In many leagues, Week 16 is so … final.
There's no silver lining, no bounce-backs. If your guy's production vaporizes, that's all she wrote. And there was definitely some vaporizing Sunday.
Arian Foster had 12 touches for 29 yards before leaving with an irregular heartbeat, an issue the Houston Texans swear up and down isn't anything to be concerned about. Frank Gore had six carries for 28 yards. Darren McFadden had 48 yards on 20 touches. Chris Johnson managed 41 yards on 13 touches while battling an ankle injury. BenJarvus Green-Ellis managed just 14 yards on 15 carries. Victor Cruz had three catches for 21 yards. Mike Wallace had one catch for 13 yards. Stevie Johnson caught only four of 10 targets for 44 yards and had a terrible drop on a play that probably would've been a touchdown. Aaron Hernandez had one catch for 13 yards.
But you know what? While that sounds like a long list, it's really nothing compared to Week 15, when a much larger slew of supposed studs produced duds. Sure, some players this weekend didn't get touchdowns you wish they'd gotten. Others went under their fantasy-point averages, and it was costly. But pure fantasy Hindenburgs were relatively few and far between. Of course, that only accentuated the disappointment provided by Foster, Gore, DMC, BJGE, et al, and is cold comfort if you're nursing a Super Bowl loss. But I'll bet fewer owners are feeling betrayed this week, compared to last.
And of course, in standard ESPN.com leagues, the championship game spans both Week 16 and 17, so you have time to recover.
Due to the holiday, I won't be writing a Free-Agent Finds column this week, but I'll do my best to process injuries and a few possible replacements here in today's column.
Let's look at Sunday's other top storylines:
• The Dallas Cowboys' passing game remained ridiculously hot behind Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Over his past six games, Romo's average line is 29-of-44 for 347 yards. In that time, he has thrown 14 TDs and just three INTs. Against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, all Romo did was lead a 14-point comeback beginning from his own 20-yard line with 4:45 left in the game. And Bryant, fractured finger and all, is playing like one of the league's best three or four receivers; since Week 10, he has 46 catches for 808 yards and 10 TDs (he has found the end zone in seven straight games), which translates to 135 fantasy points, or more than 19 points per week. Anyone who faced these guys in tandem on Sunday almost certainly lost.
• Reggie Bush fits the bill for a fantasy Super Bowl hero: A flex-ranked player who was far from a no-brainer entering Week 16, but scored three TDs after having found the end zone only five times all season and zero times in December. I had Bush ranked 23rd among RBs heading into the weekend, which depending on your roster might have seen him sitting on your bench. If that's the case, I apologize. It was especially ironic that two of Bush's scores came on short passes, considering he had a career-low 29 catches coming into this game. Remember, this is a guy who grabbed 88 passes in his rookie season.
• Alas, there were others who excelled whom you probably had no business starting. Shonn Greene was borderline, I guess, and his performance illustrated why: 14 carries for 38 yards. But Greene did have two grabs for 42 yards, and more importantly, two first-quarter 1-yard scores. Ryan Grant, owned in 1.1 percent of ESPN.com leagues, was a garbage-time king in the Green Bay Packers' blowout: 21 touches for 114 yards and two TDs (he had just seven touches for 42 yards and zero TDs until it was 27-0 midway through the third quarter). Lance Kendricks was pretty much unstartable, but he opened the third quarter Sunday with a rumbling 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Pierre Thomas had 14 touches for 77 yards and a score. Bernard Pierce had 14 carries for 123 yards (most of which came on a 78-yarder in the fourth quarter Sunday with the game out of reach). Montell Owens (owned in 8.8 percent of leagues) had 14 touches for 119 yards. And perhaps most unstartable of all was Larry Fitzgerald himself: Poor Larry hadn't eclipsed four catches or 31 yards receiving in a game since Week 9, but Sunday against the Chicago Bears, he went for eight grabs and 111 yards.
• Matt Forte had to leave that same game against the Arizona Cardinals with a reinjury of his bothersome right ankle, and was seen in a walking boot after the contest. Fortunately, he was able to provide the Bears with 95 total yards and an honest-to-goodness touchdown run from inside an opponent's 5-yard line, but his availability against the Detroit Lions next week is in doubt. That game is a must-win for the Bears' playoff hopes, so if Forte get can out there, he will, and he told reporters Sunday night he thinks he'll play. In his place Sunday, Kahlil Bell (13 carries, 32 yards, owned in 0.1 percent of leagues) appeared to be the main replacement, while Armando Allen (six touches, 25 yards, owned in 0.0 percent of leagues) also got looks. Michael Bush is on IR, so sans Forte, we might be looking at a hands-off situation for Week 17. I would probably add Bell if I had to choose.
