Welcome to this week’s edition of the “3M Report” – a weekly look back at the mayhem, magic and mishaps from around the NFL, focusing on situations and players that caught my eye or made me scratch my head in either awe or disbelief. Week fourteen, which is the first week of the fantasy playoffs for many leagues, was another one filled with injuries. Fortunately, most of these injuries don’t seem to be serious, but it may have been enough to end your fantasy season with a playoff loss.
The Thursday night tilt proved closer than many expected as the Vikings took the Cardinals all the way to the wire before succumbing in a 23-20 loss. Second year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater played what was likely his best game of the season, with a career high of 335 passing yards. With just one score though, Bridgewater continues to be a disappointment as a fantasy option, yet has led the Vikes to an 8-5 record.
The LeSean McCoy revenge game pitted the Bills and Eagles against each other and proved to be one of the day’s best games. McCoy had a solid day, but failed to find the end zone, and in the end his team suffered the loss. McCoy did not respond well, leaving the field before time expired and then refusing to speak to reporters.
Even with a much needed victory, there are many questions surrounding the Philadelphia offense, especially at the running back position. Before the game, it was reported that DeMarco Murray had been demoted to fourth string, yet he received the second most carries, totaling 34 yards on 11 carries. This will be a story to watch for the remainder of the season and into the off-season, as there are already rumors of the Eagles parting ways with Murray.
Any meeting of division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati is sure to get physical, and that’s just what happened, even before the game began. The teams got into a pre-game altercation and things only got worse from there, especially for the Bengals. Cincinnati entered the week as the top overall seed in the AFC and left as the third seed, not only losing the game but also their starting quarterback, as Andy Dalton suffered a broken thumb. The injury is potentially a season-ender for Dalton and puts the Bengals’ playoffs chances in doubt. He’ll be replaced by AJ McCarron, who actually drew some preseason buzz with some speculating he could overtake Dalton.
The most dominant performance of the day, hands down, came from the still undefeated Carolina Panthers, who cruised to 38-0 shutout victory over division rival Atlanta. Things went so well for the Panthers that not only did their backups get some playing time late in the game, but their starting offense spent the game’s final minutes posing for a team picture on the sidelines and quarterback Cam Newton, a strong MVP candidate, did his best Hulk Hogan impersonation, keeping the crowd into the game. Newton has shown enough that he’s moved up to my top overall dynasty quarterback, leapfrogging Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck.
When your team is part of a three way tie for the division lead, every game is a must win and the Washington Redskins managed to hang on and defeat the Bears, thanks in large part to the play of tight end Jordan Reed. After suffering another concussion earlier in the season, I would not have been surprised if Reed never played again. Not only did he return, but he’s playing like one of the best tight ends in the league. He went over the 100 yard receiving mark for the third time in his career.
In a game we only care about because of fantasy football, the Cleveland Browns easily defeated the 49ers, led by a pair of disappointing players who had big days, Johnny Manziel and Isaiah Crowell. Entering the day, the Browns had not had a 100 yard rusher this season, but Crowell easily bypassed that mark with his 140 yards and he had more touchdowns this week (two) than he’d had the rest of the season. Overall, the Browns’ offense has been a train wreck, but there are many young players who have shown a lot of promise. If things fall right, this could be next year’s version of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have one of the most exciting young offenses in the league.
After rookie running back Todd Gurley was held under 100 rushing yards for five consecutive games, the Rams made a change at offensive coordinator last week and Rob Boras seemed to make a difference. Gurley carried the ball 16 times after just nine carries in each of the past two weeks and he rushed for 140 yards and a pair of scores as the team beat the Lions. Gurley is still on track to be a first round startup pick and one of the most coveted players of the off-season.
Things were lined up perfectly for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get a big division win. They were sitting at .500 and at home facing one of the worst defenses the league has seen in quite a while, the New Orleans Saints. Quarterback Jameis Winston, running back Doug Martin and wide receiver Mike Evans had all been playing well in recent weeks and were heavily leaned on in playoff matchups everywhere. As often happens, what looks like the ideal situation didn’t work out as projected. The Saints won the game and Winston and the Tampa passing game never really got going. The win is even more impressive when considering it is the Saints’ first game without starting back Mark Ingram, who was placed on the injured reserve list last week with a shoulder injury. The team appears set to go with Tim Hightower the rest of the way, who easily out-touched CJ Spiller and Marcus Murphy.
The New York Jets offense is one of the hottest in the league, with Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall continuing to produce on a weekly basis. The pair of veterans combined for 13 receptions, nearly 200 yards and a pair of scores as the Jets easily defeated the Titans. Neither are showing any signs of slowing down and Decker might be the most undervalued player in the league over the past few seasons.
It was a nice run for veteran Matt Hasselbeck, but the Colts are not the same team without Andrew Luck. They got hammered by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who hung 51 on the Colts defense. Blake Bortles, while still making his share of mistakes, continues to make a case he should be valued as a top ten dynasty quarterback. I won’t be at all surprised if Luck begins practicing this week and maybe even suits up in week fifteen.
The hottest duo in the league kept things going as Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson and wide receiver Doug Baldwin connected on three more touchdowns as Seattle blasted the Ravens. Baldwin now has eight touchdowns in the past three weeks, which is more than all but eight receivers have over the entire season.
The Seahawks win did have its cost though, as rookie running back Thomas Rawls suffered a broken ankle, ending his season. Rawls was already a difficult player to place an exact dynasty value on, considering the unknown status of veteran Marshawn Lynch. With Rawls done for the year, Lynch is likely to return to the field soon and Rawls enters the off-season with months of uncertainty ahead of him.
It’s well known that the backup quarterback is often the most popular guy in town, we’re just not used to Peyton Manning being that backup. With the Broncos’ disappointing home loss to the Raiders, some fans and media are beginning to speculate the team could go back to Manning at quarterback in place of Brock Osweiler. I don’t expect that to happen, but with the Bengals without Dalton and the Patriots dealing with multiple injuries, Denver has to see an opportunity they want to take advantage of, before its too late.
A week ago, it looked like Packers’ running back Eddie Lacy was done in Green Bay. He’d was effectively benched after a curfew violation and some rumors of the team moving on from Lacy for good. This week, Lacy earned his starting job back and responded with his third 100+ yard rushing game in four contests, with last week being the obvious exception. Both Lacy and James Starks ran well as the Packers took out the Dallas Cowboys. At this point, I’m not sure if we should value Lacy as one of the top young runners in the league or as a player who will be with a new team in 2016.
Sunday night football marked the much needed return of superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski. Not only were fantasy players desperate to use Gronk in their lineups, but the Patriots needed him, after losing back to back games. Gronkowski was not heavily involved, but caught all four of his targets for 87 yards and a touchdown. He should propel New England back into the driver’s seat for the AFC title and could be the difference maker in playoff games over the next two weeks.