The fantasy playoffs started for many this week, and like the real thing, it was unpredictable. Games that should have had more scoring, didn't (Cowboys-Bengals, Bills-Rams) or others that appeared to be garden variety matchups exploded into something else (Cardinals-Seahawks).
Rookies continue to grab the fantasy spotlight, and Eli Manning did his part to spread holiday cheer in the form of scoring passes to four different teammates. Meanwhile, Marshawn Lynch had a touchdown hat trick, Adrian Peterson continues to defy human limits less than a year from his horrific knee injury and the Saints were less than heavenly for a second week in a row.
• Fantasy No-Show of the Week: Any owners of Saints players who managed to survive on the playoff bubble a week ago got finished off in the first round of the postseason Sunday. One week after being shut down by the Falcons, the Saints came up short against the Giants. Drew Brees, the league leader in touchdown passes, has one the past two weeks among seven interceptions. Also suffering are Saints fantasy stockholders with investments in Marques Colston (132 yards the past two weeks combined) and Jimmy Graham (115 yards). Next week the Saints should bounce back against Tampa Bay, ranked last in pass defense, but the better question might be: Are there any fantasy teams still alive to take advantage of the matchup?
• A Giant Star: The Giants provided the latest chapter in the 2012 season's Fantasy New World Order, where rookies rule. On Sunday, Wilson accounted for a team record 327 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns. Ahmad Bradshaw owners should be sleeping with one eye open as Wilson's percentage of carries begins to increase. Wilson has excelled on special teams all year, but his fumbling and then Andre Brown got in the way of him getting the ball. Besides being an excellent keeper in leagues that allow protections as a future stock, Wilson can pay off now as a solid RB3/flex. One game does not a fantasy star make, but remember that Brown was a good low-end reliable RB3 this season who shared plenty of carries with Bradshaw before getting hurt. With Wilson now taking that workload and getting more comfortable, his role will only get bigger before he probably replaces Bradshaw as the starter by next year.
• Most Interesting Player (on a team of fantasy busts): Danario Alexander. It's hard to sugar-coat it, from Philip Rivers' general un-playability, Ryan Mathews' unreliability and Antonio Gates' old age-ability (I tried), the Chargers have been a fantasy nightmare. Thank goodness for Alexander, who has emerged as the team's No. 1 receiver. His 88-yard, two-touchdown outing against the Steelers was the latest highlight in a five-week trend of productivity. Lucky owners that plucked him off the waiver wire are enjoying the fruits of the third-year receiver's emergence. The former Missouri standout is only owned in 27 percent of ESPN.com fantasy leagues. If he's still out there in your league, run -- don't walk, to the waiver wire.
• The "Don't Call It A Comeback" Award: Cam Newton may have been runner-up for this season's Madden cover, but he started the year off like he won it. The toast of the fantasy universe a year ago, Newton grappled with a sophomore slump to begin the season that featured more downs than ups. But anyone who stuck with him is reaping the rewards right now. In his last five games, Newton has a 10-2 touchdown to interception ratio and an 8-0 mark in the last month. Also in that span, he has scored three of his six rushing touchdowns this season. In fact, he is only 182 yards from matching last year's 706-yard total despite a big drop in scoring runs.
• Fantasy Injury of the Week (that shook the world): Robert Griffin III's sprained knee not only has the nation's capital on high alert with a playoff push in mind, but fantasy postseason owners, too. RGIII had a mediocre day against the Ravens, but was on his way to leading a heroic comeback when he suffered his graphic knee injury. Barring a miraculous recovery, Griffin most likely will miss next week's tilt with the Browns. For those looking for a plug-in replacement, there are a couple of options near the top of the list. First, consider Russell Wilson, who, prior to Sunday, had nine touchdown passes in his last four games (then didn't need to throw as Lynch exploded and the Cardinals imploded) and plays the Bills in Week 15. Another choice could be Colin Kaepernick, who could in a shootout against the Patriots, while Jake Locker or rookie Nick Foles could also be options.
• The Reality Bites Award: Bitter LeSean McCoy owners who missed out grabbing Brown from the waiver wire just enjoyed a moment watching those aboard the magic carpet ride fall hard. Brown owners who enjoyed a wave of fantasy terror the past two weeks with 347 yards total were shut down. The Bucs' top-ranked rush defense showed why it's No. 1, holding Brown to six yards on 12 carries. Still, Brown has shown more than enough to loom over McCoy's future in a time-share backfield whether at the end of this year (should McCoy return) or next year.
• Best Performance Nobody From Which Nobody Benefitted: While one Philly rookie struggled, another stepped up. Nick Foles finally showed that his stellar preseason wasn't a mirage while increasing his value in dynasty leagues. Foles passed for 381 and two scores against the Bucs, while running in another touchdown. Rare were the owners who reaped those numbers after Foles' first few starts left him unplayable to all but the desperate. It might not be enough to save Andy Reid's job, but Foles' big day was enough for the last nail in Michael Vick's (Eagles career) coffin.
• The Free Mike Wallace Award: Goes to Ben Roethlisberger, who broke the Steelers' receiver out of box score prison. Wallace owners can finally start him with confidence following a rough patch during Roethlisberger's injury. With 11 catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, Wallace dwarfed the production of his previous three games. With Big Ben out, Wallace was only able to cobble together 10 catches for 77 yards and no scores while Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch lined up under center. Now back in the fold, Roethlisberger looked healthy enough to remain in the lineup and passed for 285 and three touchdowns while adding 31 rushing yards. Roethlisberger is back as a fantasy start option, and Wallace owners have plenty to smile about.
• The Invisible Man: The only people I feel worse for than Larry Fitzgerald fantasy owners is for the man himself. Fitzgerald is in fantasy Siberia and is not even close to being usable. The Cardinals' terrible running game and quarterback carousel are the main culprits in robbing one of the best receivers in the game of any semblance of productivity. The Cards have struggled in the years post Kurt Warner, but Fitz always found a way to rise above -- until now. It's been four games since he's scored, and in that time he's caught an alarming five passes for 67 yards ... total (!). The biggest question for next year is where he'll be ranked. Due to the quarterback issues in Arizona, in the past couple seasons I've treated Fitz like he's radioactive on draft day and have not missed a wink of sleep as a result. This probably won't change. A lot can change in one offseason, including getting a competent quarterback, but my lack of confidence in the Cardinals' ability to correct things makes Fitzgerald almost un-draftable next year. The damage to his value this season will have a ripple effect next summer. I can't see him valued much more than an seventh to eighth-round pick as a super-low end WR3 or mid-range WR4.