Sunday may have been Emmy night, but the fantasy football world kept turning and the plots thickened. In Week 3 the Cardinals continues to paint the league red, and on the same day the two highest-scoring fantasy running backs were taken down with injuries. On the flip side, a former superstar got his groove back, San Francisco got shocked, a Hail Mary got answered and we saw a Hoodie-altercation with a replacement zebra. In other words, just another NFL Sunday. Without further ado ...
The KC Masterpiece Award: Jamaal Charles. It felt like 2010 all over again for owners of the Chiefs' superback. Charles's 233 rushing yards were amazing, including his 91-yard sprint where he was untouched. Whether it's karmic retribution the Saints are suffering, or just a relapse of the bad old days thanks to a crippled defense, Sunday made for the perfect spring board for Charles' return to elite status. Whether he stays there depends on his reconstructed knee and his workload (see Hillis, Peyton), but the thrill is back.
Most Inspirational Award: Torrey Smith, 'nuff said. As a quick aside, it was nice to see the Ravens start using their best aerial weapon.
The Tough Break Award: That collective groan heard in Week 3 no doubt came from owners of Reggie Bush and C.J. Spiller. The good news is that time on the injured list looks strictly short-term. Bush's knee gets an MRI Monday, although no one in the Miami camp seem overly concerned, and Spiller's shoulder may keep him out a couple of weeks, according to Bills coach Chan Gaily, who isn't a doctor, but seemed to playing one at the press conference. Either way, the duo have been electric this season, shaking off past demons of inconsistency along the way. In many ways Spiller has always played like a Bush replica, but durability is another label owners of both players won't shake anytime soon.
The In Like A Lion Award: Although the Lions have been fantasy underachievers thus far, at least they found a running game. Mikel Leshoure is the first Lions running back to rush for 100 yards in his first start since Billy Simms. Leshoure will be the lead back the rest of the way, barring injury. Coaches had so much faith in former incumbent Kevin Smith, that despite being healthy he stood on the sideline for the entire game. LeShoure will be a great flex RB3 or low-end RB2 going forward.
Mr. Redemption: Larry Fitzgerald shook off a sluggish first two weeks as the Cardinals got another victory and one of the league's best receivers actually contributed to it. With Arizona's iffy quarterback play, don't get used to this sort of production; it's going to be hit and miss all year with Fitzgerald, who should be considered a strong WR3 with flashes of brilliance.
Mr. Redemption Runner-Up: The Run is back with DMC. Darren McFadden finally lit the box score up with a powerful performance against the Steelers. Normally 18 carries for just over 100 yards wouldn't be a cause for celebration, but after two straight weeks struggling to run the ball, fantasy owners and Raiders fans will take it.
Honorable Mention Redemption: Michael Turner. Last week's off-field trouble notwithstanding, Turner has been brutal, averaging 2.6 yards per carry with a total of 74 yards. Not only did he bounce back in San Diego with a robust 5.7 yards per touch, but gained 80 yards total and a touchdown. With back-to-back scoring weeks and finally some usable yardage, it marks what should be a turnaround point for Turner, who won't be flashy with the pass-heavy Falcons, but he will be an effective RB2 the rest of the way.
Defense/Special Teams Performance of the Year (so far): No other unit had was more responsible for more wins single-handledly than the Titans were. Owners who started Tennessee enjoyed a rare tri-fecta -- touchdowns on a punt return, kick return and on defense.
The Super Sub Award: It's not often that a back-up like Shaun Hill (172 yards) comes off the bench with two minutes left in regulation, plays a brief overtime period and comes within 100 yards of injured starter Matthew Stafford's production (278 yards) for over three-and-a-half quarters.
Best Performance in Defeat: Ben Roethlisberger came within shouting distance of 400 yards and hit for four touchdown passes (two to Heath Miller, continuing a surprise season) against the Raiders. In each of the two weeks prior, Big Ben averaged around 260 yards with two touchdown passes. With the running game still in flux, the Steelers will continue passing. Quarterback-desperate fantasy owners might want to gauge Big Ben's availability on the open market.
The Mike Shanahan Slight of Hand Trophy: To Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who stuck it to Stevan Ridley owners everywhere with a pair of short-yardage scores that didn't go to the team's leading rusher. Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead cashed in on the Pats' two scoring runs. Woodhead even got more carries than Ridley for the first time all year in an inexplicable box score-block that had Shanahan written all over it. Ridley owners, take note: trusting in the Pats' running game is like playing roulette. Consider Ridley a low-end RB2 but a perfect flex back.
Best Performance From a Disgruntled Employee: After knocking on the door of fantasy relevance the past two weeks, Maurice Jones-Drew ran through it in Week 3. Not to go all pay-the-man-his-money on you, but MJD was back in mid-season form with more than 170 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Colts. But after Jones-Drew's prolonged holdout and gradual increase in production the first two weeks (let alone the fact that when you're the Jaguars, there are no lay-ups on your schedule) it was nice to see him ripping off yards.
Long-Awaited Debut That Fizzled: Whether you took Ryan Mathews regrettably high in an uber-early fantasy draft or as a mid-round damaged goods bargain with NBA lottery-caliber upside, it's been a long road up to yesterday. His 76 total yards was a sign of life, but nothing special. Part of the blame falls on the Chargers' feckless offense, but until Mathews has a breakthrough game, keep him on the bench as a precaution as he works his back into shape.
Biggest Survivor Pool Landmine: The Vikings. Just when I was starting to consider the 49ers defense fantasy Kryptonite -- the equivalent of starting any receiver not named Jerry Rice against Deion Sanders in the mid-1990s, along comes Christian Ponder to crush the myth.
Sure, it's early but let's talk early impressions ...
Top 3 most disappointing fantasy offenses
1. Eagles: LeSean McCoy has been the only constant for this underwhelming crew.2. Lions: Matthew Stafford's struggles are the main culprit; Calvin Johnson needs the ball.3. Packers: This is not the Aaron Rodgers production we had in mind; Greg Jennings' injury doesn't help.• Wait and See: The Patriots have been solid, but Tom Brady has been only steady, not spectacular
Top 3 most improved fantasy offenses
1. Redskins: Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin single-handedly are fueling this makeover2. Falcons: Passing game has always been reliable, now it's finally getting used to its potential.3. Ravens: No more grind-it-out slug-fests, Joe Flacco has come into his own and Torrey and Rice excite.• Wait and See: The Broncos and Peyton Manning are still finding their footing, the mile-high offense is a work in progress.
The All-Buyer's Remorse Team (Speaks for itself, eh?)
QB Matthew StaffordRB Chris JohnsonRB Steven JacksonWR Greg JenningsWR Dez BryantWR Marques ColstonTE Antonio Gates
The Bang for your Buck Team (This crew is overachieving compared to their draft stock)
QB Robert Griffin IIIRB Alfred MorrisRB Benjarvus Green-EllisWR Miles AustinWR Reggie WayneWR Steve JohnsonTE Martellus Bennett