It is all over, save the shouting in most fantasy leagues. If you have been crowned champion, feel free to let loose.
This hasn’t been an easy season to endure. Ask Julio Jones (foot) owners. Ask those who picked Arian Foster (back), Doug Martin (shoulder), C.J. Spiller, Ray Rice or Trent Richardson in the first round.
Winning your fantasy football leagues is more about surviving attrition than celebrating your drafting genius.
We recap Week 16, the time most fantasy leagues decide their championship, with the top takeaways and an eye toward 2014, if not the remaining season finales.
Packers’ Lacy Leaves with Injury
This takeaway was going to be to announce rookie Eddie Lacy as a sure-fire first-round pick for 2014. Instead, he left the game with a re-aggravation of his ankle injury, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Tom Silverstein, leaving his Week 17 status in question.
His loss for a winner-take-all match next week with the Chicago Bears would be disappointing. The Bears have the worst run defense in football.
James Starks would get the start next week if Lacy cannot go. Starks, available in over 50 percent of CBS Sports leagues, would be a must-start option in all leagues in that matchup. Kahlil Bell would be the backup, remember, since rookie Johnathan Franklin was placed on season-ending IR with post-concussion syndrome.
The Green Bay Packers news conferences in the coming days are going to be must-see TV for fantasy owners still concerned about game statuses and the injury report. Aaron Rodgers (shoulder) might be in play, too, by the way.
Eagles’ McCoy Secures No. 2 Spot
If Jamaal Charles clinched his No. 1 status for 2014 with his huge Week 16 performance, LeSean McCoy has clinched the second-overall pick Sunday. McCoy led an unstoppable Philadelphia Eagles rushing attack with 18 carries for 133 yards and two touchdowns. He added 29 yards receiving on six receptions, too.
Like Charles, McCoy is a dynamic back in a dynamic offense. As much as can be made of Nick Foles‘ emergence under offensive guru Chip Kelly, it is the running game that makes the Eagles go. Philly boasts the No. 1 rushing offense in football, with 161.9 yards per game.
Picking McCoy right behind Charles next year will force fantasy owners to skip over Adrian Peterson, but A.D. is turning 29 in March. Charles will be the prime age of 27 next year, while McCoy will turn just 26 in July.
Cowboys’ Murray Cements Round 1 Status
Lost in yet another mediocre Dallas Cowboys season has been the health and consistency of DeMarco Murray. He went over 100 combined yards with two touchdowns, including a clutch one late against the Redskins.
The third-year back has cracked the 1,000-yard mark with 10 combined touchdowns. It won’t be enough to put him in the Charles-McCoy-Peterson level among fantasy picks, but it does make him a first-rounder.
It wasn’t going to be a question of production with Murray, necessarily. It was about health. Murray is going to play a 14th game for the first time in his career. At 26, like McCoy, he should be in for a career year in 2014.
Rams’ Stacy Enters First-Round Conversation
Speaking of 2014 first-round running backs, you cannot have that conversation without including Rams rookie Zac Stacy. He has been a monster since taking over as the Rams’ feature back, scoring seven touchdowns in the past seven games.
What’s even more impressive for fantasy owners is Stacy has come through against some very good defenses. He had a career-high 134 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8 and went over 100 with a touchdown against a sturdy Tampa Bay Buccaneers front this week.
Needless to stay, Stacy has been a must-start running back regardless of the matchup. That might be the most important trait for a first-round pick to have. You should keep him active in Week 17 even at Seattle.
Mathews on Verge of First 16-Game Season
With a career-high 1,111 yards, the Chargers’ Ryan Mathews might joined the above in the first-round conversation, too, if not for endless questions about being injury prone. Well, don’t look now, but Mathews is headed for the first 16-game season of his four-year career.
Mathews did leave the locker room in a walking boot after Sunday’s game against the Raiders, but he told Michael Gehlken of the Union-Tribune San Diego he fully expects to play next Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs:
“I feel good. Sore,” Mathews told Gehlken. “Tough game. Tough yards. … It’s football. It’s a contact sport, so stuff’s going to happen. It happened to me.”
