- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
On Christmas Eve 2011, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton gave fantasy owners a gift. Or should I say another gift, because this is a gift he has given regularly in his record-breaking rookie season. Newton not only set the single-season rookie record for passing yards, but he provided fantasy owners, many competing in the championship round, with 30 fantasy points, the most in Week 16 heading into the Sunday and Monday night games.
Was this merely a Christmas miracle? Not really. Newton entered Week 16 right up there with the big boys, third in fantasy scoring for the season behind Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. This was Newton's third game with 30 or more fantasy points, tying him with those fellows and two more than Tom Brady. Credit two of Newton's monster performances to the miserable Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense -- Week 13 was the other meeting -- but hey, they all count. It's not like the Buccaneers allowed monster numbers every week. Just most weeks.
For those who refused to believe a rookie quarterback could lead fantasy owners to championships, that clearly has been proven inaccurate. No, Newton hasn't taken the typical path to putting up his generous fantasy points, but he hasn't been Caleb Hanie, either. Newton should pass the 4,000-yard passing mark in Week 17. It's certainly doubtful whether Tim Tebow, for example, will ever accomplish this. Newton also scored his 14th rushing touchdown of the season Saturday; LeSean McCoy is the only NFL player with more. Depending on what Rodgers does his final two games, it's possible a rookie quarterback will lead all of fantasy football in points this season. Think about that for a minute.
So on this Christmas Eve of the 2011 fantasy football season, with plenty of relevant fantasy performances from those we expected and some we did not, we salute Cam Newton. He has one game left of his rookie campaign, but I think we can all agree that no matter the result, it's been a massive success.
Second down: While Newton's performance was hardly a surprise, those that either drafted and/or relied on Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams haven't been as satisfied. However, Williams delivered his top fantasy performance in Week 16, scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns with 84 total yards en route to 19 fantasy points. Williams managed one double-digit fantasy outing in the first nine games. For those that stuck with him, even though he was less valuable than backfield mate Jonathan Stewart for much of the season, Williams has reached 10 or more fantasy points five of the past six weeks. Hopefully his slow first half was merely about him getting used to playing with a good quarterback and he can return to being a top-20 option in 2012. Some of it will depend on Stewart's status.
Third down: On the wide receiver front, Victor Cruz set the New York Giants' franchise mark for receiving yards in a season (Amani Toomer held the mark with 1,343 yards in 2002). Talk about a surprise; Cruz entered the season with nary an NFL reception, and he was third string at best. In Sunday's critical victory over the New York Jets, Cruz turned a short Eli Manning pass into a team-record 99-yard touchdown and finished with a wide receiver-best 22 fantasy points. Meanwhile, teammate Hakeem Nicks continued to fall victim to drops; he caught one pass for 20 yards. Who had the better fantasy season between Nicks and Cruz? We can debate natural talent all day long, but Cruz is going to finish the 2011 season with more fantasy points and likely among the top five in fantasy, in arguably the best campaign for a New York Giants wide receiver ever.
Fourth down: Of course, not all the performances Sunday were positive ones. At quarterback, Tebow doubled his season interception total, though he still managed 12 fantasy points. That number was more than Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. Tony Romo didn't score any fantasy points, as the lack of importance of his game and a hand injury rendered him useless. At running back, season points leader McCoy scored only four fantasy points, leaving early because of an ankle injury. The maddening Chris Johnson produced five fantasy points. And A.J. Green, Vincent Jackson, Miles Austin, Steve Smith, Eric Decker and the Giants' Nicks disappointed among the wide receivers. But every one of these players can still help fantasy owners in Week 17 and next season.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, however, might have suffered a serious left knee injury, perhaps tearing his ACL on the first play of the second half. While those relying on Peterson in fantasy were provided 10 fantasy points -- he scored a touchdown! -- there's a far bigger story here, and it deals with the 2012 season. It's terrible news for Peterson's keeper owners. Remember, this was the first pick in most fantasy drafts this season, and he certainly would have been among the top options in 2012, along with McCoy, Arian Foster and perhaps Ray Rice and Green Bay's Rodgers. If Peterson indeed tore his ACL, he sadly won't be included among this crew next season.
Merry Christmas to all and best of luck the rest of Week 16 and next week!
Eric Karabell looks back at an eventful Saturday, including more brilliance from Cam Newton and Victor Cruz and a four-interception day for Tim Tebow.