There isn’t always a whole lot of justice in the fantasy playoffs. Any team can get hot for a three-week stretch, and one bad week -- or even one poor individual performance -- can knock out the best team in the league. Nothing is ever going to change the crapshoot nature of the fantasy postseason.
As random as the playoffs always seem to be, fantasy owners will probably remember Week 16 of the 2014 season for a long time, particularly with respect to the quarterback position. Consider the following:
-- The Bears surprisingly benched Jay Cutler for Jimmy Clausen earlier in the week, hitting rock bottom in what has been a truly dreadful season. Believe it or not, Clausen did not prove to be the savior for the Bears’ offense. He threw for 181 yards, 4.64 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and one interception in a loss to the Lions. He finished with 15.14 points in standard-scoring leagues. That was better than a few notable quarterbacks, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
-- On Thursday night, Charlie Whitehurst made his fifth start of the season, this one against the Jaguars. He looked semi-respectable, throwing for 287 yards, 8.2 yards per attempt and one touchdown, as the Titans further secured their spot in the top-three of the draft. His Thursday night performance, however, was good enough for him to score 16.68 points in standard-scoring leagues. He, too, bested some notable players at his position.
-- And now, for those notable players. Heading into Week 16, the top seven fantasy quarterbacks were, in order, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady. Manning has yet to play as of this writing, but the five of the other six guys -- everyone but Wilson -- scored fewer points, in the fantasy championship, than Jimmy Clausen and Charlie Whitehurst.
-- After being the model of consistency all season long Luck had, by far, his worst game of 2014, and potentially of his career. He threw for 109 yards and two interceptions, and was removed from the game late in the third quarter with the Colts trailing the Cowboys by 35 points. Luck gave his owners a grand total of 0.36 points in the fantasy championship. Luck’s weekly ranking at the quarterback position are as follows: 2, 5, 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 3, 2, 6, 14, 2, 8, 10. In Week 16, he was dead last among starting quarterbacks.
-- Rodgers used a furious charge in the fourth quarter to get to 318 passing yards and a touchdown, but that was all he gave his owners in Week 16 after completely failing them in the fantasy semifinals. Rodgers had just 14.72 points in standard-scoring leagues. After a monster season that could net him an MVP award, he had just 22.82 total points in the final two weeks of the fantasy season.
-- Brees threw for 313 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He had a great matchup with the Falcons, but came up well short of the expectations his owners had for him in their championship games. His fantasy season ended with an 11.32-point performance in standard-scoring leagues.
-- Roethlisberger and the Steelers clinched a playoff berth with a 20-12 win over the Chiefs. Roethlisberger, however, didn’t put up big numbers. He threw for 220 yards, 8.8 yards per attempt and one touchdown. That was plenty for the Steelers to get the win they needed, but not for his fantasy owners. He had 12.4 points, his lowest total since Week 11.
-- Finally, Brady had a great matchup with the division-rival Jets, who went into Week 16 having allowed the fifth-most points to quarterbacks. Brady didn’t have Julian Edelman at his disposal, but that doesn’t fully explain the egg he laid. He threw for 182 yards, one touchdown and one interception, which translates to 10.28 points in standard-scoring leagues. He hadn’t scored so few points in a game since Week 4, back when people were ready to suggest that the New England dynasty had crumbled.
Again, Luck, Rodgers, Brees, Roethlisberger and Brady were among the very best quarterbacks this season. None of it mattered in Week 16, when they were outscored by Jimmy Clausen and Charlie Whitehurst.
The fantasy postseason is a crapshoot, everyone. Make sure to reward your regular-season champs.
• The fantasy playoff MVP race narrowed down to three candidates after the first two weeks of the postseason, with Le’Veon Bell, Matt Ryan and Odell Beckham the contenders. After Week 16, the race is between Bell and Beckham. Bell didn’t have a monster game, but he is the rightful playoff MVP after a dominant three-week stretch. He ran for 63 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, finishing the day with 13.2 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. Over the three playoff weeks, he ran for 296 yards on 66 carries, caught 12 passes for 131 yards, and scored six total touchdowns. Add that all up, and Bell scored 78.7 points in the postseason.
Beckham, however, did cap off his fantasy season with a dominant performance. He caught eight passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the Giants’ 37-27 win over the Rams. He had at least 130 yards and one score in all three playoff weeks, the only receiver or running back who can make such a claim. All told, Beckham had 31 receptions for 421 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran for nine yards and lost one fumble, giving him a total of 77 points in the playoffs.
So which player is more deserving of the playoff MVP? Well, Bell had more points, but he had his worst game of the playoffs in the championship. Beckham wasn’t far behind in total points, and his even performance through all three playoff games likely means that more of his owners are raising championship trophies. For that reason, Beckham gets my MVP award.
• Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte both showed up for their owners in a tough spot, with Jeffery catching six passes for 72 yards and a score, while Forte had 95 total yards and a touchdown of his own. That’s why you generally play your studs in all situations.
• Marquess Wilson had seven receptions for 66 yards. He could be a very interesting endgame target next year
• Matthew Stafford flopped in championship week with a great matchup against the Bears, throwing for 243 yards and two interceptions. Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, on the other hand, each came through for their owners. Bell had 13 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown, while Bush racked up 98 yards and hit paydirt. Bell owners were undoubtedly starting him, but kudos to you if you had the foresight to get Bush into your lineup this week.
• Cam Newton returned from his back injury and helped lead the Panthers to a huge win over the Browns. He threw for 201 yards, one touchdown and one pick, and also ran for 63 yards and a score on 12 carries. The Panthers visit the Falcons next week to decide the winner of the NFC South. Newton owners in leagues that play Week 17 can deploy him with confidence.
• Jonathan Stewart put a bow on a strong three-week run in the playoffs, running for 122 yards on 24 carries and getting in the end zone on a Newton touchdown toss. He ended up running for 352 yards with two touchdowns during the fantasy playoffs, averaging 15.73 points per game in standard-scoring leagues.
• Johnny Manziel left the game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury, and will likely sit in the final game of the season. He wasn’t particularly effective before getting hurt, completing three of his eight pass attempts for 32 yards.
• Ryan Tannehill was the top quarterback in championship week, throwing for 396 yards and four touchdowns. He spread the touchdowns around, with two going to Mike Wallace and one apiece to Damien Williams and Dion Sims. Meanwhile, Jarvis Landry’s already low yards-per-catch number declined even further after he caught eight passes for 31 yards.
• The Vikings are going to be a very interesting team next year, and Teddy Bridgewater has a lot to do with that. He threw for 259 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in Minnesota’s loss to Miami on Sunday. He now has close to a full year of seasoning under his belt. The Vikings still have to add a receiver to the mix and beef up their pass protection, but this offense can be dangerous in 2015.
• Matt Asiata plunged in for two short-yardage touchdowns in Week 16, bailing out any owner desperate enough to start him.
• The Texans had one touchdown pass as a team on Sunday, and it only comes as a mild surprise that Case Keenum didn’t throw it. That honor belonged to Arian Foster, who hooked up with C.J. Fiedorowicz on a five-yard score. Foster also ran for 96 yards and caught one pass for 23 yards, giving his owners 15.9 points in standard-scoring leagues. Neither Andre Johnson nor DeAndre Hopkins can be trusted in Week 17 with Keenum at the helm.
• Justin Forsett abandoned his owners in the playoffs and topped it off with a 19-yard effort in Week 16. He wrapped up the postseason with 138 yards and one touchdown, averaging 6.6 points per game.
• The Falcons and Saints didn’t provide the fantasy fireworks we were expecting, as the two teams combined for 44 points and 731 yards. Mark Ingram had a one-yard touchdown run on the game’s first play from scrimmage, but finished with just 38 yards on 13 carries. Drew Brees threw for 313 yards, but had one touchdown against two interceptions. He remains the No. 4 quarterback in standard-scoring fantasy leagues, but he didn’t live up to his draft-day price.
• Matt Ryan was very efficient on Sunday, completing 30 of his 40 pass attempts for 322 yards and 8.05 yards per attempt, but he had just one touchdown, hooking up with Eric Weems on a shovel pass late in the first half. Julio Jones returned for his owners in the fantasy championship and caught seven passes for 107 yards. With his return, Harry Douglas came back down to earth, hauling in four balls for 47 yards.
• Aaron Rodgers may not have had his best game of the year, but all the fantasy-relevant skill players around him delivered for owners. Eddie Lacy ran for 99 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, Jordy Nelson had nine receptions for 113 yards and a score, and Randall Cobb led the team with 11 catches for 131 yards. The Packers are going to have to decide if they’re bringing back Cobb this offseason, but either way, this will be a lucrative fantasy offense next year.
• Jamaal Charles had another great season, but he disappointed his owners in the playoffs. After running for 52 yards on 12 carries in the semifinals, he totaled 77 yards from scrimmage on 14 touches in Week 16. Charles will likely enter 2015 as a top-five pick, but there are going to be a few red flags around him.
• Alex Smith threw for 311 yards and zero touchdowns, failing once again to hook up with a wide receiver on a touchdown pass. The strangest streak in the NFL continues.
• The Patriots battled to a 17-16 win over the Jets to clinch a first-round bye, but they didn’t measure up to their fantasy owners’ expectations. We already discussed Brady, and when he throws for just 182 yards and one touchdown, his pass-catchers are going to struggle, as well. Brandon LaFell caught seven passes for 64 yards, and Shane Vereen had just 50 yards on seven touches. Rob Gronkowski scored a touchdown, but had just 31 yards on his six receptions.
• Eli Manning was a surprise playoff star, throwing three touchdowns for the second straight game. He also racked up 391 yards and 12.22 yards per attempt on Sunday in the Giants’ win over the Rams. Manning threw for 901 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception throughout the playoffs. Rueben Randle caught six passes from Manning for 132 yards and a touchdown in the victory over St. Louis. Hey, only about 14 weeks too late for his fantasy owners.
• Tre Mason came through for his owners, running for 76 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. The Giants struggled against the run all season, something to keep in mind if you’re still playing fantasy football in Week 17.
• Luck may have deserted his fantasy owners at the worst possible time, but the owners of the quarterback opposing Luck suffered no such fate. Tony Romo went 18-for-20 for 218 yards and four touchdowns, and added 28 yards on the ground. Only Ryan Tannehill scored more points among quarterbacks in Week 16. He spread his touchdowns around, connecting one time apiece with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley.
• DeMarco Murray played through his broken hand, running for 58 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. That he had so many touches should give the Cowboys plenty of confidence heading into the playoffs, but his fantasy owners were probably hoping for a bit more production in their championship matchup.
• Fred Jackson had just 10 yards on six carries, but he made up for it with nine catches for 93 yards. Sammy Watkins caught a 42-yard touchdown early in the first quarter, but had just two more receptions for a total of 33 yards the rest of the game. Kyle Orton threw two interceptions, but volumed his way to a 329-yard, three-touchdown performance for owners pressed into using him in championship week.
• Derek Carr threw for 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns, giving him 20 on the year. The only quarterbacks to throw for more in their rookie seasons since the NFL-AFL merger were Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Jim Kelly.
• Marshawn Lynch shook the fantasy world to its core when he was surprisingly on the bench to start the Seahawks’ game with the Cardinals on Sunday night. Luckily for his owners, he was able to get over his stomach bug enough to get 10 carries in Seattle's 35-6. Even more luckily, he took one of those carries 79 yards to the house. Lynch may have made you nervous, but he also might have made you a champion.
• Russell Wilson saved his very best for championship week, throwing for 339 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 88 yards and a score. That gave him a total 36.36 points in standard-scoring leagues. The other top quarterbacks may have disappointed in Week 16, but Wilson came through for his owners, as he has for nearly the entire season.