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Thursday, December 13, 2012
Advice from an unlikely source

By Matthew Berry
ESPN.com

It's as good advice for the fantasy playoffs as there is.

The Talented Mr. Roto

And it comes from an unlikely source.

Especially since it was never intended for that.

But still, it remains strong counsel that you'd be wise to heed. Words are important. That's not the advice, by the way. We'll get to that in a bit. But rather, it's a declarative statement to help provide a transition to the next point I want to make since the previous sentence doesn't lend itself to a nifty segue.

While it's not the advice, it happens to be true. Words are important. Specific words. Every single one of them. When I write, I agonize over every single word choice and placement.

For example, I screwed up in last week's column about pressure. There's a long story that's not terribly interesting about why, but I wish I had framed the whole thing better. The idea was that, because of my job title -- which, ridiculous as it sounds, is actually "Senior Fantasy Analyst for ESPN" -- I feel this tremendous pressure to win every single league I am in, get every pick right, etc. But because I didn't lead off with that thought and instead just launched into talking about my leagues, I don't think I framed the column properly, and ultimately I wasn't thrilled with how it turned out last week. Even for me, it meandered too much and it was two different themes that didn't exactly mesh.

Words matter. And they are hard.

As one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams, used to say, "Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until your forehead bleeds."

This is not a column complaining about how difficult it is to write or woe is me or anything, but I point out the challenge in writing for this one reason: If it's hard to write (and it is), imagine having to write something … and setting it to music. And if you thought, like me, that last week's column was way too long and meandering, or you simply don't care at all about the meaning of words, you might want to skip ahead to the loves and hates. You've been warned.

Psy
Psy's "Gangnam Style" was the sensation that swept the nation, even though most people had no idea what it was.
Words don't always matter in songs. The enormous American (and worldwide success) of the South Korean hit "Gangnam Style" taught us that.

But there are many times when the music combines with the lyrics and creates a story that is magic. I've talked before about being a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. He's a great writer, of course. Musically and lyrically, he evokes strong emotions and imagery set to pure unadulterated rock 'n' roll.

In 1987, after the worldwide success of "Born in the U.S.A.," The Boss released an album called "Tunnel of Love," an album that was, as his official website terms it, a collection of songs exploring "an inner life and unresolved feelings." A brave, if unexpected follow-up. I expected nothing less.

And among the songs is the title track, "Tunnel of Love." Music is a personal thing, of course and if I am being honest, it's not even my favorite Springsteen song (obvious, but I'm still a sucker for "Badlands"), but it is in my top ten.

And more importantly, it is, without a doubt, one of the best songs ever written in terms of imagery and lyrics. I'd like to encourage you to take a moment now and search for the song and video online. I not going anywhere and trust me, you'll enjoy. Both the song and the column a lot more.

Now, a "tunnel of love," is a ride usually found in lower-rent amusement parks and carnivals, in which a couple would sit in a pretend boat that would be moved through a dark tunnel. It would go slow (romantic) or fast (scary) and either way, the unspoken understanding was that you and your date would be pulled closer together, either kissing in the romantic darkness or holding onto each other out of fear.

And Springsteen uses the story of a couple taking this ride as a metaphor for marriage and all the inherent challenges within on this twisty ride in the dark they are about to take.

It's nothing short of brilliant. Not just for its imagery, but its phrasing.

The song starts:

Fat man sitting on a little stool
Takes the money from my hand while his eyes take a walk all over you
Hands me the ticket smiles and whispers good luck
Cuddle up angel cuddle up my little dove
We'll ride down baby into this tunnel of love

I can just see the ticket taker, creepily checking out the girl, awkwardly offering encouragement where no interaction is wanted. The uncomfortable feeling they get as they see and hear this. And what was expected to be a fun ride for just the two of them already has someone intruding into their little world. Bruce tells her to ignore, to cuddle close, as they start this journey together, just the two of them, into the unknown.

The song continues.

