Drew Brees had himself a night and Jason Swinford came along for the ride, right into the championship game of the inaugural Buccaneers FANtasy Challenge. There he'll face Justin Beetz as two fan competitors, having already bested the league's three "Pros," will do battle for the FANtasy Challenge championship belt and a treasure chest of valuable prizes.
Four months ago, Beetz and Swinford were two of the nine contest-winning Buccaneers fans who came to team headquarters to conduct a live fantasy draft in the actual room in which Jason Licht and company run Tampa Bay's real draft efforts every spring. Those nine drafted alongside the three Buccaneers insiders: staff writer Carmen Vitali, Team Reporter Casey Phillips and me.
Two weeks ago, the playoffs began with only one Pro (that would be me) still standing, but I didn't last long, falling to Swinford's The Great Marpet Capers team in the opening round. That made it an all-fan Final Four, and now we know which two will have the final dance. Beetz's team methodically took down the top seed, Christopher Hatton's Water Walkers, 126.26 to 114.92, with four different players scoring between 23.10 and 24.16 points. Swinford, meanwhile, barely prevailed in a battle of two heavyweight teams, and it all came down to Monday night.
As there were only two games of consequence this past week, I'm going to dispense with the usual wrap-up formula in favor of a simple recap of how we got from two down to four, beginning with the Capers' 162.28 to 150.90 shootout with Brandon Durfey's Matt Gay 4 Trey team.
It was neck and neck throughout Sunday's NFL schedule. Durfey had the lead early but Swinford briefly pulled ahead around the time his star, Christian McCaffrey was scoring his second touchdown of the day for Carolina. That didn't last long, though, as a 36-yard catch by Oakland tight end Darren Waller helped Durfey's team jump back in front. And there Matt Gay 4 Trey stayed for the rest of Sunday, though only barely.
To this point, the Capers were surviving off another huge McCaffrey day (37.50), a not-surprising 20-point outing by the Patriots' defense and 25.40 big points from Tennessee WR A.J. Brown, one of the few stars on Swinford's team that wasn't an original draft pick. (He drafted Antonio Brown and the Browns defense, but not A.J. Brown.) Durfey had good days from Patrick Mahomes (22.70) and Mark Ingram (23.60) but also benefited from big outings from two astute pickups along the way, Waller (20.20) and DeVante Parker (23.20).
So, as the Monday Night Football game between Indianapolis and New Orleans began, Matt Gay 4 Trey had a 137.00-134.00 lead over The Great Marpet Capers. The former had Alvin Kamara locked and loaded; the latter countered with Drew Brees. Kamara was projected to score 19.02 points; Brees was projected to score 19.57. One thing was clear: Swinford and Durfey were going to be glued to Monday Night Football until deep in the evening.
Or so one would have thought. As it turned out, Brees sucked some of the drama out of the final showdown in what was, for him, one of the most memorable nights of his career. Not only did he break Peyton Manning's all-time record for career touchdown passes by throwing four of them, he also set a new NFL single-game record for completion percentage. Incredibly, only one of Brees's 30 passes on the night fell incomplete.
Our fantasy league doesn't award points for completions, but what mattered to Swinford and Durfey was who Brees was completing them to. Mostly, it was Michael Thomas, who caught 12 passes for 128 yards and a score. Brees's other three touchdown passes went to a backup tight end (Josh Hill), a reserve wideout with 12 catches all year (Tre'Quan Smith) and even a backup quarterback (Taysom Hill). Who Brees did not throw a touchdown pass to was Kamara, who had just 23 yards on five grabs. Kamara also ran for 66 yards but didn't score on the ground, either. Durfey really needed his first-round draft pick to come up big, and it didn't happen.
Kamara wasn't terrible – his 13.90 points were only about five-and-a-half below his projection. For all his record-setting glory, Brees wasn't off the charts productive in fantasy terms; his 28.28 points were only about nine over his projection. But add it together and it was a huge swing, keeping Swinford alive and sending the second-highest scoring team of the week to the consolation game.
Both of the top seeds went down in the semis. Like Durfey, Hatton had a first-round bye, but perhaps his team came in flat after the week off. The Water Walkers weren't terrible, but only one player scored more than 20 points (that would be Nick Chubb, who proved to be a fantastic pick late in the second round of our draft). Deshaun Watson had a nice game in Houston's huge win over Tennessee but was only good for 16.92 fantasy points. DeAndre Hopkins caught a ton of passes and scored 17.90 fantasy points, but a touchdown or two would have been nice.
Meanwhile, as I noted above, The Revolution simply pulled strong promises across the board. One was by Ryan Tannehill, who has made a big late-season fantasy impact across the country for teams that got to the playoffs with an uncertain QB situation. Beetz has been dealing with that all year after losing one of his draft picks (Cam Newton) to injury and trading away the other one, Lamar Jackson, before he really blew up in fantasy terms. Tannehill got 24.16, joining Davante Adams (23.30), Tyreek Hill (23.80) and Tyler Higbee (23.10) in that same general range.
There wasn't nearly as much drama here as Beetz's team took the lead at about 1:30 on Sunday on a Tannehill touchdown bomb to Brown and never gave it up. Hatton still had the Pittsburgh defense queued up for Sunday night and Beetz had Indy RB Marlon Mack in the lineup for Monday night's game, but neither did much of consequence.
And so we have our final showdown between one team that snuck into the playoffs with a 7-6 record and the seventh-most total points (The Revolution) and another that I anointed as the favorites about two months ago (The Great Marpet Capers), somehow not jinxing him in the process. Such is fantasy football.
Congratulations to Jason Swinford and Justin Beetz for making it this far, but also to Brandon Durfey and Christopher Hatton, who guided their teams to great success as well. One more week we'll have a champion, and the fans will have officially beaten the Pros.