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Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Pickups for now and the playoffs

By Matthew Berry
ESPN.com

I get asked questions all the time. Every day, all day. Either in person, on Twitter, via text, e-mails, on Facebook, on my podcast, on the ESPN Conversation pages (no longer beta!) on my column and once on a blood-soaked mirror, inquiring if I wanted my kidney back.

The Talented Mr. Roto

The questions are usually the same. Who do I start? How did you get your job? Are you Joe Schad? I get questions about other ESPN personalities, whether I miss show business and how can they can get my job? Who's the actress? Do you make up the hate mail? And seriously, who's the actress?

I answer the same way every time. Yes, I'd like my kidney back. Read my rankings. Google me. Yes, I am Joe Schad. They're nice. Yes, that's what she looks like in person. Not at all. Volunteer to write for a website for free to get in the door, be good and build an audience. If you have something new and interesting to bring to the conversation, people will find you. Not my story to tell. I don't make it up, but I over-emphasize it and sometimes take them out of context because it's funny, people enjoy it and it's part of my schtick. Dame Judi Dench.

If you meet me in person, I always answer 100 percent honestly. On other platforms, I answer as honestly as I can given other factors beyond my control. But I'm lying a little bit about one thing.

There's one part of show business that I miss. I used to write on sitcoms for a long time. "Married … With Children" is the most famous, but I wrote for a number of sitcoms with some very, very funny people. A sitcom needs so much to be successful, and a great cast and premise is a huge part of it. Some of the worst sitcoms I worked on had some of the funniest writers contributing to them, and there were definitely some really funny sitcoms I worked on that didn't have the greatest writers.

The incredible flaws of Hollywood, how talent is evaluated and its insane business model, is a subject that most of you don't care about. I'll save that for my upcoming book: "Now That I'm an Angry Old Man, Here's a Bunch of Crap That Pisses Me Off."

But regardless of the quality of the sitcom, there's nothing better than "The Room." This is where all the sitcom writers sit around a conference-room table and spend pretty much every waking moment. They create stories here, come up with outlines (the specific scenes of each show), help rewrite dialogue and sometimes write entire scripts as a group. Locked into a small conference room for sometimes as many as 14 hours a day, you learn everything about 10 or so other people you work with.

And I mean everything. Personal life, embarrassing stories, traumas from childhood, sexual habits, work history, important relationships both positive and negative, eating tendencies, annoying voice and facial tics. … Seriously, it all comes out in the room.

It's hilarious. It drives you up a wall sometimes and you will want to kill everyone in the room at one point or another during the year. But it's great. There's sort of a submarine feeling that takes over when you're in that room for so long. A camaraderie of "We're all in this together" as you battle an actress who isn't funny or a costar that's constantly drugged out of their mind. Dealing with stupid notes from the network that contradict the uniformed notes from the studio, plus annoying notes from the insecure star that you aren't writing them funny (or likable) enough, you deal with it all together as you rewrite a script again and again and yet again for a show-runner that can't make up his or her mind or isn't even in the room.

I wrote on a number of truly terrible shows that failed for a variety of reasons, but I wrote with a lot of very, very funny and talented people that made me laugh hard, every day, for many years.

I miss that. Writing -- at least the kind that I do these days -- is a very solitary endeavor. And I do miss the bouncing jokes, ideas, storylines and all the off-color jokes that will never make it into the script but never fail to make you laugh.

I'm thinking about this these days because we are now done with the bye weeks. We've got three weeks to go until the start of the fantasy playoffs (Week 14) in most leagues. It's time to hunker down with your guys. Just like we did every day in "the room," with our script for that week's episode, you need to start honing down your team and figuring out which guys you are going to battle with.

Generally speaking, you are one of two minds right now. Either you're a lock for the playoffs or you're fighting for a spot. If you're out of it and still reading, thank you, God bless, may I get you a beverage?

If you're fighting for a playoff spot, you care about the next three weeks. Get in, and then worry about the playoffs when you get there. If you know you're a lock, start looking at Weeks 14-17.

At this point in the season, I have talked about pretty much everyone. Even a potential "new" pickup, like Troy Smith, has been discussed in my "others receiving votes" section. There were no major injuries this week, which means your team is now at pretty much full strength, so this is about tweaking.

So this week, instead of using my normal format, I'm just going to rank the top five at each position by two different criteria. If you're fighting (Weeks 11-13) or If you're in (Weeks 14-17). I'm only listing players that are available in at least 50 percent of leagues.

If you want more in-depth analysis on any of these players, you can read previous weeks' columns. Just search my name and theirs in the search window above.

I don't believe there are any difference-makers out there except for Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers. If he is out there (currently 56 percent ownership), I would bid whatever it took. But other than him, consider everything else about a $10 bid if you're using FAAB. Ownership percentages are for ESPN standard leagues.

Pickups of the week:

"I hope you're a grocery item, baby, because I'm checking you out."

Quarterbacks

Note that I like Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers (57 percent) and David Garrard, QB, Jaguars (56 percent) more than any of these guys.

If you're fighting …

1. Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs (39 percent): Lost in the crazy game from this week is the fact that he had averaged over 15 fantasy points over his previous four games heading into the matchup with Denver. Arizona, at Seattle and a rematch with Denver make his next three weeks really inviting.

Troy Smith
Troy Smith is part of the 49ers' quarterbacking plan to "throw a bunch of Smiths at the depth chart to see what sticks."

2. Troy Smith, QB, 49ers (3 percent): Mike Singletary has already declared him the starter. Two straight games of at least 17 points (and brilliant play, incidentally), he gets Tampa Bay, at Arizona and at Green Bay next. Love him in the first two, and the Green Bay game could have some decent garbage-time production available.

3. Shaun Hill, QB, Lions (5 percent): One of the hottest fantasy quarterbacks when he was starting the first time (averaged 18 points a game Weeks 2-5), the things I like include Calvin Johnson and an offense that is among the league leaders in pass attempts. At Dallas this week before home games to New England and Chicago.

4. Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills (39 percent): Don't love his schedule actually, at Cincy, Pittsburgh, at Minnesota, but he's played well enough as a starter that he needs to be on here.

5. Sam Bradford, QB, Rams (28 percent): Nothing flashy, but double-digit points in four straight and seven of his past eight. Atlanta, at Denver, at Arizona.

Just missed: Jon Kitna, QB, Cowboys (home for the next two, including Detroit this week) and Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks (at New Orleans, Kansas City, Carolina).

If you're in …

1. Troy Smith, QB, 49ers (3 percent): Final four games include Seattle, at San Diego, at St. Louis, and Arizona wraps things up nicely.

2. Jason Campbell, QB, Raiders (7 percent): He'd be No. 1 except there's no guarantee he keeps the gig. But averaging 16 points a game over his past three games, the Raiders are at Jacksonville, then host Denver and Indy, finish at Kansas City. You gotta love Weeks 14 and 15.

3. Tyler Thigpen, QB, Dolphins (0 percent): Now the starter by default, Thigpen has a rough stretch for a bit, and I don't love at the Jets in Week 14. But Buffalo and Detroit in Weeks 15 and 16 plus a Week 17 game at New England look inviting.

4. Jon Kitna, QB, Cowboys (9 percent): I'm as shocked as you are at Dallas' performance against the Giants. Kitna actually looked mobile enough to stay alive, and he does have a lot of playmakers on offense. In fact, it's worth noting he's averaging 14 points a game as a starter. Weeks 14 and 17 versus Philly could be tough, but my Redskins in Week 15 and at Arizona in Week 16 should provide plenty of fantasy goodness.

5. Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks (14 percent): At San Fran, Atlanta, at Tampa Bay, and St. Louis to finish up. None amazing, but all decent matchups.

Just missed: Shaun Hill, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Running backs

It's ugly with the running backs. Seriously, if you need a running back, trade for one (Trade deadline in ESPN standard leagues is Wednesday, Nov. 24.), because there's not much out on the waiver wire except for Keiland Williams, RB, Redskins (1.3 percent), and there are no guarantees there. Still, if you need a running back, he needs to be your No. 1 grab. In an otherwise terrible game for the Redskins, Williams was very solid Monday night, with 139 total yards and three scores. Now, anyone who says they know what Mike Shanahan is going to do with his running backs is lying. You've got Ryan Torain and Clinton Portis due back from injury soon, and the next three games are at Tennessee, Minnesota and at the Giants. Nary a good matchup. But his potential opportunity and talent alone make him the No. 1 running back pickup, especially if you are already in.

But if you can't get Williams, and you can't get a deal done, here's the best of a bad lot.

If you're fighting …

1. Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals (56 percent): I'm cheating with the percentage but he's the only one who is out there that could even be decent without a major injury-forced role change. Beanie Wells can't stay healthy, and the next three games are at Kansas City, then hosting San Francisco and St. Louis.

2. Javarris James, RB, Colts (2 percent): Two games, three scores. Joseph Addai is expected back and, when the team is at full strength, James is fourth on the depth chart. But people can't seem to stay healthy in Indy. Next three games are at New England, then home to San Diego and Dallas.

3. Mike Goodson, RB, Panthers (8 percent): A brutal schedule (Baltimore and at Cleveland; only at Seattle is a decent matchup), plus the fact that DeAngelo Williams is expected back, overshadows Sunday's 113 total yards.

4. Kevin Smith, RB, Lions (29 percent): Jahvid Best is an injury risk and has looked terrible, and Smith did have 60 total yards Sunday. Told you it was ugly. At Dallas, New England, Chicago.

5. Chris Ivory (12 percent) and Julius Jones (1 percent), RB, Saints: Until we know more about the health of Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas this is a very murky situation. They'd be higher if we could get a read on this. But Seattle, at Dallas and at Cincy are strong matchups. I like Ivory more than Jones and think Ladell Betts is done with the team when Bush comes back.

Just missed: Chester Taylor, RB, Bears (46 percent) has gotten double-digit carries the past two weeks and is at Detroit in Week 13.

If you're in …

1. Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals (56 percent): Same as above; Arizona gets Denver, at Carolina, Dallas and at San Fran to finish off the season.

2. Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins (54 percent): The guy with the best shot of being the lead back in Weeks 14-17 (not saying it's likely, just that he has a shot), the Redskins face Tampa Bay, at Dallas, at Jacksonville and home to the Giants in the fantasy playoffs.

3. Marcel Reece, RB, Raiders (2 percent): I continue to be intrigued. At Jacksonville, Denver, Indy, at Kansas City is certainly inviting.

4. Mike Hart, RB, Colts (5 percent): Hoping he is healthy and the rest of the Colts aren't in Weeks 15 and 16, when they play the Jags and are at Oakland. Again, it's ugly.

5. James Davis, RB, Redskins (1 percent): They like him a lot, both Portis and Ryan Torain are injury-prone, and you never know with Shanahan. And again, it's a nice schedule.

Just missed: Jerome Harrison, RB, EaglesLeSean McCoy handcuff, and as he's shown last season and on "Monday Night Football," it's possible that he catches lightning in a bottle once in a while.

Wide receivers

Vincent Jackson
Vincent Jackson, whose hobbies probably include shooting himself in the foot and cutting off his nose to spite his face, is almost done serving his suspension for trying to get paid more to play football by refusing to actually play football.

Again, if Vincent Jackson is out there, go get him. Same for Mario Manningham, WR, Giants (69 percent) given the Steve Smith injury news. But after that?

If you're fighting …

1. Nate Washington, WR, Titans (37 percent): Now has five scores on the week, and look at the next three games: Washington, at Houston, Jacksonville. The three worst pass defenses in the league.

2. Mike Thomas, WR, Jaguars (7 percent): Yes, we're all talking about the crazy play, but before that he was having a good game with a 7-for-99 day. And here's a fact I mentioned on "Fantasy Football Now" on Sunday in recommending Mike Thomas as a start: Before this game, Thomas led the Jags in receptions, had only five fewer yards and only six fewer targets than Mike Sims-Walker. At least seven fantasy points in five of his past six, he's scored in two straight and has a solid schedule the rest of the way.

3. Steve Breaston, WR, Cardinals (51 percent): Been great at home (averaging 13 points) and bad in the one road game since he's been back. He's at Kansas City this week, which I don't love, but home for four of the next five.

