You can't help but love a week where the top two candidates for Coach of the Year nearly start swinging on each other, featuring plenty of odds and ends including a fantasy buzz-kill defensive battle between the Patriots and Cowboys.
1. The Madden Curse is Real Award: Peyton Hillis. Like so many that have come before him: Eddie George, Daunte Culpepper, Shaun Alexander, Michael Vick, Vince Young, etc., the Browns running back has become another victim. If it wasn't ineffectiveness, strep throat or now a hamstring, there's been no shortage of frustrations for Hillis owners. At this point, he's barely startable and only as a low-rate flex option -- if he's even healthy enough to play. With the exception of a two-TD outburst in Week 2, Hillis hasn't even been on the fantasy radar and hasn't sniffed the 100-yard mark. At this point he's the early front-runner for RB bust of the year.
2. The "He Isn't A Cyborg After All" Award: Cam Newton, whose fantasy impact has been as big as ... think the asteroid movie with Morgan Freeman as president. Until now, it was only thought that monsoons (see Week 3) were enough to shut him down. Newton, who has been scoring by the bushel and generally playing like Vick should be (though I'm one of the few keeping the faith in ol' No. 7), had turnovers derail his day. Newton still registered a TD run, further hammering home the point that any Panthers RB is nearly worthless thanks to him being a 6-foot-5 goal line back. But the point is, that he put up human numbers -- which for anyone who doesn't own him will tell you, was nice to see for a change.
2A. Runner-up: Calvin Johnson. Johnson didn't even have one red zone target and still tallied well over 100 yards, so the jury is still out if he's been sent from the future by Skynet. But the touchdown streak of five straight games was snapped, courtesy of a relentless 49ers pass rush that gave Matthew Stafford what could only be described a week ago as "The Jay Cutler Treatment."
3. The Antonio Gates Award: Jimmy Graham. The Saints tight end has to be the best in fantasy and in the real game right now, posting his fourth straight 100-yard or more game. Graham has been Gates-ian with monster production as he's become the weekly No. 1 target for Drew Brees. Meanwhile, receivers Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, etc. fight over second-hand target scraps while taking turns at complementary big games every couple weeks. Graham is so good, he should be starting in non-tight end required, six-team leagues everywhere as a receiver. For a fantasy tight end, there is no higher compliment.
4. The Welcome Back Award: Rashard Mendenhall, who for the first time all season played up to his preseason top 10 draft stock with 146 yards. Sure, he missed a week due to injury, but he had been nearly nonexistent until Sunday, when he more than doubled his previous yardage high (66) and added his third rushing TD of the year. The Steelers have been misfiring on offense much of the year (with the exception of Big Ben's 5-TD game) but a productive Mendenhall looks like the key. On Sunday, the Steelers head to Arizona, which couldn't be better for Mendenhall, who has to be the must-start of the week.
5. The Missing In Action Award: Roddy White, who, if he were a stock, would be Netflix. White's plummeting value and barely-there production could be a result of Julio Jones' development, Tony Gonalez's rebirth or Matt Ryan's inconsistent production (Ryan may be the Troy Aikman of this generation -- good in real life but bad for fantasy). But Jones didn't play yesterday and Gonzalez hardly shined. White, an annual top-four WR, has been horrible. He's averaging 58 yards per game and has two scores. No matter how good Michael Turner has been as the offensive focus has turned to the running attack (5 TDs in the last three weeks), White grabbing two passes for 21 yards against the Panthers is a statistical atrocity.
6. The Mr. Underrated Award: Frank Gore. Sure, many of us are biding our time until his next injury, but let's enjoy this while we can. The slow start Gore had out of the box to begin the year is ancient history thanks to three straight weeks of at least 125 yards and a touchdown. At one point yesterday, he was averaging a Jahvid Best vs. Chicago-style 18 yards per carry thanks to a season-long 55-yard run. The emergence of Kendall Hunter to share the load seems to have only helped keep Gore fresh.
7. The "If A Tree Falls In A Forest ..." Award: Jonathan Stewart. When the former fantasy star once known as DeAngelo Williams has a good game, it's mean. But when Stewart does it -- and yes, the standards have fallen to 40-odd yards and a touchdown being considered "good" -- it's just cruel. It's hard to imagine this performance helping any fantasy owner with a pulse, but Stewart's touchdown run was like twisting the knife in anyone who once thought he was a good mid-round value or even worth keeping on a roster.
7A. Runner-Up: Donald Brown. If anyone runs to the waiver wire for him this week, a penalized draft pick for the owner might be in order come next year's draft. Depending on any Colts this season is dicey, but with Joseph Addai's annual injury, Delone Carter -- who has shown flashes -- is the only option worth taking seriously for those brave enough to invest in the running game.
8. The What's Your Deal? Award: Calling to mind the infamous Pete Carroll-Jim Harbaugh 2009 run-in, the exchange between Lions Coach Jim Schwartz and Harbaugh is a close second in the bizarre handshakes of all time. It has nothing to do with fantasy, but added an always welcome WWE element as Harbaugh allegedly used questionable class and Schwartz lost his mind.
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