(Originally posted at 4SportBoston.com )
I've never been so in-touch with the NFL season than I have been this year.
Thanks to writing Fantasy Aftermath at end of each and every NFL week, I now walk away with a new-found knowledge of what's going on around the league- as well as two fantasy football championships. I may have lost the championship game in our 4 Sport Boston league, but out of four championship games I played in this past weekend I won half of them, not that shabby.
So for the last Fantasy Aftermath column of the season I want to take a big picture look at the fantasy story lines we'll be talking about. For most players, your fantasy football season is now over (and if it's not I hope you don't own Peyton Manning .)
Reading The Box Scores & Watching The Highlights
The Titan's improbable playoff run realistically ended with their loss to the Colts, but after a blowout from the Chargers, they have a chance to turn an 0-6 start into a 8-8 record they can be proud of. San Diego is secure with the second seed in the AFC playoffs and are getting hot at the right time to possibly make a big post-season push.
Philip Rivers is currently six points behind Tom Brady in fantasy scoring in the 4 Sport Boston league. He's quietly having another great season where he has consistently put up solid numbers week in and week out. His 264 yards/2 TD/0 INT day tells me he is establishing himself as an elite fantasy quarterback for 2010.
Unlike Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson 's stock has fallen this season. He has failed to rush for over 100 yards all year. He is still valuable as a goal-line back, but Darren Sproles has seen his role increased as well. Both backs scored two rushing touchdowns this week.
Vince Young didn't look sharp with two interceptions this past week but he is the current future of the team- not Kerry Collins. It will be interesting to see how the Titans will fare if they let Young start all of 2010. As a fantasy option, he is looking like a solid backup to draft next year.
Chris Johnson is a beast. That's all I need to say. He's rushed for over 100 yards every week since week 6, including 142 yards this past week. He only needs 128 yards next week to go over 2,000 and there is no doubt he'll get it. He'll be drafted first or second next year.
There was no doubt who was going to be the victor in the Brohm vs. Ryan match-up. Matt Ryan poured it on with three passing touchdowns.
Buffalo may not know who their starting quarterback will be next year, but it is shaping up that they know that Fred Jackson is the Bills running back you want. Granted, neither him or Marshawn Lynch performed well enough to be anything but a spot start here or there.
Terrell Owens really only had a two week period where he was fantasy relevant. If he plays next year, he's on the Joey Galloway road to fantasy irrelevance.
Ryan may have looked cold in the second half of the season but his performance this week shows he's still a good second-tier option next year. Roddy White 's 139 yard/2 TD game puts him as a low-end WR1 option after a hot and cold season.
Who out there wants to link Michael Turner 's injury riddled second-half to the curse of 370 ?
Kansas City 10, Cincinnati 17
The Bengals clinch the AFC North title in a close win against Kansas City. A fourth quarter Chad Ochocinco touchdown reception put the Bengals on top.
Jamaal Charles ' strong second half is going to help raise his stock next year as a sneaky pick in the draft. Imagine what he could do if the Chiefs improved their line.
Ochocinco is having a bounce back year but is still a boom or bust receiver. His performance this year merits WR2/WR3 consideration next year. Cedric Benson rushed for 133 yards and is one of the big surprises on this year's Cinderella-Bengals team. Currently the 12th ranked running back in fantasy scoring, he will certainly be a low-end RB1/RB2 pick next year.
NFL Network said it best as Charlie Frye played against his former team when they called it "the least interesting revenge angle ever." His three interceptions reminded Cleveland why they shipped him out after one game in 2007.
Zach Miller caught nine passes for 110 yards- I'll say again how good this kid could be if he actually had a real quarterback under center.
In the big picture he's probably the only player I can talk about on Oakland- it's just a big ol' black hole over there.
Jerome Harrison followed up his 200+ yard game last week with 148 yards this week. He's going to be an interesting sleeper pick next year now that Jamal Lewis is expected to retire. If Cleveland can find a QB, the same sleeper statement can be said of Mohamed Massaquoi .
Much like the Chargers in the AFC, the Packers are the NFC's dark horse favorite to go very deep into the playoffs. They certainly demonstrated their skills against a helpless Seahawks team in Week 16.
I really like Matt Hasselbeck, but his days as both a NFL and fantasy football starter are numbered. I even picked him up this season as a possible spot starter but performances like his four-interception game this week shows me that Seattle needs to find a new quarterback soon. One of the only bright spots on the team could be 24-year old Justin Forsett . It will be an interesting training camp battle between him and Julius Jones for the starting gig next season.
Ryan Grant has gone from consistent in the first half to explosive in the second. 97 yards and two touchdowns this past week makes him a solid pick for next year. However, remember his breakout year in 2007 was followed by a disappointing 2008. What Ryan Grant will we see in 2010?
For a good part of the first half of the season, Donald Driver was the Green Bay receiver you wanted. Greg Jennings has recently reasserted himself as "The Man" the past couple of weeks but I'll go out on a limb and say both receivers are low-end options next year. Aaron Rodgers has really spread the ball around and with big targets like Jermichael Finley , I see that trend continuing.
Houston may have an outside chance to get into the playoffs but a win next week would at least give them a winning record - something they haven't had in their entire team history. Miami also has an outside chance, but hoping for four teams ahead of you to lose is a real long shot.
I look at the Texans on paper and there are fantasy studs all around. Matt Schaub , Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels , the only real problem is the running back situation. Will Steve Slaton get another chance or will the role fall to Arian Foster, Ryan Moats, or Chris Brown ?
Miami has proved themselves to be a great running team, and both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will be great players next year. Their only weak spot would be at receiver, where there are a lot of prospects but no true number one. Keep an eye out on Chad Henne . If he starts next year he could develop to be a serviceable bench player.
Baltimore 20, Pittsburgh 23
In a very messy game full of turnovers and penalties, the Steelers stopped the Ravens from clinching a playoff spot and both teams now have to win next week to get to the post-season (Pittsburgh will also need a lot of help.)
Even though Joe Flacco has had some cold streaks this season, his sophomore year has actually seen a lot of improvement. Ray Rice ran for 141 yards in a breakout year. He is emerging from the three-headed monster in Baltimore and will be a top pick in 2010.
On the other side of the ball, Rashard Mendenhall has also established himself as the Steelers running back that you want. Hines Ward is once again the leading receiver for Pittsburgh but, as with every year, the question grows as to how long it will be until Santonio Holmes takes the top spot.
Carolina 41, New York Giants 9
In the last game in Giants stadium, a must-win game for the Giants to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Panthers spoiled the party as they blew out the New York Football Giants in dominating fashion.
Back-to-back three touchdown games for Matt Moore ? We already know that Jake Delhomme is done as an NFL starter and it is early, but perhaps Moore may be the starting quarterback come 2010.
Two years ago we were cursing DeShaun Foster for taking touches away from DeAngelo Williams . I believe that we can now wonder how many touches Jonathan Stewart will take away from D-Will going into 2010. His 206 rushing yards and touchdown show that he is also very talented. Steve Smith broke his arm in the game (but finished the play first) and is most likely done for the season- not that Carolina had much of a season left this year.
(Editor's note: Patrick greatly under-values this broken arm by Steve Smith. So I am going to go ahead and rock your world with the video of the catch, hit, break, and Smith STILL finishing the play for the touchdown... LANDING on the broken arm!)
(Video in original post at 4SportBoston.com )
(Editor's note: You're welcome.)
Eli Manning has a young but talented receiving crew. We've already seen each of these receivers and what they can do. I think next year they will be even better- and drop less passes.
Jacksonville 7, New England 35
The Jaguars are pretty much finished unless every team in the AFC besides them loses in Week 17. New England finds a bit of their mojo back as Tom Brady connects with Randy Moss for three touchdowns. Just like the good ol' days.
Last year the question was if Joseph Addai could handle the rushing load by himself and the answer was "no." This year the question was if Maurice Jones-Drew could handle the rushing load and the answer was "hell ya". Even though he only rushed for 63 yards against the Pats, he is already having a career year and will be an early first rounder next year. Mike Sims-Walker started to look like the top receiver for the Jags but he's shaping up to be very boom-or-bust.
Now that the Patriots running back staff is at full strength, Laurence Maroney looks to have fallen down on the depth chart. At first we thought that maybe he would still get the nod over Sammy Morris , but an early fumble put him in the dog house as Morris proceeded to break out a long 55-yard run to set-up a rushing touchdown for himself. As much as we'd love to have L-Mo as the man in New England, we are reminded nothing is ever certain in Foxborough.
Tampa Bay 20, New Orleans 17
Did Tampa Bay just win two games in a row? Against the number one seed New Orleans Saints? WHO DAT?... Dat just happened. Luckily for the Saints they still retain the top seed, as we'll cover later.
Josh Freeman didn't look good at all in this win, but regardless he's a candidate to become the starter as of next year. After all the talk of Derrick Ward taking over the rushing duties early this year, Cadillac Williams has been the lead rusher and ran for 129 yards this past week. Still he's nothing but a fantasy bench player at best.
On the Saints side of the ball, we know that Drew Brees is a stud. We also knew that more likely than not, Pierre Thomas is the guy you want over Mike Bell (even though Bell will have some goal-line value.) The big question heading into next year is how to value all of those Saints receivers.
St. Louis 10, Arizona 31
For the team that went to the Super Bowl last year, Arizona is bettering their case to return as they improve to 10-5. However, St. Louis is already on the clock for the 2010 draft.
