For the last few weeks, everyone who writes or talks about the NFL has been polishing their Aaron Rodgers MVP columns, myself included. Rodgers has been among the MVP candidates in fantasy leagues, too, entering Week 15 with 3,652 yards, 35 touchdowns and three interceptions. He had one of his toughest matchups of the year looming in Buffalo, but his owners had every reason to have confidence that his run to the MVP would continue to roll. Instead, they may have come up one step short of the fantasy championship.
Rodgers had his worst game of the season, throwing for just 185 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per attempt, with zero touchdowns and two interceptions, as Buffalo notched a 21-13 upset victory over Green Bay. It was the first game this year in which he failed to throw a touchdown, and first time that happened since a loss last year against the Bears when he was knocked out of the game on the Packers’ first possession with a broken collarbone.
All told, Rodgers managed just 6.1 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. A cursory glance at the Week 15 quarterback leaderboard will show you that guys such as Josh McCown, Joe Flacco, Blake Bortles and Robert Griffin, who didn’t even start start, outscored the possible NFL MVP.
To be fair, Rodgers was done in just a bit by his receivers. The Packers dropped six passes, including one by Jordy Nelson that almost certainly would have resulted in a 94-yard touchdown. If Nelson caught that pass and went to the house, the Packers would have taken a 17-16 lead late in the third quarter, and at least pushed Rodgers to a respectable game. Instead, his owners probably won’t be getting a fantasy championship for the holidays.
Talk to a Rodgers owner on Sunday and you’ll learn that fantasy football is a fickle beast, and the fantasy playoffs are a near-total crapshoot. Talk to someone playing against him, and you’ll hear that everyone has bad days, and Rodgers just happened to come in a crucial spot for his owners. Both are right, but it doesn’t erase the cruel twist of fate thrown upon Rodgers’ owners in Week 15.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the immediate reactions in the Week 15 Fast Forward.
• Le’Veon Bell’s streak of 200-yard games came to an end on Sunday, but he still had a huge performance for his owners. He rushed for just 47 yards on 20 carries, but he offset that with a pair of touchdowns and five catches for 72 yards. He’s up to 2,043 total yards and 10 scores this year.
• Ben Roethlisberger threw for 360 yards and 10.29 yards per attempt on Sunday, but he didn’t get a touchdown in a great matchup with the Falcons. The yards were good enough for him to get to 14.4 points in standard-scoring leagues, but his owners were no doubt hoping for a much bigger game.
• If you are a Julio Jones owner who managed to snag Harry Douglas, you basically had a best-case scenario unfold on Sunday. First, Jones was ruled inactive, so you weren’t tempted to force a clearly limited player into your lineup. Then Douglas caught 10 of his 14 targets for 131 yards, translating to 13.1 fantasy points. Injuries to Jones and Roddy White have forced Douglas into the starting lineup in three games this year. He scored a touchdown in one game (then left shortly thereafter due to injury) and had 115-plus yards in the other two. If Jones is out again next week, Douglas would be a low-end WR2 or high-end WR3.
• Matt Ryan survived a Jones-less game, throwing for 310 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. In addition to Douglas, White (seven catches, 58 yards, one touchdown) and Devin Hester (five catches, 85 yards, one touchdown) broke into double-digit points. With or without Jones, Ryan will be a strong play with the Falcons visiting the Saints next week.
• Not to pat myself on the back too forcefully, but here’s what I said about Johnny Manziel in our Start 'Em, Sit 'Em column from this week.
Look, the excitement surrounding Manziel is understandable, and he certainly can’t play any worse than Brian Hoyer had for most of the season. At the same time, there’s a reason that men who have worked in football their entire lives whose livelihood depends on their ability to evaluate football players thought it best to sit Manziel until their hand was forced by Hoyer’s terrible play over the last few weeks. Don’t expect Manziel to play like a top-five or top-10 quarterback this week. The ceiling is high, but I can think of 20 quarterbacks I’d rather have in my lineup than Manziel.
Manziel threw for 80 yards and two interceptions, and ran for 13 yards on five carries. We can revisit his fantasy value in 2015.
• Josh Gordon caught three passes for 48 yards on Sunday. He has 20 catches for 258 yards in his four games this season. Don’t expect him to suddenly revert to 2014 form in the last two games of the year.
• Earlier this week, Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said that he wanted to start featuring one of his two backs, and that always favored Jeremy Hill. The rookie out of LSU put up one of the biggest games in the fantasy semifinals, running for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Giovani Bernard played quite well, too, getting a total of 103 yards on 18 touches. Hill will once again be a high-end RB2 with an RB1 ceiling when the Bengals take on the Broncos next week. Bernard will be a fringe option at the flex position. Consider him an RB3.
• We knew Washington presented Eli Manning with a great matchup, and he came through for anyone who had faith enough in him to get him into their lineups. He threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns, giving him 22 points in standard-scoring leagues. Manning faces a much tougher test against the Rams next week, but if he got you to the championship, he did his job.
• It was a similarly great matchup for Odell Beckham and he, too, had a monster game for his owners. Beckham caught all three of Manning’s touchdown passes, en route to a 12-reception, 143-yard afternoon. Beckham still has just one game with fewer than nine points, and is averaging 15.82 points per game.
• Robert Griffin was pressed into action again on Sunday, and put together a solid statistical performance. He threw for 236 yards, 8.74 yards per attempt and one touchdown, and also picked up 46 yards on five carries. He nearly had a rushing touchdown, as well, but lost it at about the 1-yard-line as he was diving into the end zone. Washington could be facing an awkward situation next week, as it’s hard to imagine Colt McCoy starting after aggravating his neck injury this week. Whether it’s Griffin or Kirk Cousins, fantasy owners will likely want to go in another direction.
• DeSean Jackson didn’t do much damage (three catches, 15 yards), but he did have eight targets. As such, Pierre Garcon came back down to seven targets, catching four passes for 36 yards. Carry on, nothing to see here.
• The Raiders held Jamaal Charles in check, limiting him to 52 yards on 12 carries. Charles also took a huge hit at the end of the game, and gave way to Knile Davis with the Chiefs well in control of the game. Davis ended up putting up big fantasy numbers, thanks to a short touchdown run and 70-yard touchdown reception. If you’re a Charles owner who made it to the championship, you’ll have to keep a close eye on his practice participation this week.
• Alex Smith had a big game, throwing for 297 yards, 9.9 yards per attempt and two touchdowns. What he didn’t do, however, was hook up with a receiver for either of those scores. The craziest streak in the NFL carries on unabated.
• Latavius Murray carried the ball 12 times for 59 yards, putting up a strong 4.92 yards per carry. Unfortunately for his owners, he only got those 12 totes. The Chiefs defense is still allowing five yards per carry to running backs. Le’Veon Bell could be in for a huge game when the Steelers visit the Chiefs next week.
• The Texans-Colts game was filled with fantasy stars coming up short for their owners. Andrew Luck threw for just 187 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. T.Y. Hilton caught four passes for 50 yards and was held out of the end zone. Arian Foster needed 26 carries to get to 99 yards. DeAndre Hopkins came the closest to expectations, catching five passes for 77 yards. In a day that saw a lot of big-name players disappoint their owners, no game featured more doing so than this one.
• Boom Herron had a nice game on a per-touch basis, but he only had the ball in his hands 13 times. He totaled 72 yards from scrimmage on this touches. If he isn’t getting the ball more frequently, however, he can’t be though of as more than an RB3.
• Tom Savage saw his first career action after Ryan Fitzpatrick got injured on Sunday. He threw for 127 yards and an interception, and could really submarine Hopkins’ value for owners who have him and are entering championship games.
• Toby Gerhart lives! Sort of! He ran for 54 yards on 13 carries. He’ll have a great matchup against the Titans in Week 16, but championship owners can probably do better than one of this year’s biggest busts. If you’re somehow desperate, though, keep him on your radar.
• Derek Anderson played well in place of Cam Newton on Sunday, throwing for 277 yards and a touchdown in Carolina’s 19-17 win over Tampa Bay. Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin each went north of 100 yards. In a pair of starts this season, he has 507 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. It has to be stated that both of those starts were against the Buccaneers, but Anderson has played well enough to give the Panthers the option of sitting Newton again against the Browns next week.
• Jonathan Stewart was another one of the many players who fell short of expectations on Sunday, running for just 73 yards on 22 carries in what should have been a great matchup with the Buccaneers. He’ll be a low-end RB2 if DeAngelo Williams is out again with a hand injury next week.
• Doug Martin actually showed up on Sunday, and only about 12 weeks too late for those who drafted him. He had 96 yards on 14 carries. Of course, one of those carries went for 63 yards, meaning he had just 33 on his other 13 totes. You can resume ignoring him.
• Wouldn’t it have been perfect if the Jets-Titans game ended with a baseball score? It looked like that could be a possibility, but the offenses turned it on to the tune of 19 total points in the second half. Outside of Delanie Walker, there isn’t anyone you want to be playing in your fantasy championship next week.
• Add Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford to the litany of players who failed to come through for their owners in the semifinals. Stafford threw for just 153 yards, 5.46 yards per attempt and one touchdown, while Johnson caught four passes for 53 yards. They have a great matchup with the Bears next week, but many of their owners may not get to reap the benefits of whatever they do in that game.
• Joique Bell didn’t get in the end zone, but he was productive again on Sunday. He ran for 62 yards on 15 carries and caught four passes for 41 yards. It was his third straight game, and fourth time in the last five weeks, with double-digit fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues.
• The 49ers’ slim playoff hopes vanished on Sunday, and with them likely went the Jim Harbaugh era in San Francisco. The offense failed to produce again, though this time it was at least in a very tough matchup at Seattle. Frank Gore scored a touchdown but left the game with a concussion. Carols Hyde followed him to the locker room shortly there after getting his ankle rolled. Neither would be a strong play with the 49ers play the Chargers next week.
• Russell Wilson has been a consistent producer this season, but he predictably struggled, at least from a fantasy perspective, against the 49ers. Wilson threw for 168 yards, 7.0 yards per attempt, one touchdown and one interception, and ran for 27 yards on five carries. It could have been even worse, as Wilson’s touchdown came after a dubious roughing the passer call on a third down that extended the drive for Seattle.
• If you’re a Peyton Manning owner headed to your fantasy championship, you’ve somehow dodged two bullets in the form of substandard games from your star quarterback. Manning threw for 233 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, finishing with 13.02 points in standard-scoring leagues. You’ll be playing him against the Bengals next week if you survived, but it warrants mentioning that they’ve allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this year.
• Demaryius Thomas bounce back for his owners, catching six passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. It was his eighth 100-yard game of the season and he’s up to 1,389 yards and 11 scores. It’s about as early as it gets when thinking about 2015, but he’ll safely be a top-five pick next year.
• On the other side, Philip Rivers threw for 232 yards, 5.66 yards per attempt, one touchdown and two interceptions. That continues his patern of playing well against bad defenses and struggling against good ones. The Chargers play the 49ers next week, meaning Rivers owners should be looking in another direction.
• With Ryan Mathews out on Sunday, Branden Oliver had 12 carries and four targets, while Donald Brown had five carries and six targets. If Mathews has to sit again, Oliver is the Charger back you would want next week. Having said that, he wouldn’t be better than a low-end RB3.
• Tony Romo flipped the Thanksgiving night script, throwing for 265 yards, 8.55 yards per attempt and three touchdowns on Sunday night in a huge win for the Cowboys over their division foes, the Eagles. In the Cowboys' Thanksgiving loss, Romo was playing on just four days rest and was weeks closer to his back injury than he was this week. This time around, he had 10 days off and was going up against a Philadelphia defense that had allowed the third-most points to quarterbacks through the first 14 weeks of the season. You’re going to want Romo active against the Colts next week.
•Dez Bryant was one of the few stars who came through and then some for fantasy owners this week. He caught six passes for 114 yards and three scores, putting up 29.4 points in standard-scoring leagues. He leads all receivers with 13 touchdown receptions this year.
• Over on Philadelphia's side of the ball on Sunday night, Mark Sanchez flopped. He threw for 252 yards and a pair of interceptions against the Cowboys. Sanchez now has fewer than 16 points in five of his seven starts this year. He has a great matchup with hapless Washington next week, but remains a borderline starter, at best.
•LeSean McCoy ran for 64 yards on 16 carries, and had three short-yardage scores vultured by the duo of Chris Polk and Darren Sproles. The nightmare season for him and his owners continues.