Late in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 35-22 victory in Atlanta on Sunday, outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, in the process freeing the football to bounce on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf, where it was fair game for any of the 22 players on the field. The one who got to it first was Tampa Bay's Ndamukong Suh. Suh scooped the pigskin up and escorted it six yards to and across the goal line, scoring the game-clinching points, just as he had in Week Four in Los Angeles.
Fittingly, in the Buccaneers FANtasy Challenge, the team that bears the name of Tampa Bay's opportunistic defensive lineman – Nick Russin's "Kung Suh Panda" squad – may have just pulled things out equally late in the game. Kung Suh Panda isn't quite across the goal line yet, but he's got the football and his opponent looks all but beaten.
Allow me to explain.
The Buccaneers FANtasy Challenge is a fantasy football league in which nine Bucs fans won a contest to compete against three "Pros" from this very website: me, Team Reporter Casey Phillips and Staff Writer Carmen Vitali. Should one of those nine fans end up winning the league – and let's be honest, that appears extremely likely at this point – he or she will win a treasure chest of valuable prizes, including perhaps some that have not yet been announced. He (I can drop the "he and she" because our one female fan participant has been eliminated from playoff contention) will also come back to the AdventHealth Training center to collect the championship belt; this whole league started at those Buccaneers headquarters with a live draft held in the very room where Jason Licht and company conduct actual NFL drafts.
The FANtasy Challenge is set up like most 12-team leagues, with six teams making the playoffs after 13 regular-season weeks, the top two earning byes. The playoffs begin in Week 14, the semis are in Week 15 and a champion is crowned in Week 16. Just like hundreds of thousands of fantasy leagues across the nation, ours has reached its final regular-season week, and thanks to Kung Suh Panda's narrow Week 12 win over one of the aforementioned Pros, there is a single piece of drama left before the postseason begins.
Most of the rest of the potential end-game drama was sucked out of the league by the top five teams all winning in Week 12. All five are run by fans. The 10-2 Christopher Hatton's Water Walkers remain in first place and two 9-3 teams have clinched playoff spots. Those latter two squads – Jason Swinford's The Great Marpet Capers and Brandon Durfey's Matt Gay 4 Trey – are peaking at the right time and are the hottest teams in the league with winning streaks of six and four games, respectively.
After that, Christopher Dombrowski's Risky Biscuits and Justin Beetz's The Revolution have not technically clinched but practically speaking they are also in. If both of those teams lost in Week 13 and the two 6-6 squads – my Plunder and Lightning team and the aforementioned Suh-nami – both won, there would be four 7-6 teams for three playoff spots, but Christopher and Justin are far enough ahead in points that they need not worry.
Which brings me to the drama. Carmen needed her team stud, Lamar Jackson, to carry an otherwise lifeless team to victory on Monday night, and if you happened to watch that game you would probably believe it happened. Carmen got Jackson in a very astute trade earlier in the season and he put on yet another show on Monday, throwing five touchdown passes and running for 95 yards. Wait a minute, did I type that right? FIVE touchdown passes and 95 rushing yards?!
Sweet sassy molassy, that's correct! Do you know how many times an NFL player has both thrown five touchdown passes and run for 95 yards in a single game? The answer was one until last night. Cam Newton had accomplished that feat against the Giants in 2015. From a fantasy standpoint, Jackson's NFL MVP audition was good for 36.26 points, an absolute boon for a team that came into the evening trailing its opponent by 14.20 points.
But, see, there was one little problem. Jackson threw two of those touchdown passes to rookie wideout Marquise Brown, and Brown just happened to be suited up for Nick's team. Oh, and for good measure, Nick also had the Baltimore defense, which held the Rams to six points. Baltimore added 13.00 points to Nick's till and the final margin of victory was…yep, 12.14 points.
And that probably closes the playoff door for Carmen. At 5-7, she could still find herself in a three-way tie for the last spot, but she would have to make up an 80-point difference in one week to win the tiebreaker.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 12 matchup against Atlanta.
