December 29, 2009
Did we just see an Instant Classic at Soldier Field on Monday night? From a fantasy perspective, the answer is a resounding (or a depressing) yes.
The Week 16 fantasy story had a thrilling final scene as the Bears and Vikings tossed around 66 points and 789 yards in an overtime thriller. Did you win or lose your fantasy title on Sidney Rice's(notes) dramatic touchdown in the final minute of regulation (on fourth down, no less)? Did Robbie Gould's(notes) miss in overtime decide your match? Was the issue clinched when Adrian Peterson lost a fumble in the extra session? How did Jay Cutler's(notes) game-winning rainbow to Devin Aromashodu(notes) affect your league? Big plays and major statistical swings were all over the place in this one, especially in the second half.
Let's hit on the high points and figure out what we learned from all this:
With the Bears: The middle of Cutler's season was an absolute horror show, but let's not forget that he played brilliantly in Weeks 2-4 and he was just about letter-perfect against Minnesota here (20-for-35, 273 yards, 4 TDs, 1 pick). Cutler spread the ball around, was decisive, hit some tight windows, and seemed to keep the risky throws at a minimum, at least by his standards (albeit the pick was a force into heavy coverage). The game-winning toss to the sneaky-quick Aromashodu (7-150) was as pretty a throw as you'll see.
That said, this monster game from Cutler came after most rational fantasy owners wrote him off. Unless you play in a two or three-QB league, Cutler's explosion here was nothing more than a frustrating footnote to a maddening season. Are you buying or selling Cutler as a 2010 commodity? Let's discuss in the comments.
Four different players scored the touchdowns for Chicago. Greg Olsen(notes) (3-47) got the first spike but wasn't a factor after intermission; Desmond Clark(notes) (5-39) shook free on a play-fake at the goal line; and Earl Bennett(notes) (3-35) made a rare visit to the end zone. Matt Forte(notes) slogged out 74 yards on 21 carries, never breaking anything to the second level. Johnny Knox(notes) dinged his ankle in the third quarter and didn't have a reception, while Devin Hester(notes) (calf) was a game-day scratch. Danieal Manning(notes) set up two of Chicago's scores with a pair of lengthy kickoff returns.
With the Vikings: You can take a half-full or half-empty approach to Minnesota's offense here; the Vikes had a bagel at halftime, then exploded for 30 points in the next 30 minutes. Brett Favre(notes) & Company scored on five straight drives in the second half and this probably is the deepest offense in the NFC, even with the suspect play from the offensive tackles.
It took a while for Favre to get his sea legs but there's nothing wrong with him (26-for-40, 321 yards, 2 TDs). He used everyone he could downfield; nine different Vikings caught passes while no one had more than 58 yards. Favre's clearly more comfortable spreading the field at the goal line and it showed on the scoring plays. Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) scored his 10th touchdown in the third period, and Rice snagged a score on a beautiful fourth-down fade route in the final seconds of regulation.
Peterson's night was a mixed bag; it's hard to complain about 137 total yard and two touchdowns, but he only managed 3.9 yards a carry and there was the critical fumble in overtime, of course. Peterson now has seven fumbles and six lost fumbles, worst among all non-quarterbacks. In fairness to AD, the fumble came on a nasty strip from Chicago's Hunter Hillenmeyer(notes); to my eyes, that was more of a great defensive play than a gaffe from the ball carrier.
Revisiting the NFC Playoff Picture: Minnesota's stunning loss was welcome news to the Saints – they're now locked into the No. 1 seed. The No. 2 seed in conference is up for grabs; four teams have a shot at it (everyone but the Packers). Assuming we don't see any ties on Sunday, here's everyone's path to the No. 2 spot in the NFC:
• If the Eagles beat the Cowboys, they're the No. 2 seed. Easy, breezy.
• If the Vikings beat the Giants and the Eagles lose, Minnesota is the No. 2 seed.
• If the Cardinals beat the Packers while the Eagles and Vikings both lose, the Cardinals are the No. 2 seed.
• If the Cowboys beat Philly while the Vikings and Cardinals both lose, the Pokes take the No. 2 seed.
We already knew the Eagles and Cowboys would have incentive here, playing for a division title and at least one home game (versus a wild-card spot and a road trip). The Vikings obviously will be out to win, looking to get an off week (also consider they kick off three hours ahead of the Eagles and Cowboys). Things could get a little dicey with the Cardinals; by the time their game starts, they could already know that they have no shot at the No. 2 spot (a Minnesota victory would lock Arizona into 3-4 range). Would the Cardinals expose Kurt Warner(notes) over a full game if there were little at stake? It's hard to say.
The Packers don't really have much to play for, they can't get a home game for the first round, they're a wild-card team no matter what. And obviously the Saints have a decision on their hands – should they go after the game at Carolina, or play it safe and keep people healthy?
For more on the NFL's playoff situations, have some interactive fun with Yahoo's playoff scenario generator. Pick all the games any way you want (ties included!), the generator does the rest.