As we begin the fantasy playoffs this week in most leagues, I am reminded of my favorite fantasy playoff story ever.
It was Week 15 of the 2005 season and Redskins tight end Chris Cooley was playing. Not just in the NFL, but in the semifinals of his long-term fantasy league. Cooley has played fantasy with his buddies since high school and that year, for the first time, had managed to reach the semifinals, a huge accomplishment for him, given the nature of trash talk that went around between him and his longtime friends.
That weekend, Cooley had the best game of his professional life, as he caught three touchdowns in the Redskins' 35-7 victory against the Cowboys. But it was also his biggest heartache. Because Chris' opponent in the semis that year started a tight end named Chris Cooley. Guess who won that matchup?
We all remember where we were when Brian Westbrook took a knee instead of walking in for a touchdown (also against Dallas, also Week 15) in 2007. It was the difference between winning and losing for thousands of owners. But perhaps no Westbrook-induced loss was more painful than the story of a Wall Street guy who plays in a million-dollar league with other financial titans. That knee cost him $600,000.
Randomly, just Thursday, Brian Westbrook was here at ESPN doing a bunch of interviews and we chatted a bit. He told me, even four years later, not a day goes by that someone doesn't talk to him about that play and how it either won or lost them a fantasy game. I told him about the 600K guy. He just shook his head. That was a new one, even for Brian.
Heartbreaking though it is, I love reading stories like this. We've all been there. And we should be grateful that the fantasy gods smiled upon us to get us into the playoffs. I mean, if you're reading this, I'm guessing you're still alive. So my hearty congratulations and thanks for taking me along on the ride.
But I'm not just about advice. I'm also a virtual shoulder to cry on. So I asked the gang that follows me on Twitter to give me their best bad beat story. Many, many variations of "I had the most points and didn't make the playoffs" along with tales of stats corrections and lots of stories about going against a player that just completely went off (Pierre Garcon? Percy Harvin? Demaryius Thomas!?!). Way, way too many responses came in to publish them all, but here were some of my favorites, complete with the unfortunate soul's Twitter handle.
So, I got a ton of fascinating reaction to my Twitter amnesty column last week. First, I unblocked about 50 people and many more than that donated. Lots of people wrote to say they weren't blocked but wanted to donate anyway, which I loved, including Adam Mesh, who gave $250. The whole thing was terrific, which is why I have decided to extend it until, well, we find a cure for cancer. Again, just make a donation to jimmyv.org, send me the receipt to MatthewBerryTMR@gmail.com and tell me your Twitter handle. That simple.
Two quick thoughts after reading a bunch of replies to my blocking people. First, while many agreed, some felt I was too quick with the trigger. And I agree. I am. "What I wrote wasn't so bad" was a familiar refrain. Also true in many cases. But, to speak to both points, I don't judge negativity. Like, oh that was only a four, so no biggie, but this guy was a six, so I'm blocking him. If it seems you're not a fan, that's fine, but you don't need to follow me, right? I've got enough followers and there are plenty of other options for fantasy advice for them. So ... ka-block. In addition, I get, well, a lot of tweets. Search @matthewberrytmr on a Sunday if you care. So if I see a bunch over a certain time frame I just have the attitude of "no time for negativity," regardless of the degree of it. It's also less about that one tweet than it is the 10 that came before it. And plus, the more I block, the more people that will donate to get unblocked, hopefully. Anyway, thanks to everyone for their kind notes and more importantly, their donations. You guys donated thousands to Jimmy V and that, frankly, is kinda awesome.
@DanFXC: Lost by .6 because Dallas iced their own kicker.
@bradhensley :What about a simple pic? Could have sat my D/ST and won. He missed playoffs by 1/2 game. (Included was a picture of the Giants' D/ST's -10 points against the Packers, and the final score of 107-98.
@wmcmillan6: Went to sleep up .9 after MNF (in the) 1st round (of the playoffs) last year. Stat update: Browns +1 sack = I woke up down .1, final. Crushed.
@shimonmds: Last week I lost to someone who started Peyton Manning! Needless to say, neither of us are making the playoffs.
@hartleysworld: 2009 I'm No. 1 seed need 8 points with Marion Barber. He gets 47 yrds/14 RUSH, 22 yds REC and stopped 4 (times) in a row on 1 yard line.
@Mestblinknfggc: Down by 1.6, PPR, M. Lewis catches it, puts me up by .2, then fumbles. That was the end of the scoring for both teams.
@shaine_69: We have yardage bonuses at 100, Fred Davis at 99, Romo at 299, CJ2K knocked me out of playoff contention by last place guy.