Steven Jackson sat out this game and probably cost me one of the two championship games I lost. Besides him there's not really much to talk about when it comes to the future of the Rams.
Beanie Wells looked good with 68 yards and a score. Even though Tim Hightower has had value this year- next year maybe the changing of the guard for the two running backs.
Larry Fitzgerald already has 12 touchdowns for the season- no need to analyze his future for next season. I still like Anquan Boldin however as a top end WR2.
Detroit 6, San Francisco 20
San Francisco went out and beat the Detroit Lions, not that wasn't a hard task to accomplish. Both teams have seen a lot of improvement: Detroit finally won a game and if the 49ers win this week, they can avoid yet another 7-9 year.
I'll still stand by the foundation Detroit is building. Matt Stafford and Kevin Smith are injured, but when healthy they are both competent talents. Calvin Johnson has had a disappointing season compared to last year but 96 receiving yards this week shows us that he's still an elite receiver.
Alex Smith is back in charge and should be the starting quarterback next season. Frank Gore continues to be a monster with 152 combined yards for the week. Michael Crabtree is sure to be a sleeper pick next year but still won't be anything more than a WR3.
Denver 27, Philadelphia 30
Another game that goes down to the wire. Philadelphia squeaks out the win as Denver is now left hoping for a playoff berth next week. The Eagles are already locked in and will play for the NFC East title next week against the Cowboys.
Kyle Orton has proved to be a serviceable quarterback for the Broncos and I see him as a solid QB2 next year. At first we weren't sure if Brandon Marshall was going to get his share of the catches, but he has strung together a few streaks where he's been great. I put him as another solid WR1.
Brian Westbrook returned to getting the majority of touches but his sun has already set. LeSean McCoy is the future for the Eagles but he hasn't put up the elite numbers that Westbrook used to. DeSean Jackson has become the definition of a big play-maker, unfortunately that also means if he doesn't make the big play, you are usually stuck with nothing.
New York Jets 29, Indianapolis 15
The Jets spoil the Colts' perfect season and actually have a chance to clinch a playoff berth next week despite the big mouth of Rex Ryan .
I think Mark Sanchez had an OK start to his NFL career. His hot start followed by a cold streak didn't do well for his big New York market fans. Braylon Edwards was an interesting add to the team this season, but so far it's the same Braylon, different uniform.
Thomas Jones continues to run well but we must always ask how long can this last? Will a 32 year old Jones be busting out 100-yard games next year?
No need to look at the Colts future outlook. The team is full of studs at most every position. However, most of these stars sat out the second half of the game and I can imagine how many people will question Jim Caldwell's decision to sit his starters and sacrifice perfection. Would they have won the game had Peyton Manning and company played the entire game? What will happen if the Colts still lose in the playoffs at the cost of a perfect season?
(Editor's note: Colts fans are seriously letting Caldwell know how they feel about it as you can see here .)
I would argue that if Manning was getting roughed up they should take him out, but he wasn't sacked once during the game. You could argue sitting out the last game but the last two games, and with the current game not in hand? If Manning was in a position to get hurt, I'd say sit him, but given there was still a game to play, I would of kept Manning in.
But I'm not too disappointed. I mean, at least the 2007 Pats record is still intact.
Dallas 17, Washington 0
With nothing to play for, the Redskins rolled over to the Cowboys, who are back in the playoffs despite a rough December.
The traditional December swoon for the Cowboys can't be blamed on Tony Romo, who continues to be a solid quarterback option with new found Miles Austin to throw to. Marion Barber looked good with 63 yards and a score but next year we'll all have to take a hard look at the three-headed monster in Dallas. Right now you have to rank 'em Barber, Felix Jones, then Tashard Choice .
The Redskins are in trouble. Clinton Portis is looking old and fragile, Santana Moss was never a WR1, and Jason Campbell might not return to the team despite putting up some OK numbers. Chris Cooley was looking good too until he broke his ankle. If Campbell doesn't return this team could get real bad, real fast. Wait, they are already there.
The Bears were in charge of this game until the Vikings came back to send the game into overtime. But Jay Cutler 's touchdown pass to Devin Aromashodu won it for Chicago.
Brett Favre certainly made a second half splash as a fantasy quarterback. Before I even try and project him for next season we should actually make sure he's still playing... oh what the hell, we know he's going to come back, right?
Adrian Peterson ran for 94 yards and two touchdowns- however next season he might be selected number two overall to Chris Johnson. On the receiving end, there's lots of exciting talent including Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin. Expect both players to be solid WR2 players.
Cutler threw four touchdowns in last night's game, showing Chicago why they traded for him. However, it's too little - too late as Cutler's poor performance throughout the rest of the season have people wondering if they made the right call to trade for him after all. The Bears are full of fantasy disappointments from Cutler to Matt Forte .