It might be my favorite fantasy story of all time. The problem, of course, is that it's not mine. And it's been told before. Multiple times. Including by me. In a column here on ESPN.
So it's old, it's stolen, it's recycled -- and it was that way when I told it last year in this column.
Don't care. If you've never heard/read it, it's a great one. If you have read it in my column before, then no surprise, you're used to me recycling stuff.
So, as we start another season of football, of fantasy football and, of course, most importantly, of "Love/Hate," I want to tell a story that originally was told on "Fantasy Football Now" (Sundays at 11:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2) by my fellow analyst, Tim Hasselbeck.
Tim was in a league with, among other folks, his brother, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. It should shock no one that Matt went QB-heavy with his team, drafting not only himself but also his former real-life Packers teammate, Brett Favre.
As with many people I meet, last year was Matt's first year playing fantasy. But he showed the objectivity of a wily veteran when, in Week 5, he decided to bench himself for the ol' gunslinger. It made sense. Favre was coming off a red-hot dismantling of Green Bay on "Monday Night Football," had seven touchdowns in his past three games and was facing the Rams, among the worst pass defenses in the league.
I'll save you the trouble of looking it up. Brett threw for 232 yards, only one TD (plus a pick) and finished with 11 fantasy points in ESPN standard scoring. Sixteen quarterbacks finished with more points than Brett that week, including such stalwarts as Josh Johnson and Daunte Culpepper (against the Steelers!).
And sitting on Matt Hasselbeck's bench was, well, Matt Hasselbeck, who threw for four touchdowns against the Jaguars and finished with 27 fantasy points. More than Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning or any other quarterback that week.
Matty's Pigskin Pick'Em Picks
So I always enjoy playing Pigskin Pick'em, our football pick'em game. And I play both ways, straight up and against the spread. Last year, I was in the 95.7 percentile on ESPN.com against the spread.
This year I have decided to publish my picks. You can find them every week on my "TMR" page, where there's an uncomfortable amount of me, but also links to various articles, videos and podcasts I've done ... and now, every week, my picks against the spread. Check it out here:
Matthew Berry's Home Page.
Think about that. He knew the game plan, had as much control over an NFL game as any fantasy player could ever have, wound up as the highest-scoring player at his position in the league
and he was sitting on his own bench.
This year, there are things we won't be able to see coming. You think Fantasy Zombie Mike Williams of Seattle coming back from the dead to have value is nutty? You ain't seen nothing yet.
You will make terrible calls this year. You will bench guys who will go off; you will start guys who bomb; you will cut guys who become the next Jamaal Charles; and you will trade for dudes who lose their starting gig the next week. Sometimes you'll do these things because I suggested you do it. Sometimes it will be because it makes complete and total sense. Yet it still won't work out.
Fantasy football is like dating in that way. It's fun, it's great and it's exhilarating. But it's not gonna be smooth, my friend. And when those moments come, I want you to remember the story of our good pal Matt Hasselbeck.
He knew the game plan; he had as much control over an NFL game as any fantasy player could ever have; he wound up as the highest-scoring player at his position in the league and he was sitting on his own bench.
If Matt couldn't nail it, what the hell chance do any of us have? And the answer is that it's a very tough challenge. Which is all the more reason you play the odds, you put yourself in the best position to win and you hope for the best.
That's good advice for life, too. Which brings us to the first edition of "players I think have better or worse odds of doing what they normally do," or "Love/Hate" for short.
Before we start, a couple of housekeeping notes. This year, I've decided the best way to do this is to base it on our rankings. Players I "love" are players I have ranked significantly higher than the other folks ESPN offers rankings from do. Players I "hate" are players I have ranked significantly lower than everyone else. As always, use your brain. Just because I "love" Dennis Dixon and "hate" Eli Manning does not mean I am suggesting you bench the younger Manning for Big Ben's understudy but rather that, compared with everyone else here, I am higher on Dixon and less excited about Eli.
For my thoughts on where specific players rank in comparison to each other, look at my rankings. And do it on Friday afternoon! I write this column on Wednesdays, just after the ranks come out that morning. Sometimes, as more research or info comes to light, I adjust my ranks. We publish updated rankings on Friday morning. And, of course, I continue to tweak these and will dispense nuggets of wisdom/foolishness on Twitter (as @MatthewBerryTMR) up until kickoff.
