One of the things I've preached about all season long has been the concept of keeping a fantasy notebook. You might have to wait until next season to win your league, but you can't wait to prepare. There's lessons to be learned in each of the games from this weekend. Let everyone else look back and recap while I fill up my fantasy notebook and fast forward through this weekend's lessons ...
Before the game, Rodney Harrison said Peyton Manning might be worth four or five players worth of mismatches. That's what this one came down to. On talent, the Jets were better, but Manning was on the other side. Manning was stymied for much of the game, his favorite receiver seemingly erased, and a running game that was only adequate. If there's any lesson to take away from this game, there's only one Peyton Manning. Manning's fantasy value might be down a bit based on his numbers, but don't buy in. He's someone that should be considered with the first QB pick and as high as the No. 4 overall next season. The Colts have been decimated by injuries and Manning lost no value. With an expected overhaul of the running game and line, there's no reason to expect that Manning will lose value. Is it a safe assumption that the Colts will be healthier next season? Yes, but it's really only a couple of players that count, with Dallas Clark being the key. Donald Brown might end up a nice keep in some leagues as Joseph Addai is a free agent and the Colts are more likely to bring in a late-round pick or even a UFA to share the load. Manning's deal has to get done first, but will be delayed by the stoppage. That could make for some hard decisions and a bigger than usual reliance on the draft to plug holes, starting with Nate Solder at left tackle.
The Jets made it personal, played their style of game, and ended up with a tight win. Mark Sanchez's arm was good enough, but the fantasy takeaway is that Shonn Greene is good, but probably not top-tier good. He's a solid weapon with a partner like LaDanian Tomlinson, but his upside is Ahmad Bradshaw, not Adrian Peterson.
The Seahawks deserve credit for their near-perfect offensive performance, but while they can hear over and over that they "beat the world champs," that wasn't the Super Bowl-winning Saints we saw out there. There was simply no running game to help Drew Brees and that was the difference. Reggie Bush isn't a starting RB1 for this team or any other team, so with a big base value for '11, Bush is unlikely to be back in New Orleans. Chris Ivory is solid enough, if he can stay healthy, as is Pierre Thomas, albeit with the same 'if.' Don't expect huge changes anywhere for the Saints, but you could find a gem if they bring in someone like Joseph Addai, Ronnie Brown, or DeAngelo Williams.
The Seahawks are young, improving and at times, downright tantalizing. Marshawn Lynch had one of the all-time runs to seal the playoff win, but that was the first appearance of "Beast Mode" since escaping Buffalo. The committee at RB of Lynch, Justin Forsett, and Leon Washington is the kind of depth that Pete Carroll was used to at USC, but it's not good for fantasy players. Lynch is likely to be an overdraft next season. The most interesting part of the team is the passing game. Guys like Golden Tate and Ben Obamanu could be solid mid-round picks, but will it be Matt Hasselbeck or Charlie Whitehurst throwing to them?
This one wasn't close, as the Ravens D looked as solid as it has been all season, perhaps in many seasons. That doesn't mean that the Chiefs aren't a good team. There's talent there, especially with Jamaal Charles. It's going to be unclear until we get into next season whether Charles will be a true RB1 or if he'll need the type of partner he had in Thomas Jones this season. Jones would be a great fit if he'll take a paycut and accept the RB2 role. There's little reason to think the Chiefs will really revamp the offense without Charlie Weis; this has always been Todd Haley's team. Charles is likely to be a bit of an overdraft next season based on his YPC, likely an unsustainable number. I asked Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders (who nailed his projections for the Chiefs and Charles in particular) if he though that Charles' YPC was sustainable or if he expected him to regress. "Regression," he said without hesitation. "There's a reason that nobody is on that list of 'guys who had six yards per carry with over 200 carries' twice." Even with an increase in carries, the regression will keep things even, at best. This doesn't make Charles a bad pick, but it doesn't make him a Top 3 pick either.
