Denver QB Peyton Manning returned with a vengeance in 2012 and is back to fantasy football stardom heading into next year. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Fantasy owners didn't need a final reminder of how cruel and unfair fantasy football can be, but there was Arian Foster last Sunday – the fantasy championship for most leagues -- putting up just 0.9 points before leaving the game early because of an irregular heartbeat.
Or Aaron Hernandez, catching just one pass for 13 yards … or Mike Wallace, putting up an identical stat line as Hernandez … or Jamaal Charles going off for 226 yards just one week after being held to 10 … or -- OK, you get it. We could go on forever with this (just like we could every week).
Everything is magnified in the fantasy playoffs, and that out-of-nowhere dud or that big performance on your bench can haunt you until draft day next year. So, what can you do about it?
Just let it go, forget about it and enjoy the holidays. Yeah, it's no fun to lose in your fantasy championship, but that milk has already been spilled. It would be nice if fantasy football always made sense, but it often doesn't. As long as you didn't bench Peyton Manning because you “had a hunch” about Jake Locker, then you can't beat yourself up too much.
If anything, we should all just congratulate ourselves that we made it through another fantasy season with our friends and loved ones still talking to us. Fantasy football is supposed to be a fun hobby, but it's easy to forget that when you're watching inexplicable things happen every Sunday.
If you won your league, then congratulations. Enjoy it and try to remember what you did right. If you lost, then put it out of your mind and hope for better luck next season. And while you're at it, just enjoy Week 17 and the playoffs as a fan who isn't worried about nine or 10 specific players. Football is a pretty great game. Don't forget that.
Before we let you go quietly into the offseason, let's take a quick look back at Week 16, plus highlight a player at each offensive position who saw their fantasy stock rise or fall throughout the season.
Robert Griffin III didn't look 100 percent, as shown by his two carries for four yards, but he still managed a decent fantasy day, scoring 18.32 points against the Eagles. Many owners probably had tough decisions involving Griffin, but they can't be mad at themselves for trusting fantasy's biggest breakout star, even if they benched someone like Tony Romo (40.64 fantasy points) or Matt Ryan (37.66). Griffin has been one of the most consistent players in all of fantasy this year, and he had a great matchup.
Griffin wasn't the only big-time QB who underperformed, though. Tom Brady managed just 18.68 points despite an equally favorable matchup against the Jaguars, and he obviously had no health concerns; Matt Schaub (7.12) laid an egg despite a matchup against a Vikings' team allowing the third-most fantasy points per game to QBs; and Matthew Stafford couldn't find the end zone despite 443 passing yards. The latter two had had consistency issues all season, but Brady and Griffin simply picked a bad time to be mediocre.
Notable Riser: Peyton Manning, Broncos. Owners were either all-in or all-out on Manning on draft day, and he definitely rewarded those who had faith in him. There was some rust early in the season, but it didn't take long before Manning looked like the Manning of old. He scored at least 21.5 fantasy points in all but four games this year, and he only once finished with fewer than 14.2. Even at 37, there will be no reason to doubt Manning heading into next season.
Notable Faller: Eli Manning, Giants. Peyton's little brother was almost universally viewed as the last “safe” starting quarterback after throwing for nearly 5,000 yards in 2011, but he was anything but safe and consistent this season. Manning had four single-digit performances and another three games with fewer than 14.6 fantasy points. Hakeem Nicks' various injuries undoubtedly had an effect on Manning's numbers, but that wasn't the only reason for his downfall. He'll still carry plenty of upside heading into next year, but he can no longer be considered “safe.”
Fantasy owners were treated to a blast from the past when Ryan Grant ran for 80 yards and two touchdowns for the Packers last week, but the majority of that production, including both touchdowns, came in garbage time. Grant's performance should be considered a fluke.
But even Grant's time-machine act wasn't as strange as three different Saints' RBs having at least 12 fantasy points. The Chiefs and Ravens also had two backs hit double digits. We know that with more teams going to committee or specialized backfield attacks that fantasy points will continue to be splintered, and this should serve as an early reminder for next season that it's OK to draft an RB2 who splits touches.
Notable Riser: C.J. Spiller, Bills. Yes, we really should be acknowledging Adrian Peterson here, but he'll get plenty of accolades in the coming weeks. Instead, we'll talk about a guy who's actually averaging more yards per carry this season than Peterson. After going for another 138 yards last week, Spiller is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He also averages over nine yards for every catch. A player that versatile and explosive has earned first-round draft status next season.
Notable Faller: Darren McFadden, Raiders. With a couple good games after returning from injury, McFadden looked like he could salvage his season. But he returned to his disappointing ways last week, rushing for just 33 yards on 17 carries in a favorable matchup against the Panthers. Between the four games missed and the 3.2 yards per carry, McFadden could fall as far as the third round next year. Fantasy owners should hope for a coaching change in Oakland, as McFadden never seemed to adapt to the new zone-blocking scheme.
Even though he was probably on most owners' benches, it was nice to see Larry Fitzgerald (8-111) break his slump. Clearly, all Fitzgerald needs is even halfway-decent quarterback play to be a top-flight fantasy receiver.
Kenny Britt, who's had at least 10 fantasy points in three of his past four games, is another receiver who looked good on Sunday and has the potential to put up big stats with a semi-competent quarterback. Britt's health is the biggest thing between him and fantasy stardom, but he'll need Jake Locker to continue to improve, as well. Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon, all of whom had at least 8.9 fantasy points last week, are also good examples of guys who have been rejuvenated this year by an upgrade at QB.
Notable Riser: Dez Bryant, Cowboys. Calvin Johnson's record-setting performance (and season) helped some owners win a fantasy title last week, but Dez Bryant's Calvin-esque finish to the season likely vaulted him into the top five among pass-catchers next year, too. Bryant looked unstoppable against the Saints in Week 16, putting up 224 yards and two scores, and that performance gave him four 20-plus-point efforts over the past six weeks. As long as he can stay out of trouble, Bryant looks poised to challenge Johnson for the No. 1 spot next season.
Notable Faller: Hakeem Nicks, Giants. Nicks was shut out last week, marking the seventh time this season he was held below five fantasy points -- not counting the three games he missed because of injury. Nicks has the tools to be a top-five fantasy receiver, but he's missed nine games in his four-year career, and he's only once had more than seven touchdowns in a season. He'll be a value-pick in the fifth or sixth round next year like Wayne or Vincent Jackson were this year, but Nicks must stay healthy.
We've been saying all season how volatile the TE position has been, and last week was no different. Only seven TEs scored, three of which had fewer than seven receiving yards. Meanwhile, Hernandez and Tony Gonzalez, fantasy's No. 1 TE entering the week, had just two catches for 22 yards between them.
Even with Jason Witten setting a single-season record for TE catches (103), Rob Gronkowski scoring double-digit TDs for the third-straight year, and Jimmy Graham (867 yards) within striking distance of a second-straight 1,000-yard season, it's unlikely that a TE will be drafted as early next season as Graham and Rob Gronkowski were this year.
Notable Riser: Heath Miller, Steelers. Miller has been a top-five TE virtually all year, but the season ended on a sour note when he exited last week's game early due to a knee injury. It was revealed Monday to be a torn ACL, which is disappointing because after eight seasons, he's finally proven himself as an every-week fantasy option.
Notable Faller: Gates has scored in each of the past two weeks, but it's too little, too late for most fantasy owners. Even with a good performance in Week 17, Gates will finish with his lowest yardage and touchdown totals since his rookie year. It looks like his days as a top-flight TE are behind him.
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage.