Eric Mack
Sunday December 25th, 2011

You might not have cared about the two teams in your league playing for the Super Bowl, but there were still plenty of intriguing storylines coming out of Week 16 that can impact fantasy 2012. You needed to pay attention, even if you weren't getting paid by winning your league's title.

It was a bit of good, bad and the ugly.

The good: Cam Newton capped the best rookie season by a quarterback in the fantasy era. He is a top-five pick at his position, but you should take four other QBs over him next August. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady are more polished passers and better fantasy options because their receivers are better. Matthew Stafford, who has the No. 1 wide receiver in Calvin Johnson as a target, likely should be picked over Newton, too.

The bad: Adrian Peterson's knee injury can affect him going into next season, if it is determined he needs ACL surgery. That could get him bumped out of the top five on draft boards, if not the first round. Stay tuned.

And the ugly: Tim Tebow finally looked like a rookie QB, throwing the four picks and perhaps getting Denver to think it might need to draft a rookie passer. He should have put the Bills away, not look like he needed to be put away.

Unless your league plays into Week 17 -- it shouldn't -- you are going to get more out of this week's Fantasy Football Fast Forward as an unofficial start for next year's draft. We break down all the action game-by-game:

• Aaron Rodgers might be the MVP, but Drew Brees broke Dan Marino's passing record. Brees is the most consistent 4,000-yard, 30-plus TD passer in fantasy, if not NFL history. He warrants being picked in the first round with Rodgers next season. Both QBs do such a great job of spreading the ball around. Brees has a No. 1 receiver in Marques Colston and the second-best TE in fantasy in Jimmy Graham, but Robert Meachem, Lance Moore and sometimes even Devery Henderson can be productive fantasy options.

• Brees' Saints have a three-headed monster at running back, led by Mark Ingram. It will be real interesting to watch him develop next year. Pierre Thomas will be no more than a late-round handcuff, despite his fairly consistent season. Darren Sproles will be the first Saints back picked, maybe even early in PPR formats, but a healthy Ingram can break out as a mid-round pick.

• Michael Turner has looked old this year and looks like he won't be a great pick in even the second round next season. Jazquizz Rodgers can be a sleeper, unless the Falcons draft more of an every-down back.

• Julio Jones was a beast here and looks like he can be a top 15, if not a top 10 receiver next season. Roddy White is already top five. Both should make Matt Ryan a steal after the top five QBs are off the board.

• Rodgers was brilliant after a "down" week. It wasn't the loss of Greg Jennings. Rodgers turned around and made a fantasy star against out of James Jones. Donald Driver was a disappointment and he will probably head into retirement after this season.

• With Rodgers, the Packers never needed a running game, but they will in the postseason and for next year. They might need to draft a running back. Ryan Grant is not a full-time back and James Starks couldn't take advantage of a great opportunity this season. Maybe it isn't the Packers play-calling for the pass as much as the ineffective backs on the roster.

• Kahlil Bell was strong against a solid run defense, which bodes well for his backing up Matt Forte next year, if Forte returns amid his contract dispute. Bell would be a nice fantasy sleeper as a starter next season.

• Newton set the rookie passing record and added to his QB rushing TDs record. He needs a receiver in the draft, or free agency.

• Steve Smith is an elite receiver, but he didn't produce consistently down the stretch. Brandon LaFell had the long TD here and should be a nice sleeper as a third-year WR next season, particularly with Newton proving to be so good.

• The Panthers just never gave DeAngelo Williams a chance to star in fantasy. He did pick up the 66 yards and two scores, but he got just seven carries, the same total given to Jonathan Stewart. Both backs have 1,000-yard, 10-TD talent, but they are just in the worst time-share for fantasy owners. It doesn't figure to change going into next season either.

• LeGarrette Blount bites the dust in this one with just two carries, because he was benched for a first-drive fumble. It was his fourth fumble of the year, but he might not have to worry about the doghouse. That Bucs team needs a change at the top, the way this team was abused in the second half.

• Josh Freeman was a huge bust this season, but a coaching staff change might get him to a better level next season. Don't dare consider him a starter. Kellen Winslow and Mike Williams should be better next season, too. They go as Freeman does.

• Chris Johnson's roller-coaster fantasy season ends on a sour note with just 56 yards, especially since rookie Jamie Harper picked up the rushing TD. This should keep him out of the first half of Round 1 next season.

• Matt Hasselbeck throws the two picks, but racks up 350 yards and makes Jared Cook a TE monster with eight catches, 169 yards and one TD. Cook's hot finish could get him drafted as a sleeper, if not a starter, next August.

