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Thursday, September 22, 2011
Updated: September 23, 12:48 PM ET
Don't let your loves turn to hates

By Matthew Berry
ESPN.com

The conference room table.

The Talented Mr. Roto

The thing I remember the most was the conference room table.

It was big, made of rich mahogany and seemed to go on forever. I was actually dressed up and shaved, a rarity for me in those days, and as I was shown in, I hoped they would tell me where to sit. I hadn't had a meeting as big as this, so I was nervous. What do you do? Do you sit close so they can hear? Do you sit away, to show respect? And hide the flop sweat? Do I take the drink offered or not? OK, they brought me the drink. No coaster? I'm gonna leave a mark. I can't leave a mark, right? I'll just use my notes. I remember my last thought before it started. "Please let me not throw up."

He was impressive in person, as you might suspect. He was in charge of one of the biggest sports media companies in the world and had the power to do whatever he wanted, including hiring me to run fantasy sports for that company, if I could just convince him that this would be a good idea. I gave it my all. I was passionate. I had ideas. I had a plan. I had a plan. THE plan, I was convinced. I pitched my little heart out. And kept the sweat to a minimum.

He looked at me. He seemed to be thinking but gave away nothing. He thanked me for my time, and he appreciated the thought I had given this. He said he would be in touch. A week later, I got the call that they were passing but wished me luck. It would be 18 months before I would get a similar meeting, this time at ESPN, where I would do the same song and dance again.

But I kept the faith.

Jon Bon Jovi
Keeping the faith is such an uplifting theme, Jon Bon Jovi should write a rock song about it!
Between that first meeting and the one that would eventually get me to the Worldwide Leader, I gave the same presentation three more times, once on the phone and never to anyone as powerful, but all the same ideas. Fantasy sports are more than a fad. This space is going to explode. You have a real opportunity here. I think I can help.

Three more times I heard thanks, but no thanks. Along the way, I was turned down by multiple websites to write for them for free, I was rejected by multiple newspapers and radio stations, and I was something like 1-for-75 on getting on cable TV.

But I kept the faith.

I'm a never-say-die guy. Sometimes stupidly, often stubbornly, but I am, to my core, a never-ever-say-die guy. No idea why, but I've always said the worst thing you can say to me is "You can't do that." I've been that way since I was a kid.

I didn't get into many of the colleges I applied to and shouldn't have been admitted to Syracuse. Only a bunch of videos I had made as a high school kid got me past my very unimpressive high school résumé.

I was fired as the host of a college TV talk show because they felt I was too uncomfortable to watch on TV. I was forced to quit writing for my college newspaper. I was fired from my first production assistant job in Hollywood. I was fired a week into my first professional TV writing job. I was turned down for representation 14 different times, including twice by Creative Artists Agency, which now represents me.

I wrote for years in Hollywood, and the only movie that got made was the worst one my writing partner and I wrote. I tried to get a side job for fun writing fantasy at three different websites before catching on somewhere, and I eventually was fired from that site. I kept the faith and started my own site.

I got divorced in 2005. I moved from Los Angeles to Connecticut in March 2007 with only my dog and not one friend within 200 miles of my new home. I kept the faith.

There are times in life and fantasy football, not necessarily in that order, when it's good to have a blind belief that everything will work out, even when nothing seems it will. I had many of those days and nights in my life when blind faith was the only thing to keep me going, because there was nothing else to suggest better days ahead.

I continue to believe in Michael Vick at No. 1 in a standard 10-team league. I am standing by Antonio Gates. DeAngelo Williams, Chad Ochocinco, Felix Jones and the Cowboys' offense, Percy Harvin, Owen Daniels, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson, Shonn Greene, Roy Helu and others are among the players who I think have better days ahead because they'll get healthy or have a better schedule or opportunity. There are red flags aplenty with all of these guys, and the schedule for many of them gets harder before it gets easier (the Rams are brutal for the next five but should have a cakewalk over the final nine, for example). So if you want to bail, I understand. I can even help you justify it. But I am a never-say-die guy. I continue to trudge on, keeping the faith.

Time now for Love/Hate for Week 3. The usual caveats apply. This is not a pure start/sit column, but rather it's about guys I like more or less than my fellow ESPN analysts, as per our Wednesday ranks. For a specific instance of how I feel about someone in relation to someone else, check my rankings, which will be updated Friday. Also, follow me on Twitter, where I post last-minute updates; this past Sunday morning, I told you I was high on Eric Decker after Brandon Lloyd's scratch became official.

Week 3 Players I Love:

Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford will make only his 16th NFL start on Sunday, having already thrown for 3,401 yards and 26 touchdowns while rushing for three more.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions (My rank: 3, Average of others: 6): Well, so far he's healthy. He's kind of an obvious name by this point, and this is the third straight week I've written about him. But because I have him third overall and am still highest on him (again) among my fellow rankers, here he is again. Is it nuts that I have him over Aaron Rodgers? Maybe, but he already has more points on the season than Rodgers, and he's not the one on the road at Chicago.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills (8, 11): Excuse me. Sorry. If you could … yes, just to the left there. Right. And if you just take a step back and you, yes, you, over there, if you'll just scooch over … perfect. (Turns around.) Hey you! Hop on! Plenty of room on the bandwagon.

Rex Grossman, QB, Redskins (10, 16): He now has at least 290 yards in five of his six starts under coach Mike Shanahan, including a 322-yard-with-four-scores game against Dallas last season. Grossman threw two picks last week, but only one was his fault. Dallas has a banged-up secondary, and this game is almost always a shootout. Two interesting facts: The Redskins lead the NFL in time of possession, and just because you own Grossman doesn't mean you actually have to watch him play.

Kevin Kolb, QB, Cardinals (13, 16): Death, taxes, start your guys against the Seahawks.

Chad Henne, QB, Dolphins (19, 25): Dolphins offensive coordinator Brian Daboll used to be on the Browns' staff and knows the Cleveland defense well. Sure, the Browns have the league's second-best pass defense, but they've played Kerry Collins, Bruce Gradkowski and Andy Dalton in their first two games. I like Joe Haden, but come on. I'm a believer in the Texans' defense, so I chalk last week up to that, and so far this season, only Cam Newton and Tom Brady have more completions of 20-plus yards than Henne.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers (4, 9): Another super obvious name whom everyone is going to start, but for those of you in salary-cap games, I have Mendenhall higher than most. The Colts have allowed four rushing touchdowns from running backs in two games, most in the NFL, and I expect Pittsburgh to be up big and running a lot in this game.

Fred Jackson, RB, Bills (12, 17): OK, if you get on your knees and then you, yes, you, in the blue-and-red sweater, can lean on the pole while the three of us crouch together underneath, then I think we just might be … almost … keep squeezing … yes, there we go. Plenty of space. Hiya! Come on up.

Mike Tolbert, RB, Chargers (16, 24): So, last week I wrote "told you so" after Tolbert's name because I felt I had been the only guy talking up Tolbert in the preseason and everyone else was saying Ryan Mathews. I was also the only one who had ranked Tolbert ahead of Mathews the first week here on ESPN. And I felt that there was nothing to say about Tolbert that I hadn't already said a million times before. So I made a quick joke, and two things happened: I got called out for being "that guy" by bragging about the Tolbert call (fair enough), and I was dead wrong. Karma is being on the wrong side of a running back committee. So, with apologies for last week, allow me to say that I still believe in Tolbert. He's still the goal-line back, he's still the best pass-protector (although Mathews has definitely improved), he'll still split carries, and the Chargers will be playing Kansas City. Both guys will have good games. I saw one good game from Mathews. And I like him. But I've seen a lot more from Tolbert, who will be back in my lineup this week.

Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants (33, 37): What are they going to do? Let Eli Manning throw it? On the road, against Nnamdi Asomugha? The way you beat the Eagles is on the ground (only two teams have allowed more rushing yards this year) and attacking the middle of the field, as the Falcons demonstrated last week. With all the injuries to their receiving corps, the Giants will run even more against that small Philly front line.

Roy Helu, RB, Redskins (38, 46): Two of my fellow rankers didn't even rank him, but I loved what I saw last week: 112 yards on just 13 touches. He was in the game in crucial situations as the Redskins came from behind last week, and Shanahan's trust in him will only grow. With speed and size, he is a great fit for the Redskins' zone-blocking run scheme, and Dallas has to respect the pass, especially given the injuries to its secondary. Washington will want to control the clock on the road at the Cowboys' home opener, so if you're this far down, I like Helu's chances for at least 50-60 total yards with upside for more.

Steve Smith, WR, Panthers (7, 13): Cam Newton has three plays: throw it deep to Smith, throw it underneath to a tight end or a running back, or run it himself. Against the Jaguars, three's enough. After the first two weeks and given the matchup, I have no idea how you can't make Smith a top-10 play, but apparently I'm alone on that island. Newton averages 11.3 air yards per pass attempt this season, most in the NFL.

Santana Moss, WR, Redskins (12, 18): 11 career games against Dallas as a member of the Redskins, 995 yards, 6 touchdowns -- including two the last time he faced Dallas. With Grossman as his quarterback. Did I mention the banged-up Cowboys secondary?

Chad Ochocinco, WR, Patriots (26, 42): Total and complete gut call here. Two weeks in, no Aaron Hernandez, time to get Ochocinco involved as he continues to learn the offense. In what should be a high-scoring game, you know Tom Brady likes to spread the love, so I expect Ochocinco not only to get some from Tom Terrific but also to tweet incessantly about it after.

Malcom Floyd, WR, Chargers (28, 38): See Kolb, Kevin. Substitute the word "Chiefs" for "Seahawks." Add "at home" and "angry about loss" and "scored two touchdowns the last time he faced them, when they were still trying."

David Nelson, WR, Bills (38, 42): He leads Buffalo in receptions, has one fewer target and just 13 yards fewer than Steve Johnson, and this will be a high-scoring game. So why don't you … It is all full? Are you sure? Did you check in the back? Huh. What about on the side there, by the radio guys section? Hmmm. Well, you wanna drive?

Tony Scheffler, TE, Lions (13, NR): I was the only one who ranked Scheffler, who has scored in two straight games, and the Vikings have allowed 155 yards to opposing tight ends in the first two games this season. Yes, Scheffler has just two receptions, but I expect him to be more involved in this game with Brandon Pettigrew banged up. (He missed practice on Wednesday with a shoulder injury.)

Evan Moore, TE, Browns (12, 17): He leads the team in red zone targets, and the Dolphins have shown they're vulnerable to big tight ends by giving up one touchdown each to Rob Gronkowski and Owen Daniels, and another to the smaller Aaron Hernandez.

Bengals D/ST (15, 23): I mean, no disrespect to Alex Smith or anything, but …

Week 3 Players I Hate:

Ben Roethlisberger
You want safe? Big Ben oozes "safe pick" for this week. But some of us have fantasy cojones. Just saying.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers (15, 9): Even with a cushy matchup like the Seahawks at home, Big Ben threw for just one touchdown. He also had to leave the game briefly because the Steelers have an offensive line made of … um … stuff that doesn't block very well. As we go ESPN Next Level, the Colts are sending five or more rushers more than 28 percent of the time, and although the Colts' defense doesn't scare me at all, I do think the Steelers will get up big in this game and run quite a bit. I also feel the defense will dominate, giving Pittsburgh a short field quite a lot, meaning fewer chances for passing yards. Roethlisberger is a safe play this week, but there are many guys with more upside.

Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens (17, 14): The Rams are allowing an average of 174 yards passing per game this season. And it's not like they're the Browns, who have faced Kerry Collins and the Andy Dalton/Bruce Gradkowski tandem. The Rams have seen Michael Vick and Eli Manning in their first two games. No doubt New York had a short field a lot Monday night, but that doesn't change the idea that St. Louis' pass defense is better than you think. Meanwhile, Flacco is averaging just 210 passing yards in his first two games. He bailed you out in Week 1 with three scores, but touchdown passes are hard to predict, especially when you have a great run game, as the Ravens do. On the road at the Rams, I expect another conservative game plan (Flacco is bottom-10 in the NFL in yards per pass attempt) and a so-so fantasy performance from Flacco.

Eli Manning, QB, Giants (21, 17): Who will he throw to at this point? Against the Eagles' secondary? On the road? Only four teams have allowed more sacks, and Manning has been picked off in each game. (In fact, since Week 13 of the NFL season, Manning leads the NFL in interceptions.) No thanks.

Kyle Orton, QB, Broncos (NR, 21): "NR" means "Not ranked," as in I felt there were 25 better quarterbacks to play this week over The Style That Is Kyle on the road at a Tennessee team that just shut down Joe Flacco. Orton's wideouts are also banged up (no Eddie Royal, and Brandon Lloyd missed last week) and despite pretty friendly competition (Oakland and Cincinnati), he has yet to put up numbers. At least, numbers you'd want. The Titans aren't blitzing very much, just sending four and dropping seven back, as they believe that their front four can get enough pressure ("coverage sacks," if you will). So far, it's working. Considering only four teams have allowed more sacks this year (again, against so-so teams), I expect it to happen again.

Cedric Benson, RB, Bengals (28, 20): If he couldn't prove me wrong against the Broncos, he's not doing it against a 49ers run defense that has allowed just 54 yards per game, just 2.5 yards per rush and zero rushing touchdowns. I am keeping the faith that Benson will remain terrible.

Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals (20, 13): I admit that he's looked better than I thought, and I do have him inside my top 20, but 13 strikes me as really high (Tristan Cockcroft even has him top-10!) because … (looks around) … come closer, I don't want to say this loudly … but … (whispers) I don't think Seattle's run defense is terrible. (Ducks and avoids thrown food.) Look, the Seahawks have allowed just 209 rushing yards (middle-of-the-pack in the NFL) and it's been against Frank Gore and Rashard Mendenhall, both on the road. (This game is at Seattle, where they traditionally play much better.) I feel that the Seahawks have much bigger issues in their secondary, and yes, Wells did score in this game last year, but he had just 54 yards rushing on 14 carries (3.9 YPC). I don't know, he's a "start" at No. 20, but I'm not feeling a huge game just "because it's Seattle."

Thomas Jones, RB, Chiefs (37, 30): I get PR reports from the NFL teams, and they always include positive stats about players. Every once in a while I'll use one, like "so-and-so has three 100-yard rushing games versus the AFC" or that sort of thing. I haven't used one yet in this article. Because they are from the team, they are always positive stats, so if I ever use them, they're in the "love" section. Anyway, here's all Kansas City could come up with for Thomas Jones: "Thomas Jones (1,980) needs 20 receiving yards to reach 2,000 for his career." Yeah. Just because Jamaal Charles is out doesn't suddenly turn back the clock for Jones, who is still old, still has Dexter McCluster to share touches, still on the road at an angry San Diego host, and still plays for a team that has yet to score a rushing touchdown this season.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants (20, 10): Hammy. Nnamdi. Eli.

Plaxico Burress, WR, Jets (43, 31): Now there's the Plaxico I expected. Two targets, zero receptions. Against Jacksonville. This team is built to run, and when it is not, Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller are the first two targets.

Devery Henderson, WR, Saints (41, 32): So, I put him on this list last week, and of course, he made me look like an idiot. Bad call. But I'm back again, because although I didn't think it would happen for a second straight time last week, I definitely don't think it'll happen a third time. Henderson had a 79-yard touchdown reception last week. In 95 career games, he has four games with a touchdown reception of more than 60 yards. Four. He has only nine games with a reception of more than 60 yards, touchdown or not. He is all feast-or-famine and, as Lance Moore gets healthier, I don't see Henderson doing well against a good (you heard me) Texans defense.

Kellen Winslow, TE, Buccaneers (19, 9): In five career games against Atlanta, he's never scored a touchdown. He had fewer than 31 yards receiving in each game last year. But maybe I'm being too harsh. What say you, Tampa Bay PR person? "Has a catch in 78 straight games!" There you go.

That's a wrap on Love/Hate for Week 3. And whether you are 0-2 or 2-0, please keep the faith …

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- has bailed on the Colts' passing game. At some point, you just can't keep the faith anymore. Berry 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