1. These guys ruined your life. Well, OK, they didn't actually ruin your life. But they kind of threw a wrench into those plans you had to bring home a fantasy championship this weekend. Things went askew, and their 2011 woes are at least partly to blame. Don't take it personally. (But hey, if you want to hold a grudge, who am I to talk you out of it?)
Without further ado, one man's highly subjective 2011 All-Disappointment team:
QB: Michael Vick — You could make a case that injuries are largely to blame for Vick's less-than-stellar season. I'd rather make the case that Vick was far and away the most grossly overdrafted fantasy performer of 2011. The guy actually went No. 1 overall in some fantasy drafts. Never spend a first-round pick on a quarterback who isn't a good passer.
RB: Peyton Hillis — Another injury case. Uh, well ... do we count strep throat as an injury? Injured or not, Hillis didn't play very well this season, and he acted like a putz in a couple of instances. The Madden Curse strikes again.
RB: Chris Johnson — Tried to salvage a bad season with a minor second-half surge, but it was too late for a lot of his owners, most of whom could never talk themselves into benching him.
WR: Mike Williams (T.B.) — Now THIS is what a sophomore slump looks like. (Oh, and by the way, the other Mike Williams also made a bid for this spot, but we never took him seriously enough to consider him a disappointment.)
WR: Reggie Wayne — Remember what Robin Williams' psychiatrist character kept telling Matt Damon's abused-genius character at the end of "Good Will Hunting"? "It's not your fault. ... It's not your fault. ... It's not your fault."
TE: Jermichael Finley — If you had known before the season what sort of numbers Aaron Rodgers was going to put up this season, you would have imagined that Finley would have been in for a monster season. Er, not so much.
Flex: Chad Ochocinco — Hey, it's not like we were expecting a return to stardom. But c'mon ... he's not ancient, and Tom Brady is his quarterback. A healthy Terrell Owens wouldn't have been as useless as Ocho was this season.
2. And now, the All-Surprise team ...
QB: Cam Newton — The rookie has put up the sort of numbers people were expecting from Michael Vick. What an amazing talent this kid is.
RB: Marshawn Lynch — Just when people were writing him off, he went into "beast mode" and started churning out TDs week after week after week.
RB: Reggie Bush — There were a lot of candidates to consider for the second RB spot: Roy Helu, Beanie Wells, Willis McGahee and a few others. But Bush, dismissed as no more than a role player before the start of the season, excelled as a workhorse back at an important time, as fantasy owners were making their stretch runs.
WR: Victor Cruz — A star is born. And to think he went undrafted in the vast majority of fantasy leagues.
WR: Jordy Nelson — He edges out rookie A.J. Green for the final WR spot. His fantasy owners will tell you just how important he was this season.
TE: Rob Gronkowski — It's not like he was flying under the radar, but holy smokes ... no one expected THIS.
Flex: Jimmy Graham — Yes, a second tight end. He wasn't exactly a sleeper heading into this season, but quality production was far from assured. As it turned out, his owners got the production of a No. 1 wide receiver out of the TE position.
3. My family is one of those who make a bigger deal of Christmas Eve than Christmas Day. There's a celebration on Christmas Day, too, of course, but we open presents on Christmas Eve (more like Christmas Eve afternoon, really) and have the more traditional family celebration on the 24th. That I am still alive in two fantasy leagues and will be trying to watch games and check scores throughout the day on Saturday is a recipe for bad holiday tidings. My attention to football on the most important day of the fantasy season will go over with my wife and my mom about as well as flatulence during Midnight Mass.
I suspect I'm far from alone on this. But at least I know that the TV will be tuned to football all day, since my stepdad is an avid football bettor. My sympathies go out to all the poor schlubs who are playing in championship games this week but will be spending most of their Christmas Eve day in a car, and also to those who are destined to be placed under media lockdown by their spouses.
4. Chris Johnson owners obviously didn't get an adequate return on their investment this season. The C.J. owners who managed to make it to the playoffs but were eliminated in Week 15 were no doubt disappointed with Johnson's parting gift, a 55-yard rushing day against the lowly Colts. He did manage to catch eight passes for 54 yards, so his day wasn't a total loss, especially not in PPR leagues. But Johnson's failure to score a touchdown and his inability to fully exploit a matchup against one of the worst defenses in the league were emblematic of an unsatisfactory season.
5. Where does Jamaal Charles get drafted next year? Yeah, Jamaal Charles ... remember him? The guy who had 2,000 yards from scrimmage last season and then blew out his knee in Week Two this year? And now that we're talking about him again, let's wish him a happy birthday. No. 25 will turn 25 years old on Dec. 27.
There's no way he's going to be a top-five pick again post-injury. I don't know if he makes the top 10, either, even though the sure things at running back run out after Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy are off the board. Some owners are going to be wary of a running back returning from a major knee injury. But on the other hand, Charles had a monumental fantasy season in 2010 despite Todd Haley's insistence on time-sharing him with the vastly inferior Thomas Jones. Well, Haley isn't around anymore.
