo (25-38-286-1-1) threw a pick, but aside from that he stayed hot for the month of December. Miles Austin (9-92) and Jason Witten (6-117, including being tackled at the one on a 69-yard completion) did the heavy lifting, while Roy Williams scored a four-yard touchdown on his only catch. In a bit of a wrinkle for the Cowboys, they actually ran the ball on the road; Marion Barber carried 17 times for 63 yards and a score and added in 4-30 as a receiver, while Felix Jones (10-58, 4-27) pushed Dallas over 100 rushing yards.
Santana Moss (8-92) was the only Redskin to contribute more than 29 yards of offense to the woeful effort.
FANTASY IMPACT: Jason Campbell (24-39-199-0-1) may or may not be back at the helm for the Redskins next year; either way, he’ll be operating under yet another new offensive scheme. Whatever talent and potential he has will likely take time to develop as he grapples with the nuances of whatever system he’s playing in next. We’ve seen glimpses, but it’ll take some continuity before we get a full picture—continuity he’s not going to see heading into 2010. The Cowboys have the talent to wear teams down with their running game; they also have the players to burn them with the pass. So long as they don’t fall in love with one end of the spectrum and throw their offense out of balance, they’re not only going to be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs but also a solid source of fantasy helpers—this year and into 2010.