• Damian Williams also had his moments this season and will be a third-year WR sleeper for next draft day, even if Jake Locker is the starting QB.

• Maurice Jones-Drew continues to make a lot out of a bad supporting cast, posting a career-high in yardage. He will be a top-four pick in most formats next August, no matter if the Jags draft a RB to spell him more.

• Marcedes Lewis and Mike Thomas just next got on track with rookie Blaine Gabbert. If the Jags stick with Gabbert, Lewis and Thomas are going to be nothing more than late-round picks.

• Just to further frustrate anyone trying to count on a Pats' RB, Tom Brady rushes for two short TDs -- as if his owners needed any help from those. Stevan Ridley (13 carries) might have wrestled No. 1 RB duties from BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who got just three carries. To be fair, BGE was questionable with an illness. Ridley and fellow rookie Shane Vereen will complicate the Pats' RB situation next fall.

• Matt Moore rewards fantasy owners strictly playing the matchup with him this week. He tosses three TD passes and might have made the Dolphins take a look at him as a starter going into next season. A rookie draft pick might not be ready and Chad Henne might not beat him out.

• Reggie Bush goes over 100 yards here and 1,000 yards for the season. It is noteworthy how few touches Daniel Thomas got down the stretch. A new regime might play things differently next year, but Bush has proved to be a capable every-down back.

• Brandon Marshall comes through huge for his fantasy owners against the worst secondary in the NFL. Even Brian Hartline and Davone Bess make an impact for those that needed a stopgap.

• Aaron Hernandez took a step back with the return of Deion Branch, who scored a TD. Chad Ochocinco just got one catch, a signal he won't be back with the Pats next season.

• Save for a few big plays by Victor Cruz, Eli Manning did very little against the Jets secondary. Cruz's 99-yard TD should be an indelible image next fall when you are weighing him vs. Hakeem Nicks on draft day. Manning had a bad day, save for Cruz's long run after the catch.

• Ahmad Bradshaw didn't have much running room, but he broke the big red-zone scores to ice the game. His history of injuries keep him from being even a second-round pick next year. If Brandon Jacobs leaves via free agency, the Giants might consider drafting an RB, too.

• Mark Sanchez threw a career-high 59 times for a career-best 30 completions, but he choked the game away with the interceptions and the fumbled snap on the goal-line. It seems to be one step forward and two steps back every week, each year, for Sanchez.

• Shonn Greene was pretty much stuffed by the Giants run defense and the Jets had to abandon the running game, hence all of the Sanchez throws.

• Dustin Keller might have cemented a spot in the top 12 of tight ends for next season with this performance, but he could have had another performance of catches that hit off him when he wasn't looking.

• Before leaving with a potentially devastating injury, Peterson did post 38 yards and a TD, rewarding his loyal fantasy owners. Toby Gerhart rewarded his owners, too, with 109 yards and a score. Gerhart might start the season as the Vikings' lead back if A.P. needs surgery.

• Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph reeled in TDs. They are the future for Christian Ponder, who had to leave this one with a concussion.

• Rookie Evan Royster filled in for Roy Helu with a huge game, rushing for 132 yards. It sets him up as Helu's backup next season. The Redskins look set at that position at least.

• Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth reeled in the TDs and outperformed Santana Moss. Rex Grossman was decent, but he should have been better in this matchup. The Redskins almost certainly will be drafting a QB, perhaps one that will be handed the job right away.

• Peyton Hillis rewarded fantasy owners that took the chance on him against the tough Ravens run defense. Few should have expected 112 yards here.

• Ray Rice continues to be the Ravens best receiver. Torrey Smith really disappointed with Anquan Boldin out until at least the postseason. Smith still should be drafted as the Ravens' No. 1 receiver next fall. Rice is a top-three talent, perhaps even No. 1 overall in PPR formats. Joe Flacco needs another target or two, although Ed Dickson has the makings of TE sleeper.

• Seneca Wallace did nothing to make the Browns consider him an option for next season. Colt McCoy might not have earned that status earlier this year either. The Browns stand to be in position to draft all but QB Andrew Luck.

• Beanie Wells and Cedric Benson both disappoint against decent run defenses. A.J. Green was nearly blanked in what should have been a great matchup. Jermaine Gresham and Jerome Simpson (on a highlight reel front flip over a defender) picked up the passing scores from Andy Dalton.

• John Skelton arguably did a better job than Kevin Kolb in making Larry Fitzgerald a star. It might make for an interesting training-camp battle. Andre Roberts and Early Doucet, who should have caught the go-ahead score late, have developed into a nice sleepers. Roberts will be a third-year WR breakout candidate.