4. Danny Amendola, WR, Rams (19 percent): Now scored in three straight, I mentioned his crazy number of red zone targets in last week's "Love/Hate." The next three for the Rams (Atlanta, at Denver and at Arizona) are very generous to opposing wideouts. Then Seattle awaits in Week 17.

5. James Jones, WR, Packers (6 percent): Depends on Donald Driver's health, but if he were to miss more time, at Vikings, at Falcons, San Francisco are ripe. And the Bears in Week 17 could be a meaningful game for the Pack.

Just missed: Deion Branch, WR, Patriots could have good weeks, but good luck guessing which ones.

If you're in …

1. Sidney Rice, WR, Vikings (40 percent): Not a great schedule, but hopefully fully healthy by the time the playoffs start, he gets Giants and Bears at home on the turf in Weeks 14 and 15 before heading to Philly and a nice Week 17 game at Detroit.

2. Jabar Gaffney, WR, Broncos (39 percent): Lost in the Brandon Lloyd hoopla, Gaffney has at least 50 yards in seven straight and is at Arizona, at Oakland (where Nnamdi Asomugha will probably be focused on Lloyd) and the fantasy pinata that is Houston in the fantasy playoffs.

3. Mike Thomas, WR, Jaguars (7 percent): He also has a sweet playoff schedule, especially if you go to Week 17: Raiders, at Colts, Redskins, Texans.

4. Steve Breaston, WR, Cardinals (51 percent): Same here. He gets Broncos, at Panthers, Cowboys, at 49ers to end it all off.

5. Anthony Armstrong, WR, Redskins (6 percent): Buccaneers, at Cowboys, at Jaguars, Giants at home for the big-play threat who now has at least eight points in two straight and in three of his past five. He continues to develop more chemistry with McNabb.

Tight ends

Much longer list for the "fighting to get in" than for "in the playoffs," so for this position, they are all just for fighting to get in. And we'll see if we can't find someone else when the playoffs get here.

1. Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions (33 percent): Another fact from last week's "Love/Hate:" When Shaun Hill was the starter in Detroit for Weeks 2-5, Pettigrew was first on the Lions in receptions and second in targets. He was tied for second in targets in Hill's first game back, Pettigrew has the best overall schedule among tight ends the rest of the way.

2. Benjamin Watson, TE, Browns (30 percent): Meet the Browns' passing offense. (pause) Didn't take long, did it? At Jags, Panthers, at Dolphins and at Bills are the next four. Miami's solid, but the other three are all top-seven in terms of most fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends.

3. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots (5 percent): The Brady giveth; the Brady taketh away. You've seen the Gronk's best game of the year, and Aaron Hernandez isn't going away. But you score three in a game, you get my attention. Especially when you have Tom Brady throwing to you.

4. Tony Moeaki, TE, Chiefs (38 percent): It's a great, great schedule. But will he take advantage of it?

5. Heath Miller, TE, Steelers (43 percent): If Hines Ward misses any time, this helps Miller's value as trusted possession guy. Especially with Oakland and at Buffalo next up.

Just missed: Kevin Boss, TE, Giants has now scored in two straight, I really like the playoff schedule for Anthony Fasano, TE, Dolphins after Week 14 versus the Jets, Bills, Lions, at Patriots. And I need to see it again, but nice game from Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals.

Welcome to Dumpsville. Population: You

As always, these are not guys I'm saying you should drop, and as always, some of you will ignore that caveat. But if you need roster space to grab someone above, I have no issue with dropping these guys. Every team's needs are different, and these are good players who will have productive weeks but who I feel ultimately won't lead you to the promised land, based on schedules and who else is available in ESPN.com standard 10-team leagues.

Brett Favre, Matt Schaub, Chad Henne (he's done, in case you hadn't heard), Jay Cutler, Donovan McNabb, Bruce Gradkowski, Alex Smith, Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, CJ Spiller, Marion Barber, John Kuhn, Jonathan Stewart, Cadillac Williams, Patrick Crayton, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Jerricho Cotchery, Roy E. Williams, Brent Celek, John Carlson, Owen Daniels, Jeremy Shockey.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- also misses someone bringing him lunch every day in The Room. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend