Week 17 of the fantasy season is always a bit of a mishmash. Some teams are going all out, some aren't even pretending to play everyone and still more are playing coy, with unknown amounts of playing time for the stars of teams who have clinched postseason berths and can't change their seeding.
And so, in honor of that, the last Love/Hate of the football season (and of 2012) is a bit of a mishmash itself.
We start with the most annoying email of the week:
(Name withheld): Matthew, I've joined the nation! I am a lifelong Steelers fan that is fed up with the garbage that team has put on the field the last two years. I am now officially a Redskins fan. I lived in the DC area for a while, I love RG3 (I did when he was at Baylor too), I'm all in! Can I get a shout out on the podcast as the newest member of the Nation! Hail to the Redskins! Hail victory!
I printed this email because it is rare that 81 words can be so wrong on so many levels. First, no, you are not a lifelong Steelers fan. Anyone who is a lifelong Steelers fan doesn't bail. Steelers fans are among the most passionate, loyal and hardcore fan bases out there. And a lifelong Steelers fan loves his team and couldn't possibly be swayed to join another team. On behalf of actual lifelong Steelers fans, I'm offended.
Second, I'm not sure you understand football. "Garbage that team has put out the last two years." Heading into Week 17 this year, Pittsburgh is 19-12 the last two years, including a playoff spot last year. They've had tough injury luck the last two years but most fan bases would love a 19-12 record over two years. It's only because the franchise has been so excellent that anyone could consider the past two years any sort of disappointment. It's insane.
I'm a lifelong Redskins fan. I've certainly had many more years when it would have made sense to bail. But I never did. Because I can't. It's in my blood. My DNA. I can't not root for them, even if I tried. Ingrained in me since I was 5 years old living in Virginia. I will die a Redskins fan. It is what it is. That's what being a lifelong fan means.
You seem a nice enough person and as you know, RG III is my favorite player in the NFL, so I'll take all the positive vibes I can get this Sunday for the Washington-Dallas game. But man, go back to the Steelers, if they'll have you.
Brian O'Donnell (Green Bay, Wis.): I was moved by your open and commend you for your honesty in your Week 16 Love/Hate column. I do not confess to being an avid reader of your column, but for some reason I opened it up. The reason I don't usually read the article is because of the word hate in your column's headline. Hate is a very strong word and requires a lot of energy and emotion. We as a society use this word willy-nilly without fully understanding what it truly means. I am no Bible thumper, but do believe in God, but have you ever thought of changing the word hate for strongly dislike? The way the world is today we could use a little less hate. Happy Festivus.
TMR: Thanks for the kind words on the column, Brian. And a great point. And a very fair one. Here's the truth of the matter: I actually agree with you. Here's the issue. I came up with the name well over a decade ago when I was just starting out, a much younger guy who didn't even consider the implications of the words. Just sounded good. And now I'm sort of committed to the brand. It doesn't help your issue but I did want to address your email to say it's something I have thought of but don't have a solution for. And that your point is well taken.
Don't look back in anger
Before we can move forward, we look to the past.
Jim Batterson (Burlington, Iowa): Matthew, just won my league championship. I read your pre-draft manifesto and decided for the first time in years when drafting high to go with a QB (Brady), Peterson fell to me in the second and away I went. Thanks! Then the championship game, you said always go with the guys that got you there and most of all listen to your gut. Well with all the experts telling me not to start D. Alexander in Week 16 because of his matchup. I went with my gut and started him, winning the championship because of that decision. Thanks Matthew, look forward to your column every week!
Well done, Jim. Love that email for a few reasons. Mostly because yes, you, not me, not anyone else, won your title. That's exactly what you should always do, from drafting to setting your lineup to trades and pickups. It's your team, you have to live with it, it's no fun if someone does everything (good or bad) for you.
But also because I was happy with how the Manifesto worked out. Now, technically, it wasn't "get a QB and a TE early at all costs." I had Arian Foster and Ray Rice as top-five picks, I had five running backs in my top 10, along with Calvin Johnson. So if you (and the others in your league) followed my rankings exactly, there was a 6-in-10 chance you left the first round without a QB.
And allow me just to say, as I did in the Manifesto, that there are a zillion different ways to win (or lose) and that hindsight is 20/20. You can cherry-pick any set of circumstances to prove your point. "If you drafted Stephen Gostkowski in the first, the Bears D/ST in the second and waited to get RG III, Doug Martin, Alfred Morris, Reggie Wayne ,Randall Cobb and Tony Gonzalez in the middle rounds, you totally crushed! You have to go kicker/defense in the first two rounds!!"
So if you learn anything from this year, learn this: There is no one right way to win, and anyone trying to tell you otherwise is selling you something (or trying really hard to.)
The downside to taking a QB in Round 1 was that the difference between Rodgers, Brady and Brees compared to some other quarterbacks was not nearly as significant this year as it was last year. But it still played out the way it was supposed to: The idea was that if you had a rock-solid QB early, you didn't have to worry about that position and could load up on mid-round running backs and wide receivers. We knew some of them would pop, we just didn't know which ones. But by giving yourself the most "lottery tickets" at those positions, you increased your odds of hitting pay dirt. Like Josh Christy did.
Joshua Christy (Tacoma, Wash.): Your start-of-the-year advice worked out great for me. I took Aaron Rodgers in the first round and Rob Gronkowski in the second. Both of those worked out pretty well, but what was really great is that when other people were picking backup quarterbacks I was taking gems such as Doug Martin, Demaryius Thomas, and Dez Bryant. I am now playing in the championship against my brother-in-law.
If you got Robert Griffin III (or, depending when you drafted, possibly Peyton Manning), you were fine blowing off QBs early. But those who waited and were stuck with the likes of Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Michael Vick, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco were (no pun intended) scrambling.
And while Arian Foster and Ray Rice were studly, the rest of the running backs taken in the first round in average ESPN drafts (LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew) proved to be much larger disappointments than if you had gone quarterback early.
The advice on tight end was you wanted Gronk or Jimmy Graham, or to be the last guy in your league to grab a tight end. I did think Antonio Gates and Aaron Hernandez would have nice years (yeesh), but ultimately Gronk and Graham were once again better than all but one of their counterparts, just not by as wide a margin. Still, going tight end in the second round didn't hurt; The tight ends that were most commonly owned on all ESPN playoff teams were Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and, not surprisingly, the ageless wonder Tony Gonzalez, who proved to be the best bargain of them all and enters Week 17 as the top-scoring tight end in ESPN standard scoring.
I asked my friends on Facebook for what they thought were my best and worst calls of the year. Here's what they came up with.
My best preseason calls: I was very high in the preseason on Robert Griffin III, Doug Martin, Randall Cobb, Percy Harvin (crushed before injury) and Reggie Wayne. I said that Jamaal Charles would bounce back in a big way, I was the only ESPN guy to rank Brandon Marshall as a top-five wide receiver, Carson Palmer late, had Danny Amendola as a deep sleeper, kept taking about avoiding Ryan Mathews and not to touch him (lots of negative about him in 100 Facts) and had Maurice Jones-Drew, Larry Fitzgerald, Vernon Davis and Eli Manning on my preseason "hate" list.
In season, sticking with Jamaal Charles as a must-start the week after he had six carries for 3 yards (he ended up with 288 total yards and a TD versus the Saints that week), picking up of Marcel Reece, Bryce Brown and saying that Colin Kaepernick would not only do well, but keep the 49ers' starting job before his first start against the Bears on "Monday Night Football." Also, a small one, but one I got a lot of pleasure from: I recommended LaRod Stephens-Howling as a start on "NFL Live" just before Week 11 and was mocked mercilessly. LSH had 133 total yards and a score versus the Falcons that week.
My worst calls: Loving Brandon Lloyd was a terrible call, no doubt. As was Antonio Brown. I was pushing both hard. I had Peyton Manning on the preseason "Hate" list (though after I saw him play in preseason I came off that, ultimately ranking him 38th overall, but still ), I thought Philip Rivers and Michael Vick would have bounce-back years (ugh), I thought Frank Gore and Michael Turner were done, and I had Peyton Hillis as a mid-round sleeper. I thought New England would rotate its running backs too much for Ridley to have consistent value, I pushed Pierre Garcon hard; he was good when healthy, but clearly he didn't return draft-day value.
In season, lots of start-or-sit calls didn't work out, but continuing to believe in Brandon Myers was dead wrong, and I was among the many who recommended Ronnie Hillman and not Knowshon Moreno when Willis McGahee went down.
What's odd is that I got hundreds of responses to my question and I had a number of people say Peterson was one of my best calls. And others saying he was among my worst. I actually think he's neither. Or both.
I certainly said multiple times during the preseason that you should draft him and then just reach a round or two to make sure you got Toby Gerhart, and I had lots of good "Gerhart when filling in for All Day" stats I quoted. I was higher on him than many of my colleagues who were more negative about his prospects.
