This article is part of our NFL Observations series.
I was at a Boxing Day party yesterday playing pool, drinking Japanese whiskey and smoking Cuban cigars during the early slate. I had the red zone channel on my friend's laptop playing in the background, and I checked in from time to time.
That might sound like I was derelict of duty, but remember, this is supposed to be the end of the fantasy season, and Week 17 just an afterthought. It was the NFL who screwed up the rhythm with respect to the holiday season -- Christmas is when your work is done, and you watch it play out. New Year's eve is for betting on the games and checking on season-long props. But now everything is pushed back, and the great randomizer, the NFL's arbitrary covid protocols, require extra hustle if you want to win. If the NFL must have 17 games and 18 weeks, it's better to start one week early on Labor Day weekend than have regular season games on January 9.
As for the slate itself, my top-scoring Steak League team got knocked out in the semi-finals by Jeff Erickson, but my top-scoring FSGA-league team made it to the finals, thanks to Terry McLaurin's seven points in fourth-quarter garbage time. The NFFC playoff teams were mostly drawing dead, and my other playoff teams got knocked out last week.
It's funny because I told myself I wouldn't follow the $6M Circa Survivor contest after we got knocked out last week, but I couldn't help it. The Titans and Packers were the only winners used on the Christmas Day slate, and four more got knocked out on the Chargers this weekend, leaving five with two weeks to go. We would have used a team in the 49ers-Titans game on Thursday (probably the Niners) and had we survived with the Titans, we were eyeing the Chargers for this week. It shows you the perils of looking ahead -- the Bengals were available to us, so our path was 49ers in Week 15, Titans on the Christmas slate and Bengals in Week 16. We threaded some tough needles to get as far as we did, but that was really a minefield. Next year, we'll again ID the options for Thanksgiving and Christmas out of necessity, but otherwise I will make sure not to map anything out ahead of time.
- The Cowboys have the most complete roster in the league, especially if they get Tyron Smith back. Mike McCarthy will probably screw it up, but this team is loaded. Dak Prescott even showed some mobility for the first time all year.
- Ezekiel Elliott looks sluggish, but he'll keep racking up fantasy stats in an ideal situation.
- I watched a little of the Raiders-Broncos -- neither offense could make a play.
- The Chiefs are big favorites to come out of the AFC now. The Colts, Bills and Titans (with a healthy A.J. Brown) have a shot, but I'd stick a fork in the Patriots as a multi-week road team that can't go down the field. The Bengals could upset anyone, but three good games in a row is a big ask for them.
- Tyreek Hill getting two targets was a tough beat for your playoff squads.
- I don't know how much Russell Wilson's finger is still an issue, but he's lost the magic. He'll be a coveted trade target this offseason, and I expect him to get it back in 2022, but there's a little risk.
- If Rashaad Penny (17-135-1, 1-0-0-0) has a clean bill of health this offseason, he'll get drafted in the third round.
- The Texans are like the Lions -- they show up almost every week. Rex Beasthead (22-149-2, 2-2-0-0) had a monster game, and Davis Mills could be the Texans' Week 1 starter next year.
- Justin Jackson (11-64-2, 9-8-98-0) scored 35 points on my FSGA opponent's bench this week in a matchup I won by five.
- The Chargers are not serious contenders despite having one of the league's best young quarterbacks. I am dubious about Brandon Staley as a coach -- the spreadsheet stuff isn't as important as the CEO role.
- Rob Gronkowski's role has shrunk despite Mike Evans and Chris Godwin being out. Antonio Brown (15-10-101-0) should be a big factor down the stretch and in the playoffs with Godwin not coming back.
- The Panthers' offense might be worse than the Giants' offense. I don't know, it's close.
- I didn't watch much of the Giants game, and I don't think I'll bother with the condensed version, either.
- Miles Sanders is good, but he's never healthy, and you should never start him because he will always get hurt during the game.
- Zach Wilson's 52-yard TD run was nice, but otherwise he averaged 4.6 YPA.
- Trevor Lawrence's team should get the No. 1. pick for the second straight year. Maybe they can trade down for some wide receivers.
- James Robinson tore his Achilles' tendon, but I imagine he'll be ready for the start of next year, though Travis Etienne will be back too.
- Josh Allen had a huge game against a good defense in a tough environment. The Bills turned their season around in the second-half of the overtime loss to the Bucs. They might be the Chiefs' most dangerous opponent if they get that far.
- The Patriots are built to play with a lead, and that's not ideal for a team that will have its playoff games on the road.
- With one TD and three picks, Matthew Stafford hurt his MVP chances Sunday. Cooper Kupp (13-10-109-0) is like a metronome -- it's every single week. I imagine the Rams will do everything they can to get him the single season catches and yardage records.
- I made the Ravens my best bet before I realized they'd be without their top two QBs, though Josh Johnson wasn't really the problem.
- Joe Burrow (525 yards, four TDs, 11 rushing yards) and Tee Higgins (13-12-194-2) were the stack, and Joe Mixon (18-65-1, 6-6-70-1) also had a monster game.
- Mark Andrews (10-8-125-1) doesn't care which quarterback is throwing him the ball.
- The Lions always battle until the last second, but the Falcons usually beat the league's weaker teams and get crushed by the good ones. Give me Dan Campbell over Brandon Staley.