Instant Impressions for Week 15

Jamaal Charles' record performance steals the show

Updated: December 16, 2013, 3:15 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Peyton Manning, have a seat. The front-runner for 2013's fantasy MVP is Jamaal Charles.

The truth is that Charles was already my MVP after Week 14, though it was close. In VBD terms, coming into this week Charles had a slight edge on Manning, and only a marginally bigger edge on LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte. But after Sunday's drubbing of the Oakland Raiders, J-Mail has a clear lead with two contests remaining.

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Jamaal Charles
Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJamaal Charles caught eight passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns against the Raiders. He added another 20 yards and a TD rushing.

In the first nine minutes of Sunday's game, Charles caught two screens, and took them both to the house. That was just an aperitif. He wound up with four TDs in the first half, becoming just the fourth player in NFL history to accomplish that feat (Priest Holmes, Randy Moss and Shaun Alexander also did it). And to top things off, Charles scored another long receiving score in the second half, becoming the 10th player in history to find the end zone five times in a game. (Gale Sayers is the only man to score six.) Charles' total damage? How about eight carries for 20 yards and a TD, to go with eight grabs for 195 yards and four TDs? Not bad, right?

It's still possible Charles could give up the MVP award if he gets hurt or plays poorly in Weeks 16 and 17 against the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers, respectively. But at the moment, he's the favorite.

Let's look at Sunday's other top storylines:

• The Chicago Bears avoided a whale of a controversy as Jay Cutler posted good enough numbers and (more importantly) led a comeback victory in place of Josh McCown. Cutler led two strong drives to begin Sunday's game, though the first ended in an end-zone pick that probably was a bit of a force. But his second interception was a dreadful overthrow to Brandon Marshall and was returned for a pick-six. Cutler persevered, though, with a terrific drive late in the second quarter that led to a short Marshall TD, and while he may have lucked out on a bomb to Alshon Jeffery in double coverge, we've all been praising the heck out of Nick Foles for such plays for weeks. The result -- 22-of-31 for 265 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs -- is good enough. He's a fantasy starter again next week against the Philadelphia Eagles.

• In that game, Cutler will square off against Foles, who submitted another so-so performance and had huge fantasy results: 30-of-48 for 428 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT. First off, Foles was called for a stupid and unnecessary personal foul peel-block block when the Eagles went for it on fourth-and-1 and ran a double reverse on which DeSean Jackson actually scored a TD. (Weep not for Jackson, who produced 195 yards receiving.) Foles also finally got intercepted on one of his patented "throw it up for grabs" deep balls. Halfway through the fourth quarter with the Eagles losing 41-22, Foles was 23-of-38 for 301 yards, for 18 fantasy points. But in the end, he wound up with 33 points, proving once again that it's unwise to bet into a winning streak. Keep using him next week against the Bears.

• With Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart out, undrafted second-year back Matt Asiata started for the Minnesota Vikings and took every single one of the team's running back carries. The net result was 30 carries for 51 yards, and it was as pedestrian as it sounds. Asiata is a big man (234 pounds) and is a truly slow human being with basically no lateral agility. He lucked into his first 1-yard TD after a shaky pass-interference call on Bradley Fletcher, and converted 1- and 5-yard TDs later in the game. I always assume this kind of thing should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: Even if AP and Gerhart miss next week's contest against the Cincinnati Bengals, I'd strongly advise against chasing Asiata's Week 15 result. And anyway, preliminarily, it sounds as if Peterson should return.

[+] EnlargeCousins
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsKirk Cousins had solid stats in place of Robert Griffin III, but it's still hard to trust him in a key part of the fantasy season.

Kirk Cousins joined the substitute bandwagon with a big statistical day Sunday: 29-of-45 for 381 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. "The Cuz" played a strong first half, hitting Pierre Garcon on a double-move for a long TD and ending the half with 248 passing yards. But he struggled with his accuracy after that, and doomed the Washington Redskins with an awful throw from his own 1 after his defense made an improbable goal-line stand. It's easy to imagine the Dallas Cowboys playing poorly on defense in Week 16, but it's also easy to imagine Cousins making a boatload of mistakes. Once again, unless I was a desperate Robert Griffin III owner, I would probably not bench my usual starter for Cousins next week.

Shane Vereen earns fantasy goat-of-the-week honors, as he went from a sure-fire double-digit-target RB to an afterthought. The New England Patriots did nothing to get Vereen involved early; he was barely on the field until late in the first quarter, when he got two short targets. He ran the clock out at the end of the first half, and Tom Brady did seem to want to use Vereen more to begin the second half, but the two players just couldn't get on the same page. The Miami Dolphins smothered him coming out of the backfield, and he couldn't bust even single man-on-man coverage. Meanwhile, LeGarrette Blount started in the backfield again and was fine on the Pats' first series, but Stevan Ridley came in thereafter and didn't fumble, continuing a fairly useless platoon. Julian Edelman (13 catches, 139 yards, 1 TD) was Brady's most-trusted target, though Danny Amendola (10 catches, 131 yards) saw a ton of work, including a potential game-winning TD that he failed to haul in. Next week against the Baltimore Ravens, it will officially be scary to trust just about anyone in New England's offense. You probably have to roll with Edelman and (gulp) Vereen, but frankly, I don't know.

Zac Stacy seemed to hurt his hip or lower back early in the first quarter of the St. Louis Rams' upset win over the New Orleans Saints, and missed his team's first TD. But Stacy was able to come back and dominate the game with his best Frank Gore impersonation: 27 carries for 137 yards and a vicious, rumbling 40-yard TD. Stacy was liberated after two bad matchups in a row against the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals, and proved he's an every-week fantasy starter. You folks know I can sometimes be skeptical of rookies or unexpected performers, but not Stacy. He's so very, very legit.

Donald Brown suffered a shoulder stinger in the first quarter Sunday after looking sharp, to the tune of five carries for 38 yards. Thus Trent Richardson got yet another crack to make a dent. Coby Fleener drew a deep pass-interference call, but of course T-Rich was stuffed on his first try from the Houston Texans' 2. Then, fortunately, he caught a shovel-pass TD. Alas, Richardson was stuck on 13 yards on 12 carries until early in the fourth quarter, when the Colts took a 25-3 lead. Thereafter T-Rich had seven more carries and 51 yards. Don't be fooled. He didn't look any better.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Jordan Todman
Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesFilling in for the injured Maurice Jones-Drew, Jordan Todman rushed for 109 yards and added another 44 yards receiving against Buffalo.

Jordan Todman did his (temporary) fantasy owners right; as Maurice Jones-Drew's primary substitute, Todman had 153 yards from scrimmage, and it could've been better. On third-and-long in the second quarter of the Jaguars' loss, inside the Buffalo Bills' red zone, it was Ace Sanders lined up in the Jacksonville Jaguars' backfield and he caught a screen and took it for a TD. Early in the third quarter, Denard Robinson got a carry and exploded through the defense on his way to a 25-yard TD run, but fumbled on the Bills' 1. Todman showed that he has legit acceleration and quickness. I don't think he's a future NFL starter, but he seems to have a future as a third-down guy.

• In a dream matchup against the Bears, it was neither Chris Ogbonnaya nor Fozzy Whittaker who flashed at RB for the Cleveland Browns. Rather, Edwin Baker -- a former Chargers seventh-round pick whom the Brownies snatched off the Texans' practice squad last week -- had 12 touches from scrimmage, compared to 10 for Obie and three for Whittaker. And Baker had 84 yards from scrimmage and a two-yard TD. Cleveland has the opposite kind of matchup next week against the New York Jets, so you're probably best advised to leave Baker alone, even if Willis McGahee can't go once more.

• Meanwhile, in the same game, Josh Gordon was a complete non-factor for 59 minutes and 1 second, but like Nick Foles, his is a winning streak you just can't avoid. Down two scores with 59 seconds left in the game, Jason Campbell finally caught the Bears in a slack Cover-2 and connected with Gordon for a 43-yard score.

• The New York Giants had 54 total yards of offense in the first half against the Seattle Seahawks, as Eli Manning continued to have one of the worst seasons in NFL history. And his prospects didn't get better when Victor Cruz -- who only had two catches late in the third quarter -- landed hard on his head and had to leave with an injured knee and a concussion. For what it's worth, Jerrel Jernigan excelled out of the slot in garbage time, and probably would be the replacement if Cruz has to miss next week's game against the Detroit Lions.

Larry Fitzgerald had a quiet six catches for 49 yards Sunday, but more worrisome was that he got lit up while trying to field the onside kick that would eventually allow the Tennessee Titans to get to overtime. We'll learn more early in the week, but it seemed like a concussion was a real possibility for him, too.

Vernon Davis is amazing. His 52-yard TD was a true bomb shot from Colin Kaepernick, a pure fly down the middle of the field that showed his extraordinary speed. In addition, Kap got to flash his extraordinary arm on that play, something the 49ers don't allow him to do nearly enough. Those two players are just beasts, but right now Davis is the only one you can trust.

• It's bad enough that Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are in a platoon, but now Frank Summers is involved? The Bills' nominal fullback actually got a red-zone carry as tailback, even with a lead blocker in place, and late in the game he caught a short TD for Buffalo's decisive score. (EJ Manuel also scored on a quarterback draw.) Once again, Spiller limped around because of his ankle and appeared to miss a few snaps, while Jackson led in touches 18 to 14.

• I'm not inclined to chase DeAngelo Williams' big day. He started the game looking strong, ripping off three positive runs on the Carolina Panthers' first possession Sunday, and then took a screen 72 yards to the house late in the second quarter. And really, with no Jonathan Stewart in the way, D-Willy got enough work done between the 20s for the strong Jets run defense to be impressed. But you know how this movie goes: Up 16-13 early in the fourth quarter, Williams had a pair of nice runs to get it down to New York's 3, and here came Mike Tolbert to plunge in the TD. I admit D-Willy gave you stronger results than I expected, but his role still seems so all-around contingent.

• If you're a DeMarco Murray owner, I hope you survived the Cowboys' stupidity, because you deserved to. Murray's actual performance -- 18 carries for 134 yards and a TD -- was highlight-worthy. Unfortunately, Murray had 11 carries for 108 yards at halftime, and despite leading 26-3 at intermission, the Cowboys called 23 passes out of 29 plays in the second half. Dez Bryant was great (11 grabs, 153 yards and an incredible TD catch), but Tony Romo threw two interceptions in the last 3 minutes, and the Green Bay Packers pulled off a stunning comeback behind Eddie Lacy's huge day (24 touches, 171 yards and a TD). Cue the inevitable Jerry Jones vote of confidence for Jason Garrett.

• I can't help but feel that the Cardinals are making their games closer out of sheer stubbornness. My impression every time I watch Cardinals videotape is: "Boy, Andre Ellington is good! Hey, wait, where's Andre Ellington?" It happened again Sunday, with Ellington making plays all over the field, and Rashard Mendenhall coming in and being Rashard Mendenhall. I admit that Mendy had a couple of big runs in overtime Sunday, but my heavens, Ellington looked ready to bust it open every time he touched it. (He did miss time in OT because of a bruised thigh.) The totals: Ellington had 14 touches for 158 yards, compared to 78 yards on 22 touches for Mendenhall. This is the way it'll be for the rest of '13. Dream of next year.

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