Monday Brunch: Handing out some hardware

Be sure to pile your plate with this brunch and come back for seconds and thirds, because it's our final one of 2008. As soon as the dishes are scrubbed I'm turning the switch to baseball and hockey, and will blog accordingly.

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It's easier to win a fantasy title with stars, sure, but for my money, it's more fun to succeed when you're getting it done with castoffs, pickups, scrubs, guys no one wanted in August and September. For the fantasy baseball season we celebrated the "Wiggys" in honor of Ty Wigginton; today, I'm here to talk about the "Thiggys" (a salute to our boy, Tyler Thigpen). Feel free to add your own picks in the comments.

Ring the cash register for Matt Cassel, who's improved as much as anyone in football over the last two months. He's never going to be a great deep thrower and occasionally he holds the ball too long, but his plus skills (good accuracy on short and medium passes; nifty scrambling ability; high football IQ; patient enough to hit second and third options when the first breaks down) are going to make him a gaggle a money in free agency.

Major props to Le'Ron McClain for breaking through the Baltimore gridlock and becoming the team's main ball carrier over the last five weeks (108 carries, three touchdowns). McClain is a true throwback who would have a role in any era.

We salute you, Cedric Benson, for reminding everyone that fantasy football is about opportunity as much as anything else.

Well played, Justin Gage – with almost no one along for the ride, you posted a sneaky second half (five touchdowns) and pushed your team to the AFC's No. 1 seed. The skills that made you a basketball star aren't lost on the gridiron.

Here's to you, Johnnie Lee Higgins, putting your country music career on hold and actually making plays in the passing game for the moribund Oakland Raiders.

It's a shame Pierre Thomas had to share at Detroit (16 touches), but anyone riding the PT Cruiser over the last six weeks probably made a deep playoff run. Here's hoping New Orleans makes him the primary back next year. (We have to pay Brad Evans 15 cents every time we use the PTC nickname, for what it's worth. I better spot this in 2009.)

Keep running over people, Fred Jackson, especially if you get the backfield to yourself against New England next week. Maybe Buffalo has been playing the wrong back all along.

A shout out to Kevin Faulk, a flex-spot dream for the last two months. The rule of thumb is this – if your coaches trust you on passing downs, you're going to sneakily collect fantasy points one way or another.

Ring the bell for Visanthe Shiancoe, who's been a dynamic seam threat for the Vikings all year, no matter who's pitching the pig (582 yards, seven touchdowns).

And last but not least, we come back to the pride of Coastal Carolina, Thigpen, who's probably been my favorite player of the entire fantasy season. Some weeks he made plays with his arm, most weeks he did something with his legs, and his best plays generally came from improvisation, the type of thing you see in a backyard football game on Thanksgiving Day. Thigpen's emergence forced the Chiefs into my must-watch group every week, and it also saved Tony Gonzalez's fantasy season. I enjoyed every bit of it, Double T. Here's hoping you're tied to a Chan Gailey offense again next year.

Now that the red carpet business is out of the way, let's take a lap around the league and empty the Week 16 notebook:

The punchline never changes with the Jets offense, as no one on the New York sideline realizes how Leon Washington is being wasted. Forget scheming to take New York's most dangerous offensive player out of the equation - the Jets do that for you. At least all the misguided talk about Brett Favre being the league MVP is dead for good. And I can think of at least three quarterbacks who deserve his Pro Bowl nod far more than he does. (It's a good thing Tony Soprano is no longer alive – this finish to the Jets season would have killed him.)

There were a few negative plays mixed in there but for the most part I was very impressed with what Ben Roethlisberger was able to do in Tennessee despite getting the tar kicked out of him for three hours. I don't know that the teams are headed for a rematch, but if so, I'm leaning towards the Steelers.

I'm all for Chris Johnson but don't celebrate on the 5-yard line, big guy. Wait until you make it to the end zone.

The numbers won't fully support a Peyton Manning MVP vote, but the storyline fits. This is the worst supporting cast he'd had on offense over the entire decade, and he's carried the Colts through this eight-game winning streak. With apologies to Matt Ryan, Kurt Warner, DeAngelo Williams and a bunch of other guys, Peyton's the top name on my list.

I wouldn't mind a defensive player winning the hardware if there were one dominant guy, but there's too much of a split vote on that side of the ball. James Harrison? Heckuva year, but I'm not sure he'd even the best guy on his own defense (nod to No. 43).

Marshall Faulk seems like an affable guy and he was a joy to watch on the field, but his call at Dallas Saturday night made my ears hurt. Cris Collinsworth, you were definitely missed.

You know, a lot of people laughed at us when we promoted Antonio Bryant as an intriguing sleeper back in August and September. Hopefully none of you got a taste of what Bryant's done the last two months. It's never been a question of talent with this guy.

If football were a 56-minute game, the Eagles would be standing on top of the world. Alas, something crazy happens to this team every week when the clock creeps inside of 2:00 remaining.

Maybe LaDainian Tomlinson hasn't been the same since he head-butted Troy Polamalu in that epic Nike commercial. The mainstream media still loves to dish out the LT props -– when he rushes for 90 yards these days, it's cause for a public parade. A lot of people don't want to say it but let's state what should be obvious – this is Philip Rivers' offense, and he's the reason San Diego is set up to steal the AFC West back.

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I heard one prominent talking head blaming Cleveland's defense for the loss against Cincinnati. Since when is allowing one touchdown the crime of the century? (The other touchdown came from the Bengals defense). There are a ton of things wrong with the Browns and we'll have a Romeo Void by this time next week, but the turnover-happy defense hasn't really been that bad.

There are things I like about Jim Zorn and things I don't like, but an 8-8 or 9-7 season out of the chute shouldn't get you run out of town. The NFC East is still the deepest division in football. He should come back.

I'm not going to say the Giants and Panthers played the game of the year Sunday night (the second Pats-Jets game beat it in my book), but it belongs in the Top 5. Major props to the New York line, which trampled Carolina's front seven on almost every possession (the hands-off approach from Walt Coleman's crew probably helped both lines – holding essentially was legal last night. Hey, I'm not complaining; so long as it's not ridiculously blatant, it does make the game more watchable.)

It's been a train wreck for Jamal Lewis, but at least he's been easy to project every week.

Before you head to Baltimore or Washington, Mark Teixeira, let me remind you of what happened to Alex Rodriguez on the Rangers. Getting the biggest check isn't everything.

I'm dying to see what Calvin Johnson can do with a real quarterback someday.

You got through the whole column, you've been a great readership all year, here's a cookie on the way out. The explosion at the 58-second mark is as good as it gets.

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Photos via AP Images

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