Half of your fantasy football league has been ruled out for the season after this week concludes. Hopefully, you are not one of the unfortunate.
It is fantasy crunch time, and we have seen some huge performances of late, even if they are from places we might not have anticipated. We break down the top takeaways in fantasy every Monday morning of the season right here.
Decker rewards patient owners
Sometimes fantasy games are won by the stubborn. Eric Decker's four-touchdown performance at Kansas City is an example of that.
Decker was coming off a mere one catch for five yards at New England in Week 12 before erupting for eight catches for 174 yards and those four touchdowns. He was active in just 63 percent of CBS Sports leagues for it, too, which means Decker owners in over one-third of leagues are cursing their loyalty.
"To be honest, I had a tough month," Decker told Joan Niesen of The Denver Post.
Well, he had quite a December on the month's first day.
Decker continued, via Niesen:
We've got some of the best receivers that you play with, (Wes) Welker and Demaryius. It makes it a little bit easier. I was able to get open on some one-on-one coverage, they threw the ball up, and I was able to get open.
Let this serve as a lesson for the fantasy postseason: You cannot guess which Denver receiver will be the monster any given Sunday. Peyton Manning won't even know until the split-second decision he makes in the pocket.
You have to start them all—including tight end Julius Thomas (ankle), once healthy—and hope for the best.
No flash-in-the-pan Gordon
Calvin Johnson has some company at the top of the wide receivers list. Heck, Josh Gordon now stands alone in one category: He is the only receiver in NFL history with back-to-back 200-plus-yard games, ESPN's Pat McManamon writes.
After going off for 14 catches, 237 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers, Gordon topped it with 10 catches for 261 yards and two touchdowns, including a 95-yarder. Gordon's 498 yards receiving in the past two games and 623 in the past three are both NFL records, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Megatron had set the two-game record earlier this season.
You cannot expect these video-game numbers on a regular basis, even if Gordon has been providing them of late—no matter who is at quarterback. That latter point is important, since the Browns might be down to third-string quarterback Alex Tanney after Brandon Weeden reported concussion symptoms after the game, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Gordon himself had a concussion scare earlier in the game, but he returned.
"I felt fine, nothing wrong with me," Gordon told Cabot. "I wasn't concussed. I tried to come back out there and win the game."
You won't find a fantasy team that benches Gordon during its postseason run now, especially since Gordon has proven he can work with any quarterback.
You smoke a Jeffery?
Not to be outdone, fellow sophomore wide receiver Alshon Jeffery joined Gordon as one of eight players to have two 200-yard receiving games in a single season with his 249-yard day. He also has reset the standard for Bears receivers, besting his own team record for receiving yards in a game, which he originally held earlier this year at 218 yards (Week 5 against the Saints).
"My standard for myself is the sky is the limit," Jeffery told Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. "I want to be the best."
He is arguably the Bears' best. Jeffery now leads Chicago with 1,109 yards on 70 catches. Brandon Marshall has 78 receptions for 990 yards and nine touchdowns.
Marc Trestman marveled to Biggs at Jeffery's 46-yard touchdown Sunday:
He exploded into the air and elevated. That's what we've seen him do. That's what we've been talking about. Guys who have been with us since training camp, we've been talking about his work ethic and his day-to-day preparation.
Jeffery isn't quite a fantasy star on the level of Marshall yet, but he is as much of a must-start fantasy option in crunch time as anyone now.
Manning won't be taking time off
The 37-year-old Peyton Manning has limped through the season at times with ankle issues, but you shouldn't worry about him taking any games off in the season's final weeks. Fantasy owners love to hear that about as much as they like to hear their quarterback is chasing NFL history.
Manning has 41 touchdown passes through 12 games and needs just 10 in the final four to surpass Tom Brady's record of 50. Not only will Manning be motivated to crush the record with a favorable schedule down the stretch (versus Tennessee, versus San Diego, at Houston and at Oakland), but the Broncos are also just a game up on the Pats for home-field advantage through the postseason.
That important privilege does not figure to be decided until the season's final week, especially because the Pats have a manageable remaining schedule as well: versus Cleveland, at Miami, at Baltimore and versus Buffalo.
Expect Manning to remain active, even if his chase for Drew Brees' single-season yardage record (5,476) figures to cool off the next couple of weeks in Denver. Manning is averaging 343.75 yards per game, while Brees' record equated to 342.25 yards per game. It would be nice to see Dan Marino's former passing excellence records combined again, perhaps, but the reality is Denver is likely to feature Knowshon Moreno and rookie Montee Ball in the running game the next couple of weeks.
Worry for worry's sake
If you are looking for something to worry about in fantasy—at least in terms of stars resting for the NFL postseason in the fantasy postseason—you have to root for the Saints on Monday Night Football at Seattle. The Seahawks (10-1) might be the first to clinch their division and would have a decided edge on home-field advantage with a victory over the Saints (9-2).
Ball starts rolling
Denver's Manning owned the day, and Moreno's pregame tears might have stolen hearts, but the rookie backup running back, Ball, has gotten going under the radar. Ball registered a season-high 13 carries and picked up the first 100-yard game of his career (117 yards).
It helps that Moreno has been slowed some by an ankle issue, but the Broncos backs are clearly bucking as hard as the passer and receivers (collectively). Moreno was held to just 18 yards on 15 carries, but he managed to prove fantasy worthy with four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.
If the Broncos do anything down the stretch to keep something in the tank for the NFL postseason, figure it to be using Ball more often in Moreno's stead. An aside: Rookie C.J. Anderson was a healthy inactive, and Ronnie Hillman didn't get a touch Sunday.
Ball should be a busy man against the Titans run defense in Week 14. The Titans have been in the bottom five of fantasy against running backs for most of the season.
Pats, Bears fronts run down, run over
If you like playing matchups in fantasy, you have to take note of what the Pats and Bears have been doing defensively—or what they haven't been doing, actually. They haven't stopped anyone on the ground.
They have the two worst rush defenses in football right now, and they allowed Ben Tate (102 yards and three touchdowns) and Adrian Peterson (211 yards) to have two of the biggest days in fantasy this past week. Next up are Cleveland (for the Pats) and Dallas (for the Bears).
DeMarco Murray is coming off a huge Thanksgiving Day performance, so you have to assume he is going to be active in all leagues anyway, but Willis McGahee might be a sleeper addition in fantasy. McGahee managed 14 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown against the Jags (the league's fourth-worst run defense).
McGahee is available in 80 percent of CBS Sports leagues. The 32-year-old has-been may have one more fantasy-worthy week ahead of him.
Limping Spiller finally comes through
Speaking of suspect run defenses—the Falcons are 30th—C.J. Spiller managed to reward faithful fantasy owners with a season-high 149 yards and a touchdown. That yardage total trumped what he did in all of November (145 yards), in fact.
Spiller isn't 100 percent, but something less than full speed of Spiller is still a must-start option in fantasy.
Jay Skurski of the The Buffalo News reported Spiller needed rest between carries Sunday and was limping at times amid his ankle woes.
"He goes in there and makes the big run and gets nicked up," Marrone told Skurski. "Starts limping a little bit, and gets himself back in there."
Fred Jackson spelled Spiller with 11 carries for 42 yards rushing (with a touchdown) and four catches for 36 yards (and another touchdown). Both backs figure to have a tougher time against a solid Bucs run defense at Tampa Bay, but they are too much of the Bills' offensive game plan week to week to sit in fantasy crunch time.
Speaking of (come)backs: Action, Jackson
The Falcons' Steven Jackson finally got his own show started Sunday, rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. The Falcons' season is over—playoff-speaking—but Jackson's year is just beginning for fantasy owners.
"I saw some promising things," coach Mike Smith told Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I thought we blocked much better. We were able to get Steven to the second level."
Next up for the improving Jackson and the Falcons are the Packers, who were ripped by Reggie Bush for 117 yards on Thanksgiving Day. The Packers are allowing the seventh-most rushing yards per game (125.9) this season.
Jackson looks like a solid start in fantasy...finally.
White finally proves productive
We listed Roddy White as a start here this week, but less than one-fourth (23 percent) of CBS Sports leagues listened, apparently. White pounded the second-worst team in fantasy against wide receivers to the tune of 10 catches for 143 yards Sunday.
Falcons coach Smith told Bradley this still isn't a 100-percent White:
Roddy hasn't been healthy all year. He's not healthy right now. He's fighting through it, but I think he's getting better and getting back into the swing of things. It's very unfortunate Roddy hasn't been able to play at the level he's used to playing. I know it's frustrating for him.
Regardless, White should be considered among the top 25 fantasy receivers going forward. Heck, he is even available in six percent of CBS Sports leagues.
Rodgers owners hoping for Pack victory
If you are an Aaron Rodgers owner, you have to root for Matt Flynn and Co. next Sunday against those Falcons. The Packers need a victory, or two, to get back in the postseason hunt; otherwise, Rodgers (broken collarbone) just might be shut down for the season.
ESPN NFL insider Chris Mortensen reports Rodgers is as unlikely for Sunday against the Falcons as he is the rest of the season—especially if the Packers keep losing. Rodgers' cracked shoulder is no longer painful, and he is beyond the four weeks of healing time, but the question is whether it is healed enough to avoid another break (see Rob Gronkowski's early return from a broken arm a year ago).
Dec. 8 has been the target date for #Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to return. Source now tells me “he’d be lucky” to be able to return this week— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 1, 2013
The Packers will have a decision to make at quarterback this week. It figures to have nothing to do with Rodgers, either. Matt Flynn struggled at Detroit, and Scott Tolzien was seen throwing on the sidelines Thursday, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Silverstein, but Tolzien was never used.
Coach Mike McCarthy said:
I didn't really feel that Matt had a lot of great opportunities. He didn't play clean either. So, it wasn't just one person's problem [Thursday]. They dared us to throw the football [Thursday]. We tried, and they won.
The Falcons have been in the bottom 10 of fantasy most of the season against wide receivers, but Jordy Nelson (two catches for 14 yards), James Jones (three catches for 79 yards) and Jarrett Boykin (shut out) were limited with Flynn under center. You have to be wary of them in fantasy crunch time—at least until the Packers decide to take the risk on using Rodgers.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.