This year, I've tried to narrow the names each week to just those I feel really strongly about, but there will always be a few more "loves" than "hates" as you're picking from a greater player pool. Hating lower guys such as David Garrard doesn't do anyone any good, but guys who aren't usually starters can come up for a number of reasons. Finally, the numbers in parentheses are my rank (as of Wednesday morning) first, then the average ranking among the remaining three guys.
With that out of the way, I'll be wacky next week. Let's get to it.
Week 1 Players I Love
Kyle Orton, QB, Broncos (my rank: 9, average rank from the other three: 19): How am I the only one sportin' for Orton? The only one who likes the style that is Kyle? Is ready to get weird for the beard? Okay, the last one was a stretch because sometimes he's shaved, but I ran of out names to make puns with. Did you know he was the 14th-best fantasy quarterback last season? That Jacksonville (27th against the pass in 2009) has no pass rush or secondary that scares you? Seriously, this could be a direct quote from the Jags media guide: In the secondary this year, Jacksonville will start Rashean Mathis and a bunch of homeless guys. Orton has looked terrific this preseason (30-44, 313 yards, two touchdowns), and I've got news for you. Denver is gonna be a pass-first team this season, a la New England. Lotta safe passes, rollouts, checkdowns, nothing flashy. But by the end, it will add up to a top-10 day.
Dennis Dixon, QB, Steelers (15, 26): For those of you in two-quarterback or crazy-deep leagues, I like Dixon this week. Let's say it's a gut call because I have only one start (and last year at that) to go off of. But he did do well against Baltimore in that one start (15 fantasy points), and he's a mobile guy against a Falcons team that will be trying to generate a pass rush without suspended Jonathan Babineaux. Yes, Dunta Robinson helps a secondary that was 28th against the pass last year, but my guess is Atlanta will focus on Rashard Mendenhall and make Dixon beat them. Which he may or may not do, but he will generate a nice chunk of fantasy points in the process.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Dolphins (9, 22): With a new year, some things change. Such as me putting Ronnie Brown in the love column. And some things stay the same. Such as the Bills can't stop the run.
Jerome Harrison, RB, Browns (6, 25): Last year, there were only four games in which Harrison got at least 17 carries. He never had fewer than 121 rushing yards in any of them. There is no one else on the roster to compete for significant carries this week with Harrison. And, oh yeah, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are bad at football.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans (7, 17): Oh, sure, the bandwagon is full now, but where were all of you when I was taking crap by the bucket after his minus-1 in Week 15 last year? But I stuck by him. Through the next two weeks. Through Ben Tate being drafted. Through the preseason. Through many weeks of therapy where I cursed the lot of you behind your back. And now here we are and, once again, I find myself on a bit of an island with young Arian, being the only guy who has him as a top-10 play. Well, that's it. After he goes off at home against last year's 24th-ranked rush defense, don't come snooping around my island. He's mine. All mine. My precious (strokes a picture of Foster in a super creepy way). Yes, my precious. All mine.
Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers (14, 25): See Dixon, Dennis. Dixon is gonna take a few shots downfield in this one, and one of them is gonna connect with Wallace. Keep in mind that last season, only five teams in the NFL gave up more completions of 20-plus yards than the Atlanta Falcons.
Jabar Gaffney, WR, Broncos (13, 39): No idea how this guy is owned in only 26 percent of ESPN leagues. The No. 1 wide receiver on a passing offense, he was terrific in his last two games of 2009 (21-for-282 and 2 TDs in two games), he's been terrific this preseason and will be listed as a top waiver-wire pickup next week after he goes off on the Jaguars. Why not grab him now and beat the rush?
Santana Moss, WR, Redskins (10, 30): Always kills the Cowboys. In 10 career games against Dallas, he averages more than 90 yards a game. Plus, he's all the Skins have. They are lining Moss up in the flanker, in the slot, serving drinks in Snyder's suite seriously, he's doing everything. Expect a nice game on a big stage.