The Ravens continue to be a winning football team and aside from Ray Rice, not much of a fantasy creator. The defense is good enough to consider taking a round early. Rice continues to establish himself as a first-round talent, limited only by the presence of two goal-line options who steal a couple of his opportunities. If either Willis McGahee or LeRon McClain end up out of Baltimore heading into next season and there's no replacement on the roster, Rice's value goes up slightly. Look for Todd Heap to be an overdraft while some people dream on a healthy season from him. He's a fine second-tier guy who'll go in the first tier.
The Eagles are expected to use the franchise tag in order to keep Michael Vick, but is he the kind of QB you want to build your fantasy franchise around? Watching him reminds you of how many different ways he can put up points, but he also has a tendency to sel-destruct. Aaron Rodgers is a mobile QB, a guy who can get a couple rushing TDs on sneaks, but Vick always threatens to be a scoring machine. Scouts see passes like that last-second INT on Sundayand nudge each other, reminding each other that Vick might be good in the QB slot, but he's not a great pure QB. He's the proto-Wildcat with a great arm. Vick can be shut down and worse, he can be injured, so if you take Vick in the first or second round, you'll have to commit to picking up a QB2 earlier than you'd like. The surrounding cast of the Eagles might be the better way to play Vick. LeSean McCoy is underrated and both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin should put up solid numbers, enough to make either a WR1 possibility for your squad. Maclin seems slightly more durable if not quite as electric.
The Packers have some interesting pierces as well. Ryan Grant should be able to return from his knee surgery, but John Kuhn showed enough that he could end up being the next Peyton Hillis. Don't buy in on either. Grant is a value play, at best, as maybe the third RB you take, while the lesson of Hillis is that there's not too many big RBs out there. While LeRon McClain had a big year a couple years back and fooled some people into thinking he was a feature back, the Ravens had the best look and drafted Ray Rice.
Concussions have been the story of the season, but most of it has been an anecdotal story. We've seen the big hits on players like DeSean Jackson and Austin Collie. We've seen cumulative brain injuries to players like Aaron Rodgers. We've heard the stories of former NFL greats losing their memories and their lives as a result of the hits they took. Dustin Fink of The Concussion Blog has been doing the hard and important work all season, documenting what's happened this season. He's put together a groundbreaking look at concussions, including what helmets were involved. I'll have a lot more from that study on Friday.
Since a rookie cap is one of the few things owners and players agree on, Andrew Luck left about $50 million on the table for a year of college. I'll leave that to the Stanford grads to say how smart it is, but for $50M, Luck could have bought a college. With Luck out of the draft, there's no "next Sam Bradford/Matt Ryan/Peyton Manning". Ryan Mallett is going to have to interview well to be a top 10 pick and Cam Newton is more likely to be a Tim Tebow-style gamble in the latter part of the first round. Our friends at Fanhouse disagree with both of these, but if that's where they go, neither is going to be a fantasy pick, even in the later rounds. Think I'm crazy? Bradford's ADP was 131 and he was available in half of standard leagues into the last weeks of the NFL season ... Sprint used this line in one of their pregame ads: Number of fans checking injury reports before nailing down the starting lineup: 4,050,271." So very, very true ... My fantasy notebook isn't actually a notebook at all. I use a program called Yojimbo. I make notes not just to remember, but so that I can find things with just a couple of clicks ... Congrats to Michael Gillberg, who won the SI Fantasy League I put together this season ... There's a long list of players that have spent their first week without practice having surgery. It seems more players than normal are taking care of things quickly, perhaps anticipating problems with the impending stoppage. The ability to rehab with team trainers and rehab staff is huge as players start to get ready for next season by healing up from the last one ... On that note, players with long involved rehabs like shoulder surgery or knee reconstruction will need a close watch heading into next season if there's any stoppage. That would interrupt the rehab, though players will have a reliable Plan B.