The part that gets lost in this story is that none of it would have happened if not for one Mr. Chuck. E. Cheese.
You see, I've been a ghost for the better part of the last four months. Between preseason football, my ongoing baseball duties (daily podcast, video, etc.), the twin babies and trying to finish the book I'm writing, I've spent almost no time with friends or, more importantly, the older kids. Seriously, I've spent almost every day of the last four months in front of a computer screen. We all work hard, I'm not complaining, lucky to have both the job and the book opportunity, but still. Mr. Available, I'm not.
And so, heavy with this guilt, on a rare day off, I took it upon myself to take the kids and their friends to Mr. Cheese's fine establishment.
Lots of games, soda and pizza later, we were finally ready to leave. I was late to get two of the kids back, they were being exactly how you'd think five kids younger than 12 would act in a car when hopped up on sugar and, well, as I pulled the car out of the parking spot, I heard a sound you're not supposed to hear.
I quickly stop, park and look. Did I … ? Yep. Dammit. I must have gotten distracted or something and I grazed the car parked next to me. I park the car and get out and look. Hard to say what was there before, but I definitely felt something and there was, in fact, a small scratch on the back right fender.
The kids, of course, find this hysterical. "Matthew, quick, drive off." "No, I need to leave a note. That's not the right thing to do. You make a mistake, you have own up to it." As I'm lecturing the kids on right and wrong (as far as you know), a 25ish woman storms out of one of the stores in the parking lot (it's all in an enclosed strip mall kind of place.)
Woman: You hit my car!
Me: Yes, I know. I'm so sorry. Don't know what happened. But I'll be happy to take care --
She holds up a finger as if to tell me to shush. She walks behind the car and starts writing down my license plate number.
Me: You don't have to do that if you don't want. I'm happy to give you all my informa --
Again with the finger. She finishes writing and now comes to face me.
Me: Look, again, I'm really sorry. I know this is a pain. But listen, I got five kids under the age of 12 in the car and I'm already late to get them home. So why don't I just give you my number, contact info, whatever you want, take the car to whatever body shop you want and I'll pay for it, OK?
Woman: I'm calling insurance.
Me: OK, totally your right to do so, but don't think it's worth it. If you call insurance, they'll have to make an appointment to come assess the car, then you'll have to take it to like three different body shops for estimates, it's a huge hassle. I don't want it on my insurance, so I'm telling you. I'll give you my info, take it anywhere you want, I'll pay for it. Easy.
Woman: I'm calling the cops!
Me: What? Look, all a cop is going to do is ask for my information and like I said, I'll give it to you. You can see my license. You want my insurance? You can see that too. I know this is a hassle for you and I sincerely apologize. I made a mistake. I'd like to make it right in the simplest way possible and I just don't want to sit here waiting for the cops to show --
At this point she turns away from me in the middle of me speaking to walk back to the store (she works in one of them, apparently).
Me: Where are you going?
Her: Told you. Calling the cops.
Me: Can we please just discuss this?
Her: I'm going to the store.
So now I'm like, what the hell? The kids have gone from bemused to antsy now. They want out of the car, they want to go home, they're yelling and I can't just leave because, small though it may be, it is an accident scene.
Sigh. So I grab the kids, make them go back into Chuck E. Cheese's, give them some more money for tokens (Here's how done they were: "Do we have to?" That's right. A 12-year-old being told to play video games. "Do we have to?" I say yes and leave).
Get to the store. The woman is now on the phone. She hands me the phone.
Woman: Police want to talk to you.
Me (confused): Hello?
Cop on the phone: Sir, this is Officer So-and-So (Not his real name). Are you all right? Are you harmed in any way?
Me: What? No, I'm fine. It's a scratch on a bumper.
Cop on the phone: Sir, you called 911.
Me (to her): You called 911?!!?!?
Her: That's what you're supposed to do.
Me: No, it's not. You call the police. At their station. 911 is for emergencies. Fires, violent crimes, horrible accidents. This is a scratch.
Her: I'm not talking to you anymore.
I get back on the phone.
Me: Officer, there is no emergency. Not sure why she called this number. But listen, can you transfer me to someone, or can I just give you my information? This woman won't take it.
Cop: That is her right to file a report.
Me: I understand. I just have five kids I'm trying to get home. What happens if I just leave?
Cop: If she decides to, she can file a report and you will be accused of leaving the scene of an accident.
Me: OK. Thank you, Officer.
Sigh. I turn to her.
Me: Seriously? You called 911? For a scratch on your back fender?
Her: You need to leave this store now. This is my place of business.
Me: I wanted to talk to you outside. You're the one who walked in here and wouldn't talk to me outside.
Woman: Well, I'm done talking.
A co-worker of the woman gives me a look and mouths "I'm sorry," as if to say she gets it. The woman is nuts. So what can I do? I go outside and wait.
As I do so, I reflect on the woman. She was working and she got her parked car hit. A total pain in the butt. She has every right to be annoyed. The feeling was correct. The reaction, and the way she dealt with it, especially given the actual damage? Crazy overreaction.
I wouldn't be surprised to find out that she's a fantasy football owner.
Listen, you Matthew Stafford and Wes Welker owners: Better days are ahead. Kevin Ogletree had a nice day at the office, but no, you are not starting him this week over Hakeem Nicks. Disappointed in Week 1 results? Fair to be upset. Calling 911 -- er, sending panicked trade offers and tweeting out in despair? You've gone too far.
After about 20 minutes, the cop showed up. He met with the woman and me. He got my information and hers, wrote it up and gave us each a copy. On the report, he noted "No injuries. Observed VERY minimal damage." The caps were his, not mine.
Her: Now what?
Cop: That's it. This is a parking lot. Private property. We have no real jurisdiction here. All we can do is write it up and exchange information. It's up to you how you want to handle it.
Her: But he hit my car!
Cop: He's not disputing that, ma'am.
Me: So you mean we could have saved 45 minutes and your time if she had just accepted my information at the start, like I offered?
Cop: Yes, sir.
Me: Told you. Enjoy getting all the different estimates.
Actually, I didn't say those last two things, but I thought them. I just gave her a "Told you so" look and walked away.
All the turmoil and anger and hand-wringing and she wound up in the same place she started. Panic after your car is totaled, or you get hurt in an accident, or your car gets stolen. Or you're 0-4 or 1-3 in Week 4. But not before.
Let's get to it. As always, this is not a pure start/sit list, but rather a rankings reaction; what follows are players I like more or less than my fellow rankers, or more or less than I normally do. For specific "whom do I start?" questions, please check the rankings, updated throughout the week.
With help as always from the fine men and women of ESPN's Stats & Information gang, especially my homeslice John Parolin, away we go.
Quarterbacks I love
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers: I'm the highest on him, still listing him as a top-three quarterback. Getting Jonathan Stewart back will help; so will being at home versus a Saints defense that just got shredded by a rookie quarterback. As bad as Carolina was last week, Newton still had 300 yards passing. But no, to answer a question I just got on Twitter, you are not sitting Cam Newton for RG3.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins: That said, I do love him. As a fantasy player, as the face of my beloved Redskins, and yes, as a fellow man. While three of us have RG3 in our top 10 this week, I'm the highest on him, because while the Rams are improved on defense, they are not that improved. I expect Pierre Garcon to play in this game (my ranking of RG3 will suffer if he gets ruled out), and the rushing yards will be there (eight of his 10 runs last week were designed runs), but mostly what I like here is how well RG3 uses the play-action; he went 11-14 on play-action passes, completing over 78 percent of his passes with an average yards per attempt of 16.9. Since the beginning of 2011, only the Chargers have allowed more 30-plus-yard plays on play-action passes than the St. Louis Rams.
Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens: So, about that whole "He's only a QB2, he's on the hate section" thing from last week … uh … my bad? Every year I've been Wacco for Flacco, every year he disappoints, so this year, the first year I'm finally off the bandwagon? Now he goes off? Of course he does. Not a great matchup at Philly, which has a much better defense that you'd think. I have Flacco just outside my top 10, making him a start in 12-team or deeper leagues. I expect he'll continue to succeed as long as the Ravens are using play-action. Baltimore went away from it last year and it showed. On Monday, Flacco went 9-of-13 for 159 yards when using a play fake.
Matt Schaub, QB, Texans: Last play-action stat, I swear. The Jaguars allow a 67.4 completion percentage on play-action passes, fourth-worst in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Texans attempted 158 play-action passes since the beginning of last year, third-most in NFL, good for 1,766 passing yards. Apparently, teams are worried about this Arian Foster guy or something, biting hard when it looks like it might go to him. Odd, really.
If you're desperate … It was rarely pretty, and he needed a late TD to bail him out, but at the end of the day, preseason deep sleeper (and "if you're desperate" pick last week) Carson Palmer wound up with 17 fantasy points, tied for 11th with Tom Brady. Whether it's check downs to McFadden or getting Denarius Moore back (which I expect), I like him against an overmatched Dolphins team. … With Louis Delmas and Chris Houston still banged up in Detroit's secondary, I could see Alex Smith having a solid day at home against the Lions.
Quarterbacks I hate
Michael Vick, QB, Eagles: I'm done. I swear I'm done. Seriously. Cleveland? You couldn't do anything against Cleveland? Four interceptions, two fumbles (recovered, but still), and less than 52 percent of passes completed? Everything you swore got fixed last year, didn't. I'm out. It's over. It's not you, it's … wait, actually, it is you. I stood by you long enough. You were under duress or hit while throwing on 19 dropbacks last Sunday, six more any other QB in Week 1 and the most for a QB in a game since Jay Cutler in Week 2 of last season (also 19). And that was Cleveland! You're out of my top 10 this week against the Ravens, who are -- what's the word? -- a lot better than Cleveland. I'm not even convinced you'll make it through his game healthy. I'm sure, now that I've forsaken you, you'll have a huge game, but that just angers me even more. I just can't. No mas.
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: "Take me down to check down city, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty." More of a gut call than anything; I hated the lack of a run game and that offensive line, two things I don't expect to improve Sunday. I have him outside my top 10, making him a "QB2" in standard leagues or a very low-end starter in 12-team leagues. He's a guy I'd definitely play RG3 over.
Running backs I love
C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills: I'm by far the highest on last week's highest-scoring running back, who now gets a banged-up opposing defense and doesn't have to worry about sharing carries with Fred Jackson. Not sure I get why others aren't as enthusiastic. Spiller gained 116 yards after contact in Week 1 against the Jets. That's the sixth-highest rushing YAC total in a game since the start of 2009. In fact, I bet you could win four bar bets with this one list: Over the last two years, the four players with the best yards-after-contact average in the league (minimum 100 carries) are Ben Tate, Spiller, Stevan Ridley and Donald Brown. This assumes, of course, that you go to bars. And since you're reading this column, I can only assume you like to drink. In fact, there's a good chance you're drunk right now. Unless you're underage, of course. In that case, I'll just assume you're hopped up on sugar after an all-day Chuck E. Cheese bender. p>
Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers: Was on this list last week, did well; I'm doubling down. Only three teams in the NFL allowed more rushing yards after contact in Week 1 than the 66 the Giants did. Doug Martin had 55 yards after contact in Week 1, fourth-most in the league.
40. Since Marvin Lewis took over as Bengals coach in 2003, his lead running backs have averaged 1,124 yards, eight touchdowns and 282 carries a season.
41. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has never had more than 229 carries in a season.
42. He has also never fumbled.
43. Those Bengals averages (1,124 yards and eight scores) combined with no fumbles and assuming no receiving yards would have been worth 160 fantasy points, or 15th among running backs, just 10 points out of the top 10.
44. Among running backs with at least 30 red zone carries last season, only Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch had a higher yards-per-carry average in the red zone than Green-Ellis (2.72).
45. Only five teams ran the ball in the red zone more than the Bengals last season.
46. Green-Ellis had 11 and 13 touchdowns, respectively, the past two seasons, with all but one coming from the red zone.
47. He is currently going in the sixth round.
After Monday night, I feel as good about this call as anything. The Law Firm looked great. And he will continue to look great against Cleveland.
Frank Gore, RB, 49ers: I still don't like him, but I'm man enough to admit I was as dead wrong about him last week as I was right about Green-Ellis. Still think Kendall Hunter takes this job at some point this year, but for now, ride him while he's hot. In four career games versus the Lions, he has four touchdowns and averaged 158.3 total yards per game.
Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins: With all the usual caveats that this is still a Redskins running back coached by Mike Shanahan -- we're playing with matches and kerosene here -- the dude got 28 carries last week, more than any running back in the NFL. In fact the Redskins, as a team, ran 44 times. And they won. Mobile quarterbacks have traditionally helped the run game and, against the Rams -- one of the worst run defenses last year, and they just let Kevin Smith have a pretty nice day last week -- I expect more of the same.
Michael Bush, RB, Bears: Another guy from last week who was on the love list and who I am doubling down on. You guys hear about Matt Forte complaining that Bush vultured his touchdowns last week? Well, he should get used to it.
If you're desperate: After seeing what little DeAngelo Williams did last week, assuming Jonathan Stewart is healthy, I expect him to get more work than Dee-Willy against a Saints team that just had something called an Alfred Morris run all over them … Dexter McCluster qualifies at running back in our game and, with six receptions for 82 yards on a team-high 10 targets (continuing the usage we saw in the preseason), he should be solid against Buffalo. … I don't expect Ryan Mathews to play, so if you're sifting among the rubble that is the Chargers run game, I like Curtis Brinkley the most. … It's not "if," it's "when" will Jacquizz Rodgers take over for Michael Turner? … As I mentioned in the Gore post, I like Kendall Hunter (nine carries last week) to get some work in a game in which I expect the Niners to run.
Running backs I hate
Matthew Berry, TMR, Worldwide Leader: Did I really put a Redskins running back in "Love?" You never learn, do you Charlie Brown? What the hell am I thinking? Ugh. I hate myself for that call. I feel so dirty. Forever unclean.
Chris Johnson, RB, Titans: See Vick, Michael. Ugh. You didn't care because of all the receiving yards, but the Chargers actually held Darren McFadden to just 32 yards on 15 carries. McFadden's a lot better than Johnson, who was just so brutal last week. And after last year? I'm done. Over it. All set, here. No thanks. Ugh.
Trent Richardson, RB, Browns: In the preseason, I saw some other fantasy analysts who had this guy as a first-round pick. Didn't get it then, don't get it now. This is a bad, bad offense, and I don't care how talented he is. No man is a forest. Wait, no man is alone. A man is an island? Whatever. No running back is good without blocking. Or an offense around him. Or two healthy knees. Richardson was first contacted in the backfield on seven of his 19 rushes in Week 1, tied for most in the NFL, and the Bengals are a better defense than they showed against the Ravens.
Michael Turner, RB, Falcons: Stop me if you've heard this one before. Michael Turner is done. For all the things I killed him for in the preseason -- the wearing down last year, the fact that he looked slow, his amount of work -- the one thing I didn't mention was how poor a fit he is for the Falcons' new offense. Now that we've seen they are, in fact, going more up-tempo, yeah, he's a terrible fit. When you don't pile up yardage in a blowout win, it's gonna be a long year.
Kevin Smith, RB, Lions: Insert running back facing the Niners here.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Chargers: After saying late in the week last week that he wanted Ronnie Brown to "get a lot of work," Norv Turner pulled a fast one on us (dammit, Norv!) and gave Brown the rock on all of five carries. Not really going out on a limb to say I hate Brown, who makes Michael Turner look absolutely spry out there, but I was the only guy who didn't rank him. I suppose my fellow rankers are looking at what Stevan Ridley did to the Titans last week and are imagining some production, but there's just no circumstance under which I can imagine starting Ronnie Brown this week. No way, no how.
Wide receivers I love
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings: Standing by my man as a top-five guy.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, Patriots: Not Gronk, not Wes, not Aaron. The most targeted wide receiver for the Patriots last week was new arrival Brandon Lloyd. At home, against the Cardinals? Arizona can't generate a pass rush to save its life, which will give Tom Brady all day to find his new deep target.
Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts: When you do analysis … never mind, you don't do analysis. You're sitting here reading this, making me do it all for you. You lazy jerk. Anyway, when I do analysis, a very simple but important question I try to answer is … why did something happen? And how likely is it to repeat? Why did Reggie Wayne get 18 targets for nine receptions and 135 yards? Well, they fell behind big as Chicago ran all over them. Facing a healthy Adrian Peterson, could that happen again? Very much so. Wayne is the best and most reliable wideout Andrew Luck has, and when you're a rookie under pressure (hello, Jared Allen), you look for the guy you trust. That's Reggie Wayne. Vikings secondary is nothing special either. I'm the highest on Reggie and I'm totally fine with that.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Redskins: Rams allowed the fourth-most yards after catch last week. Mmmm, Pierre Garcon.
Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, WR, Broncos: Peyton Manning sure looked good in Week 1. And the Falcons secondary didn't really. And if you can't look good against Matt Cassel, you have less of a shot to shine against Peyton Manning & Co. Especially without Brent Grimes.
Randall Cobb, WR, Packers: Don't expect Greg Jennings to play here, and loved how they used Randall Cobb last game, lining him up everywhere, using him in a lot of different ways. The Packers ran 61 offensive plays Sunday against the 49ers, with 31 coming without a true running back on the field. Green Bay averaged 7.5 yards per play without a back (3.1 yards per play with at least one in the backfield) and Randall Cobb had all nine of his catches without a back on the field. He ended up with 77 total yards. James Jones gets a bump up assuming Jennings can't go, but I like Cobb more, who can be used in a lot of ways and whose speed after the catch will be helpful in this game, especially in the middle of the field against the Cover 2. And I like him even more in PPR leagues.
If you're desperate: As expected, Sam Bradford looked Danny Amendola's way quite a bit last week, and that should continue against the Redskins in what should be a decently high-scoring affair. … That Detroit secondary is in shambles and Randy Moss looks like he's back to me. Could easily see a score in the Niners' home opener. … Remember how I talked about Dexter McCluster above? He also qualifies as a wide receiver. … The Bucs' Mike Williams scored last week, and we saw what Kevin Ogletree did to the Giants last week. With the secondary still banged up and most of the defensive attention on Vincent Jackson, I could see Williams get in the end zone again.
Wide receivers I hate
Vincent Jackson, WR, Buccaneers: This is the one "hate" that is most likely to blow up in my face. The Giants secondary got torched last week and Jackson got a ton of targets. But Jackson didn't do much with all his targets, Josh Freeman isn't Tony Romo and this offense isn't built like the Cowboys'. The Giants will focus on stopping Jackson and I expect a heavy dose of Doug Martin here. Truthfully, I just don't like Vincent Jackson; fantasy whack-a-mole.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles: Hard to let a deep play develop when you're lying on your back. Grandma taught me that.
Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys: Only saw four targets last week, and Seattle is a much tougher place to play than people realize, in part due to a pretty decent Seahawks secondary. This is a tougher matchup for the Cowboys' passing game than the Giants were, and with Jason Witten 10 days healthier and the emergence of Ogletree, there are now more mouths to feed as well. I have Miles outside my top 20, making him a standard league flex play this week.
Tight ends I love
Jermichael Finley, TE, Packers: I'm the highest on him. Four touchdowns in two games last year against Chicago; tight ends always do well against the Bears and tonight, especially with Brian Urlacher banged up, will be no exception. If, you know, he can stop dropping balls.
Jacob Tamme, TE, Broncos: First road game, hostile crowd, I expect Peyton Manning to look for the guy he's most familiar with. Five for 43 and a score last week, the Falcons struggled a bit with the tight end in Week 1, giving up 73 yards and a TD to the Tony Moeaki/Kevin Boss combo.
If you're desperate: Speaking of the Kansas City tight ends, Six Seven Kevin, as Boss is known, should do well against the Bills, who always struggle with the opposing tight end. … It's clear that after Percy Harvin, Christian Ponder is looking for Kyle Rudolph, and against the Colts, he'll find him. … Martellus Bennett was one of the few bright spots for the Giants last week.
Tight ends I hate
Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers: Look, I still have him at six among tight ends, so he's a starter, but I'm tied for the lowest rank on him and here's why: In the preseason, I mentioned that I wasn't a huge fan of Davis because he needed to score to have value. He had only two games last year in which he had more than five fantasy points without scoring. He's just not a big enough part of the offense, and I don't like guys who are touchdown-dependent. And sure enough, last week, just five targets, three receptions for 43 yards and yes, a touchdown to make his fantasy total respectable. So it's just whether you think he scores again.
Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens: With all the weapons they have in Baltimore, including Ed Dickson, I'm not sure you can count on Pitta to have the kind of production he had last week, and I don't love the matchup. I would wait and see first.
Defenses I love
Defenses I hate
Detroit Lions D/ST: With their secondary banged up, Detroit is not as good a defense as you think, and San Francisco is not as bad an offense as you think. Smith doesn't turn the ball over.
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