The problem is stuff has always happened to Mathews. If he is active against the Chiefs and has a solid game to the tune of 60 yards and a touchdown in Week 17, you might consider Mathews a borderline first-round pick in 2014.
Bengals’ Dalton a Fantasy Starter
There might not be a quarterback picked in Round 1 next year because of the cluster of top passers, but you have to consider Andy Dalton a starting fantasy quarterback in all leagues now. His 366-yard, four-touchdown performance Sunday clinched that, if it wasn’t sewn up already.
Dalton has gone over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns for the first time in his career, numbers that cement a quarterback among fantasy starters. He has some elite company there right now. Only Peyton Manning (5,211-51) and Drew Brees (4,781-35) can boast having reached those plateaus this season.
We should rate Dalton as a starter, along with the added names Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Tom Brady, because Dalton has the elite receiver in A.J. Green, the emerging running game with rookie Giovani Bernard and burgeoning fantasy gem receivers Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert.
The Bengals don’t have elite fantasy names individually, outside of Green, but the collection of them combine to make for a promising set of options next year—especially as sleepers for breakout years.
Bears’ Cutler Proves Unworthy
That performance by Jay Cutler on Sunday night at Philly left a lot to be desired—and it might leave him on the outs as Bears quarterback. That would be a bummer, because Marc Trestman is a fantasy-gem maker, and Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery comprise, arguably, the best receiving duo in football.
Cutler will get another chance to earn his status in Chicago, if he can beat the Packers next Sunday. He might have to, if the offseason free agent wants to be back.
Cutler’s shaky ground makes that Packers-Bears game an important one for fantasy owners, in addition to deciding the NFC North champion.
Patriots Settle on Blount?
Stevan Ridley might be out of the Bill Belichick doghouse, racking up 15 carries for 54 yards against a solid Baltimore Ravens run defense, but LeGarrette Blount got the start and the important carries for fantasy owners.
Blount got just one more carry than Ridley, but he totaled 76 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Even Shane Vereen didn’t get the touches Blount got. Vereen was limited to two carries for six yards and one reception for four yards, albeit a touchdown.
The New England Patriots appear ready to go to go a power running game now that Rob Gronkowski (knee) is out for the season. Blount will be the best fantasy back to start in Week 17 against the Buffalo Bills.
Bush Fumbles Away Starting Job?
Speaking of fumbling away a starting job and fantasy status, Reggie Bush has taken the torch from Ridley. After losing his fourth fumble of the season, Bush was benched in favor of Joique Bell in the Detroit Lions’ loss to the Giants.
Bush was limited to 12 carries for 34 yards, while Bell finished with 20 rushes for 91 yards, including a touchdown, and 10 receptions for 63 yards.
If the Lions bench Bush in Week 17 at Minnesota, it could keep Bush from his second 1,000-yard season and perhaps 50-plus catches. He has 49. Remember, it was speculated this preseason Bush could be a candidate for 80 receptions in the Lions’ pass-happy offense, but Bell ha stolen Bush’s thunder. Bell has 49 receptions himself.
You should consider Bell the fantasy back of choice in Week 17.
Broncos’ Manning Isn’t Done Setting Records
A week of takeaways in 2013 wouldn’t be complete without a mention in some way to the record-setting exploits of the Denver Broncos’ Manning. He already broke Brady’s single-season touchdown record, but now he sets his sights on Brees’ single-season passing-yardage record of 5,476 yards.
At 5,211 yards, Manning needs just 265 yards in Week 17 against the Oakland Raiders to set the record.
Manning fantasy owners might need to root for Brady’s Patriots next week. The Broncos need a victory or a Patriots loss to clinch home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
The good news is the Patriots play the Bills at the same time the Broncos play the Raiders on the West Coast. It is all but likely the Broncos are going to keep the hammer down long enough for Manning to rack up the 265 yards he needs to pass Brees.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.