There were more tricks than treats on the day before Halloween, including a mile-high mushroom cloud, a Dallas demolition, an un-holy performance by the Saints and a stark-Raven mad rally.
1. Welcome back Award: Steven Jackson's 151 yards against the Saints wasn't just improbable, it was a red-letter date for the underachieving and perennially-injured back. It was the most yards Jackson has run for since Week 16 in 2008, when he hung 161 on the Falcons and it's a great sign that the one-time first-round pick back during the um, Bush administration, is ready to have a huge second half. With two games left against both the Cardinals and Seahawks, not to mention one with the Browns and the second of two tough 49ers games occurring on the little-used Week 17, get ready to ride Jackson every week going forward. When it comes to the injury question, break out a rabbit's foot, avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks or do whatever lucky ritual it takes.
2. Worst performances in a Lick The Stamp Role:
Based on the fantasy talent involved that went to waste, we saw two mail-ins for the ages this week.
A) The Saints -- Just think, Drew Brees came within six seconds of not throwing a touchdown pass until he found Lance Moore as the clock wound down. Adding insult to injury was a Pierre Thomas end zone appearance.
B) The Cowboys -- It's like Dallas was told to impersonate the Washington Generals, football-style. When Laurent Robinson has the best receiving night out of group that includes Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten in a blowout, it's a cause for concern.
3. Best starring role in a comeback: What Ray Rice came up short with in yards, he more than made up for with a goal-line hat trick. Rice's seven touchdowns rushing and receiving combined this year has already beaten his mark of six from a year ago and is one less than his best mark of eight in '09. Even better, the Ravens are finally trusting him with point-blank carries at the stripe -- evidenced by his two one-yard runs and his third coming from three yards out making memories of Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain vulturing him seem like ancient history.
4. The Mr. All-Purpose Award: Fred Jackson has been better than any sixth- to eighth-round draft day afterthought has a right to be. With nearly 200 yards of total yardage Sunday, he showed why he might well be considered as automatic as AP or Foster from week to week. Jackson has churned out an average of 164 total yards per game in the month of October. In five of seven games he's rushed for 100 yards and also had a five-game scoring streak (that got snapped in the win over Washington). His six rushing TDs are a career-best and despite his age (30) he looks like a mid-to-late second round pick next year, easy.
5. The Mile High Meltdown Award: It sounds like an Applebee's dessert, but for Broncos fans Week 8 was graphic enough to be an NC-17 film. Here's what was salvageable -- Eric Decker is a solid flex play most weeks and Tim Tebow may get garbage time points and/or rushing touchdowns. That is it. Denver won't be this bad every week, but it's far from being even a decent team and starting Broncos in your lineup comes at its own risk. The Lions, on the other hand, had a great bounce-back effort following two straight losses. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson already look like Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson circa '09, but Johnson's 11 touchdowns have him in rarified air -- trip to Denver aside.
5. The "You Know You Didn't Start Him" Award: A buzz-worthy three-week span got Victor Cruz a roster spot in most leagues not that long ago, but 12 yards against the Bills in the Giants' last game most likely knocked him out of your starting lineup. Figuring out the Giants receiver situation has been a quandary all year, but if Hakeem Nicks' injury from yesterday lingers, Cruz may become a player owners can actually trust again.
6. Best Waiver Wire Investment: Brandon Lloyd. If he's out there, grab him. He's caught six passes in each of his first two games with the Rams. Yesterday he was targeted a team-best 13 times by backup AJ Feely. The Rams are a receiver-starved team and Lloyd has obviously been made a priority in terms of getting him the ball. Once Sam Bradford returns, with a nice second-half schedule (as mentioned) and Steven Jackson healthy (that sound just heard is thousands of owners knocking on wood), Lloyd will make a fine WR3 or flex option the rest of the way.
7. Mirage of the Week Award: The Dolphins' running game. Between Reggie Bush hitting the 100-yard mark for the first time since '06 and with a Steve Slaton sighting (including him scoring his first TD in two years) it was like seeing two unicorns in the same game. Once Daniel Thomas returns healthy, neither will be of fantasy relevance. Funny fact, the last time Bush rushed for 100 yards or more, it was against the Giants in '06.
8. The Eagles Have Landed Award: This has been the Philadelphia team we've been waiting to see. So Michael Vick has yet to play like the top-five pick I and a few other brave souls pegged him for, but LeSean McCoy has had a breakthrough into elite status this season. It's also stunning to see what the Eagles' potential can be, as seen on TV last night. Vick has been hovering near the top quarterback echelon, though it's strange to think that he still has yet to run in a touchdown.
9. Mr. Underrated: Lost in the jet stream of Cam Newton's ascent into fantasyland royalty, is that Steven Smith has undergone one of the best career reinventions since John Travolta in the mid-90s. Six times this season, the NFL's leader in receiving yardage has either scored or had 100 yards or more. After a paltry 554 yards last season with two touchdowns, Smith is poised to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since '08.