I can feel the soft silk of your blouse
And them soft thrills in our little fun house
Then the lights go out and it's just the three of us
You me and all that stuff we're so scared of
Gotta ride down baby into this tunnel of love

Friends and family, co-workers and parents … they all are there at the start, wishing you well at the wedding, and everyone is all dressed up. Soft silk blouse and fun thrills. But just like in the ride, where it is dark and curvy and if you've never ridden it before, you have no idea what is coming next, so too is marriage a largely blind trip with no clear path. A journey that, when the lights go out, all that's left is "just the three of us … you me and all that stuff we're so scared of."

There is something so beautiful about that phrase, simple and amazingly descriptive. An entire lifetime of hope and fear, excitement and nervousness wrapped up in 15 words.

It is awe-inspiring, humbling and, to be honest, a little depressing knowing that I will never write something that good.

The song continues.

There's a crazy mirror showing us both in 5-D
I'm laughing at you you're laughing at me
There's a room of shadows that gets so dark brother
It's easy for two people to lose each other in this tunnel of love

Like any relationship, the ride can go from great moments -- laughing at you, you're laughing at me -- to dark and tough moments where a couple can pull away: "It's easy for two people to lose each other …"

You know, I had dinner the other night with my good friend Adam Shapiro. We've known each other for over 20 years and you'd think we'd have run out of things to talk about by now. But as we we're driving, this song came on the radio, and we spent the next 20 minutes discussing the brilliance of Springsteen, and specifically all the levels of this song. Not just lyrically, but the music, with its haunting guitar, crashing cymbals and a synthesizer that evokes memories of the seashore. Like the lyrics and the man himself, simple sounds that belie much more beneath the surface.

The song continues.

it ought to be easy ought to be simple enough
Man meets woman and they fall in love
But the house is haunted and the ride gets rough
And you've got to learn to live with what you can't rise above
if you want to ride on down in through this tunnel of love

There's caution there, a warning. It "ought to be easy, ought to be simple enough …" but of course, life is never as expected, no relationship is simple enough, "the house gets haunted and the ride gets rough."

And it is about this time I realize that in addition to being a metaphor for the path of marriage a couple embarks on, it is also a fairly good representation of a fantasy season. From a whisper of good luck at the draft to laughing at you while laughing at me to injuries and players underperforming, the house becomes haunted and the ride gets rough.

And it is at that point that Springsteen hits us between the eyes with my favorite lyric from any song, ever.

"You got to learn to live with what you can't rise above."

Which, like the song itself, is both seemingly simple and undeniably complex, speaking on many levels to the struggles we face daily and our choices on how to handle them. It's great life advice, it's great relationship advice and, though he certainly didn't intend it, happens to also be great fantasy football advice for Week 15.

The questions I see on Twitter and Facebook are about different players, but they are basically the same.

"Should I start the Lions Defense over the 49ers defense I've been riding all year?"

"Is Bryce Brown going to bounce back or should I go with a safer but less upside-filled option like Steven Jackson?"

"Can I trust Knowshon Moreno or will he pull a 'Bryce Brown' this week and turn back into a pumpkin?"

"If Robert Griffin III is active, do I start him at less than 100 percent (with fear of re-injury) or do I start someone like Carson Palmer or Russell Wilson?"

"What do I do with David Wilson? If Bradshaw is out, would you start him over Moreno? What if Bradshaw does play? Then how much can you trust him?"

"Do I start Danny Amendola and Cecil Shorts if they are active? If so, which one?"

My take on all those questions can be found by looking at my rankings, of course. But it's not as simple as that.

Because it is your team.

Your decision; your win or your loss. Yell on Twitter all you want, but understand that in the morning, you'll still have only you and no more fantasy football looking back at you in the mirror if you make the wrong decision.

If I feel like I have a good shot or if it's the second week of a matchup in which I'm leading or close, I'll go conservative. If I'm down big or been hurt by injuries and am limping in, I'll swing for the fences. But it goes back to my advice at the very start of the season: What's most likely to happen?