If Charles looks like his old self in the preseason and pops off a long run or two, I'd be willing to snap him up late in the first round or early in the second round in a 12-team draft.
6. The latest season of "Survivor" just ended, and it was a good season, though not a great one. Apparently the show is no longer being produced by British television mogul Mark Burnett but rather by a moonlighting Tim Tebow. Religion was a major theme throughout the season, and the overt piety of two of the contestants didn't always go over well with their fellow competitors, and it probably didn't go over well with "Survivor" fans who hate Tim Tebow.
The winner was an unassuming young med student, Sophie Clarke, who played a smart, low-key game. Her tactics were sound, she more than held her own in the challenges, and she managed to incur less wrath from jury members than finalists usually get after backstabbing their way to the endgame. I was stunned to learn that Clarke is from Willsboro, a tiny town in upstate New York where I spent a good deal of time during childhood summers. My aunt, uncle and numerous cousins had a cabin on a little lake called Long Pond and spent summers there, living in the middle of a cluster of cabins belonging to other big, mostly Irish-Catholic families from the New York City area. I have great memories of the place — lots of kids, lots of outdoor activity, lots of fun. Willsboro has fewer than 2,000 residents. It's the sort of place where New Yorkers go to get away from other New Yorkers, and it's easy to forget that there are people who live there year-round. It was nice to see a Willsboro girl win a million bucks.
7. It's hard to understand why Mike Munchak started slumping, banged-up Matt Hasselbeck over rookie Jake Locker last week. It's too early to suggest that this is an indication Munchak prefers veterans to young players — way too early — but it's at least worth filing this away in the memory bank.
8. And speaking of the Titans and youth movements ... Chris Johnson is coming off another blah performance, and he's nursing a sore ankle. Javon Ringer is done for the year, which leaves rookie Jamie Harper as Johnson's backup. I'd love to see Harper get a chance to show what he can do over the next two weeks. He looked good in the preseason, rushing for a TD in three consecutive games and averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
9. This is Jabar Gaffney's 10th season in the NFL, and for nearly all of his decade-long stay in the league I'd dismissed him as a bum. Then Andre Johnson got hurt, leaving me in a bind at the WR position in my 16-team league. Lacking the spare ammo to make a trade for a top receiver, I traded Blaine Gabbert to a team desperate for QB help — trading for Blaine Gabbert is the very definition of "desperate" — and got Gaffney in return. Expectations were low, but Gaffney has been a very nice fill-in for me. I've made it to the semifinals of the playoffs (we play all the way through Week 17), and I'm actually pretty excited about Gaffney's prospects against the Vikings on Saturday.
The moral of the story: Clinging to preconceived opinions of players can limit the number of pathways to success. I've been as guilty of this sin as anyone. A player I had long dismissed as a bum helped me reach the playoffs and might play a pivotal role in getting me into a championship game.
I apologize, Jabar. You are not, in fact, a bum.
10. Oh, hello, Jared Cook. Glad you could make it to the party. We were starting to think you weren't coming. The food is all gone, the keg just ran out and the last girl left an hour ago. But, hey, come on in. I think we have a few cans of Old Milwaukee in the fridge, and some of the fellas are down in the basement watching "Caddyshack." Make yourself at home.
11. In case you missed it last weekend, it's worth your while to search the Web for the "Saturday Night Live" skit in which Jesus (played as a casual, everyman Savior by Jason Sudekis) visits Tim Tebow and his teammates in the locker room after their come-from-behind win over the Bears, imploring the Broncos to start pulling their weight.
JESUS: "It's not a good thing if every week I, the Son of God, have to come in, drop everything and bail out the Denver Broncos in the fourth quarter. I'm a busy guy."
TEBOW: "So, wait, you're only helping in the fourth quarter?"
JESUS: "Yeah. Have you watched the game film of the first half? I mean, c'mon, 3-for-16? I could throw better and I'm 2,010 years old."
Televangelist Pat Robertson apparently wasn't amused, complaining that the skit is "part of the anti-Christian bigotry in this country that's just disgusting," but I found it pretty amusing.
12. It's been interesting to look at my leagues and some of the leagues that my friends play in and see which quarterbacks were starting for teams in the semifinals of the playoffs. Not surprisingly, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady helped carry a lot of fantasy teams into the semis. But the name that I kept seeing and hearing again and again was Cam Newton. And for the vast majority of his fantasy owners, Newton was merely Plan B (maybe not even that) at quarterback. The rookie turned out to be a spectacular bonus for owners lucky enough to get their hands on him.
I also noticed that a couple of teams in friends' leagues were starting Andy Dalton in semifinal games. Dalton didn't have the same sort of impact Newton had, obviously, but it was another case of owners get something significant from a minimal QB investment.