@blairCmcdonald: 103.40 - 103.15 in Week 4. Eli Manning takes a knee 3 times in final minutes in win versus Arizona. Lose .3 and the matchup
@DucalCrownRalph: Easy. Last year, down by 4.5 in semifinals, AP sits out MNF, can't add anyone. Ended up 3rd, shoulda won it all #badbeat.
@majorleaguenerd: Week 3 SNF, Ben kneels to set up field goal. minus-2 rush yards. League scores to 2 decimal places. Lost by 0.08. Missed playoffs by 1 game.
@Mawam: League didn't allow pick-ups after Thursday night game, Prater injured in practice on Friday. Lost by 2 points
@UpperRDL: Finally got the GF to play. She's picking 6th, I'm 7th. Wanting to be sneaky I tell her to draft Aaron Rodgers so I could get Vick. Doh!
@MatthewBerryTMR: Of course, I also got many variations of ...
@drdaswani: My worst beat was I read your column and stretched for Vick and Gates on draft day. :)
As I said above, I love stories like these. And not just heartbreak stories. But any fantasy story. Fantasy stories about obsession; guys who have drafted their teams from the delivery room, from a funeral and, once, from the Situation Room at the White House. Yes, that Situation Room.
Crazy bets, insane rules, hilarious league traditions, bad beat stories and impossible victories. People who have gone to jail over fantasy disputes, the lengths we've all gone to make a fantasy league transaction before the advent of mobile phones, the craziest trade stories and any of the "shake your head" moments we've heard of, or committed ourselves, in the name of fantasy sports.
It's because of that that, Thursday morning, Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Group USA, announced a new book to the various people in the book publishing world that they send stuff like this to:
Coming in Summer of 2013, ESPN Senior Fantasy Analyst Matthew Berry's FANTASY LIFE, a comprehensive look at the insanely popular (and incredibly obsessive) world of fantasy sports, complete with: stories of fantasy intrigue, betrayal, triumph and outrageous behavior in pursuit of an elusive title; invaluable advice for both newcomers and seasoned veterans; along with the personal anecdotes and life stories that are the author's trademark.
So yeah, I'm writing a book. There will be advice and strategy, new ideas and analysis. Not just from me, but from many of the people throughout the industry that I respect. There will be personal stories. I was 35 years old, living in Los Angeles and depressed. And that story -- from me deciding to make a go of a full-time career in fantasy to winding up at ESPN -- coincides with the rise in popularity of fantasy sports. So each chapter will be similar to my columns. There will be a personal story for each chapter -- none of which have been told before -- and they all relate to fantasy sports.
And each chapter is about a different aspect of fantasy sports. Obsession, trades, wins and losses, league traditions and crazy rules and so forth. Which is where you come in. I want you to be in the book. This is a book about all of us. Tell me your best story involving fantasy. I'm looking for funny, interesting, hilarious, what-the-hell-was-I-thinking stories. So if you've got something good and want to see your name in print forever, you can submit a story one of two ways. Email me at MatthewBerryTMR@gmail.com and put "BOOK" in the title. Or submit it at the book's website.
As I, gulp, nervously begin writing a book, we all begin the path on the road to the Shiva Bowl. May your journey be painless and filled with good luck.
Week 14 Players I Love
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions: I know what you're thinking: "Whew! Finally! Analysis of a quarterback on an ESPN platform and it's not Tim Tebow. Thank goodness. It's about time!" To which I say ... Ha! Watch what I do here.
I like Stafford this week as he faces a defense that was just shredded by, wait for it ... none other than Tim Tebow! In fact, Tim Tebow threw for more than 200 yards and two scores against this team. This team looked like mere mortals against #TimTebow. TebowTebowTebow.
If you've read me this year, you know I'm a huge Tebow fan and was on the bandwagon that he'd find success as a pro well before most. (It's really interesting to go back and read that column now, written before he started his first game). And I am, of course, a company man. But even I, someone who loves watching ESPN, am like ... yeah, I get it. Tebow. But as a passer, he is not Matthew Stafford's equal. Nor does he have Stafford's weapons. The Vikes give up the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers, have just six interceptions on the year (only the Colts, with five, have fewer) and the Lions' run game continues to struggle. Stafford threw for 400 yards last week, think how much he'd have had without the penalties (cough, Nate Burleson, cough). Averaging 18 points a game this year, I say he gets more than 20 this week. I have him at No. 3 among quarterbacks, highest among our rankers.
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers: Just wanted to put him in here for a minute to point out how remarkable his season has been. I was asked at a dinner party recently what the most surprising thing in fantasy this year has been and to me, the answer is Cam, hands down. A rookie quarterback, in a shortened offseason, with his best pass-catcher a 32-year-old wide receiver many thought was done, is the second-highest scoring player in fantasy. I don't think there's ever been a rookie quarterback who's been a consensus top five quarterback every week down the stretch. And he is. It's nothing short of spectacular and the good times continue at home against Atlanta.
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: The two big issues for Rivers this year have been turnovers and sacks. The San Diego offensive line has been injured and porous, forcing Rivers into bad throws and interceptions. Well, Buffalo is last in the NFL in sacks and has just one interception in its past four games. At home against a team that has allowed more than 20 fantasy points a game to opposing quarterbacks in its past three, I expect Rivers to look much more like the guy we saw Monday night as opposed to the guy who killed fantasy owners all year.
Carson Palmer, QB, Raiders: Averaging more than 15 points a game as a starter, it won't be pretty and I wouldn't check his box score until well into the fourth quarter, but like all other Packers opponents, Oakland will need to throw to keep up.
Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets: To be honest, I'm very much on the fence with this one. On one hand, he's been much better at home this season -- averaging more than 17 fantasy points a game at MetLife Stadium -- and similar to Rivers, when he gets time to throw, he's better. The Chiefs have just 20 sacks on the year, fourth fewest in the NFL. On the other hand, Kansas City did just rack up seven sacks last week, but Chicago (seventh most sacks allowed this year) is no stranger to protection problems. If they just double-team Tamba Hali, the Jets, who have not allowed a sack for two straight weeks, should be fine. Going all Next Level here, ESPN Stats & Information points out that Sanchez has a Total QBR nearly 20 points higher against 3-4 defenses in his career than he has against all other schemes. The Chiefs have used a 3-4 on an AFC-high 397 snaps in 2011. Having said all that, the Chiefs' defense has played well this year (just 13 points allowed on average to opposing quarterbacks), so while I like Sanchez, if I'm being honest, I'm not super confident here. You've been warned. This isn't a "safe" play.
If you're desperate: Rex Grossman is averaging 15 points a game over his past three and gets a Patriots team that just gave up three bills to Dan Orlovsky. Joe Flacco should have a solid game against Indy, because, well, everyone has a solid game against Indy. Said it before, will say it again: If the award is "Who is the most valuable player to his team?" how is Peyton Manning not the MVP this year? And finally, I feel like I put Christian Ponder in this section every week and every week he delivers. Assuming he plays, this is a good matchup with a banged-up Lions secondary.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers: Don't swim an hour after eating. Don't run with scissors. Start your backs against the Browns. I didn't make the rules up, I just live by 'em.
Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins: Eagles give up 4.4 yards per carry and as our Scouts Inc. group notes, Philly "continues to be in more of a pass-rush mode with its defensive ends in the wide-nine alignment," which favors Bush, who will continue to find himself in space on check-downs and swing passes, with the ball in his hands. Bush has five scores in his past five games; if Cam is the biggest surprise this season, my continued love for Reggie this year has to be a close second.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys: I know, tough to trust him as he's struggled recently after a hot start, but he's expected to get fullback Tony Fiammetta back. In four games with Fiammetta, Murray averaged more than 170 total yards a game and 19 fantasy points a game. In the past three, without him, he averaged just 90 total yards and eight points a game. Giants give up 4.6 yards per carry and have allowed 13 rushing touchdowns, fifth most in the NFL.
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints: If you need a flex play this week, Ingram continues to look good to me. Yes, in that way. What of it? Averaging 13 touches a game in the three games since returning from injury, he has scored in two straight games and the Titans are brutal against the run, giving up more than 150 total yards and six scores to opposing running backs in the seven games since their bye. Assuming he is active (there was talk of some light turf toe issues), he's a solid flex play this week.
If you're desperate: Marion Barber isn't built to be a guy who touches the ball more than 20 times a game, and with Caleb Hanie, the Bears will need to run it more, so Khalil Bell should see double-digit touches against Denver. Ricky Williams has a total of 24 touches in his past two and I can certainly see some junk-time rushing for him against Indy. While the Packers don't run a lot and you've got Ryan Grant and John Kuhn on the goal line, I thought Brandon Saine looked like a better running back than Grant last week and the Raiders are 28th against the run.
Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys: Three scores in his past four games, we don't know how healthy Miles Austin and/or Laurent Robinson are, so Bryant is the safest bet among the Cowboys' wideouts. In two games against the Giants last year, he had 158 yards and three touchdowns.