• Tebow finally played like a rookie QB, throwing four picks. He did salvage his day with a passing score and a rushing score.

• C.J. Spiller finished strong for his fantasy owners with 111 yards and a TD. It should be an interesting split with Fred Jackson next season. It might be enough to keep Jackson out of the top five.

• Denarius Moore takes the No. 1 receiver role this week over Darrius Heyward-Bey, who has never proven consistent. Carson Palmer started woefully, but he salvaged his day and the Raiders' season. It was a decent effort against a pretty good secondary, if you had to trust him in fantasy.

• Kyle Orton hits 300 yards again and makes Dwayne Bowe more productive than Tyler Palko ever did.

• Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones couldn't get real traction against the Raiders' suspect run defense. Dexter McCluster at least was productive as a receiver. All of the Chiefs backs are going to take a back seat to the return of Jamaal Charles next season.

• Michael Bush didn't have a great day, but he did position himself to reach 1,000 yards. He needs to get out of Darren McFadden's shadow in 2012 to be an early round pick in fantasy next year, though. Lisfranc injuries have claimed other back's careers, though.

• The Steelers running game took over this one as Rashard Mendenhall, John Clay and Isaac Redman each found the end zone. It was a great matchup for Mendenhall, who goes for 116 yards on the ground and 35 receiving.

• Mike Wallace held up better than Antonio Brown with Charlie Batch as the QB. You should not have trusted Brown against the Browns secondary.

• Brandon Lloyd was ineffective as expected, but Steven Jackson still went over 100 yards and picked up another 24 receiving. That is probably more than you should have anticipated, particularly in a shutout.

• Reggie Wayne has finished strong, giving him a chance to return to the group of fantasy starters if he returns to Indy next season.

• Ben Tate throws up a goose egg for owners that tried to take advantage of the Colts run defense. Arian Foster hogged all the carries and points.

• Donald Brown took a step back as Joseph Addai got the bulk of the duty again. It will be a training camp battle to see who gets the carries.

• This performance wasn't as awe inspiring as Newton's, but Stafford still warrants getting picked before the Panther in fantasy drafts next August. Megatron is No. 1 at wide receiver and Brandon Pettigrew should be drafted as a fantasy starter at TE. Titus Young should be a nice sleeper in the later rounds, too. Stafford has a supporting cast superior to Newton's.

• Kevin Smith had a big performance here for fantasy owners and it should be interesting to see if he or Jahvid Best opens next season as the starter. Best's concussion issues might be career-threatening, anyway.

• Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson choke away the Super Bowl for their fantasy owners. All of them dramatically underperformed in what should have been a shootout. If not for Malcom Floyd's six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, this could have been a shutout, instead of a shootout.

• Tony Romo's goose egg likely cost his fantasy teams dearly in this one, along with Felix Jones, who started. Both players didn't return after the Giants beat the Jets to force next Sunday night's game to decide the division.

• Romo's loss also crushed the hopes of Jason Witten and Laurent Robinson. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin still made a dent with Stephen McGee.

• Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and the resurgent Brent Celek all came through. This was supposed to be how the Eagles drew it up this season. It will be interesting to see if Jackson returns amid his contract dispute and team benching.

• On the disappointment side, LeSean McCoy did very little, capping what was a dominant fantasy season. It might lead some people to go with Arian Foster or Ray Rice as the No. 1 overall pick next year.

• Marshawn Lynch stayed in Beastmode and earned his Skittles, becoming the only running back to score a rushing TD against the 49ers this season. Lynch rewarded those loyal fantasy owners that danced with the one that brought them, going for 107 yards on the ground and 24 more receiving.

• Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis are all Alex Smith has to work with, and they were marginally productive for fantasy owners. They should be better next season, but still low-end starters because Smith's ceiling is low and the 49ers are a ground-and-pound team that plays close to the vest.

• Kendall Hunter took 12 carries off Frank Gore's workload and picked up 73 yards. Gore still was busy and productive, though.

• Vincent Jackson hit rookie Doug Baldwin for a TD, but he fumbled and has played his way into the Seahawks considering a young QB in the draft next April.

If you're out of your fantasy playoffs and still have the itch, you can play a one-week fantasy matchup at Sign up and try it out for free. Use promo code: Emack.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for, including the Start 'Em, Sit 'Em, the Weekend Fantasy Watch List and his Sunday night staple: Fantasy Football Fast Forward. If you need a further clarification on lineups this week hit him up on Twitter. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy.

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