While there was only one mystery to be had on playoff positioning (New York Giants making it, the Dallas Cowboys going home) there were plenty of surprises with the performances of each top player this week. I was able to win my second money league’s super bowl, thanks to my opponent’s Aaron Rodgers resting up for next weekend.
Now that we’re done with the regular season of 2011, enjoy the playoffs, as all 3 of my favorite teams are in it this year.
- Matt Flynn – One part great backup quarterback, 3 parts amazing offense. Mix and serve with wild enthusiasm. Flynn set a Packers record with 480 yards and six touchdowns in Sunday’s wild 45-41 win over the Lions. Matt Flynn was simply spectacular, as Green Bay’s offense did not skip a beat with Aaron Rodgers a healthy scratch. Flynn did commit a pair of turnovers, but anyone that used him in Week 17 will hardly complain. He’ll head back to the bench during the playoffs, although he undoubtedly earned himself a lot of money as a free agent this offseason. Redskins? Dolphins? There are plenty of teams calling his name. After 39 fantasy points, Flynn was the 42nd top QB of the year, which is nice considering he really only played in 2 games.
- Matthew Stafford – A showdown against the rival Packers, Stafford threw for 520 yards and five touchdowns Sunday against Green Bay to finish the regular season with 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. Perhaps the most important statistic for Stafford this season was 16, as in the number of games played after managing to play in just 13 contests in his previous two seasons. He and Calvin Johnson displayed how dangerous a duo the pair can be when both on the field. Stafford’s best days still likely lay ahead of him and Detroit should have a better running game next season as well as a number of contributors get healthy. Expect the Detroit Lions to win many wildcard playoff positions in the next few years. After 38 fantasy points, Stafford ranked 5th among receivers, which is spectacular considering his average draft round of 9-10.
- Drew Brees – He wasn’t going to let Brady beat out his defeat of Dan Marino, no sir! Drew Brees went 389 yards and 5 touchdowns against one interception, racking up 33 fantasy points against the Panthers. Cam Newton? Not so much. The Saints did not win a first-round bye, but look to be Super Bowl favorites this year. Brees is ranked 2nd overall QB for the 2011 season.
- Eli Manning – His second half of the season was a dominating one. Manning completed 24 of 33 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns Sunday. He was sacked twice and did not throw an interception. Another Pro Bowl level game from Manning who draws the Falcons next week in the playoffs. Eli finishes the year with 4933 yards, more than that of any quarterback in NFL history prior to this season except Drew Brees and Dan Marino.
- Tom Brady – 2nd place isn’t so bad, especially when you also beat Dan Marino’s record. Brady finished the 2011 season with 5,235 passing yards, while completing 401-of-611 passes, to go along with 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Tom Brady’s yardage mark was good for second in the league this season — and all-time for that matter — behind the Saints’ Drew Brees. Obviously, fantasy owners can’t complain about what Brady brought to the table in 2011, but for those looking for something to critique, it’s the picks. He only threw four in his 2010 MVP campaign. Assuming he stays healthy through the playoffs, Brady will maintain his elite QB status heading into 2012 fantasy drafts.
- Ray Rice – Number one overall, thanks to all other #1 runners going down at some point this season. Rice had 24 carries for 191 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Sunday’s win at Cincinnati. Most of Rice’s damage came on his touchdowns, as he scored on runs of 70 and 51 yards. Rice stepped up huge for the Ravens in a game that got them a first-round bye, and he should be one of the first runners selected in playoff leagues. Ray Rice scored 31 fantasy points.
- Michael Turner – Not bad end to the season, producing his 6th 100+ yard rushing game for his season-best 29 fantasy points, Turner the Burner comes out 5th overall. He ran 17 times for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Bucs. He’s getting older, but should still be a top-10 rusher for next year.
- BenJarvus Green-Ellis – The Law Firm carried seven times for 22 yards with two touchdowns in Sunday’s 49-21 win over the Bills. He also caught one pass for 53 yards. Stevan Ridley led the team in carries again, but Green-Ellis appears entrenched as the Patriots’ goal-line back heading into the playoffs. Green-Ellis has yet to fumble in his NFL career, which is probably why he is the one the team’s coaches trust around the goal-line. He gaines 19 fantasy points putting him at 22nd overall; not bad for a team which is usually on a pass-only basis.
- Ahmad Bradshaw & Ryan Grant & Chris Ivory – All 3 running backs tied for 18 fantasy points this weekend.
Bradshaw had 16 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown. He also caught three passes for 12 yards and another score. It wasn’t pretty, but Bradshaw wound up with another two scores, giving him 11 for the year in 12 games. Ahmad Bradshaw is the 20th top back of the year.
Well, James Starks was inactive, and the Packers had nothing to play for. Grant only ran the ball 12 times for 48 yards. But did you watch the highlight reel? Screen passes and 70-yard YACs galore! Ryan Grant’s 18-point day set him as 37th overall rusher. Will he be in Green Bay next year, however?
Ivory had his best game of the season in Sunday’s win over Carolina, rushing for 127 yards with a touchdown. Ivory got off to a great start, running for a 35-yard touchdown early in the first quarter. Ivory received eight more carries than Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas combined, and that could continue in the playoffs, as fellow bruising runner Mark Ingram is out for the year. Chris Ivory is the 65th best running back of the year.
- Jordy Nelson – A ridiculously strong performance in a game that had no meaning, Nelson caught nine passes for 162 yards with three touchdowns in the Packers 45-41 win over the Lions on Sunday. Jordy was targeted early and often by backup Matt Flynn, receiving a team-high 15 looks. After putting up a dud in Week 15 at Kansas City (two catches for 29 yards with a couple of offensive pass interference calls), Nelson had 15 receptions for 277 yards with five touchdowns in the last two games. He’s likely to be one of the first few receivers taken in playoff leagues. His 34 points this weekend ranked him at a wonderful #2 overall wide receiver, but still 44 points behind…
- Calvin Johnson – Megatron is the main target on a pass heavy team, versus Jordy who started the year as Aaron Rodger’s 2nd or 3rd option. Johnson had a career-high 11 receptions for 244 yards with a touchdown in Sunday’s 45-41 loss at Green Bay. Johnson received a whopping 17 targets, and the Packers could do very little to stop him (he also drew a couple of pass interference calls). Johnson came up a little short of his first 100-catch campaign (96 receptions), but he led the NFL with 1,681 receiving yards and an NFC-best 16 touchdowns. Unfortunately for those in playoff leagues, the Lions could be one-and-done, facing a powerful Saints team in New Orleans. He finished the year on top with 26 fantasy points.
- Marques Colston - Drew Brees’ top target had a monster game in Sunday’s win over Carolina, catching seven passes for a season-high 145 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Colston made a couple of awesome catches, including a gorgeous 42-yard touchdown with just seven seconds left in the first half. Despite missing a couple of games early in the season due to injury, Colston still managed to catch 80 passes for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns. Considering that the Saints will play at home in the first round of the postseason, and could win a couple of games, Colston makes for a decent target for those in playoff leagues. He finishes the year at #11 after 26 fantasy points.
- Victor Cruz – The year’s best gift, Victor really didn’t get drafted in any leagues, and was picked up in free agency after the 3rd week of the season. Cruz had six catches for 178 yards and a touchdown Sunday. Like last week, he made the game’s biggest plays and was a huge factor in the Giants win. He finishes the season with 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns, despite seeing very little action the first two weeks of the year. After 23 points, Victor Cruz is the 4th best receiver.
- Michael Crabtree – A 49er receiver finally made the weekly top-5 list? What is this world coming to? Crabtree had nine catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns during the 49ers’ win Sunday. Michael Crabtree broke tackles and scored from 28 yards out on a WR screen in the second quarter, but his TD later on couldn’t have been easier, as he received a pass from David Akers wide open during a fake field goal. He enters the postseason as San Francisco’s clear WR1. He ranks 32nd for the year after a season-best 21 fantasy points.
Two Tom Brady targets are recognized for the top tight ends for the week, Rob Gronkowski (8 catches, 108 yards, 2 touchdowns, 22 fantasy points, #1 TE of the year) and Aaron Hernandez (7 catches, 138 yards, 1 touchdown, 21 fantasy points, 3rd overall). With that strong effort in Sunday’s regular season finale, Gronkowski broke the NFL record for yards in a season by a tight end with 1,327.
Good luck to your playoff-bound teams, see you next year!