It was the most 2013 Peyton Manning of times, it was the most 2015 Peyton Manning of times. So was Brock Osweiler’s Dickensian Sunday, where he had the best first half you could have before having the worst second half you could have.
Picking apart the Steelers’ No. 31 pass defense, Osweiler entered the break 14-of-18 for 214 yards and three touchdowns. For good measure, the 6-foot-8 former Gonzaga basketball recruit added a fourth score on the ground. Osweiler staked his team to a 27-10 halftime lead, put the Broncos back in control of their playoff destiny and silenced any questions about Peyton Manning returning under center, all in one swift stroke.
Then the second half happened.
Truth be told, Osweiler’s collapse was far from surprising. Coming off a Blaine Gabbert-esque effort in Week 14, Osweiler’s hot start was impressive, but built upon a series of one-read “progressions.” Osweiler almost never looked beyond his first man in Quarters 1 and 2, but this being the Steelers, it didn’t matter. Receivers are often simply that wide open against Pittsburgh. But the formula went awry after the Steelers finally made Osweiler start holding the ball beyond his first look. The result was a 7-of-22 performance where Osweiler managed just 82 yards.
Yes, Osweiler was hurt by critical drops from Vernon Davis and Demaryius Thomas, but was also lucky to escape with only one interception. The Steelers muffed two more sure picks, saving Osweiler from an even more early-season Manning kind of day. Osweiler displayed a total inability to challenge down field, and too often crumbled at the first sight of pressure. For the third week in a row, his offense generated zero points in the final two quarters.
Osweiler has arguably been better than Manning was before his injury-related benching, but has steadily regressed since carving up the Bears in Week 11. How much longer can the Broncos keep betting on him? Manning may still lead the league in interceptions, but he also leads every player to ever play the game in touchdowns. What should a team with Super Bowl or bust aspirations rely on? Improvement from a young player who has gotten worse each week? Or some sort of reversion to form from one of the greatest players of all time?
Every great player fades. Not every young player progresses. If you get eliminated with Peyton Manning on the field, so be it. If you do it with Brock Osweiler and Manning on your bench … the history books might not be so kind. Coach Gary Kubiak could even hedge his bets, returning to Manning but keeping him on a short leash. What he cannot do is his let his ship sink with the wrong captain at the controls.
Five Week 15 Positives
Cam Newton’s latest display of raw MVP power. Newton tossed five touchdowns for the third time in five weeks, and is now up to 40 total scores on the year. As he seemingly does every week, Newton made some history, becoming the first quarterback to ever have a five-score, 300-yard day where he also provided 100 yards on the ground. More deadly — and discerning — than ever with his legs, Newton is throwing lasers that would make Brett Favre arch an eyebrow. He is in complete command of his 14-0 team, and clownsuiting all comers on defense. Tom Brady and Carson Palmer are great, but Newton is the MVP of the league.
Christine Michael’s “hot hand” in the Seahawks’ backfield. Michael is a fable in fantasy circles. The long rumored Chosen One. Yet before Sunday, he had never even rushed for 80 yards in a game. Three teams have given up on Michael this season, which is three more than his number of career touchdowns. And yet, there he was against the Browns, rushing 16 times for a career-high 84 yards just five days after getting released from the Redskins’ practice squad. He came off the bench behind Bryce Brown, Fred Jackson and Derrick Coleman, but was the Seahawks’ leading rusher, out-gaining Brown 84-43. According to the Seattle Times, the “consensus in the locker room” was that Michael is “more focused and more serious.” Although Michael is now in the lead to start in Week 16 against the Rams, this isn’t really about 2015-16. That’s because Marshawn Lynch (abdomen) will immediately reassume starting status upon his return. But maybe, just maybe Michael can earn himself a role somewhere next season. As you’ve heard a million times before, hold onto Michael in your Dynasty league.
Kirk Cousins’ five-touchdown day against the hapless Bills. Cousins is now up to 27 scores on the season, which is as many as Robert Griffin III managed in 2012. Cousins remains a far superior player at home, but has cut down on his turnovers and provided the semblance of consistency the Redskins have been seeking since RGIII first tore up his knee. Cousins will never be a star, and quite likely isn’t worth the long-term contract the Redskins are reportedly growing more willing to give him. But he’s earned Washington’s starting job for 2016, and will be on the streaming radar against the Eagles’ faded defense in Week 16.
Cameron Artis-Payne’s audition in the Panthers’ backfield. Mike Tolbert got the “start,” but it was Artis-Payne who got the work, out-touching Tolbert and Fozzy Whittaker 16-9. Artis-Payne also easily outgained his backfield mates, producing 93 yards to Tolbert’s 10 and Whittaker’s 16. With Jonathan Stewart (foot) looking doubtful to suit up against the Falcons, Artis-Payne is arguably the top add for fantasy finals week. No team has allowed more rushing scores than Atlanta, whom the Panthers ripped for 142 ground yards in Week 14.
Teddy Bridgewater’s two-game hot streak. Fresh off throwing for the most yards of his young career in Week 14 (335), Bridgewater created more than two scores for the first time as an NFLer, embarrassing John Fox’s Bears team for five touchdowns, one of which came on the ground. He had more air scores than incompletions (three). Bridgewater looked to be flatlining two weeks ago, but will be on the two-QB/DFS radar against the Giants’ hollowed-out pass defense in Week 16.
Five Week 15 Negatives
Odell Beckham’s blown fuse against the Panthers. At one point Sunday, Beckham had more personal fouls (three) than catches (two). Beckham simply melted down against Josh Norman, treating his matchup with 2015’s top corner like it was a cage match instead of a chess game. It was a shocking loss of composure from a receiver who has thus far made dominance look graceful and effortless. Beckham shouldn’t be suspended for Week 16, but he should take a deep breath. When he exhales, he’ll find a Vikings defense ripe for allowing his seventh 100-yard day in eight games.
Marcus Mariota’s latest MCL injury. Mariota missed Weeks 7 and 8 with a left MCL issue. Now he’s dealing with an injury to his right, and is quite possibly done for the season. Although Mariota has said he expects to play again, he admitted the stability of his knee was a concern on Sunday. Unless an MRI reveals literally no damage, it’s hard to fathom the 3-11 Titans risking further injury to their franchise player. Mariota’s rookie season has seen some big plays and big games, but also struggles with consistency and durability. Both are musts for any player tasked with putting a team on his back.
LeSean McCoy’s knee injury. Shady is supposedly dealing with a “day-to-day” MCL sprain, but the fact that he missed the entire second half of Sunday’s do-or-die game against the Redskins bodes poorly for his Week 16 status. That means things are trending up for Karlos Williams, who could be making his first start since Week 4. McCoy owners have to consider him “out” until further notice, while all fantasy players should approach Williams on the waiver wire as if he’s a must add. Week 16 opponent Dallas stymied Chris Ivory on Saturday, but has been one of the league’s most vulnerable defenses on the ground.
Danny Amendola’s recurring injury issues. Amendola plugged right into Julian Edelman’s role following Edelman’s Week 10 foot sprain, but has suffered two knee injuries in the five weeks since. Amendola missed Week 12, and is questionable, at best, for Week 16 after sitting out the entire second half against the Titans. Especially with Edelman potentially ready to return, Amendola will likely sit against the Jets, and can be written out of fantasy owners’ plans for finals week.
Adrian Peterson’s sprained ankle. Peterson touched the ball just six times in the second half, producing a grand total of seven yards. Although it’s a positive he returned at all, Peterson admitted afterward that he “definitely” has a sprain, and wasn’t sure if he’d undergo an MRI. Without the benefit of post-injury adrenaline, Peterson may not be ready to go against the Giants in Week 16. That would be a major blow for fantasy owners who have ridden Peterson’s renaissance all the way to the fantasy finals. Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon will form a confusing committee if Peterson is forced to sit. Goal-line vulture Asiata is the “safer” add, but McKinnon offers far more upside.
1. Would we have lost World War II on a last-second field goal had Tom Coughlin been Supreme Allied Commander?
2. Was Rex Ryan given a participation trophy at birth?
3. Does Kirk Cousins really need a meme?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Stats of the Week
Doug Baldwin has 10 touchdowns over his past four games. The only other receiver to ever do that? Jerry Freaking Rice.
Antonio Brown’s 116 receptions are already tied for the 15th most in NFL history. He’s on pace for 133, which would displace his 129 from last season as the second most of all time.
Russell Wilson has 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions over his past five games. No one else has ever done that.
DeMarco Murray has 21 carries over his past three games. He notched at least 21 carries 11 times in 2014.
David Johnson has 472 yards from scrimmage across his three starts.
The This Could Be About Anything Titans Related Award, via @JWyattSports: #Titans didn't get it.