Whenever a running back places his name next to Walter Payton’s in the record books, he has achieved a pretty impressive feat. Sweetness, make some room for Le’Veon Bell.
Bell almost certainly carried his fantasy owners into the second round of the playoffs by running all over the Bengals on Sunday. He had 185 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, and as we all know by now, he isn’t a one-trick pony. Bell also caught six passes for 50 yards and a score, going north of 200 yards from scrimmage for the third consecutive game. Before Sunday, Payton was the only running back in NFL history who had ever amassed 200 total yards three weeks in a row.
The second-year running back out of Michigan State did most of his heavy lifting in the second half. All of his touchdowns came after halftime, and he had 82 total yards in the first half. Owners playing against Bell probably had some hope that they had dodged a bullet after that first half. They had no such illusions after 30 more minutes of football.
Bell is enjoying a true breakout season and will likely be a top-five pick in fantasy leagues next year. He’s up to 1,924 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns. Bell is second in the league only to DeMarco Murray with 1,231 rushing yards and also has 71 receptions. The best running backs in today’s NFL are the ones who are just as dangerous as receivers as they are when taking the ball directly from the quarterback. Bell is in that elite group and looks like he will be there for a long time. In the more immediate future, he’s also the clubhouse leader for the playoff MVP. With games against the Falcons and Chiefs looming, he could very well remain atop that perch.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the immediate reactions in the Week 14 Fast Forward.
• Bell wasn’t the only Steeler to put up a huge game in the first round of the fantasy playoffs. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 350 yards with 8.97 yards per attempt and three touchdowns. He had the shortest touchdown of the day, a one-yard hookup with Heath Miller, and the longest, a 94-yard strike to Martavis Bryant that essentially put the game out of reach. Antonio Brown didn’t get in the end zone, but he did catch nine passes for 117 yards. Next week, the Steelers and all the fantasy owners tied to them will be rewarded with a trip to Atlanta.
• A.J. Green caught 11 passes for a career-high 224 yards and one touchdown, but he and Andy Dalton didn’t get a ton of help from the run game. Jeremy Hill carried the ball eight times for 46 yards, while Giovani Bernard had just six rushes for 17 yards. Since returning from his hip injury, Bernard has 110 yards on 33 carries and six receptions for 45 yards. At this point, fantasy owners shouldn’t necessarily be relying on him as an RB2. As for Hill, the backfield split makes him a flex play, but he, too, may be no better than a low-end RB2.
• Removing Robert Griffin III didn’t really work for Washington on Sunday. The Redskins were embarrassed at home by the Rams, gaining just 206 yards from scrimmage in the 24-0 loss. Colt McCoy threw for 199 yards for an average of 6.22 yards per attempt and two interceptions. Alfred Morris only got eight carries, gaining a total of six yards. It has been a terrible season from the jump in Washington, but it hit rock bottom on Sunday. But hey, Pierre Garcon finally showed a pulse. He had nine catches for 95 yards, and would continue to benefit if DeSean Jackson misses more time with his shin injury.
• Shaun Hill hooked up with Jared Cook for a pair of scores, but all that really showed was the peril of relying on the St. Louis passing offense. A few weeks ago, the fantasy community got excited about Kenny Britt. Then after two great games, Stedman Bailey was the center of attention heading into this week. Britt and Bailey combined for four catches for 99 yards on Sunday. At this stage of the season, there’s little sense in trying to get cute with guys like Bailey.
• Rashad Jennings owners would have been better off if he were just ruled inactive before the game. He was essentially active in name only, running for five yards on two carries. Instead, it was Andre Williams who ran all over the Titans. He picked up 131 yards and a touchdown on 24 totes in the Giants' 36-7 win. The Titans have been terrible against the run all year, so Williams owners should temper their expectations if he starts against Washington next week.
• Odell Beckham Jr. hauled in 11 passes for 130 yards and a score. He has had fewer than nine fantasy points just once since making his debut in Week 5. He has had more than 15 four times. You’ll be able to count on him as a rock-solid WR1 over the final three weeks of the year.
• Can anyone explain the Saints? They were 10-point favorites against the Panthers at home on Sunday, so of course they got run out of their own stadium in an embarrassing 41-10 loss. Drew Brees threw for 235 yards, 4.8 yards per attempt, one touchdown (which was meaningless in real life) and one interception. Unlike last week, Jimmy Graham racked up the targets, getting 11 looks from Brees. Just like last week, though, he was essentially invisible for his fantasy owners, catching three passes for 25 yards. Kenny Stills had three receptions for 23 yards. Outside of Brees, Marques Colston led the team in fantasy points, and he had five catches for 72 yards.
Having said all that, New Orleans should bounce back against the Bears on Monday night next week.
• It figures that after killing a number of fantasy seasons this year, Cam Newton had his best game of the year in the first round of many leagues' playoffs. Newton threw for 226 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 83 yards and a score. That translates to 35.34 points in standard-scoring leagues. He had put up 20 points just twice all year before his Week 14 explosion. He’ll be a strong play against the Buccaneers next week.
• Jonathan Stewart also took advantage of his opportunity on Sunday, running for 155 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. The matchup with Tampa Bay next week is just as good, but DeAngelo Williams could return to the field after missing this week’s game with a broken finger. If he’s alone in the backfield, Stewart will be an RB2.
• Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson split the carries right down the middle, with each carrying the ball 16 times. This week, it was Ivory who led the Jets in yards, picking up 73 to Johnson’s 53. The Jets have shown a greater commitment to the run over the last two weeks, but it’s still hard to have a ton of confidence in either of them. Consider them low-end RB3s.
• Teddy Bridgewater had his best game as a starter on Sunday, throwing for 309 yards, 11.44 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and an interception in the Vikings’ 30-24 overtime win against the Jets. He’ll have Jarius Wright to thank for some of that, though, after the receiver took a screen and busted it for an 87-yard game-winning score. Wright rode that to a four-catch, 123-yard game, and Charles Johnson caught four passes for 103 yards and a touchdown, as well. Meanwhile, Cordarrelle Patterson only showed up in the box score as a kick returner. He also lost a fumble. He has to be on the short list of biggest busts of the season.
• Matt Asiata ran 19 times for 54 yards, and Ben Tate got just three carries. There’s no reason to rush either of these guys into your lineups next week if Jerick McKinnon has to miss another game because of his back injury.
• Joe Flacco came through for those who started him, throwing for 269 yards, 8.15 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and an interception. He put a cherry on top by plunging into the end zone on a one-yard run in the fourth quarter to ice the game and give the Ravens a huge win over the Dolphins. Flacco takes a lot of verbal abuse from the snark peddlers, but he entered this game as the No. 13 quarterback in standard-scoring leagues. Sunday was the fourth time this season that he had at least 23 points in a game.
• Steve Smith stepped up with Torrey Smith hobbled by a knee injury, catching seven passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. Expect the latter to be more of a factor next week.
• Ryan Tannehill flopped in another great matchup this week, throwing for 227 yards with 6.88 yards per attempt and one touchdown. Facing a Baltimore defense that had allowed the fifth-most points to quarterbacks and the most to receivers on the season, Tannehill couldn’t get anything going with Jarvis Landry and Mike Wallace. The duo combined for nine catches and 94 yards, falling far short of expectations. They can’t be counted on as anything more than WR3s, and Tannehill has proved himself no more than a borderline starter from week to week with his last two performances.
• Head coach Mike Pettine probably won’t be able to keep Johnny Manziel on the bench any longer. The Browns nearly pulled off a huge upset over the Colts, but Brian Hoyer had nothing to do with it. In fact, if he played even an average game, the Browns likely would have won. Hoyer threw for 140 yards, 4.52 yards per attempt and a pair of interceptions. He nearly hooked up with Josh Gordon on a bomb that would have set up a potential game-winning field goal, but it’s clear Hoyer is part of the problem. It’s time to see what Manziel can do.
• Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell had nearly identical games on Sunday. They each ran for 54 yards, with Crowell doing so on one fewer carry (15 to 14). However, it was Crowell who had the touchdown and, therefore, the solid fantasy day. Crowell is an unexciting RB2 for the remainder of the year.
• Josh Gordon admitted to being rusty and needing time to get acclimated, and that showed again on Sunday. Hoyer's play definitely had something to do with it, but Gordon finished with just two receptions for 15 yards. You shouldn't bench your surefire WR1s for him, a point that should have really hit home after his performance on Sunday.
• Andrew Luck was held under 300 yards for just the third time all season, but his owners probably weren’t complaining too much. He had 294 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, and also added 37 rushing yards and a score on the ground. He didn’t have an efficient game as he threw for just 5.55 yards per attempt, but he led the Colts on a 11-play, 90-yard game-winning drive in just three minutes and 14 seconds.
• T.Y. Hilton was his usual WR1 self, catching 10 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown. While he looks set to carry on the tradition of top-tier receivers in Indianapolis, Dan Herron is not exactly taking the baton from Ahmad Bradshaw. He had just 26 yards on eight carries and 71 total yards on Sunday. He’ll be a borderline flex play when the Colts take on the Texans next week.
• Just as we discussed with Stedman Bailey above, Donte Moncrief fell victim to unrealistic projections on Sunday. He became a waiver-wire darling after going off against Washington last week, but his two big plays came on horribly blown coverage. Playing a more competent defense this week, he finished with three catches for 33 yards.
• Joique Bell had another huge game on Sunday and has to be considered a true lead back for the Lions, even with Reggie Bush healthy. Bell had 83 yards and a score on 18 carries and also hauled in five passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. He has had double-digit fantasy points in three of his last four games and has now hit pay dirt seven times this season. He’ll be a high-end RB2 against the Vikings next week.
• In the last two weeks, Calvin Johnson has 19 catches for 304 yards and three touchdowns. He has gotten healthy at the perfect time for his fantasy owners who made the playoffs.
• Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans were each productive on Sunday, with Jackson grabbing 10 passes for 159 yards and Evans catching four balls for 45 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson got 17 targets, the first time he was in double digits in four weeks. Evans was McCown’s favored receiver in the red-zone and had a third end-zone target that he nearly caught.
• Ryan Fitzpatrick followed up his six-touchdown game with a much more Fitzpatrick-ian performance, throwing for 135 yards in Houston’s win over Jacksonville. He did run for a score -- one of three different Texans who ran for touchdowns Sunday -- but he showed why you never should have been thinking about him as a starter, even after his big game last week.
• After ranking third among quarterbacks in fantasy points through the first 13 weeks of the season, Peyton Manning may not have much of an impact in the fantasy playoffs. That’s because a lot of his owners are likely out after he threw for just 173 yards and two interceptions on Sunday. It was the first time since Nov. 14, 2010, that Manning failed to throw a touchdown, breaking a streak of 51 games with at least one score. If you survived Manning’s worst statistical game in at least four years, he should rebound for you against the Chargers next week.
• Of course, it wasn’t just Manning who fell short for his fantasy owners on Sunday. Demaryius Thomas had just two receptions for 11 yards, while Emmanuel Sanders caught four passes for 56 yards. Hopefully they were good enough in the regular season to help you get a bye.
• C.J. Anderson hogged the touchdowns, finding the end zone three times in Denver’s win over Buffalo. He did suffer an ankle injury, though he came back into the game after first limping off the field. He ended up having 58 yards on 21 carries against the tough Buffalo run defense. Assuming his ankle isn’t an issue, he’ll be an RB1 against the Chargers next week.
• Jamaal Charles ripped off a 63-yard touchdown run on his second touch on Sunday but suffered an ankle injury that looked worse than it actually was. He ended up returning to the game and catching an 18-yard touchdown pass, but he got just 12 touches, and the injury likely had something to do with it. His owners should monitor his practice participation -- for now it doesn’t seem to be too concerning an issue.
• Travis Kelce caught seven of his nine targets for 110 yards this week. Perhaps this will be the game that convinces Andy Reid to feature Kelce? Pretty please?
• With Andre Ellington out due to a hip injury, fantasy owners were speculating on Stepfan Taylor and Marion Grice as potential longshot starters. No one thought about Kerwynn Williams, who ended up carrying the ball 19 times for 100 yards. He’s worth going after on your waiver wire this week, purely as an insurance policy. You should not have to start him unless desperation strikes.
• The 49ers fell out of realistic playoff contention with an ugly loss to the Raiders on Sunday. Everyone on offense shared the blame, with Colin Kaepernick leading the way. He had 174 yards, 5.27 yards per attempt, one touchdown and two interceptions. Frank Gore ran well when given a chance, but he had just 12 carries. He turned that into 63 yards, and it’s curious that the 49ers didn’t run more, given what the Rams did on the ground against the Raiders last week. If you’re still alive in your league despite playing someone on the 49ers, make sure you learn your lesson.
• Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano said Latavius Murray wouldn’t be a workhorse, but he ended up carrying the ball 23 times for 76 yards. The production wasn’t there, but his owners should take some solace in the fact that he touched the ball as frequently as he did. It’s early, but for now consider him a high-end RB3 for next week.
• Derek Carr threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns in the Raiders’ win over the 49ers. That’s one way to look at it. Another is that he had more fantasy points than Peyton Manning and Drew Brees combined. That’s what makes the fantasy playoffs such a crapshoot.
• The star of the big Seahawks-Eagles showdown was the Seattle defense, which held the Eagles to 45 plays and 139 total yards. Mark Sanchez threw for 96 yards at a rate of 4.8 yards per attempt, though he salvaged his game to certain degree by getting two touchdowns. LeSean McCoy ran for 50 yards on 17 carries and lost a fumble, while Jeremy Maclin caught three passes for 21 yards and a score. This was probably Seattle’s second-best performance of the year, behind their opening night win over the Packers.
• Russell Wilson was just as good on offense as his teammates were on defense. He threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 48 yards and a score on 10 carries, giving him 29.32 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. Wilson entered the game as the fifth-highest scorer at the quarterback position and slid past Drew Brees with a huge game against the Eagles.
•Julian Edelman had his best game of the season, catching eight passes for 141 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots 23-14 win over the Chargers. Edelman has now had double-digit targets in three straight games and four of the last five. He carries WR3 value most weeks, but is capable of this sort of production simply by virtue of being tied to Tom Brady and the New England offense.
•Speaking of Brady, he threw for 317 yards two touchdowns and an interception in the win in San Diego. His other score went to Rob Gronkowski, who had eight grabs for 87 yards. LeGarrette Blount also had a big presence in the offense again, running the ball 20 times for 66 yards. The production wasn’t there for him, but he’s worthy of RB2 consideration so long as he’s getting consistent touches in the Patriots’ offense.
•Ryan Mathews had just 11 carries on Sunday night and has had more than 12 totes once this season. He’s getting 4.5 yards per carry, but the Chargers aren’t getting him the ball often enough for that to make much impact. San Diego visits Denver next week, and the Broncos have allowed the fifth-fewest points to running backs this year. Mathews will be no more than a low-end RB2 in the fantasy semifinals.