Broncos 20, Patriots 18
It was exactly as we expected: one legendary quarterback throwing two TDs to his tight end, while the other legendary quarterback threw for 300 yards but fell just short of a comeback with a late interception. Only this time, the roles were reversed.
Extra points: While this game was far more about the defenses, even the Broncos had no answer for Rob Gronkowski (8-144-1). Gronk accounted for more yardage than any three of his teammates combined and made clutch catch after amazing grab despite the full attention of at least two Denver defenders. You may not be able to pull the trigger on a tight end with the first overall fantasy pick, but Gronk should have you re-thinking that bias. Tom Brady (27-56-310-1-2, 3-13 rushing) was under duress all day, and it took a toll on his passing efficiency. Also telling: he was his team’s leading rusher. For Denver it was less about Peyton Manning (17-32-176-2 passing, 3-11 rushing) than it was about the other side of the ball, but Manning’s two TD tosses to Owen Daniels (2-33-2) gave the Broncos the cushion they needed to run the ball—effectively with CJ Anderson (16-72, 3-18 receiving) and far less effectively with Ronnie Hillman (11-16, 1-7 receiving). While Demaryius Thomas (2-12) was blanketed once again by Logan Ryan, Emmanuel Sanders (5-62) stepped up among Denver receivers.
Panthers 49, Cardinals 15
After rolling up 31 points in the first half last week, Carolina’s 24-7 lead at the break was a bit of a letdown. But unlike last week the Panthers did not remove their foot from the gas pedal, instead firmly planting it on the Cardinals’ collective throat with 10 points in the third quarter and 15 in the final frame to roll to the win. It certainly didn’t help that Arizona gave the Panthers extra possessions with four interceptions and three fumbles.
Extra points: Any shreds of doubt that may have lingered about his MVP credentials had to be erased by the thorough dominance of Cam Newton (19-28-335-2-1, 10-47-2 rushing). The Panthers’ underappreciated receiving corps stepped up; you knew Greg Olsen (6-113) would deliver, but contributions from Philly Brown (4-113-1) and Ted Ginn (2-52, 1-22-1 rushing) made Carolina unstoppable and overshadowed Jonathan Stewart (19-83, 2-5 receiving) and the ground game. David Johnson (15-60-1, 9-68) made his case to be Arizona’s full-time feature back—and a top-five fantasy pick—next season, but the Cardinals’ passing game was a disappointment from the top down. Carson Palmer (23-40-235-1-4) completed only one pass of more than 20 yards and couldn’t push any of his sterling wideouts past 40 yards. That meant Michael Floyd (3-37), Larry Fitzgerald (4-30), and John Brown (2-23) were all bitter fantasy disappointments.