And it also goes to your own personal belief. As I wrote last week when talking about my friend's Moreno/Stevan Ridley dilemma, I'd rather lose by starting the stud that got me there rather than having the flavor of the week put in a vanilla performance. If I left a stud on my bench who went off while some one-week wonder laid an egg, I'd be beside myself. But that's me, and I know what I can and can't tolerate during the offseason.

You have to learn to live with what you can't rise above.

Remember that as you set your lineup in Week 15. Shoutout as usual to John Parolin and the gang in the ESPN Tunnel of Stats & Information.

Quarterbacks I love in Week 15

Cam Newton
Cam Newton has scored 101 points in ESPN standard leagues the past three weeks.

Cam Newton, Panthers: Not that there was any chance you were benching him, but if you wonder why he's been crushing lately? It's not just the running. In Weeks 1-10, he had a 57.2 completion percentage and his average throw was 8.5 yards downfield, which is 7.9 yards per attempt. He threw for eight touchdowns and had 10 interceptions, and rushed for 39.3 yards per game. In the past four weeks, however, Cam has a 60.5 completion percentage and his throws are an average of 9.7 yards downfield, 9.1 yards per attempt. He's thrown for 8 touchdowns and zero interceptions while rushing for 71.5 yards per game. Throwing deeper down the field and completing more passes -- expect it to continue against San Diego's 22nd-ranked pass defense.

Andy Dalton, Bengals: There you go, Eagles. No more vacation jokes for you. But while players on Thursday have generally disappointed, I still think Dalton is a relatively safe play. Going Next Level here for a bit, they rush four or fewer at the third-highest rate in the NFL this year. And since Juan Castillo was fired, when they rush four or fewer, they haven't intercepted a pass but have allowed a league-high 15 touchdowns.

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers: if we're playing the "What's most likely to happen?" game, and I certainly am, you get pretty good odds on a quarterback facing the Saints having a good game, even if it is a "feeling good and recently exonerated" Saints team.

Colin Kaepernick, 49ers: The only starting quarterback with at least 50 play-action plays and a better total QBR than Colin Kaepernick (90.6) is Peyton Manning (93.8). Makes sense; San Fran runs it so well and he is so mobile, you can see defenses biting on it. I understand the apprehension of starting a quarterback at New England in December, especially after seeing what happened to the Texans. But the Patriots defense has allowed 10 touchdown passes after play-action fakes, second-most in the league. And Colin's rushing ability keeps his floor high. If you have to look outside the top 10, I feel Kaepernick is a fairly safe bet for 15 points or so.

If you're desperate: Russell Wilson has a 6-1 touchdown-to-interception rate in his past three road games, and you'll win some bar bets with this one: Since Week 8, nobody has a higher QBR on the road than Wilson. The Seahawks are on the road in Toronto against the Bills. … Stop me if you've heard this one before. You can throw on the Redskins. Brandon Weeden, averaging over 11 points a game since Cleveland's bye, is a good bet for double-digit points in this one.

Quarterbacks I hate in Week 15

Tony Romo, Cowboys: Since their Week 5 bye, Tony Romo has had more than two touchdown passes in only two games: against the Redskins and the Eagles. The Steelers, my friend, are significantly better than either of them. (Bows.) Thank you! Thank you! I'm not the best in the biz for nothing, folks! Anyway, just to give some numbers to what we know: The Steelers allow the lowest pass yards per attempt, least amount of first downs, third-lowest completion percentage and have the No. 1 overall pass defense. Even with the Steelers defense banged up a little, they're still a pretty good unit, last week's Chargers game notwithstanding. A less-than-100 percent Dez Bryant (if he even plays) doesn't help either. Outside my top 10.

Andrew Luck, Colts: Fair warning. Was on the love list last week and I got it wrong. Was on the hate list the week before that. Got that wrong. So, if you need to start Luck here, you might be in … errr … hang on, I'll think of a different word … Uh … wait just a minute, I'll get it … oh, hell … in luck, OK? You might be in luck. Because I seem to have the Simmons-esque reverse-jinx power on Andrew. But here's why he is also outside my top 10 this week: Over the past five week, he is averaging just 6.9 yards per attempt, 20th among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts. He has an NFL-leading 10 interceptions, and in only one of the five games did he have a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio. Houston was just embarrassed on national television and they are at home. Luck struggles on the road, and the Texans have something to prove.

Carson Palmer, Raiders: Here's the problem with the Lord of Junk Time™. I'm not convinced there's a lot of junk time in this game. I expect Oakland to run a lot and be effective here, Palmer had just 209 yards (and 2 scores for 14 points) the last time he played the Chiefs and I don't see Oakland having to play catch-up with K.C. Palmer is a rock-solid bet for double-digit points but his upside is limited if you need anything more than that.

Running backs I love in Week 15

Adrian Peterson, Vikings: The most obvious name in the universe, everyone is starting him no matter what, but I put him here for two reasons. One, to illustrate that there's a reason for some of these obvious names. This is the playoffs. You're going super safe. But mostly because I just wanted to share this crazy stat: Peterson's 6.04 yards-per-rush average is higher than John Skelton, Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert's yards-per-pass-attempt averages this season.

Alfred Morris, Redskins: Now, when your QB can't run (or could get reinjured if he tried it) what happens? You run the running back more. I expect a heavier-than-normal workload for Morris to take pressure off whoever the quarterback is (I'm betting it's RG III as I write this before Thursday practice), and against the Browns 18th-ranked run defense, that should be enough for a top-10 finish.

C.J. Spiller, Bills: Putting him here because people might be concerned about both his lack of work last week and the Seattle run defense. He's averaging 6.6 yards per carry. Chan Gailey has no choice but to use him full time now. Right? Right?? #FREECJ.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis: You know what's fun? Besides posting "The world is ending in eight days. Who cares?" under the Facebook photos of all your friends' kids? Having a running back who is hard to tackle going against a team that has trouble tackling. The Eagles have allowed 1.82 yards after contact per rush, fourth-worst average in the NFL. Law Firm, meanwhile, has the fifth-most yards after contact this season.

Chris Johnson, Titans: I know. The hype on the Monday night game has already been building to astronomical levels. You don't need another reason to watch. It's the TITANS! And JETS! Yet I do like CJ here despite back-to-back five-point games. They need to get him going, and I believe they will. Only two teams have allowed more yards after contact this year than the Jets, who are 29th against the run. For what it's worth, Johnson seems to like the bright lights, averaging 113 rushing yards on "Monday Night Football."

If you're desperate or in a deeper league: If Ahmad Bradshaw doesn't play, David Wilson becomes a top-15 play for me, but even if Bradshaw is active, I still like him as a flex against a Falcons team that allows the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. … Total gut call, but I bet Ryan Mathews actually has a really good game this week, just because it'll happen when most of his owners are already out of the playoffs. … The only running backs with more receiving yards this season than Joique Bell? Darren Sproles and Ray Rice. More touches last week than Mikel Leshoure; I don't expect them to be in catch-up mode against Arizona the way they were against Green Bay, but I do expect him to play more than you expect in a good matchup. … Bilal Powell has at least one score in three of the past four games and in each of those games, he's scored from inside the opponent's 10-yard line. He's become their goal-line back, which is good news. Only San Francisco runs more inside an opponent's 10-yard line than the Jets. … Bad matchup, but Montell Owens was solid last week and will continue to be the only run game the Jags have.

Running backs I hate in Week 15

Frank Gore, 49ers: I have him just inside my top 20, so my guess is you don't have better options and are playing him. But you certainly don't love the matchup, as the Patriots have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing runners; they are eighth in run defense and allow the second-fewest yards after contact. Plus, with less than 65 rushing yards in back-to-back games, Gore hasn't had 100 yards rushing since Week 7. He'll be solid here, but not expecting a huge game.

DeMarco Murray, Cowboys: Had him on this list last week and he ran poorly (averaging just 2.5 yards per carry) but he bailed you out with an "oh-by-the-way" goal-line dive. But since returning from injury, Murray has only 45 yards after contact in two games (27th in NFL), and ranks 41st out of 44 qualified rushers over the past two weeks with 1.02 yards after contact per rush. In fact, the only qualified running backs with fewer yards after contact per rush are Beanie Wells and Reggie Bush. Steelers rank fourth in fewest yards after contact per rush allowed. And then did you see the NFL.com article on him? Where Murray explained he's been running with three plates in his shoes and it's why he's running differently? You probably don't have better options, but I don't expect amazing things on Sunday.

Michael Turner, Falcons: You know what I can't rise above? My feelings for Michael Turner. He has scored in four straight games now and yet still has not had more than 12 points in any of those games. It's not a terrible matchup for him and he seems to run well at home, but I just hate guys who are touchdown-dependent for their fantasy value, and there's no one more touchdown-dependent than Turner. I'm going down swinging on Turner.

DeAngelo Williams, Panthers: I know what he did last week. Don't care. Don't get cute.

Wide receivers I love in Week 15

Wes Welker
Last week was the first game since Week 2 that Wes Welker didn't catch at least six passes in a game.

Wes Welker, Patriots: I'm the only guy to have in the top five this week but I'm super bullish on him because of the matchup. Yes, the 49ers have a good defense. But not against wide receivers lining up in the slot, where San Francisco gives up the fourth-most receptions in the NFL to opposing slot receivers.

Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers: Got accused on Twitter of never giving any love to Vincent Jackson and I don't think that's true. I've had him ranked top-10 in a number of weeks, including last week. But fine, here you go. The Saints are a good matchup, you know that. But just to add to it, they have allowed the sixth-most receptions on throws deeper than 20 yards downfield. V-Jax, meanwhile, leads the league with 15 receptions on that kind of throw.

Randall Cobb, Packers: Not only is he the No. 1 receiving threat on the Packers, it's not close. Not worried about the 1-for-20 performance the last time he faced Chicago. Leading the Packers in targets, receptions and yardage by a significant margin, I don't see Green Bay running the ball effectively here. So they are throwing, and when they throw, they throw to Cobb, who will move around all over the place, exploiting matchups in the banged-up Bears defense.

Pierre Garcon, Redskins: The best yards-after-catch average this year, Garcon has caught 17 of 26 targets the past three weeks, racking up 279 yards overall and a touchdown in each game. And as he said on our podcast Tuesday, they plan to move him all over and he doesn't expect Joe Haden to be on him full time. I expect RG III to play, but regardless of who the QB is, I'm starting Pierre Garcon.

Danario Alexander, Chargers: He keeps making this list one way or the other and I keep talking about him on the podcast. Five scores in his past five, double-digit fantasy points in four of them; he's been as good as any wideout in the game over the last five weeks, not just from a fantasy perspective but an NFL perspective as well, as Philip Rivers really looks to Alexander to help move the chains. Only Calvin Johnson (14 of 25) and Brandon Marshall (14 of 23) have more third-down catches and targets than Danario Alexander (13 catches on 20 targets) over the last five weeks. In fact, Alexander's 273 yards and three touchdowns on third down in that span are both best in the league.

Cecil Shorts, Jaguars: Expected back this week, he's a big-play guy (tied with A.J. Green for most 50-yard TDs this year) and the Dolphins allow the 11th-most yards after the catch this year.

If you're desperate: Josh Gordon has back-to-back games with at least 80 yards, is a big-play threat himself and, obviously, you can throw on the Skins, who allow the second-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts. … Danny Amendola is always a risk to leave a game early but assuming he is active, the Vikings have allowed the 11th-most catches to opposing slot receivers this season. … With 100 yards or a score in three straight, Kenny Britt is finally coming into his own. … Over the last five weeks, no wide receiver has more red zone targets than Anquan Boldin.

Wide receivers I hate in Week 15

Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: Not only would I not start him, I would have no issue with dropping him in a non-keeper league. In the last four weeks, he has as many catches (six) as his quarterbacks have interceptions (six) on his targets. I don't have high hopes for Ryan Lindley on Sunday.

Torrey Smith, Ravens: Three points or fewer in three of the last four weeks, this Sunday he should get the Champ Bailey treatment.

Greg Jennings, Packers: At a total of six fantasy points in his first two games back, it's not a great matchup for him, and how healthy is he? He has had some big games in the past against the Bears, and obviously he has the talent and the quarterback to have a huge day, but I generally want "safe" in the playoffs. If this were a regular-season game, I'd be starting him. In a win-or-go-home playoff game, I'm nervous, unless you need to swing for the fences with a high-risk, high-reward play.

Sidney Rice, Seahawks: Banged up, the Bills have actually been playing much better defense than they've been given credit for.

Tight ends I love in Week 15

Aaron Hernandez, Patriots: As he showed last week against the Texans, just because it's the 49ers, don't get cute. You're starting Aaron Hernandez.

Brandon Myers
You're probably not going to see another 14-catch day for Myers this season, but then again, you probably won't get a repeat of last week's "zero," either.

Brandon Myers, Raiders: Yep, I'm back. Obviously, a terrible call by me last week on Myers, whom I ranked in my top five only to have him put up a goose egg. Sorry about that. But I'm back in. Part of the reason Myers struggled last week is that he needed to stay in and block, as the Raiders couldn't handle Denver's pass rush. I have no such concerns this week, as only five teams have fewer sacks than the Kansas City Chiefs. Keep in mind that there are only two tight ends who have had nine different games with at least five catches this year: Jason Witten and … Brandon Myers.

Greg Olsen, Panthers: Chargers have given up a score to an opposing tight end in each of their past two home games; Olsen has scored in two straight and has at least 50 yards or a score in three of the past five. With Brandon LaFell banged up, expect Cam to continue to look Olsen's way when Steve Smith is covered.

If you're desperate: After scoring in two of the past three and in three of the past five, Dennis Pitta gets a nice matchup with Denver, who allows the second-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. … Benjamin Watson has been getting more involved in the offense recently, with two eight-point games in his last four, and the Redskins give up the most points to opposing tight ends.

Tight ends I hate in Week 15

Antonio Gates, Chargers: It's actually a decent matchup for him, so I could see him scoring here, but with a total of nine points in his past four games and no game with more than four points, I want no part of that risk in a playoff week.

Vernon Davis, 49ers: Another guy with a good matchup whom I just don't trust. Just six targets total the last three weeks, he's not involved in the offense in a significant way and he has scored just once since Week 3.

Jermichael Finley, Packers: What's most likely to happen? This guy disappoints you, that's what.

Defenses I love in Week 15

Cincinnati Bengals D/ST: Bengals lead the NFL in sacks; the Eagles have allowed the third-most sacks. A bad offense facing a good defense, on a short week; the Eagles allow the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing defenses. Still available in more than half of leagues, too. My No. 1 defense this week.

Detroit Lions D/ST: Insert defense facing Ryan Lindley here.

St. Louis Rams D/ST: They've been red hot lately, averaging over 17 fantasy points a game over their last three. And now they're home to a Vikings team that doesn't have Percy Harvin but does have Christian Ponder.

If you're desperate: Betting against Mark Sanchez tends to work out well and the Tennessee Titans have 16-, 9- and 22-point games in three of their past four, with the one bad game coming against the Texans.

Defenses I hate in Week 15

San Francisco 49ers D/ST: You're probably sick of hearing about how good the Patriots are at home in December, but you can't ignore what they did to a very good Texans defense on Monday, even if they were banged up. The average fantasy defense facing the Patriots this year has scored negative 1.5 points. Negative. On average. With so many good options available on the wire, I'm probably starting another team this week.

Cleveland Browns D/ST: A defense I loved last week, the trendy pickup can be put back down. The Redskins are not a good team to face with your fantasy defense as they don't turn the ball over that much, and RG III is hard to sack. Washington allows the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing defenses.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- just spent his week 15 column breaking down the lyrics of a 25-year-old song. He can live with it. 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.