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings: Well, he showed me, eh? Ugh. What a terrible call last week. Two weeks ago, I had him as a love. He paid off. Last week, he was a "hate" and um, he set career highs. Lots of yards after the catch as the Vikings found different ways to get him the ball in space, he clearly was healthy after coming into the game listed as questionable (ahem) and the Broncos missed Von Miller's pressure on Christian Ponder. Anyway, his numbers have been spectacular. He has four receiving TDs in his past three and averages 41.3 yards per score, totaling 22 catches for 324 yards (108 per game). The Lions' secondary is all sorts of hurt (as anyone who played against Drew Brees last week is painfully aware of) so I expect another good game from Harvin.
C.J. Spiller, RB/WR, Bills: Loving him here as a wide receiver play (since he qualifies there in ESPN leagues), he's averaged more than 19 touches a game since Fred Jackson's injury. A wideout who gets 19 touches? Works for me, especially against a Chargers team that is 26th against the run.
Michael Crabtree, WR, 49ers: So THAT'S what a Crabtree touchdown looks like. Getting only his second score of the season last week, Crabtree has been quietly solid in slightly deeper leagues, with at least 50 yards in six of his past seven games. He had seven for 120 the last time he faced Arizona (in Week 11) and coming off his best fantasy day of the year last week, he's a solid No. 3 wideout this week.
Plaxico Burress, WR, Jets: Chiefs give up a passing touchdown in their red zone 30.6 percent of the time, tied for the fifth most in the NFL. I expect the Chiefs to have Brandon Flowers concentrate on Santonio Holmes, leaving Burress a decent No. 3 wideout this week.
If you're desperate: I expect tons of passing against the Patriots and Fred Davis is suspended, so Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney, in that order, should get some love against New England's 32nd-ranked pass defense. I think you can pass on Chicago, especially in the middle of the field, where Eric Decker will continue to be the first guy #TimTebow looks for. Torrey Smith is feast or famine, but he will get a few shots a game and against the Colts, you have to like his chances of connecting.
Kellen Winslow, TE, Buccaneers: If ever there was a week. ...
Dustin Keller, TE, Jets: You already know I like Sanchez this week and it's a good matchup. Friend-of-the-podcast Keller has four scores this year, all at home, and the Chiefs allow the fifth most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. They've also allowed eight touchdowns to tight ends this year (tied for most in the NFL). Keller is still available in 34 percent of leagues, if you just lost Fred Davis.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals: Tough matchup here as the Texans are strong against the tight end. But Brian Cushing is banged up and, believe it or not, since coming back from injury four weeks ago, Gresham leads the team in targets and receptions, and is tied for the lead with two touchdowns. He also had another called back due to penalty last week. Now, A.J. Green missed one of those games, so it's a little skewed, but still. If you're looking for a guy outside the typical top 10 or so, Gresham is a solid bet.
If you're desperate: Anthony Fasano has six points in three of his past four games. Heath Miller has traditionally played well against Cleveland. Jared Cook gets the Saints (sixth most fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends) and the Saints will no doubt load the box to stop Johnson, daring Matt Hasselbeck to throw it.
Seattle Seahawks D/ST: They had 17 points the last time they faced the Rams, now they are at home and they've averaged 12 points a game in their past four. The Rams may very well be starting their third-string quarterback in this game and the offensive line is in shambles. No team gives up more points to opposing defenses than the St. Louis Rams. The Seahawks are available in 70 percent of leagues, incidentally.
If you're desperate: It'll be a high-scoring affair, but the Packers are opportunistic, leading the NFL in interceptions, and Carson Palmer has been known to throw a pick or two in his day. The Bengals' D averages more than nine points a game at home, and while T.J. Yates looked better than expected last week, he's still just a rookie making his second start. The Chiefs are averaging 15 points a game in their past two and the Jets allow the seventh most fantasy points to opposing defenses.
Week 14 Players I Hate
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: It's playoff time, so frankly, there's no one I really hate that you would likely consider starting. But I have Big Ben outside my top 10 for a few reasons. Two straight weeks now, he's thrown for fewer than 200 yards, he has only two games this year in which he's thrown for more than two touchdowns, and both came in the season's first six weeks. And he's thrown one or fewer touchdowns in eight of 12 games. So while his downside is limited, so is his upside. The Browns, believe it or not, have the No. 1-ranked pass defense and allow the third fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season (9.4 per game). That's due in part to them facing a bunch of bad quarterbacks and the fact teams don't need to pass on them because it's so easy to run on 'em -- kind of like those Raiders teams of a few years back -- but however you get there, teams don't throw successfully that much against them. A big dose of Mendenhall in this one plus a defensive score or two and I don't see Big Ben having a top-10 week.
Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals: He's been a steady source of double-digit fantasy points this year, but just one touchdown in three straight and facing the Texans (second fewest fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks) makes me want to look elsewhere.
Matt Moore, QB, Dolphins: Last week's waiver-wire hero (and one of my "loves") returns to mere mortal this week. When the Eagles are on the road this year they allow opposing quarterbacks an average of just 10 fantasy points. The Dolphins are tied for the fifth most sacks allowed and the Eagles' defense is tied for the fifth most sacks. I expect Moore to be under pressure for a lot of this game, which means lots of running and a conservative offense to protect Moore and keep Vick & Co. off the field. There are better waiver-wire options this week.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Titans: Well, I like his brother a lot. But with single-digit fantasy points in three straight games, it's no surprise that as Chris Johnson has gotten going, Hasselbeck's fantasy production has gone down; In the four games this year that Chris Johnson has rushed for over 100 yards, Hasselbeck averages just 184 passing yards a game. Even in a game where you figure the Titans will be behind and throwing some, I think there are much safer plays this week.
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: Fewer than 70 yards in three straight, including just 42 yards rushing the last time he faced the Seahawks. He's getting no blocking and there's a decent chance the Rams have a practice-squad quarterback starting for them on Monday night. I have him at No. 15 based on the amount of work he'll get, but hard to trust that he'll be anything better than a flex play this week.
Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers: Someone will probably have a decent game here but no faith in trying to figure out who it will be. Since the bye, Stewart has been the leading scorer twice, Williams once and they tied in another week. And one of Stewart's "victories" was a four-points-to-three-points advantage in Week 10. The Falcons are third against the run and allow the fifth fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs. Not touching either; too much uncertainty. In both the run game and, yes, in the world today.
Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers: Look, you're starting him, OK? Can't see you'd have two better options. But the reason I have him outside my top 10, on top of what I said about his quarterback, is that I expect the underrated Joe Haden to be on Wallace. And look at Wallace's production: No 100-yard games since Week 7 and only one 100-yard game in his past nine. You haven't cared because he's scored a lot of touchdowns, but those are hard to count on. We already know Antonio Brown is getting more targets than Wallace and he's had fewer than 70 yards in five straight.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs: Revis. Palko. Just because it's super-obvious doesn't make it any less true.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles: A preemptive hate. Because I know, now that all fantasy owners are sick of him -- his antics, his lack of production (just two scores all year), his getting benched -- that no one is going to start him this week against a Dolphins defense that has allowed just four touchdowns to opposing wide receivers in its past five games. And he will go off. Mark my words. I'm not starting him in the league I have him in. I'm done with him. Don't trust him at all. And I'm positive he's gonna go off. Arrghhhh.
Santonio Holmes, WR, Jets: Same theory as Wallace. Fewer than 60 yards in three straight, he needs to score to have value. I think the Jets run it with Green, I like Keller to have a big game and think Plax gets a red zone target or two. But against Brandon Flowers, I don't see Holmes being a big part of the game plan and I don't like having to count on a touchdown when anything can happen.
Owen Daniels, TE, Texans: Fewer than 40 yards in four straight games, the Bengals allow the fourth fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Just five targets last week, even with Andre Johnson out; it's hard to trust Daniels as a top-10 guy this week.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions: He did top 100 yards the last time he faced the Vikings, but with three fantasy points or fewer in five of his past six games, he's just not a big part of the offense these days. Even as much as I love Stafford, I can't trust Pettigrew as even a borderline starter. Averaging fewer than 40 yards a game this season, he's just not an ideal start in a playoff week.
Chicago Bears D/ST: Here's the thing about #TimTebow. Well, one of them. He doesn't turn the ball over and he's hard to sack. Since #TimTebow became the starter, opposing defenses are averaging just six fantasy points against the Broncos, and much of that is skewed by the Detroit game, which got out of hand. With Caleb Hanie at quarterback for Chicago, this game is not getting out of hand for either team. A close, low-scoring game is what's happening here, but it's not looking like great fantasy day for either squad.
Detroit Lions D/ST: No Ndamukong Suh to start with and Nick Fairley was walking around in a protective boot on Wednesday. This is a defense that has just six points total in its past four games and, between Harvin and Toby Gerhart, the Vikings can actually put up some numbers.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- a longtime Los Angeles Angels fan, has already ordered his C.J. Wilson jersey. To wear on the days that his Albert Pujols jersey is dirty. 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