Heading into Sunday’s action, the Green Bay Packers had gone more than 11 years without a player running for 160 yards in a game. The last time it happened, the fantasy community welcomed yet another surprise playoff hero into its midst. Samkon Gado ran for 171 yards and a touchdown in Week 14 of the 2005 season, putting an exclamation point on a dream six-game run for the undrafted rookie who wasn’t heard from again in a meaningful way for the rest of his career. That same fate likely won’t befall the newest Packer with a 160-yard game to his name, but his exploits were nearly as surprising.
Ty Montgomery took over as the Packers’ primary running back a week ago, graduating to a spot he earned a few weeks earlier when the team first started experimenting with him as a running back. In his first game with double-digit carries on the season, he showed why Mike McCarthy finally started referring to him as a running back and not a receiver. Montgomery piled up 162 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries in a crucial 30–27 win over the Bears. He didn’t make an impact as a receiver, but that no longer matters. Montgomery may wear No. 88, but he’s as much of a running back as any offensive player with No. 28 or No. 38 on his back.
Montgomery capped off the Packers first possession with a four-yard touchdown run, and never looked back. His other score came from three yards out, and his one touchdown last week was a goal-line carry where he plunged through the middle of Green Bay’s line. He’s proving his ability in short yardage, something that shouldn’t have been so surprising given his 216-pound frame. Just as importantly, McCarthy has signaled that he trusts Montgomery in those spots. He should continue getting the rock whenever the Packers get inside the 5-yard line.
At the same time, Montgomery flashed his home-run ability on Sunday. He had a long carry of 61 yards, an impressive run against a strong Chicago front seven for a guy who had all of 47 carries in his NFL career before running all over the Bears. It’s always silly when a writer or talking head references a player’s stat line without his biggest play of the day as a way to discredit his success, but it’s definitely encouraging that Montgomery ran for 101 yards on his 15 other carries. He proved his big-play bona fides while also being a consistent weapon for the Packers on a frigid day in Chicago. That bodes well for both his short- and long-term futures in Green Bay.
Montgomery’s fantasy owners may return to him next year, but for now they’re only concerned with the next game on his schedule. The Packers host the Vikings next week. At one point this season, that would have seemed like a nightmare matchup. But the Vikings have regressed in a big way in the second half of the season, and got burned by Frank Gore and Robert Turbin in Week 15. Montgomery will be a must-start player for all of his owners in fantasy championship week. That’s a development no one could have seen coming four months ago.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the Week 15 takeaways.
Peterson’s return was one of the big fantasy stories of the week. He made news on Friday when he said he’d be back on the field for the first time since tearing his meniscus, a statement that was later confirmed by the team. While the mad dash to add him off of waiver wires made sense, I preached caution in my take on the situation: “The Vikings will undoubtedly welcome his return during their playoff push, but should Peterson be in your lineup this week? The short answer is “only if you’re desperate.”
Thanks for proving me right, Adrian. Peterson ran for 22 yards on six carries, and was little more than a decoy for the Vikings in Sunday’s blowout loss to the Colts. Sure, it’s possible that he shook off some rust this week and will be a larger part of the offense next week, but it’s a whole lot more possible that he isn’t the same back and that he won’t be back at 100% until the 2017 season. He should not be in your championship week plans.
Jeffery bet on himself this year, understandably walking away from the negotiating table when the Bears did not meet his contract demands, choosing instead to play this year on the franchise tag. Through the first three months of the season, that looked like one of the biggest loser bets of the year.
Jeffery fell well short of his usual standard right from the start of the season and into October and November. Across the first nine games of the season, he had 40 catches for 630 yards and one touchdown. He topped 100 yards in the first game of the year. That was the last time he hit the century mark. It took Jeffery eight games to find the end zone. And then came the suspension. When the league hit Jeffery with a four-game suspension due to a violation of the performance-enhancing drugs policy, it seemed certain that he would lose that bet on himself. Jeffery returned on Sunday and started making amends.
Jeffery caught six of his nine targets for 89 yards and his second touchdown of the season in the Bears’ 30–27 loss to the Packers. He looked every bit like a legitimate No. 1 receiver who is both worthy of a lucrative, long-term contract and a WR1 spot on fantasy teams. That he did it in his first significant game experience with Matt Barkley as his QB was all the more impressive.
The Bears host the Redskins in Week 17. That could mean a showdown with Josh Norman for Jeffery, but don’t let that scare you away from him. Jeffery is out to prove to the Bears, as well as the 31 other teams in the league that could have interest in him this off-season, that he’s a reliable No. 1 receiver. You should trust him in your championship week lineups.
As of this writing, the Giants have yet to clinch a playoff spot. After moving to 10–3 with a 17–6 win over the Lions on Sunday, though, they’re all but in the postseason already. While Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. get all the attention from the fantasy community, the defense is largely responsible for the Giants’ success. It’s time fantasy owners recognize one of the best defenses in the league.
The Giants were at it again defensively on Sunday. They held the Lions to six points, their worst output of the season. Matthew Stafford completed 61.5% of his pass attempts for 273 yards, 7.0 yards per attempt, zero touchdowns and one interception, marking the third time this year the Lions quarterback had more interceptions than touchdowns. The Lions couldn’t get anything going on the ground, either, running for 56 yards on 19 carries.
This, of course, came on the heels of the Giants’ shuttering of the Cowboys offense a week ago. The Cowboys scored a season-low seven points in that game and Dak Prescott had his worst performance as a pro, throwing for 165 yards, 4.46 YPA, one touchdown and two interceptions while completing fewer than half of his passes. They even held Ezekiel Elliott in check, relative to what he has done the rest of the season, with the rookie running for 107 yards on 24 carries.
The Giants visit Philadelphia to take on the Eagles next week. Fantasy owners should think twice before starting Ryan Mathews, Jordan Matthews or Zach Ertz. The Giants defense is simply that good.
Powell got his first start of the season with Forte nursing a knee injury suffered last week. Forte was active, but played no more than a bit role in the Jets offense. It was Powell who shouldered nearly the entire workload for the Jets in their Saturday night loss to the Dolphins. Anyone who owns both Jets backs, and certainly fantasy owners who are invested only in Powell, would prefer it if the Jets took it easy with Forte and let Powell play out the string. If that happens, he can turn in more heroics like he did in Week 15.
Powell did it all for the Jets, except get in the end zone in their 34–13 loss to the Dolphins. The sixth-year player out of Louisville ran for 84 yards on 16 carries and caught 11 passes, a new season-high for a running back, for 78 yards. Powell was the only offensive player to show much of a pulse against the Dolphins, and he was the one weapon on which the team could lean from start to finish.
We’ve long known that Powell is a legit receiver out of the backfield. He showed on Saturday what he can do when he’s given a large role as a runner, too. The Jets host the Patriots in Week 16 in a game that could easily get away from them, but that won’t matter for Powell. If Forte is out or limited, he will be game-script proof. Forte’s status could throw a wrench into the mix for Powell and his fantasy owners, and it’s something we’ll be monitoring closely all week. If Forte is out, it will be full systems go for Powell in championship week.
Two red threads through the entire season have been Todd Gurley as this season’s top bust, and the ineptitude of the 49ers run defense. Those two impotent entities are on a collision course in Week 16, presenting Gurley owners with a conundrum. Can this season’s most disappointing player be trusted in the best possible matchup for a running back?
The 49ers were at it again on Sunday, as they allowed Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to run for a combined 197 yards and three touchdowns. They’ve now allowed a 100-yard rusher in 11 of their 14 games this season, with a back totaling at least 20 standard-league points against them nine times. The fantasy game is volatile from week to week, but the 49ers have been a reliable patsy on the ground throughout.
One back who fell well short of both the 100-yard and 20-fantasy-point marks against San Francisco? Gurley, back in Week 1. In what was a sign of his struggles to come, Gurley ran for 47 yards on 17 carries in what was the 49ers only win of the season to date. Now the two meet again, with nothing on the line, other than perhaps a bit of draft positioning.
If you’re a Gurley owner who made it to your league’s championship, you deserve some sort of award regardless of the outcome. Of course, you want the real award that comes with winning your league. Will Gurley be in your lineup, thanks to the cushiest of matchups, or will the experience of the last 15 weeks force him to your bench? The inclination here is to suit him up, get him out there, and then not watch the game. Matchup is no more than a tiebreaker, unless the 49ers defense is part of the equation. This is simply too good a setup to ignore, even for Gurley.
Unpredictability reigns supreme in the fantasy football world. It would be the perfect capper for the 2016 season for Gurley, this year’s unquestioned top bust, to show up with a monster performance in championship week, and he has the right matchup to do it.