Cardinals in the Super Bowl? It makes sense this fantasy season

"The Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl."

I read it, I know it's true, but it's one of those statements that's still hard to believe.

You know, it's like if you picked up the newspaper and the headline read, "Barack Obama fires Joe Biden, announces Paris Hilton as new vice president," or "Brad Pitt leaves Angelina Jolie, runs off with Bea Arthur."

Yeah, it's a little odd.

But I guess it's par for the course in what's been one of the strangest fantasy football seasons on record. In honor of the Cardinals and their unbelievable accomplishment, let's take a look back at the five most bizarre fantasy stories of 2008.

2008 statistics:
Completions: 230

Attempts: 420

Yards: 2,608

Touchdowns: 18

Tyler Thigpen scores more fantasy points than Tom Brady

OK, so just about every single quarterback in the NFL scored more points than Brady. But if I had said in the preseason that you would have been far better off drafting a third-string quarterback from Coastal Carolina ahead of the 2007 fantasy MVP, well, let's just say you would have blasted me on message boards, fitted me with a straight jacket, tossed me in a padded room and thrown away the key.

But it happened.

Thigpen, despite starting just 11 games and playing in a total of 14, was a better fantasy option than Brady, Eli Manning, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub (to name a few). He finished within nine points of fantasy superstar Tony Romo on NFL.com, and was even the best player at the position for a stretch of time.

It's hard to predict what the future will hold for Thigpen now that the Chiefs have turned over the reins to new general manager Scott Pioli, but fantasy leaguers won't soon forget his immense and unpredictable contributions in 2008.

LaDainian Tomlinson turns into a mortal running back

Tomlinson was the consensus No. 1 overall selection in 2008 fantasy drafts. After all, he had come off a two-season span with a combined 116 receptions, 4,272 scrimmage yards and 49 total touchdowns. He was productive, consistent and the unquestioned king of the fantasy football mountain.

Then came his 29th birthday, an injured toe, a decrease in carries and the emergence of Philip Rivers.

All of these factors contributed to the deterioration of one of the league's most talented runners. Sure, Tomlinson still finished with 52 receptions, 1,536 scrimmage yards and 12 total touchdowns, but he was unreliable for much of the season. What's more, three of his touchdowns came against the Broncos in Week 17 -- that's one week after a large majority of fantasy leagues were over.

He also rushed for 100-plus yards just twice -- he had reached that same mark 16 times in his previous 32 regular-season starts.

Tomlinson didn't even finish in the top 10 in points at his position during the fantasy season (Weeks 1-16). Runners with far less value in drafts such as DeAngelo Williams, Thomas Jones and Brandon Jacobs outscored him. He was even outdone by a trio of rookies, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton. The latter rookie, Slaton, wasn't even owned in 65 percent of NFL.com leagues in the first week of the regular season. But he too was a more valuable option than Tomlinson.

With a number of running backs emerging in 2008, Tomlinson's value for next season is up for debate. He'll be a 30-year-old back with a lot of mileage who could even start to lose a few carries to another back, maybe Darren Sproles (if he's re-signed in the offseason). He'll likely still be taken late in the first round or early in the second round of most drafts, but his best and most productive seasons are in the rearview mirror.

DeAngelo Williams becomes the fantasy MVP in 2008

Much like the Cardinals being in Super Bowl XLIII, Williams being the top player in fantasy football is true, but hard to believe.

He had never rushed for even 725 yards or more than four touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons. Furthermore, the Panthers drafted Jonathan Stewart to replace the departed DeShaun Foster, who had kept Williams second on the depth chart. Since Foster wasn't exactly Earl Campbell, well, it appeared that Stewart would be the more valuable of the two Carolina running backs in fantasy land.

So much for that idea.

Despite being selected after Stewart in most drafts (Stewart was owned and started in more NFL.com leagues for the first eight weeks of the season), Williams was still able to make an enormous impact.

He exploded in the second half of the season, rushing for 100-plus yards six times and scoring an impressive 15 touchdowns over his final eight contests. Williams was also an absolute beast in the fantasy postseason, rushing for a combined 382 yards and seven touchdowns.

The veteran back out of Memphis now figures to be a top-five pick in 2009 drafts. But can he reach the same level of statistical success? The answer is a resounding no.

In fact, the 17 running backs before Williams (not including Jim Brown, who retired) to score 20 or more times in a season averaged an impressive 22.7 scores. Those same 17 runners averaged just 13.2 touchdowns the very next season.

That's a 41.9 percent decrease in touchdown production.

A man named Pierre leads owners to a championship

Pierre Thomas was a non-factor for much of the first nine weeks of the regular season, but he broke out after the Saints were forced to keep Reggie Bush on the sidelines due to knee problems. The Illinois product, who was owned in a mere 39 percent of NFL.com leagues as late as Week 12, took over as the team's featured back and made a name for himself both between the white lines and in fantasy football.

Down the stretch (Weeks 11-16), Thomas recorded a combined 19 receptions, 677 scrimmage yards and found the end zone nine times. He was a better option than Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook and every other running back other than Williams and Michael Turner in that span. It was an enormous feat for a runner who was on a mere 15 percent of NFL.com fantasy rosters when the regular seasons started.

Thomas' late-season success, coupled with Bush's continued knee problems, appears to have put him atop the Saints' depth chart heading into 2009.

Antonio Bryant scores more points than Randy Moss

Moss, who was coming off the greatest fantasy season ever from a wide receiver, was the unquestioned top player at his position in 2008. He was even selected in the first round in more than his share of drafts. But when Brady went down in the first week of the season, well, Moss lost quite a bit of his luster. He did have his share of solid stat lines during the course of the season, but Moss wasn't even close to his 2007 form.

He recorded 100-plus yards only four times, finished with just 69 receptions, 1,008 yards and scored 12 fewer touchdowns compared to his previous season totals.

While Moss was struggling to produce strong numbers on a consistent basis, Bryant, who was out of football while Moss was breaking records, was becoming a fantasy superstar. He too was a bit inconsistent in the first half of the season, but Bryant turned into a beast down the stretch and when it counted the most -- in the fantasy postseason.

The Buccaneers wide receiver hauled in a combined 23 passes for 435 yards and scored four touchdowns in Week 14-16, including an incredible 200-yard, two-touchdown contest in a Monday night loss to Carolina. During that same stretch, Moss posted 10 catches, 210 yards and three touchdowns -- that's 28 fewer points than Bryant in standard formats.

Overall, Bryant finished with more catches and more yards than Moss. So when the dust settled on the 2008 season, fantasy leaguers in PPR leagues would have been better off drafting Bryant than Moss. The Buccaneers' wideout was also more attractive option in the final weeks of the fantasy season.

Unreal, but again, par for the course in a fantasy season that will be remembered for being odd and widely unpredictable.

Have a burning question for Michael Fabiano on anything fantasy football related? Send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on NFL.com!

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