I actually heard one prominent analyst from another major media company say on the radio that he was "undraftable." Seriously. Said he was un-draftable. Like a week before the season. So no, I did a lot better than that. But that said, it's not like I ranked him super-high and I did say "bench him" in Week 1 when he went off for two scores, so that's certainly not a great call. I think I split the difference on Peterson.
All in all, I was very pleased with this NFL season. Thought I had a pretty good year predictions-wise. My Redskins have a real shot at winning the NFC East. And I won the ESPN "War Room" league I've written about and discussed ad nauseum. For many, many reasons, including how intense and competitive that league is and how high-profile it is, that win was among the most satisfying to me of any league I've ever been in.
There's always next year
So after all that, we're back to going early on QBs in 2013, right? Actually, no. Looking at the scoring leaders now, there are two things that stand out.
1. Quarterback is really deep and the difference between the elite and the very good is smaller than before.
2. There's a lot less question at running back. That was one of the other big reasons I ranked five QBs in my top 15: Who else were you going to draft? With injuries, time shares and uncertain offensive philosophies in some cases, there were a lot of question marks for early-round running backs. The quarterbacks were safe; you couldn't say the same about Chris Johnson (off a terrible year), Maurice Jones-Drew (holdout issues) or Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles (off major injury).
But with those questions cleared up and the emergence of guys like Griffin and Ryan, the return of Peyton, the promise of Luck it's as deep under center as it's ever been in fantasy.
With that said, here are my way-too-early top-30 ranks for 2013 ESPN standard leagues. I reserve the right to change this a million times between now and Opening Kickoff 2013, and I'll expand on this list next week.
1. Adrian Peterson
2. Arian Foster
3. Ray Rice
4. Doug Martin
5. Marshawn Lynch
6. Calvin Johnson
7. A.J. Green
8. C.J. Spiller
9. Brandon Marshall
10. Aaron Rodgers
11. Tom Brady
12. Drew Brees
13. LeSean McCoy
14. Roddy White
15. Trent Richardson
16. Jamaal Charles
17. Percy Harvin
18. Demaryius Thomas
19. Dez Bryant
20. Rob Gronkowski
21. Chris Johnson
22. Maurice Jones-Drew
23. Alfred Morris
24. Steven Ridley
25. Randall Cobb
26. Julio Jones
27. Robert Griffin III
28. Cam Newton
29. Jimmy Graham
30. Matt Forte
Let's get to it. If you don't get the premise of Love/Hate by now, I'm done trying. Just remember: It's Week 17. When you have the option, don't get cute. Play your studs. If you are down big in a two-week playoff in an ESPN league, I get wanting to swing for the fences, but in general, go safe and always ask yourself this question: What's most likely to happen? It won't always happen, but give yourself the best odds. Thanks, as always, to John Parolin and Evan Kaplan of ESPN Stats & Information for their contributions.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 17
Robert Griffin III, Redskins: Ah, what the hey. Once more for the road. I have a bunch of impressive stats about how accurate he is on throws of more than 20 yards (50 percent, highest rate among qualified QBs) and how well he fares against added pressure (highest QBR in the NFL) but I'm just gonna say that he torched the Cowboys for four touchdowns on Thanksgiving, that those same Cowboys won't have any issue scoring on Washington and that the Dallas secondary has struggled recently, allowing 785 passing yards and five passing touchdowns in just the last two games.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks: I know he struggled last time he faced the Rams and I do like the St. Louis defense, but Wilson has played himself into must-start matchup-proof territory. Because you know he's been hot, but do you know how hot? Over the past seven games, Wilson has an 87.9 Total QBR, easily the best in the league. To give you a frame of reference, Aaron Rodgers' Total QBR last season, when he was crushing everyone, was "only" 86.2. Wilson is money at home, and he's an easy top-10 play for me this week.
If you're desperate: Michael Vick is expected to get the start for the Eagles on Sunday. He had 17 points the last time he faced the Giants, and New York has allowed an average of 20 points a game to opposing QBs in their past four. Plus, over the past three seasons, Vick has more rushing yards (244) and rushing first downs (14) against the Giants than any other opponent. Chad Henne isn't a good quarterback, but against the Titans, you don't need to be. You just need to throw, and throw he will. I'd hate to have to count on Eli Manning in a Week 17 game, but the matchup with Philly is certainly right, and he has back-to-back 22-point performances in his past two home games. Ryan Tannehill has the fourth-highest QBR in the NFL the last two weeks, and I could see him putting up decent junk-time stats against the Patriots. I've seen crazier things than Philip Rivers having a good game at home against the Raiders.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 17
Matt Ryan, Falcons: Very simple: I don't think he plays the whole game. Maybe it's three quarters, maybe it's a half, and maybe against Tampa Bay, that's enough. But Atlanta has nothing to gain here and I could easily see Ryan playing just a series or two. I'm avoiding if I can -- there are just too many unknowns.
Andy Dalton, Bengals: It's not that it's a bad matchup; it's fine. It's just, well, I don't think Dalton is playing particularly well the last few weeks. Missing on throws, seems hesitant to me, he's got 14 points or less in four straight now, despite generally favorable matchups. He's leaving points on the field, and even though Marvin Lewis says he's not pulling players, who knows how he'll feel once the game starts? Bengals are locked into their playoff spot.
Joe Flacco, Ravens: Always plays more poorly on the road (he's averaging just 10 points in away games), the Bengals defense is red-hot right now and allowing the fifth-lowest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this year.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: No Heath Miller, and I don't expect Mike Wallace to play either. With those two missing and his recent struggles, I see an OK game from him here but he's not a top-10 play, despite what looks like a good matchup on paper. The Browns won't score at all in this game with all their injuries, so I don't see Big Ben needing to air it out.
Running backs I love in Week 17
C.J. Spiller, Bills: An obvious name, but putting him here because I have him as a top-five play and you could easily have Spiller, Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles and yes, I am saying, based on my ranks, I would start Spiller over either guy. In the last two weeks he has 274 total yards and a score, and I expect him to do well against the Jets and their 27th-ranked run defense.
LeSean McCoy, Eagles: In the nine games with Michael Vick as quarterback, McCoy averaged 4.3 yards per carry. In three games with Nick Foles? Just 3.9 yards per carry. Given the Giants' 25th-ranked run defense, McCoy is a top-10 play for me.
Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants: It ain't like the Eagles are stopping anyone either.
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos: Since Moreno took over the starting job in Week 12, he has at least 20 carries in every game and has 177 yards after first contact, the fifth-most of any player over that span.
Shonn Greene, Jets: Had 94 and a score the last time he faced Buffalo, has double-digit fantasy points in three of his past four, three scores in his past three, and they don't have one quarterback who can throw. My advice? Don't actually watch this game, it'll get U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi, but lord help me, Shonn Greene is actually a good start this week.
Montell Owens, Jaguars: Another one you are better off starting but not actually watching, but since becoming the lead guy for the Jaguars, he's actually been decent. And there's reason for optimism if he keeps it up versus the Titans. First, 175 of Owens' 209 rushing yards (and his only touchdown) have come on rushes inside the tackles. Tennessee has allowed 13 rushing touchdowns inside the tackles this season, third-most in the NFL. In addition, the Titans have allowed 44 completions on screen passes this season, tied for the third-most in the NFL. (Owens' big play last week was on a screen pass). If you need a guy
If you're desperate: Jackie Battle is going to get the majority of carries against the Raiders, who give up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. Mark Ingram has three scores in his past four including one in each of the last two, he scored the last time he faced the Panthers, and he's been getting the majority of carries for the Saints lately.
Running backs I hate in Week 17
Trent Richardson and Montario Hardesty, Browns: I don't know who starts for Cleveland on Sunday and I don't care. Whether it's Trent at less than 100 percent or Hardesty, it's a bad matchup against the Steelers' No. 2 rush defense, and the Browns may be starting their third-string quarterback in this one. No thanks.
Darren McFadden, Raiders: Remember when he was Darren McFadden? If you are still playing this week, it's no thanks to him. With Matt Leinart as his quarterback and the Chargers on the other side (fourth against the run), I wouldn't want to risk it.
Michael Turner, Falcons: It's not just for all the reasons I normally have him on this list! It's also because I don't think he plays very much.
Wide receivers I love in Week 17
Wes Welker, Patriots: Always crushes the Dolphins, including a 12-for-103 and a score game earlier this year.
Danario Alexander, Chargers: Double digits in five of the last seven and in three of the last four, he's a big-play threat and only six teams have allowed more pass plays of 20-plus yards than the Oakland Raiders.
Antonio Brown, Steelers: A touchdown in three straight games, I expect Mike Wallace to be out Sunday, which means even more looks for the guy who has led the Steelers in targets since Ben has been back.
