December 27, 2011

This time of year, the best gift anyone can ask for is a clutch championship week performance. And with most leagues in a Super Bowl state of mind, there were some big games and some even bigger injuries. This much is clear: Given Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees' outings over the past two nights, the best was certainly saved for last. Here are the awards.

Best Performance in a Record-Setting Blowout: Passing Dan Marino's single-season mark was special, but delivering four touchdowns in the Saints' 45-16 beatdown of the Falcons was even better for fantasy owners with an eye on a championship. Brees' past two weeks might constitute the best back-to-back playoff stretch for a fantasy quarterback ever: He passed for a combined 719 yards and nine touchdowns with just two interceptions. A model of consistency, Brees has thrown for fewer than 300 yards and two touchdowns in only one game all season.

Best Bounce Back Award: Aaron Rodgers got back on track just one week after a subpar outing in the Packers' surprising loss to the Chiefs. This time, any fantasy owner fortunate enough to start Green Bay's signal-caller was more than sufficiently rewarded. Favored to be the real-life MVP, Rodgers has arguably been the Fantasy MVP as well. His body of work includes 10 games in which he's passed for three touchdowns or more, while the only game he threw just one touchdown pass -- Week 15 against Kansas City -- he also ran for a score. Between Brees, Rodgers, Cam Newton and Tom Brady, the approach of never drafting a quarterback in the first round should be under fire everywhere next summer.

The Injury that Shook the Fantasy World Award: Adrian Peterson's knee injury goes down in the pantheon of grossest, legs-don't-bend-that-way collection that includes the likes of Willis McGahee, Napolean McCallum and Joe Theismann. Fantasy dynasty and keeper leagues everywhere felt the chill of Peterson's horrific Christmas Eve tumble. This could be the beginning of the end for AP, and his draft stock next year may reflect that. Next preseason, all eyes will be on Peterson's rehab, and for the first time since his rookie year, the first round might not include him. Shudder.

Pickups of the Week Award: Two running backs saw the needle on their stock move the most in Week 16. If you're in need for a Week 17 wire grab, here are a couple of lifelines.

A) Toby Gerhart. If necessity is the mother of invention, those who kept Gerhart-insurance on their Peterson-investment deserve a tip of the cap. Gerhart -- who has shown moderate but far from spectacular production as a backup -- will be the workhorse as the struggling Vikings take on the freefalling Bears.

B) Evan Royster. For those that prefer to drive without seatbelts, cross the street without looking and stand too close to microwaves, enter Mike Shanahan's latest unpredictable offering. The former Penn State standout was outrageously productive filling in for Roy Helu last week (good enough to make Helu dynasty owners grab a handcuff), tallying a combined 147 yards. He'll play against an Eagles team with their playoff dreams crushed, which -- for a Redskins squad that's had nothing to play for most of the year -- could spell a stat-stuffing shootout.

The Cam Newton Award: Sure, Tom Brady passed for 300 yards and a score (yawn). But the real Tabasco in the box score was the two rushing touchdowns that he added -- a huge lift for owners with a white-knuckle grip on their couches in the first half. How rare was Brady's two rushing TD day? He now has a career-best three rushing scores in 2011, topping the only time he had as many as two in a season in 2007.

Fantasy Goats of the Week: LeSean McCoy and Tony Romo picked bad times to exit with injuries.

McCoy has been a powerhouse of production, and is easily a top four pick in 2012. However, a meager 35 yards on 13 carries plus an ankle sprain was not what owners had in mind for a championship performance in Week 16.

Romo, undervalued on draft day thanks to an injury-plagued 2010, went 0-for-2 before injuring his throwing hand. Heading into Saturday, Romo had hit his fantasy playoff stride, throwing seven touchdowns in the past two games. His departure left owners at the championship altar equally empty-handed.

The Rainbow of Flavor Award: Marshawn Lynch continued his torrid pace, and this time against one of the league's best run defenses. Lynch barreled through the 49ers to the tune of 107 yards and a touchdown, extending his scoring streak to 11 consecutive games. The Seahawks' feature back has singlehandedly made the team relevant both in pop culture (Skittles?) and in the standings, while his fantasy stock has boosted into second-round status for 2012.

The Back on the Radar Award: Brandon Marshall is closing the season with a bang. The volatile Dolphins wideout ranks seventh in receiving points and eighth in yards, respectively, and more importantly, has scored four of his six touchdowns in the final five weeks -- including three games in a row with a TD. Marshall's mixed production since Denver has been frustrating, but it's nice to see him find the end zone, even against a Swiss cheese pass defense like New England's.

The Diamond in the Rough Award: Steven Jackson, take a bow: Watching the one-time first round fantasy pick produce for lowly St. Louis is equivalent to spotting a jewel in a junkyard. His environment has dragged him to near flex-play RB3 levels, but somehow Jackson is still managing production for his owners. Hopefully the Rams can return to prominence, opening S-Jax's fantasy potential before his career odometer runs out.

The Not-The-Hottest Team in December Award: As any fantasy owner should be aware, back-to-back solid games by the Chargers does not for a late-season run make. This was far from a vintage San Diego stretch, and Saturday's game against the Lions solidified it. Watching the Chargers offensive rollercoaster has been a head scratcher, as no team with more skill position talent has so consistently underperformed. Even Vincent Jackson -- a bright spot with eight receiving touchdowns -- had just one scoring grab in his last five games and zero 100-yard games during that stretch. Rivers came a yard shy of 300, but still finished with only one passing touchdown against a suspect Detroit secondary.

The Still No. 1 in 2012 Award: Cam Newton, who set the new rookie passing record for yards, is likely the No. 1 overall pick next year, and at worst, a top-three selection. Newton has accounted for 34 touchdowns (20 passing, 14 rushing) and is the Swiss-army knife of quarterbacks. Despite a shortened preseason and a poor surrounding cast, little has slowed him down. When he fully learns the position and gets some a sorely needed influx of talent, look out.

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