The last Sunday of the NFL regular season was ... well, it was weird. Jamaal Charles was inactive. Frank Gore was active, but barely. Matt Forte was everywhere. Trying to predict who would do what was a fool's errand, and looking at it after the fact is a heck of a good way to go cross-eyed.
But that's what we're here for. This is a look at the best performances of Week 17. Some of the names make sense. Some don't.
Best quarterbacks in Week 17
Drew Brees, NO (381 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 8 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown, 37 fantasy points)
As it turns out, thanks to the 49ers' win over the Cardinals, the Saints would have made the playoffs even with a loss Sunday. But they didn't know that until near the end of their game, and regardless, Brees made sure the point was moot. He threw touchdowns to four different receivers (wide receivers Kenny Stills, Lance Moore, and Robert Meachem, and tight end Jimmy Graham) and, just for good measure, ran in a nine-yard score himself in the fourth quarter.
Next season: Brees ends the season a distant second to Peyton Manning in fantasy scoring at quarterback, but third place is even further behind that. For next season, Brees, Manning, and -- depending on your trust in health and how he does in the playoffs -- Aaron Rodgers will again be the top quarterbacks on draft day. Manning will probably go first, but Brees will be right there as well. No fade yet.
Peyton Manning, DEN (266 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 26 fantasy points)
Manning only played the first half of Sunday's game, just staying out there long enough to break Brees' 2011 record for passing yards in a season (by one, which is just kinda mean). It was still enough to outscore almost every other quarterback Sunday. Manning hit usual suspects Demaryius Thomas (twice), Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno for scores in his half of play. It was his 12th game of 20-plus fantasy points this season, and his ninth game with four or more touchdown passes.
Next season: Did you read the paragraph just above this? How about the one in Brees' section? Manning isn't going anywhere. Dude's a robot, I think.
Colin Kaepernick, SF (310 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 24 rushing yards, 22 fantasy points)
So after all that grief, Kaepernick ends the season with three straight games of 20-plus fantasy points, and he'll finish as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. It maybe wasn't how fantasy owners wanted it -- with a good portion of his production coming in the fantasy playoffs, his owners might not even have still been alive in their leagues to enjoy his endgame showing -- but it bodes well for both the 49ers entering the postseason and Kaepernick entering 2014.
Next season: It was a very reassuring end of the season. Kaepernick has shown to have the legs -- he had at least 10 rushing yards in every game, and maxed out at 87 -- and with a full receiving corps, primarily Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, Kaepernick should be a fine fantasy play for 2014.
Carson Palmer, ARI (407 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, 22 fantasy points)
Dude had 407 yards and only two touchdowns. That's incredible. It was like the 49ers put up a brick wall at the five-yard line and told the Cardinals they could do whatever they wanted up to that point. It didn't make for a lot of real-life production for Palmer and his ilk, but it helped Palmer's fantasy owners, as Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Rob Housler, and Andre Roberts all had 70-plus receiving yards.
Next season: Assuming Palmer is back in Arizona, this seems like about the season he'll have again -- falling in the mid-teens among quarterbacks, some really good stretches and some disastrous ones. On the other hand, there's at least some reason to wonder whether the Cardinals might add a young "quarterback of the future." They'll probably keep Palmer around at least through next season, but you never know.
Best running backs of Week 17
Matt Forte, CHI (110 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns, 47 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown, 33 fantasy points)
It was Forte's second three-touchdown game of the season, and his fourth time exceeding 150 yards from scrimmage. He's comfortably fantasy's No. 3 running back at season end, and Sunday's 33 fantasy points was his high-water mark. Forte has now set career highs in both rushing and receiving yards, and tied his career mark in touchdowns. Been a great season for a long-underrated running back.
Next season: After years of being a low-first-, high-second-round pick in fantasy drafts, Forte basically has to be a first-round pick in 2014. Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, and Adrian Peterson ought to go ahead of him, but after that he's in a group with a few others, and Forte might be the best of that group.
LeGarrette Blount, NE (189 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns, 30 fantasy points)
Okay, where the heck did this come from? After 507 yards and three touchdowns all year leading up to last week, Blount now has 265 yards and four scores in Week 16 and Week 17 combined. The 189 yards marked a career high, besting his previous high of 164 in Week 16 of 2010. After spending much of the season behind various iterations of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and occasionally Brandon Bolden on the depth chart, Blount led the Patriots in carries in both of the last two weeks.
Next season: Who bleedin' knows. Blount is a free agent after the season, and it's not like he has a long track record there to expect continued success. If Blount is still a Patriot in 2014, he'll be hard to rely on, with so many other options and so much variability in the offense. If he ends up as the feature back elsewhere, though, Blount could be a decent RB2 in 2014.
Knile Davis, KC (81 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns, 20 fantasy points)
Davis' Week 17 was the least surprising surprise performance ever. Despite the fact he'd done basically nothing all season entering Sunday, it was an open secret that the Chiefs weren't planning on running Jamaal Charles much in the season finale, with their playoff seeding all locked up. That was confirmed a while before game time, when Kansas City went ahead and deactivated Charles (and most of their other stars) for the Chargers game. Davis responded with his biggest game as a pro.
Next season: Davis still won't have much fantasy viability in 2014. He'll likely be the backup to Charles again, and it's not like the team has shown much inclination to use the backup for anything beyond mop-up duty. On top of that, Davis has always had fumbling issues, and he's just a week removed from a two-fumble game. Until he proves he can hold onto the ball, he won't be anyone's full-time guy.
Best wide receivers of Week 17
Jerrel Jernigan, NYG (90 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 57 rushing yards, 1 touchdown, 26 fantasy points)
So through Week 14, Jernigan had five fantasy points on the season. Then suddenly, the Giants realized their team sucked and it couldn't possibly hurt to try something new. That led to Jernigan having 67 yards in Week 15, 80 yards and a touchdown in Week 16 and 147 yards and two scores in the finale. He's had at least six catches in all three games.
Next season: It's hard to even imagine the possibility the Giants bring Hakeem Nicks back for next season, and as inconsistent as Rueben Randle has been, it's possible Jernigan enters the season as the team's No. 2 behind Victor Cruz. More likely he's the No. 3 and only fantasy-viable in bye weeks or as an injury fill-in, but pay attention; this late-season hot streak could be a building block.
Demaryius Thomas, DEN (113 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns, 23 fantasy points)
Just like his quarterback, Thomas only needed the first half to put up huge fantasy numbers. His 23 fantasy points made Sunday his third-biggest game of the season, and he finishes the regular season with 14 touchdown catches. It's been a huge season for Thomas, his second in a row. He must thank his lucky stars that they brought Peyton Manning into his life.
Next season: What's to wonder? As long as Manning is throwing to him, Thomas is an obvious WR1.
Anquan Boldin, SF (149 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 11 rushing yards, 21 fantasy points)
Right in the middle of the season, it looked like Boldin -- along with much of the rest of the San Francisco offense -- was becoming forgettable. He put up two fantasy points in three out of five games in one stretch, and only had 18 total in that time. But in his last seven games, the receiver had nine or more fantasy points six times, averaging more than 12.5 fantasy points per game. Boldin's 149 yards Sunday marked his biggest total since 208 in Week 1.
Next season: Boldin didn't perform well when he had to be the lone option in the 49ers offense, but having a running mate -- Michael Crabtree -- ought to bode well for his future. He is a fine WR2 for 2014.
Cordarrelle Patterson, MIN (31 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 54 rushing yards, 1 touchdown, 20 fantasy points)
It was another "by hook or by crook" game for Patterson, who keeps finding ways to be productive. He will end his rookie season on a four-game stretch of 10-plus fantasy points, reaching 20 twice and scoring 61 total in that time. It took a while for Patterson to find his place in the Minnesota offense, but he has been performing in the do-it-all vein of guys like Randall Cobb, Alshon Jeffery, and Percy Harvin.
Next season: Harvin is a heck of a comparison for Patterson, and there's reason to think the Vikings might continue to deploy him in that style next season. If so, he could continue to rise. He probably won't be drafted as a fantasy starter, but he could easily become one fairly early in the season.
Best tight ends in Week 17
Jimmy Graham, NO (71 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 13 fantasy points)
What's there to say about Graham at this point? He has 16 touchdowns on the season. He's put up double-digit fantasy points 12 times in 16 games. He scored 20-plus four times. He finishes the season more than 50 points ahead of the No. 2 tight end. There aren't enough superlatives.
Next season: Graham will obviously be the No. 1 tight end for 2014, even if Rob Gronkowski appears healthy. The question becomes how high he climbs on the overall draft board. To be a first-round value, he has to basically repeat this season or come close. Can he do that? Best bet is he's a second-round value, but people who take him earlier aren't going to fuss.
Brent Celek, PHI (71 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 13 fantasy points)
Celek had his best game of the season Sunday night, with a season-high 71 yards and his sixth touchdown. Celek still hasn't been any sort of primary target -- he's only caught more than three passes in a game once all season -- but no other Eagle topped 45 receiving yards in Sunday's game.
Next season: Celek will remain only a bye week fill-in in fantasy; he just doesn't offer enough production on a week-to-week basis to be anything more than that.
Jason Witten, DAL (135 receiving yards, 13 fantasy points)
Witten was Kyle Orton's favorite toy on the field Sunday night, setting season highs in catches and yards in the process. He hobbled off the field a couple different times, but when he was out there, he was all over the Eagles defense. Witten finishes the season tied for fifth in fantasy scoring among tight ends, but it was probably the most inconsistent season of his career.
Next season: There's no reason to think Witten won't still be in Dallas next year, still a mid-low-end TE1. His reality still hasn't changed.
Tim Wright, TB (58 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 11 fantasy points)
Wright continues his yo-yo season. He scored 14 in Week 15, two in Week 16 and capped his season with 11. He had five touchdowns on the year, but also had four different games of one fantasy point. A lot of that has to do with the team he was on, but Wright also needs to show more consistency.
Next season: Wright finishes 2013 in the mid-teens among tight ends. He might be arguable as a low-end TE1 for 2014, but a better bet is that he'll be a TE2/flyer pick.
Best kicker in Week 17
Stephen Gostkowski, NE (4/4 FG, 2/2 XP, 15 fantasy points)
Appropriate that the highest-scoring kicker in Week 17 is also the highest-scoring kicker on the season. Gostkowski was the first kicker off the board in most fantasy drafts this season, and he returned maximum value.
Best defense/special teams in Week 17
Seattle Seahawks (9 points allowed, 2 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 18 fantasy points)
Also appropriate. The Seahawks were the first-drafted defense in most fantasy leagues this season, and they also finish the season as the No. 1. It's an insanely strong unit, and now that they have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, it could stay that way for a while.