BUFFALO BILLS 30, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 7
If this was an audition for starting jobs next year, consider Fred Jackson Buffalo’s RB1 heading into 2010; he carried 33 times for 212 yards, while Marshawn Lynch touched the ball twice. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s audition didn’t go too poorly, either, as he completed 16 of 25 passes for 155 yards and three touchdowns—one to Jackson (2-15-1 as a receiver) and one each to Terrell Owens (4-65-1) and Lee Evans (4-49-1).
All you need to know about the difference between Peyton Manning and Curtis Painter can be summed up in their stat lines: Manning played roughly a quarter and completed 14 of 18 passes for 95 yards; Painter played the remainder of the game and completed four of 17 passes for 39 yards. Though they didn’t stick around very long, Dallas Clark (7-52) and Reggie Wayne (5-21) paced the receiving corps.
FANTASY IMPACT: There’s little if anything that can be taken away from this game from the Indy side, other than Jacob Tamme (1-21) is a serviceable backup tight end when Clark is out of the game and both Tom Santi and Gijon Robinson are hurt. For Buffalo, it remains to be seen who’ll be calling the shots in 2010, but it certainly appears as if Lynch isn’t in the team’s plans while Jackson is. Whether Owens wants to stick around given the level of quarterback play, however, remains to be seen.
CAROLINA PANTHERS 23, NEW ORLEANS 10
Jonathan Stewart took it to the Saints early with a 67-yard touchdown run, finishing the day with 125 yards on 16 carries. And he even ceded 20 carries to Mike Goodson and Brad Hoover; otherwise with DeAngelo Williams hurt again Stewart would have been a real fantasy monster. The passing game missed Steve Smith, though Matt Moore (14-23-162-1) completed the vast majority of his passes to wideouts Muhsin Muhammad (7-85) and Dwayne Jarrett (5-68-1).
The Saints didn’t even show up for this one; guys you’ve actually heard of accounted for just 94 yards from scrimmage, though that doesn’t include RB4 Lynell Hamilton, whose 10-48-1 on the ground and 3-38 as a receiver was more than twice what any other Saint put up. Drew Brees secured the NFL single-season completion percentage record by sitting out, though even down a game he had more attempts and completions than any of the top three on the list.
FANTASY IMPACT: New Orleans doesn’t exactly enter the postseason on a roll, and it will be two weeks before Brees has a chance to get back on the same page with his wideouts. Mark Brunell (15-29-102-0-1) completed just four passes to wide receivers, totaling just 33 yards, so they’ll be just as rusty as their QB1. The Panthers have a decision to make this offseason regarding their two-headed backfield. They’re set up to run the ball, but the success of Williams and Stewart might make such a star-studded backfield too pricey to afford.
CLEVELAND BROWNS 23, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 17
The Browns have found their recipe for success: 48 rushing attempts and just 11 throws. Then it doesn’t matter whether it’s Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson (7-11-86-0-1), who still managed to throw a pick despite the reduced attempts. Jerome Harrison (33-127-1) stated his case to be Jamal Lewis’ successor as the Browns’ feature back in 2010, but Chris Jennings (9-38) proved he could be a change of pace guy and Josh Cribbs (6-47-1) once again demonstrated that he’s the most electric player on the roster.
On the bright side, David Garrard (22-39-202-2-1) doubled his passing TD total from his previous seven road games this year, in the process putting Mike Thomas (7-65) and backup tight end Zach Miller (8-69-2) on the radar for next season. On the down side, Maurice Jones-Drew was ordinary against a soft run defense with 82 yards on 16 carries; he also left briefly with an injury, though he did return to action.
FANTASY IMPACT: There’s little question Jacksonville’s offense will revolve around MoJo next year, but plenty of other spots remain to be filled. Miller capitalized on Marcedes Lewis’ absence with a strong showing, while Thomas has enjoyed a solid finish to his rookie campaign and could wind up as a Percy Harvin-like complement to Tim Tebow if the Jaguars go that route in the draft. Mike Holmgren’s impact on Cleveland’s offense this offseason will be interesting, to say the least. In this game the Browns completed just one pass to a wide receiver; while throws to the tight ends and backs are a staple of Holmgren’s beloved West Coast offense, they’ll need to involve outside guys like Mohamed Massaquoi (1-14) to a much greater extent.