• Trent Richardson didn't do much to reward my faith in him: 12 touches for 68 yards and no scores. Even worse, during a garbage-time snap late in the fourth quarter, he injured his left ankle and was carted off the field. He reportedly didn't relay much information to onlookers after the game but did tell reporters that his ankle wasn't broken. When "it's not broken" is the best thing you can say, that definitely puts Week 17's meaningless contest against Pittsburgh Steelers in jeopardy. Montario Hardesty (owned in 1.8 percent of leagues) would figure to inherit the lion's share of backfield work, but he would be an utter desperation option.
• In the Jacksonville Jaguars' scrappy loss to the New England Patriots, Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon each got plenty of work. But Blackmon scored a touchdown and Shorts didn't, and Shorts also took a pretty dirty shot from Patrick Chung and had to leave the game with a head injury. Reports late Sunday indicate Shorts suffered another concussion, his second since Week 13. There's really no scenario I can imagine in which the Jags would let him play in the finale against the Tennessee Titans. You'd have to say Blackmon's Week 17 fantasy prospects probably improve as a result. Jordan Shipley (owned in 0.0 percent of leagues) did have five catches for 82 yards Sunday.
• Not only were the Steelers eliminated from the playoffs by their home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, they also lost star TE Heath Miller. Miller had only three grabs for 45 yards before suffering a knee injury in the fourth quarter, and he reportedly suffered ligament damage. It's unknown whether he'll require surgery, but he's most certainly out for Week 17. There's no fantasy-relevant replacement on Pittsburgh's roster.
• My call on the Bengals D/ST turned out to be a good one; in last week's Hard Count, I offered an explanation as to why I ranked the Cincy D at No. 3 for Week 16, and it worked out well. Leon Hall returned a first-quarter pick for a touchdown, Geno Atkins wreaked havoc all afternoon and the team generated four sacks of Ben Roethlisberger and produced three total turnovers, including the crucial one late in the fourth quarter to set up the winning field goal. This unit is dangerous.
• Vernon Davis suffered a concussion on a brutal hit late in the first quarter Sunday night. Kam Chancellor was called for a personal foul, although replays showed the hit was absolutely clean, even if extraordinarily violent. The San Francisco 49ers are now very much in danger of losing out on a first-round bye, and figure to play their starters deep into Week 17's contest against the Cardinals. Whether Davis will go is very much up in the air. I don't think I'd feel very good if I had to use Delanie Walker (owned in 0.2 percent of leagues) or Garrett Celek (owned in 0.0 percent of leagues) as a substitute, Walker's garbage-time fantasy points Sunday night notwithstanding.
• Russell Wilson just keeps on trucking, albeit a bit improbably. He threw four TD passes on Sunday night in just 21 total attempts. Incredibly, Wilson has averaged more than 30 fantasy points the past two weeks while also averaging only 183 yards passing. While that rate is clearly unsustainable, it would be a mistake to proclaim Wilson some kind of fluke. NBC's Cris Collinsworth is dead on when he compares Wilson to Fran Tarkenton in terms of athleticism and backfield escapability. For fantasy, the concern is always going to be that Wilson's lack of pass attempts catches up with him at an inopportune moment (a la Week 14 versus the Cardinals, when he had 13 attempts and eight fantasy points in a blowout win), but that's the only thing keeping this rookie out of the fantasy elite right now.
• Robert Griffin III made it back from his Week 14 knee injury, and led the Washington Redskins to the outright NFC East lead and a showdown against the Cowboys on Sunday night. He was mostly adequate throwing the ball: 16-of-24 for 198 yards, two TDs and one INT on a pretty lousy overthrow. From a fantasy perspective, though, it was alarming to see RG III keep the ball on a first-quarter read-option play, try to take it around the edge and limp gingerly to the sideline. He stayed in the game throughout, but didn't have any other called runs, and running is of course the reason RG III is such a fantasy darling. A huge question mark entering the Dallas game will be whether Griffin's knee feels good enough for him to scramble. If he can't, he's not a top-five fantasy option at quarterback in Week 17.
• Randall Cobb injured his right ankle returning a punt in the third quarter Sunday, and never returned to the game. He produced three grabs for 62 yards and a touchdown before exiting, thereby rescuing his fantasy owners before his departure. X-rays on his ankle proved negative, but as of Monday morning, there was still a chance he'd need an MRI. The Packers must win Sunday to preserve the NFC's No. 2 seed, and should Cobb and Jordy Nelson both have to miss Week 17's game against the Minnesota Vikings, James Jones and probably Greg Jennings would get a huge rankings bump.
• A summary of playoff teams with nothing to gain or lose in Week 17: The Atlanta Falcons are locked into the NFC's top seed, and could very well rest players quite early in their game. The Indianapolis Colts will be the AFC's No. 5 seed and the Bengals will be the No. 6 no matter what, so they, too, may be tempted to sit their stars. Every other team can still jumble up their seed (or fail to make the playoffs entirely), and thus figure to play their best players, provided they're healthy.