It's a completely different story for Kung Suh Panda. In fact, whoever won that matchup between him and Carmen was going to be in a good spot to steal a playoff spot at the end. That's because my team continues to crater faster than James Franco's yard in the apocalypse. At least this week I lost to an actual good team in the Risky Biscuits after two straight defeats at the hands of what were, at the time, the last place teams in the league.
Just one win in that span and I'd be sitting as pretty as Christopher D. and Justin B., but instead I have to sweat it out this week as Nick and I vie for that last playoff spot. We're both 6-6. Now the bad news (from my perspective, which is the one that matters): I play Matt Gay 4 Trey in Week 13, while Nick gets Justin Morris and the last-place Deckerhoff the Halls team. This is what I deserve for using my first two picks on the crumpled tissue paper that is David Johnson and James Conner. I'll take solace that the still-invested Deckerhoff team nearly took down the streaking Marpet Capers squad this week.
Now let's take a closer look at how the rest of Week 12 unfolded in our league.
Lineup Decision of the Week: The Revolution rolls with Baker Mayfield into the playoffs.
It would be a great story if Nick had put Marquise Brown in his lineup on a hunch, but he really had no choice. The only receiver on his bench in Week 12 was JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was out with a concussion.
I don't know how difficult a decision it actually was for Justin B. to start Mayfield (against the hapless Dolphins) over Jared Goff, but it was definitely the right decision. Hey, remember that note above about the feat only achieved by Cam Newton and Lamar Jackson? Well, Justin originally drafted both of those quarterbacks. It's been an eventful season at that position for Justin, but it worked out well when he needed it, as Mayfield dropped three touchdowns and 23.58 points on the Fish. Goff, meanwhile, was swallowed whole by former teammate Marcus Peters and the Ravens' defense, ending up with just 4.38 points. Justin beat Becky Hartman's resurgent Ladies and Edelman team by less than two points, 91.88 to 90.50.
Mayfield also outperformed his L&E counterpart, Tom Brady, who had a couple nice performances early in the year but has settled into fantasy irrelevance. Here he got 11.30 points. The only spot on Becky's team that scored more than 15 points was the Seahawks defense, with 17. In addition to Mayfield, Justin won with his receiver combo of Robert Woods and Davante Adams, both of whom returned from injury just in time to give him a combined 35 points.
Lineup Blunder of the Week: Campbell Sears' Meaningless Wins team picks up Jonathan Williams, lets him rot on the bench.
Williams is one of the approximately 6,000 running backs for whom I've put in an unsuccessful waiver claim this season. Hey, Campbell, I really could have used that guy this past week. Oh, and you know who else could have used him? You. The Meaningless Wins team made a meaningless acquisition, leaving Williams on the bench with his 21.10 meaningless points. I get that no one is going to start Williams over Leonard Fournette and Saquon Barkley, so Campbell can't be dinged for taking Barkley's 8.00 points in his lineup. But Williams in the FLEX would have outscored his Colts teammate, T.Y. Hilton, by 16.30 points.
Would that have come in handy? Well, Fournette went off, as did the trio of Allen Robinson, Calvin Ridley and Jared Cook, all of whom scored 21.90 or more. What a great week for this team! Sure, Dak struggled and got only 6.88, but the MWs still scored 135.58 points, second-most in the league this week.
With Williams in the lineup, that would have been the most in the league, as the first place Water Walkers only won by 13.24 points. Nick Chubb (25.40), DeAndre Hopkins (27.40) and Zach Ertz (27.10) all shined and Deshaun Watson did just enough for this team's 10th victory. This was actually a Meaningful Win, but not for Campbell's team.
Best Game of the Week: The Great Marpet Capers 108.94, Deckerhoff the Halls 102.60.
There were several good choices this week but since I've already covered most of them above, let's go with this showdown between Jason's red-hot club (which I've anointed my favorite to win it all, and that's probably the kiss of death) and Justin's team, which is no pushover despite its spot in the standings. This one went down to Monday night and Justin could be forgiven for thinking he had it in the bag when the evening began.
That's because he had Todd Gurley while Jason, who was winning by just under five points. Though Andrews has been a very good fantasy player this year, I would have taken the running back over the tight end. But, again, the Ravens stifled the Rams and Andrews beat Gurley, 6.50 to 4.90. That wasted Derrick Henry's huge 30.50-point day, which was essentially matched by Christian McCaffrey's ho-hum, here-I-go-again 34.30-point outing. The other problem for Justin is that Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal threw up a goose egg…and, I just noticed that Tyler Boyd and his 21.10 points was left on Justin's bench! Okay, that's the real Lineup Blunder of the Week, but I'm too busy to go back and edit this.
Standings Update: Thoroughly covered above. I believe that Meaningless Wins, Ladies and Edelman, Brate Scott and Deckerhoff the Halls have all been eliminated from playoff contention, and that Bowles-room Blitz is all but dead. That leaves me as the last Pro with a shot at taking down these chuckleheads and…well…it's not looking good.
Specifically, I need to win or have Nick lose. If we end up tied in the standings, I believe my points would carry the day in the tiebreaker.
Additional Week 12 Results: I've already covered the wins by Kung Suh Panda, The Revolution, the Water Walkers and The Great Marpet Capers. Here's the rest of the action:
- Risky Biscuits (Christopher Dombrowski) 134.12, Plunder and Lightning (Scott Smith) 93.36
Sometimes you lose and you shake your fist at the sky, cursing the fantasy football gods for the unjust judgments. This one, though, is probably about how it should have played out. The Biscuits have had an up-and-down season but are still a team that can make some noise in the playoffs. My team has fallen apart due to injuries and lack of depth, and I should probably note here that it was Christopher who suggested early in the year that the choices of Johnson and Conner were risky due to that very injury factor.
And so it is that I feel fairly fortunate to have gotten 26.30 points from Jamaal Williams and Benny Snell, who actually outperformed the Biscuits RB duo of Aaron Jones and Miles Sanders (11.60 combined points). Unfortunately for me but fortunately for the Buccaneers (and thus, actually, fortunately for me), Chris Godwin went off to the tune of 37.40 points. George Kittle was great for me, with 24.90 points, but he was matched by Odell Beckham's 20.40 points in the slot. Oh, and while the Bills defense gave Christopher 13.00 useful points, the Packers actually cost me a point. Yep, -1.00. I knew that was theoretically possible but I never thought it would happen.
- Matt Gay 4 Trey (Brandon Durfey) 120.08, Brate Scott (Casey Phillips) 64.54
I can tell you that Casey, one of our three in-house "Pros," remains completely invested in this fantasy endeavor. Her team, on the other hand, has checked out en masse.
Look upon these Week 12 point totals, and despair:
Matt Ryan: 9.64 (way to go, Bucs' defense!)
Amari Cooper: 0.00
Courland Sutton: 3.70
Jason Witten: 1.50
Demaryius Thomas: 4.20
Daniel Carlson: 3.00
Joe Mixon: 7.90
A winning recipe, that is not. Jarvis Landry (36.80) and Mark Ingram (24.80) were essentially all Brandon needed to win this one, though Kamara and the Niners defense were also good. Hey, has anyone noticed that teams facing Brandon's squad have tended to struggle all year? I'm pretty sure this is the first time anyone's brought that up.
Tales from the Message Board: Some of this week's discussions within the Buccaneers FANtasy Challenge league:
Brandon says: "How do I add Vita Vea?"
Campbell says: "Any chance you wanna bench your kicker so I can fulfil my dreams of making the playoffs?"
Christopher says: "Hey, it's never over Campbell…and besides if you remember from Week 6, I have a special place in my heart for Kickers…so that's just not possible."
Campbell says: "I do remember that well, however you could elect to show mercy. I am sure that mercy would carry strong favor going into the playoffs. Could be a blessing or a curse."
Jason says: "Well that was closer than I hoped it would be. I just hope it was only for this week. Thank you Saint McCaffrey."