Chris Cooley, TE, Redskins (6, 11): You're gonna accuse me of being a homer, but remember that Kyle Shanahan (the Skins' offensive coordinator) came from Houston. Remember what Owen Daniels did last year? Remember the Redskins have nothing else when Moss is covered or busy refilling ice packs in the training room? Remember the Alamo? Remember when that wasn't a hacky joke? Remember "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure"? Remember, there's a lotta things about me you don't know anything about, Dottie. Things you wouldn't understand. Things you couldn't understand. Things you shouldn't understand. Hmm. Where was I?
Cardinals D/ST (8, 15): Uh, what am I missing here? Is it the Rams' rookie quarterback that has folks scared? Or the fact that they might give significant time to a wideout who wasn't on the team two weeks ago? In two games against the Rams last year, the Arizona D averaged better than 12 fantasy points. Clark Haggans and Joey Porter are gonna blitz, blitz, blitz the night away, and that spells fantasy goodness. Well, it suggests it more than it actually spells it, but the Cards D/ST is available in 89 percent of leagues and will be a top-10 defense this week. Just like it was for all of 2009 (look it up!).
Week 1 Players I Hate
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons (21, 11): On the road against a now healthy Steelers defense, the Falcons do not have a vertical passing game. This is a grind-it-out offense and, as a result, Ryan is going to have more great footage of his face in the dirt for his next razor commercial, but no great fantasy day to show for it.
Eli Manning, QB, Giants (13, 9): Frankly, I need to put him lower in my rankings, and I will in my Friday update. And I need to up the Panthers defense for this one. Carolina's defense led the NFL in sacks this preseason (19) and had a lot of "Julius who?" going on, and Eli will have to deal with that pressure while throwing against a pass defense that was fourth-best in the NFL last season.
Michael Turner, RB, Falcons (19, 6): I have him as borderline start in a 10-team, 2-RB league, but, as you can see with my ranks, I'm a believer in the Pittsburgh defense this week (much healthier this year than last, when the Steelers were third against the run). Last season, Pittsburgh gave up only two rushing touchdowns at home all season. The Steelers will take their chances with Ryan beating them, and Turner will be a focal point of their defensive attack. (Incidentally, how come I'm never the focal point of a defensive attack? Seems like that would be fun.) Turner will have a decent day just by the sheer number of carries he's gonna get, but this is not the week he goes off.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles (34, 23): You know what the real Slim Shady is? One-third of a running back committee on a pass-first team playing against last season's best run defense. Pass. Just like the Eagles will on every play.
Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts (24, 5): At least I'm consistent. Everyone on the message boards is up in arms over this ranking, and I'm not sure I understand why. In two games against the Texans last year, he had a total of 83 yards. Yes, he scored in one game, fine. But he didn't dominate in either game. In fact, other than the Jacksonville game last year (on a big play with busted coverage) he hasn't dominated in a long time. Indy will run more than you think in this game to control the clock and keep the Texans off the field, and when the Colts do pass, they will continue to spread the ball around, especially to Dallas Clark. Lotta new weapons in Indy, but you know what isn't new? Reggie Wayne.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Dolphins (22, 7): New team, new quarterback, new system, the ability of Miami to run the ball at will and facing a much better secondary than you think (second against the pass last year) -- this combo makes for a very average debut.
Anquan Boldin, WR, Ravens (37, 19): Camp, no camp. I'm a believer in the mystical power of Revis Island.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants (38, 22): See Manning, Eli.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Falcons (11, 6): Yeah, if the Falcons light it up against Pittsburgh, I'm gonna look really stupid.
Dolphins D/ST (19, 8): Not sure what everyone else sees in Miami. Wanna take me to party there with Snooki and The Situation? Done. I'll even write the anonymous letter. But I don't want the Miami defense. Whatever you think of Buffalo, the Bills will be better than last year. And in this matchup last year (Dolphins at Bills), the Miami D scored four points. In fact, it scored double-digit fantasy points in just two of 16 games last year (admittedly, one was a home game versus the Bills). This is not a good or even start-worthy fantasy defense this week.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- has never benched himself. 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. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend