Let the 2013 debate begin!
Since we've now pretty much resolved that taking a QB with the first overall pick in a fantasy draft is ill-advised (see: Michael Vick circa 2011, Aaron Rodgers circa 2012), there seem to be two obvious candidates to be rated No. 1 in '13.
In this corner, I give you Adrian Peterson. Returning from a torn ACL he suffered last Christmas Eve, AP has already reached his career high in rushing yards for a season with two games remaining. Peterson sits at 1,812 rush yards after notching 212 Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. It seems a fait accompli that he'll become the seventh man to reach 2,000, and he's got a legit chance to surpass Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105, which Dickerson set in 1984. Give AP 147 yards against the Houston Texans in Week 16 and again against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17, and he'd have submitted the greatest RB season in NFL history. Imagine how much better he might be next year, even further removed from his catastrophic injury.
And in this corner, I give you Arian Foster. Through 14 games, Foster has an NFL-leading 16 total TDs, plus he has 1,493 yards from scrimmage. While Foster's per-carry average is "only" 4.04 so far in '13, he's the best goal-line RB in the NFL and is one of only two backs with double-digit rushing TDs in each of the past three seasons. (Of course, the other RB is Peterson, who's hit double digits in six straight.) Foster is 17 months younger and as of this exact moment has 984 career carries compared to 1,695 for All Day. Plus the Houston Texans have a significantly better surrounding offensive cast than do the Minnesota Vikings.
For me, Foster was the no-brainer No. 1 overall pick this season, but you'll recall back in '10 I was one of the few folks who insisted Peterson would be a better top pick than Chris Johnson, and I also had Peterson as my No. 1 over the field in '11. There are few admirers of AP bigger than me, which made it all the more frustrating to downgrade him so significantly this summer. Now that he's proved he's all the way back and then some? Well, I'll have an awfully tough time not vaulting him above the irrepressible Foster. Pretty much every spot after No. 2 is going to be a wild goose chase, but I daresay we've already got a rock-solid consensus top two.
Uh, yeah. Right up until everyone starts screaming how Robert Griffin III should be the top pick.
Let's look at Sunday's other top storylines:
• Russell Wilson, James Jones and Dennis Pitta headed the list of Week 15 stars you probably couldn't work up the nerve to start. Wilson rushed for three TDs and threw for one against the Buffalo Bills in the first half and in all rushed for 92 yards and threw for another 205. But as is typical for him, Wilson only had 23 pass attempts; he's only been over 27 throws in a game three times all year but wound up with a whopping 39 fantasy points Sunday. Jones scored three TDs for the first time in his career (on seven grabs for 60 yards) but in his previous three contests he had four catches combined. Pitta had two long TDs on broken plays -- with awful tackling -- once his team was losing to the Denver Broncos 31-3, and put together a line of seven grabs for 125 yards. Unfortunately he's been on the every-other-game program, having caught one pass for 19 yards in Week 14. Mike Tolbert (two short TDs early in a game in which he ran nine times for 40 yards), Beanie Wells (three rushing TDs), Sam Bradford (377 yards and three TDs on 55 pass attempts, many of them in garbage time), Leonard Hankerson (only two grabs, but both of them for TDs), and Mark Ingram (14 carries for 90 yards and a TD) joined the ranks of top performers you probably had no business starting in a fantasy playoff game. But if you did, good on ya.
• Leaning in the other direction, several fantasy superstars submarined their teams when it mattered most. Josh Freeman must've watched tape of Drew Brees' Thursday night stink-fest against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 13, because he submitted a certified copy Sunday in the Superdome: 26-of-47 for 279 yards, 0 TDs and 4 INTs. All four of those picks came in the New Orleans Saints' red zone. This was the second consecutive week Freeman turned what looked like a sweet matchup into gruel. His teammate Doug Martin had 35 yards on 12 touches. Jamaal Charles had 12 touches for only 28 yards in a dream matchup against the Oakland Raiders. Reggie Wayne had three grabs for 14 yards. Ray Rice touched it 15 times for 41 yards and Anquan Boldin put up a donut. Danario Alexander put up a similar bagel, on three targets. Roddy White played on his injured knee, and caught two balls for 16 yards, while Demaryius Thomas had 13 yards on four catches. Matthew Stafford went 24-of-50 for 246 yards, 0 TDs and 3 INTs. And the Detroit Lions D/ST, which was many fantasy owners' sleeper pick of the week (I had 'em ninth, so I'm not without a bit of culpability), racked up only three fantasy points while making Ryan Lindley look competent.
• However, the stinker of all stinkers and Sunday's biggest group disappointment was the New York Giants offense in a 34-0 thrashing at the hands of the Falcons. Eli Manning was 13-of-25 for 161 yards and two killer first-half INTs deep in his own territory. Victor Cruz had three catches for 15 yards, and took a big (illegal) shot over the middle that temporarily shook him up (though he did return to the game). Hakeem Nicks caught three passes for 40 yards. Martellus Bennett had one grab for 15 yards. And while David Wilson began the game with a promising 44 yards rushing on the Giants' first two possessions (on five carries), his team was so far behind thereafter he only saw seven more totes for 11 yards. Domenik Hixon was the big offensive star with five grabs for 80 mostly meaningless yards, helping absolutely nobody.
• My own personal Week 15 stinker was my faith in Stevan Ridley, who had a pretty awful performance himself Sunday night: nine carries for 23 yards and a lost fumble. Ridley actually fumbled twice, but the first was overturned by replay. It was the second fumble, a third-quarter lulu after a strong 9-yard run, that basically ended the second-year RB's night. After that, he got exactly one more carry (from the San Francisco 49ers 1, which he didn't convert). One could probably argue that the logic of my Ridley call was validated, as in replacing the butterfingered Ridley, Danny Woodhead had 12 carries for 61 yards and two TDs (both after Ridley's lost fumble), for 20 fantasy points. Alas, we don't get fantasy credit for proximity, so I'll take the hit for recommending Ridley. And with his continued ball-security issues, Ridley could be facing a diminishing workload in Week 16 against the
• The fact that RG III couldn't play because of his injured knee was a fantasy disappointment, and personally I didn't feel comfortable subbing fellow rookie Kirk Cousins in lineups. But Cousins acquitted himself well, going 26-of-37 for 329 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. His long first-quarter TD to Hankerson was probably an ill-advised throw, since it went into triple coverage, but Cousins made it work, zinging a long one on the run. I'd bet cold cash that Griffin will return in Week 16, but if he doesn't, Cousins won't rank outside my top 20 QBs again (especially because the Washington Redskins face the woeful Philadelphia Eagles). Alfred Morris began the game slowly with nine carries for 18 yards in the first half. But as the Skins exerted themselves in the second stanza, Morris turned 18 more totes into 69 more yards and two TDs. Dude seems pretty darned slump-proof. Then again, so did Ridley.
• Calvin Johnson submitted his seventh straight 100-yard-receiving yard game, tying an NFL record. (He had 121 yards Sunday.) But he failed to get in the end zone, and to add to the indignity, he was tackled at the Arizona Cardinals' 1. Amazingly, that's the sixth time this has happened to him in '12. Megatron sits at five receiving TDs despite the fact that he's still on pace to break Jerry Rice's 1995 single-season receiving yards record. Imagine what kind of fantasy season he'd be having had he gotten those 6 extra yards.
• Too bad they don't offer fantasy points for offensive pass interference calls, because Alshon Jeffery would be a monster! ESPN Stats & Info reports that Kenny Britt entered Week 15 as the only NFL wideout who'd committed three offensive PI calls all year. Jeffery committed three in Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers. And they were big plays! Jefferey had a short TD nullified late in the third quarter and a 36-yard bomb wiped away in the fourth quarter. The validity of any of those three calls is up for serious discussion -- they brought to mind a rookie failing to get any calls in the NBA -- and probably could've changed the game for the Chicago Bears.
• Fantasy-relevant injuries from Sunday that may affect your fantasy finals include Ryan Mathews, who left the San Diego Chargers' humiliating home loss in the second quarter because of a broken right collarbone. Considering that Ronnie Brown missed Week 15 with a bad hamstring, we may be looking at Curtis Brinkley and Jackie Battle carrying the rock next week. Meanwhile, Torrey Smith took a hard fall trying to catch an errant Joe Flacco pass (was there any other kind Sunday?), suffered a concussion and didn't return. Bernard Pierce was given two series nearly entirely to himself in the first half of the Baltimore Ravens' big loss, but he then suffered a concussion himself; going forward that could mean a fuller workload for Ray Rice. One can only hope.