Justin Blackmon, Jaguars: Speaking of being the only wideout left; with Cecil Shorts done for the year, JB, as only I call him, is coming off two strong games, had five for 62 and a score the last time he faced the Titans, and should have a field day against Tennessee.
If you're desperate: He doesn't get a ton of snaps but somehow, some way, Santana Moss always seems to play well against the Cowboys, with 1,102 yards and seven scores in just 13 games against them as a member of the Redskins, including a touchdown this year. With Mario Manningham out and Michael Crabtree covered by Patrick Peterson, I could see Randy Moss getting more run than normal. We know New England gives up the deep ball and it's fair to say Miami is gonna have to throw against the Pats. Brian Hartline could have a decent day here.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 17
Reggie Wayne, Colts: They say they are playing the whole game, but if anyone gets a rest, it might be Wayne. And this is not a good matchup for him, regardless. Houston shut down Wayne in their first meeting, holding him to season lows in receptions (3), receiving yards (14) and yards after the catch per reception (1.3). It was the only game this season in which Wayne did not have a receiving first down or a reception on a pass that traveled more than 10 yards downfield.
Hakeem Nicks, Giants: As of this writing, he wasn't even convinced he would play, and even if he does, how confident can you feel? He's clearly not 100 percent, he's been ice-cold lately, and even in a good matchup, he has four points or less in three of his past four. Not worth the risk.
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: The saddest part about the Cardinals is that Brian Hoyer is probably their best chance. But on the road at San Francisco I'm not willing to take the risk, no matter how talented Larry is. Good game last week, yes, but too many things can -- and probably will -- go wrong on the road at an angry 49ers team that has plenty to play for.
Roddy White and Julio Jones, Falcons: Both have dealt with injury issues this year, and with Atlanta having nothing to play for, I expect them to be the most cautious with these two.
Denarius Moore, Raiders: Two words: Matt. Leinart.
Tight ends I love in Week 17
Antonio Gates, Chargers: Sigh. One last time, Antonio. What do you say? You've now scored in two straight and the Raiders give up the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. I believe.
Greg Olsen, Panthers: At least 50 yards in four of the past five and a score in two of the past four, the Saints are tied for the eighth-most fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends.
If you're desperate: Kyle Rudolph is very hit or miss, but he did score last week and in three of the last five, including his last game against the Packers. Aaron Hernandez is the only tight end who has been targeted more than Dallas Clark over the last two weeks. His 12 receptions over that span are tied with Jimmy Graham for the most in the league among tight ends. With Cecil Shorts out, maybe a little more love comes Marcedes Lewis' way against the Titans, who allow the third-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Tight ends I hate in Week 17
Brandon Myers, Raiders: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me a third time and you end up on the hate list.
Jacob Tamme, Broncos: Despite how bad the Chiefs are overall, they give up the ninth-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Jermichael Finley, Packers: I'm gonna miss putting him on this list.
Defenses I love in Week 17
San Diego Chargers D/ST: Two words: Matt. Leinart. The fourth-highest scoring defense in fantasy, they have at least 12 points in three of the past four, and I mentioned the Matt Leinartness of it all, right? I did? Good. Matt. Leinart.
Pittsburgh Steelers D/ST: Possibly no Trent Richardson and the third-string quarterback? At home? You betcha.
If you're desperate: The Jets have three quarterbacks and none of them can throw. So picking the defense against them, in this case the Buffalo Bills, is never a bad idea. Tough matchup, to be sure, but the Bengals' defense is playing at such a high level it doesn't matter who they are facing. And Joe Flacco on the road is nothing to be scared of.
Defenses I hate in Week 17
Dallas Cowboys D/ST: The Redskins just don't turn the ball over very much and the Cowboys have been so banged-up I'd be leery of starting either defense in what should be a high-scoring contest. Not that you were thinking of starting the Redskins D.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST: Just in case you were thinking of getting cute and starting them, because Atlanta will probably rest most of its starters. Don't. It's not a good defense, and it's on the road.
And with that the 2012 season of Love/Hate is in the books. Well, maybe not the books. A book. Lots and lots of words; if you made it this far I am very appreciative for your attention, reads and patience. Hope you had a great season and as much fun reading as I did writing. I'll be doing some offseason stuff for football soon enough, but in the meantime, have a great final Sunday of the regular season and a safe and happy new year.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is waiting on his New Year's resolutions until he knows what happens to the Redskins on Sunday. 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.