HOUSTON TEXANS 34, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 27
Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson had been almost single-handedly keeping the Texans’ playoff hopes alive, and this week they got some help. Schaub (24-39-303-2-1) was still at the center of the proceedings, and Johnson (6-65) contributed as well, but Joel Dreessen shed the dropsies and filled Owen Daniels’ void with 6-81-1 and Jacoby Jones complemented Johnson with 5-65-1. And since he didn’t fumble, Arian Foster stayed in the game long enough to roll up 20-119-2 on the ground and another 3-26 as a receiver.
Not that anyone can ever figure out what Bill Belichick is thinking, but his use of his regulars here was curious. Tom Brady (17-26-186-0-1) played most of the first half, even after Wes Welker (1-12) went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, and Randy Moss (5-75) stuck around as well. Brian Hoyer (8-12-71) finished up the first half, but Brady opened the second and stuck around until the Texans went ahead—at which point Belichick went back to Hoyer.
FANTASY IMPACT: Early indications are the dreaded ACL/MCL tear for Welker, making it unlikely he’ll be ready for the start of the 2010 season. Astute PPR leaguers will elevate Julian Edelman (10-103) up their offseason draft boards, as he does a pretty good Welker impersonation in the New England offense. While trusting a Gary Kubiak backfield is setting yourself up for heartbreak, there’s the intriguing possibility of a Foster/Steve Slaton tandem in Houston next year with Foster working between the tackles and Slaton handling outside work and third-down duties. Both are capable of shouldering a full workload as well, but both also lost touches because of ball control issues this year.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS 44, NEW YORK GIANTS 7
After three losses in four games the Vikings wanted to get back to basics, get Adrian Peterson and the ground game going again, and get ready for the playoffs. So Peterson carried nine times for 54 yards and a TD while Brett Favre threw 31 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns. Hey, whatever works. Favre flashed plenty of what helped make Sidney Rice a Pro Bowler, hitting him six times for 112 yards and two scores; he also reconnected with Visanthe Shiancoe (7-94-1 plus a drop in the end zone) and Percy Harvin (7-59 and a touchdown called back on a phantom offensive pass interference call).
There was no bright spot to be found as the Giants’ offense didn’t show up until Danny Ware scored on a one-yard run in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 37. Oh, and ageless Jeff Feagles punted well.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Giants’ biggest question entering the 2009 season was who would be their go-to receiver; if Steve Smith hadn’t answered that question yet, his 10-57—accounting for half of the team’s receptions—should put the issue to bed. Consider Week 17 a microcosm of the Vikings’ season—at least, the good parts—and more specifically Peterson’s year. He averaged six yards a carry and scored a TD, but all four of Favre’s TD tosses came from the 12-yard-line and in so there could have been more; he carried nine times, but Favre threw 31 passes so there could have been more.
ATLANTA FALCONS 20, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 10
This one lacked star power, with nothing on the line and Michael Turner sitting out with an ankle injury. But the Falcons can certainly build on Matt Ryan’s strong showing; he completed 23 of 35 passes for 223 yards and two TDs, though his two picks kept the Bucs interested. Roddy White (6-66-1) was the primary target, but Michael Jenkins (4-45) appeared on the radar as well.
The Buccaneers would have liked Josh Freeman to head into the offseason on a bit more positive note than 16-32-174-1-2 he closed his rookie campaign with, especially when the picks came on consecutive possessions with the score tied at 10. However, he directed the Bucs to all three of their wins and threw 10 TDs on the year.
FANTASY IMPACT: The rule of thumb is that young quarterbacks like to lean on their tight ends, and Kellen Winslow’s 5-56 certainly provide evidence of that point. But with Antonio Bryant (2-15-1) playing under the franchise tag this year, it remains to be seen who else Freeman has to throw to. Speaking of tight ends, Tony Gonzalez (3-30) lost out on another touchdown when Justin Peelle (3-38-1) scored in the second quarter. Gonzo can no longer be relied on as a scorer—blame it more on Turner than on Peelle—but he’s still a consistent target capable of helping in TE-mandatory and PPR/performance leagues.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 28, ST. LOUIS RAMS 6
The Niners arrived late to the stadium, showing up at some point in the third quarter to ensure the Rams locked down the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. After Moran Norris (3-5-1) vultured the first score, Alex Smith (17-28-222-1) hit favorite target Vernon Davis (6-89-1) for a 73-yard touchdown—at which point Frank Gore took over, sealing the win with two touchdowns to cap a 23-carry, 107-yard day.
Kudos to Steven Jackson’s professionalism for showing up despite a dreadful supporting cast, despite a painful back injury, despite a decided lack of anything else offensively. Jackson carried 20 times for 63 yards, providing more offense than any three other Rams combined.
FANTASY IMPACT: The smart move in St. Louis would be to take Ndamukong Suh with that top pick, but there are distinct needs on the offense as well. Though it’s been tough to tell, in Laurent Robinson and Donnie Avery (2-23) they may actually be alright at wide receiver, but Keith Null (7-17-57) and Kyle Boller (4-11-23) aren’t any closer to the answer at quarterback than Marc Bulger is. While much of the Niners’ passing game success can be pinned directly to Davis, Michael Crabtree (3-58) put together a decent half-season and brings plenty of upside to 2010. Josh Morgan (2-27) hasn’t been bad, either, and won’t have to worry about ceding looks to Isaac Bruce next year.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 30, MIAMI DOLPHINS 24
The Steelers relied on their passing game to extend their playoff hopes a little bit longer, with Ben Roethlisberger (18-27-220-3) spreading the ball around beyond the usual suspects. Santonio Holmes (1-5-1) salvaged his afternoon with a score, while Hines Ward (8-61) was more quantity than quality. But it was rookie Mike Wallace (2-64-1) scoring on a 54-yard hook-up and Heath Miller (5-56-1) finding the end zone as well that put Pittsburgh’s points on the board. Not that the running game was absent; Rashard Mendenhall (20-94) and Willie Parker (12-91) combined for 185 yards on the ground, though neither was able to cross the stripe.
Miami was forced to go through three quarterbacks in a game where they couldn’t squeeze anything more than 12-31 out of a banged-up Ricky Williams. Chad Henne (16-20-140-1-1) left at halftime with an eye injury, and Pat White was knocked out late in the third quarter on a helmet-to-helmet collision. Enter Tyler Thigpen (4-8-83-1-2), who directed a pair of scoring drives but ended the final two possessions with picks. The receptions were almost as spread out as the pass attempts; Davonne Bess (5-85-1) was the only Dolphin with more than three catches or 41 yards.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Dolphins entered the season as deep as anyone at running back, but that might not be the case in 2010. Will Ricky come back? Will Ronnie Brown be at 100 percent? On a team that takes the quantity over quality approach at just about every other offensive position, it will be tough to justify clearing space for another back who could carry the load in a pinch; on the other hand they can’t go into next year hoping to get 20 productive touches a game out of Lex Hilliard. Pittsburgh demonstrated as balanced an attack as they had shown all year, but that might not be the blueprint for 2010. Parker is unlikely to return, and unless the Steelers find another back to pair with Mendenhall they’ll be every bit as pass-heavy as they’ve been this season. That’s good news, fantasy-wise, for the receivers and Big Ben—assuming they do a better job of protecting him.
CHICAGO BEARS 37, DETROIT LIONS 23
It could have been a long offseason with no pick until the third round had Jay Cutler not started playing like he was worth the Bears’ investment. Cutler followed up last week’s win over Minnesota with a second four-TD effort, but perhaps more importantly there were zero picks among his 22-36-276 showing. The return of Devin Hester (3-75) certainly helped, but Cutler also relied heavily on old favorite Greg Olsen (5-94-1) and new favorite Devin Aromashodu (5-46-2). Lost in the shuffle was Matt Forte’s 16-101, though Khalil Bell’s 11-44 reinforced that the ground game’s success had more to do with the soft opponent than anything else.
Bright spots: Calvin Johnson’s 6-86-1 as Daunte Culpepper’s primary target; Maurice Morris with 106 yards from scrimmage; and Culpepper (23-34-262-2-1) showing he could still be serviceable in relief of Matthew Stafford.
FANTASY IMPACT: Depending on Kevin Smith’s status heading into 2010, the Lions would appear to have the bulk of their skill position needs filled—though the jury is certainly still out on whether or not Bryant Johnson (4-42-1) is the answer at WR2. In other words, don’t look for a major fantasy impact from Detroit’s second overall pick. It’s tough to see the Bears making much noise in the offseason, but if they roll into 2010 the way they finished 2009 they’re in pretty good shape. Some offensive line help would be nice, as the Forte-led ground game won’t do much against quality opponents without it, but in Hester, Aromashodu, Earl Bennett (3-27) and Johnny Knox the Bears seem deep at a receiver position that looked anything but at the start of the year.
DALLAS COWBOYS 24, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
The Cowboys carried over their December success into the new year with a balanced attack that Philly had no answer for. Marion Barber (14-91) and Felix Jones (15-91-1) rolled on the ground, while Tony Romo completed 24 of 34 passes for 311 yards and two TDs to overcome an early interception. The usual suspects—Miles Austin (7-90), Jason Witten (6-76-1)—were heavily involved, and Patrick Crayton picked up any remaining slack with 4-99-1.
Philly wouldn’t (seven attempts) and couldn’t (23 yards) run the ball, and while Donovan McNabb’s 20-36-223 didn’t look all that bad it was the result of a 20-minute deficit in time of possession and a mere 10 first downs on the afternoon. Brent Celek (7-96) was the only receiver with more than 47 yards.
FANTASY IMPACT: We’ve seen nothing from Brian Westbrook (5-17, 4-20) since his return to action to suggest that he’s anything close to the one-time fantasy stud. And the Eagles haven’t given LeSean McCoy (1-4, 2-5) much of a chance to fill his shoes. The Cowboys are dangerous when Romo is firing, but they’re devastating when he’s complemented by the one-two punch of a running game—and dominant when getting big plays from everybody involved, as they did this week with five different Cowboys producing a play of 25 yards or more. Continued success into the playoffs will likely push Barber and Jones up on the 2010 fantasy radar; whether they can live up to that value next year is another story.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 33, ARIZONA CARDINALS 7
The Packers had nothing to play for, except perhaps to plant seeds of doubt in the Cardinals’ collective mind, but it was clear from the start they were firing on cylinders that Arizona wasn’t using. Aaron Rodgers (21-26-235-1 along with a rushing score) stuck around for most of the game, but left 24 yards shy of breaking Lynn Dickey’s club record for passing yards in a season. Donald Driver (6-65) was his target of choice, but he went to Jermichael Finley (4-34-1) in the end zone and hooked up on a 51-yard bomb with Jordy Nelson as well. Ryan Grant (11-51-1) handled the ground game early on and Ahman Green (12-42) mopped up.
With the Vikings removing any hopes of Arizona moving up in the seedings the Cards seemed to lack direction and motivation. Kurt Warner completed four of six passes but just for 31 yards before giving way to Matt Leinart (13-21-96-0-2), who looked awful. The running game mounted no threat against the Packers, and after seeing Anquan Boldin (3-38) limp off early on it’s puzzling why Larry Fitzgerald (3-17-1) was still on the field in the fourth quarter to catch a touchdown pass from Brian St. Pierre (2-4-12-1-1).
FANTASY IMPACT: This was such a disjointed effort by the Cardinals that there’s little to take away from it fantasy-wise, other than Fitz is the goal line option of choice. On the Packers’ side, another touchdown from Finley might solidify him as Green Bay’s goal line alternative. That might bite into Grant’s fantasy value in 2010 but it most certainly positions Finley in the top 10 tight ends at minimum.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 44, DENVER BRONCOS 24
In retrospect, maybe the Broncos wish Robert Ayers hadn’t body-slammed Jamaal Charles after the whistle; from that point on Charles (25-259-2) rushed for well over 160 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs outscored Denver 34-14. With two defensive scores and Charles’ dominating performance KC didn’t need much from Matt Cassel—and they didn’t get much, either, as Cassel completed 13 of 24 passes for 207 yards and an INT. Curiously, it was Chris Chambers (5-80) and not Dwayne Bowe (1-6) who got most of the love from Cassel—though Champ Bailey might have had something to do with that as well.
Sans Brandon Marshall, Kyle Orton turned to... Jabar Gaffney? The journeyman wideout caught 14 balls for 213 yards, comprising almost half of Orton’s 32 completions and 431 yards. With that many passing yards even the likes of Brandon Lloyd (4-95) and Brandon Stokley (5-43-1) made contributions. And with Orton throwing 56 times there weren’t many chances for Knowshon Moreno to get going—though his 14-50-2 on the ground and 3-48 as a receiver was nothing to sneeze at.
FANTASY IMPACT: Maybe Josh McDaniels was trying to prove that it’s his system and not Marshall’s talent that puts up big numbers? Whatever the Broncos’ plan of attack, throwing two pick-sixes and not taking advantage of Moreno and Correll Buckhalter (6-18) against the Chiefs—at home, no less—was curious at best and arrogant at worst. By virtue of his franchise single-game record rushing performance Charles went over the 1,000-yard mark even though he didn’t take over as the team’s feature back until Week 10. At best he’s a poor man’s Chris Johnson, with speed to take any carry the distance and a surprising amount of durability for such a smallish frame. Does that elevate him into RB1 territory heading into 2010? He’ll certainly be a hot topic of debate in the offseason—especially if the Chiefs don’t pursue another back via the draft or free agency.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 21, OAKLAND RAIDERS 13
The expectation here was that the Ravens would run all over Oakland, leading to a big game for Ray Rice—and the expectation was half right, as Baltimore backs carried 31 times for 242 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately for those banking on Rice, he settled for 70 yards on 14 carries (and another 19 on four catches) while Willis McGahee did all the heavy lifting with 16 carries for 167 yards and three touchdowns. As a result Joe Flacco only had to throw 19 passes (completing 11 for 102 yards), with no Ravens receiver collecting more than Todd Heap’s 40 yards.
Oakland strayed from what’s worked, splitting 39 pass attempts between Charlie Frye (18-25-180-1) and JaMarcus Russell (9-14-102-0-1) and running the ball just 17 times for 44 yards. As a result Chaz Schilens (8-99) had a career day, Zach Miller (7-38-1) found the end zone, and both Johnnie Lee Higgins (4-71) and Louis Murphy (6-59) put up serviceable performance-league numbers. But yet again the leading point producer in silver and black was Sebastian Janikowski with a PAT and a couple of field goals.
FANTASY IMPACT: Even with Justin Fargas out, the tandem of Darren McFadden (5-9) and Michael Bush (10-18) mounted nothing on the ground. It’s tough enough picking a horse in the Oakland backfield even when they’re committing to the run; when they’re splitting limited carries and production, it renders the one small fantasy highlight on the Raiders absolutely useless. Despite Rice’s strong showing this season, if McGahee returns to Baltimore it will be difficult to rank Ray as a top 10 back. McGahee not only took 14 touchdowns off his plate, he also turned what was supposed to be a goal line role into double-digit touches on five occasions. That’s five games in which your supposed RB1 saw his potential production slashed.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 23, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 20
The Bolts had nothing to play for, but they got Philip Rivers (9-15-99-1) a little work before dusting off Billy Volek (19-30-216-1-1) at home against the Redskins. The running game did little, with LaDainian Tomlinson (2-1, 2-17) and Darren Sproles (2-18) combining for just six touches; Michael Bennett (11-28, 4-62) saw most of the action. And with Vincent Jackson sitting out and Antonio Gates (1-12-1) limited to only one catch, San Diego needed someone to step up; instead, they got strong showings from both Malcolm Floyd (9-140) and Craig Davis (6-52).
Down 13-0 to the San Diego regulars, Washington rallied against the backups primarily on the arm of Jason Campbell, whose 28-42-281-2 was a strong audition for either the Redskins’ new coach or a new team in 2010. Malcolm Kelly (5-109) led the way, but Campbell’s TDs went to tight ends—not Fred Davis (6-46), but instead Todd Yoder (1-2-1) and Mike Sellers (3-12-1).
FANTASY IMPACT: It’s unclear how much of the Redskins’ offense will be retained under what is expected to be a new regime. But it’s clear there will be changes at running back. Maybe it will be Clinton Portis reunited with Mike Shanahan, or maybe a free agent or draft pick, but it won’t be Quinton Ganther (12-27, 1-7), Marcus Mason (6-26, 1-7), or Rock Cartwright (1-3, 1-19). San Diego’s ground game may need rejuvenation as well. LT is a shell of his former self, Sproles has shown no indication he can be an every-down back, and Bennett’s 2.5 yards per carry Sunday was hardly a resume-booster.
TENNESSEE TITANS 17, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 13
There was little question what Tennessee’s game plan was: get Chris Johnson to 2,000 yards. After reaching that milestone and then some only to see it come back on a holding penalty that only Eric Dickerson could appreciate, Johnson worked his way back to 2K on the tail end of his 36-134-2 afternoon. Mix in 3-20 receiving and Johnson also bested Marshall Faulk’s single-season mark for yards from scrimmage. The rest of the Titans did little, with only Nate Washington (6-83) contributing more than 40 yards.
The Seahawks put up a little bit of a fight, getting solid contributions from Justin Forsett (10-74 on the ground, 2-14 as a receiver) and Julius Jones (14-61, 1-3). Matt Hasselbeck’s contribution—15-30-175-1-1—wasn’t quite as nice, though he did help Deion Branch (4-77) have a decent day, John Carlson (2-14-1) find the end zone for a fourth straight week, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (3-66) live up to a fraction of his free agent contract.
FANTASY IMPACT: Depending on how extensively the Seahawks revamp their front office in the offseason, they may believe they already have the skill position players in place—in which case they’ll continue rebuilding their offensive line. If Greg Knapp stays expect the two-headed backfield to remain as well; if he goes, all bets are off as it will mean an entirely new offensive system. There’s no such question in Tennessee; the offense will revolve around Johnson, with LenDale White (1-1) likely allowed to leave via free agency. Vince Young (17-28-171-0-1) has a solid set of receivers; now he just needs to hone that Uncle Rico-like delivery for accuracy.
NEW YORK JETS 37, CINCINNATI BENGALS 0
Blueprint: followed. The Jets set a team record for rushing yardage without benefit of a 100-yard performer, getting 92 and a TD on four carries from Wildcat quarterback Brad Smith as well as 27-78-2 from Thomas Jones and 13-62 from Shonn Greene. Even Jerricho Cotchery’s primary contribution came not as part of his 5-39 receiving day but rather on a six-yard backwards toss from Sanchez that went in the books as a touchdown run.
Playing without Cedric Benson for all of the game and Chad Ochocinco for most of it, the Bengals mustered all of 72 total yards of offense. Larry Johnson (9-38) contributed the most, but it was clear that after a couple of fruitless early series the Bengals were in Operation Shutdown. Ochocinco’s battle with shutdown corner Darrell Revis never materialized; Carson Palmer completed just one of 11 passes, and after tweaking his leg in warmups Ochocinco left the game early on—catchless, ending a streak of 120 consecutive games with a catch
FANTASY IMPACT: How good is Benson? We’ll find out this week as he faces the league’s top run defense in the Jets. After facing down such daunting tasks as the Vikings, Packers, Ravens, and Steelers already this season, scoring on the Jets would solidify his standing as an elite back heading into the 2010 fantasy campaign. This game crystalizes the Jets’ blueprint going forward; they would love to win games by 30-plus points while Mark Sanchez is only required to throw 16 times for 63 yards and no scores. Keep that in mind when ranking Cotchery and Braylon Edwards (2-15) next season—as well as Jones and Greene and even Leon Washington.