The impacts made by Newton and Dalton will make it interesting to see where the members of next year's rookie QB class — which is looking like a once-in-a-decade bumper crop — are taken in fantasy drafts next summer. Rookie QBs have never been considered a particularly good investment. But we might start to witness a sea change in the way rookie quarterbacks are perceived.
13. Every time I see that commercial where Adam Levine of Maroon 5 talks about how awesome it feels when he and his crappy band are rocking out, I want to punch a hole through the TV screen.
14. So I've managed to make it into the championship game of my "experts" league, the FantasyPros Invitational. Bob Henry of Football Guys gave me a good scrap in the semifinals, but my team managed to squeak through on the strength of a monster game from Calvin Johnson and multiple-TD performances from Marshawn Lynch and Ryan Mathews. I wrote last week that I'd probably need big numbers from Megatron to make it into the title game, and boy, did he deliver.
I'll be up against Andy Behrens of Yahoo in the championship game. Behrens is a great guy, but he knocked me off in the regular season when we were the lone remaining unbeatens at 6-0, so now it's time for what James Brown called "The Big Payback." Get ready, Behrens. Megatron, Aaron Rodgers and the rest of my posse are coming for you.
15. As good as I feel about the impending experts-league championship game, I have one lineup decision that's killing me. It's the classic lineup dilemma — go with your big guns, or play the matchups? I generally do the former, but I'm strongly considering the latter in this instance.
My top three running backs are Marshawn Lynch, Ryan Mathews and Cedric Benson. With Lynch going up against the stifling San Francisco run defense, I feel compelled to start Mathews and Benson, even though Lynch has been habanero-hot. I could still sneak Lynch into my lineup in a flex spot, but I'm so terrified by that matchup against the 49ers that I'm thinking of flexing either Malcom Floyd or Darrius Heyward-Bey. It would pain me to do it, but I'm starting to convince myself that it's the right thing to do.
16. I was saddened to hear about the recent death of a former NFL defensive end named Doug Mooers, who spent a couple of years with the Saints in the early '70s. Doug was from Washington state but settled in the Milwaukee area, and I got to know him a little bit when I was working in a liquor store during summers home from college and Doug used to come in to buy Dewar's scotch. He had an intimidating presence. Doug was 6-foot-6, thick as an oak tree and looked capable of crushing rocks with his giant meat-hook hands. Fortunately, the gruff demeanor that he occasionally tried on for size was just a put-on — he was a big teddy bear with a big heart and an impish sense of humor. Except, that is, when he used to bang his head on the frame of our low door while walking out — which was often. We were waiting for the day when a wounded Doug would rip our door off its hinges with his bare hands, but luckily that day never came.
Rest in peace, big guy. I hope they stock Dewar's in heaven.
17. Two juicy revenge plots this weekend: Plaxico Burress vs. the Giants, and Willis McGahee vs. the Bills. In the case of McGahee, the chance for revenge belongs more to the fans than to the players. The Broncos will be visiting Buffalo, and you might recall that McGahee made some unflattering remarks about the snowy city after his final season with the Bills. Dude didn't even have the courtesy to mention how tasty the beef-on-weck sandwiches are! Can't wait to see what sort of reception McGahee gets from Bills fans.
18. I'm loving these minor bowl games, and there have been some wildly entertaining ones so far. I worry that a playoff system for college football will kill off a lot of these lower-tier bowls, which would be a shame.
I've long believed that most of the people who chirp the loudest about college football needing a playoff system are really just casual college football fans. They enjoy the ideal of a perfect system more than they enjoy college football itself. Thing is, it's hard for even the most avid fans and alumni to make trips to multiple postseason games. A lot of people have to deal with nuisances likes jobs and family. If a team plays two or even three postseason games, it could be difficult to fill stadiums in every round, and if stadiums aren't being filled for postseason games, suddenly the playoff system isn't going to be looking so good — at least not in the eyes of the NCAA and its sponsors.
Yeah, a playoff system would be fun. I'm just not completely convinced that it's feasible, and I don't want the small bowls to become extinct.
19. Looks like it's safe to use Dwayne Bowe again if you have him on your roster and managed to survive the great Tyler Palko drought of late 2011. And by the way, has anyone figured out why Kyle Orton wasn't starting sooner?
20. It can't be easy to be a television analyst for NFL games. Even for guys who are genuinely smart, it's hard to do that much talking without sounding vapid. (Hello, Jon Gruden.) Which is why I appreciate Brian Billick. He's a highly intelligent guy who's now been doing analyst work for years and has somehow never managed to make me think he's anything less than highly intelligent. Coaches who are considering future careers in the booth would be wise to study Billick's work. He's a fantastic analyst.
21. Merry Christmas, dear readers. May you cherish the time you spend with loved ones during this festive time of year. (And if you can sneak in some televised football, too ... bonus!)