December 05, 2011

In most leagues' last week of the regular season we learned that there is one rushing quarterback to rule them all. Running backs almost everywhere played big, yet Matt Forte and Michael Bush had nothing to do with it. We also saw one of the best head-to-head fantasy quarterback duels since Week 1, plus got to ask the question: if a terrible team explodes offensively, but nobody in the world benefits, did it really happen? Thanks for that, Indianapolis. Without further ado ...

The First Pick of Fantasy Draft 2012 Award: Cam Newton. Newton is the ultimate mash-up of Vince Young's size (minus the unfulfilled draft day hype) and Michael Vick's mobile brilliance, which he showed occasionally (thanks to injuries and jail). As if he were created in an evil lab somewhere, Newton is the ultimate fantasy football weapon and the No. 1 pick of next year's draft. A deceptively good passer, his record-setting rushing touchdown pace of this season (13) doesn't hurt either. Unlike Vick, he's built to withstand hits, and unlike Vince, he can sling throws accurately and probably won't go missing for days. Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy and maybe Ray Rice are in the discussion for the top five along with Newton. Right now, barring injury, he's my choice. Just imagine the possibilities once he gets consistent and cuts down on turnovers. The sky is the limit, and it's Carolina-blue.

FYI: Hard to believe that in the modern fantasy era of the past 20 years in which Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, Kordell Stewart, Vick and even for a brief moment Vince Young, Steve Grogan's 35-year-old mark of 12 rushing touchdowns stood as the record.

Best Fantasy QB Gunfight Award: Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning put on a show for owners, combining for 716 yards and seven touchdown passes. For Rodgers, it's merely more of the same -- his eighth game of 300 yards or more (not counting two more games of 299 and 297) with 37 scoring passes. Eli Manning has benefited from the ashes of the Giants' destroyed running game to put together a nice six-game stretch with four 300-yard or more outings and 12 of his 23 touchdown passes.

Runner-up: Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford. Sunday night's showcase featured 750 total yards and four scores. Had Detroit not flamed out with penalties, Stafford's 400-yard night would have had at least one more touchdown pass to juice up his numbers.

The Out of Left Field Award: Two of the top three receivers of the week -- Pierre Garcon and Demaryius Thomas were long-shots to even be on owners' benches this week, while the third -- Percy Harvin -- has been a fixture on the injury report all year. Harvin (illness) was questionable most of the week before moving up to probable this weekend. All three caught two touchdowns and put up eye-popping yardage totals. For all of Harvin's medical grade migrains, maybe the biggest is the one fantasy owners get from never knowing when to play him.

While we're at it: Donald Driver lives! Of the other two receivers to catch two scores, the only "name" to shine was Hakeem Nicks, able to shake off the injury report. Driver provided a blast from the past by showing up on the radar, helping virtually nobody excluding 18-team fantasy leagues and up.

Fantasy Tight End for the Ages Award: Rob Gronkowski. Let's face it, his only limit is Tom Brady's imagination. But he's not just a lucky product of the offense, his two TD grabs tied the all-time season record, while a third score counted as a lateral. It has gotten to the point that if he doesn't score in a week, it's a surprise. Remember last season when Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski were considered equals along the lines of 1A and 1B? Gronkowski looks like he'll be among the top two or three tight ends in all of fantasy (as well as real football) for awhile.

Worst Performance in Defeat: How 'bout those Cowboys? Lowly Arizona gave them fits, and with so many fantasy fortunes tied to Dallas, the pain from owners of Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, Laurent Robinson and even Dan Bailey got spread around. And Dez Bryant, though he scored, lost a fumble.

Runner-up: The Falcons, who, besides Roddy White, didn't have much to show for their loss to the Texans. Matt Ryan was plagued by four drops -- two each by White (who leads the NFL with 11) and Julio Jones (two each), who nearly had what would have been the tying score at the end of the game. Michael Turner looks to be hitting the wall, with two touchdowns over his last five games and one 100-yard effort in that span.

Rise of the Running Backs Award: More of an ensemble award; it was nice to see so many backs turn in big performances this week, such as Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, Willis McGahee, Roy Helu, Reggie Bush, C.J. Spiller, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson, who is returning to form hopefully just in time for patient owners to spare themselves from the playoff bubble for which he's probably responsible.

The Color of Counterfeit Award: Anyone who believes for a minute that Shonn Greene is about to become a reliable fantasy starter also probably thinks Mark Sanchez is actually usable in anything less than a 14-team league (he's not). Greene's three-touchdown day was remarkable, especially in how it topped his pathetic two-touchdown total from the entire season. The Jets' offense is a head-scratcher, and Greene still is barely a low-caliber flex play.

Fantasy Goat of the Week: Michael Bush. Who would have thought that the better Bush on the field would be the formerly disgraced Heisman winner? The Raiders' back has been a model of productivity since Darren McFadden went down, but on Sunday a three-game scoring streak that was snapped while he had only 18 yards to show for his day.

Runner Up: LeGarrette Blount. After back to back 100-yard games, it's hard to explain how Blount was held to 19 yards by the 32nd-ranked rush defense of the Panthers.

Fantasy Injury of the Week: Matt Forte. With an initial prognosis that he'll be out unofficially about two to four weeks, the last fantasy reason left to care about the Bears is gone. Abandon ship on Chicago, the rest of the team isn't even interesting enough to watch fail, let alone own any stock in them. The Bears need a lot more than just Donovan McNabb.

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