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Thanksgiving fantasy survival guide

11/27/2013

My business card says I am ESPN's senior fantasy analyst. My mom, bless her delusional soul, will tell you that I am a TV star. If I am asked at a party or something what I do, I usually just say I'm a writer.

But at the end of the day, my job is really to give advice. Usually it's about fantasy football, but sometimes I like to venture into other areas. When I speak at a college, it's usually entrepreneurial advice about starting your own business or creating your own job. Almost daily, someone will ask me about breaking into the fantasy sports industry. And on "Matty's Dating Advice Corner" segment on the podcast, I tell you everything I know about romance. It's a short segment, granted, but I like to think it's well-received.

Today, I venture into another arena. Because let's face it, during Thanksgiving week, there will be many demands on your time. It's not just the actual day of Thanksgiving, either. Maybe it's shopping with your significant other on Black Friday. Maybe, like me, you have a split family, so you see the kids on Friday or Saturday. Maybe relatives are in from out of town for the entire weekend. In any case, the point is you are off from work, you have a lot of family around and all you really want to do is spend time with your loved ones ... on your fantasy football team.

It is with this endeavor I am here to help. I have some advice for you, or rather, my followers on Twitter and Facebook do. I asked them: What's the best excuse you've actually used? Here is the best of what they came up with, edited so that they are in the language you'd speak with when not limited to 140 characters.

@DrFunkDVM: Offered to check calendar on my phone for wedding dates with fiancé and pastor. Really checking twitter, on a Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

A tried and true, go-to move. I admire the guts doing it in front of your pastor and ignoring that whole "the big guy upstairs sees everything" thing.

@FightinFinkles: I'm a sports anchor on the weekends. I told my fiancé I couldn't go to church, had to go to work early to cover a "game".

Into every good lie, there is a kernel of truth. This qualifies as a great one. Work-related excuses were actually quite common, and effective.

Dan Larsen (via Facebook: Working as a nurse on the unit, and I had to send blood down to the lab. I told a coworker I was really busy and needed them to deliver the blood for me when in all actuality I had to sit in the break room and watch the end of a game.

Joe Musser While I was working retail at a sporting goods store, I would constantly go in the back warehouse to "check if we had items in stock," but instead would check my fantasy teams.

Nice, Joe. Though now I'm going to think twice next time someone tells me they had to reach way up on a shelf in the back room to find something my size.

Pat McHenry: I told my parents the Army moved up my basic training date by 2 days so I could skip the family goodbye party and still make my draft.

Thank you for your service, Pat. If anyone deserves a bit of fantasy football slack in their lives, it's you who serve. Of course, when in doubt, I'm always here for you, too. ...

Samuel Perry: "Have to check in with my client Matthew Berry for work."

Not surprisingly, one theme that showed up a lot was the bathroom:

@AdamSmith31: Told my family I had the runs and couldn't go to church. #itwastheplayoffs.

Hashtag: apparently not everyone has family as trusting as Adam's. So some take precautions to make sure they have "alone time."

Tom Caddigan: Ate a bunch of cheese (I'm lactose intolerant) ensuring that I'd get sick and wouldn't be able to go to a family party.

@BooTheFlames: I took a laxative so I would have an excuse to keep going to the bathroom to check scores on my phone.

Way to commit, guys. You can't be too careful. Some people are on to this ploy. Right, Tony?

Tony Harms: Yep, the [bathroom] is a safe haven. However, now my wife has me leave my phone downstairs. So I walk the dog a lot more during fantasy season. I say he is constipated. Pretty much everything is poop-related.

I like using the dog as a prop in your fantasy fanaticism. Using others for your own selfish needs while looking like a really helpful fellow is what the kids call a "win-win."

@jeremy1974: At church, took my crying nephew for a walk as excuse to get up and make my first three picks in my baseball draft.

@jay_via: I had to go fix a "flat tire" on a friend's car on the side of the road, went to said friend's to draft instead.

Armando Gonzalez: Draft day, I convinced my girlfriend she was sick when she had plans for us. Gave her some cough syrup and boom! Hours later ... zzZzzzz.

We won't explore the moral relativity of that ploy, Armando, and assume instead that she was so easy to convince because she really had the sniffles, at the very least. Of course, sometimes people just flat out lie.

@eocons: Said I was checking in with my kids. I don't have kids.

Matt Carroll Had a draft at 2 p.m. and was on the phone with an out-of-state relative and the relative kept talking until two minutes before the draft. So I rang the doorbell to my house, got the dog barking and told said relative that there was a policeman going door to door looking for a robber, so I had to go.

@chadam189: Told family I had to dump a girlfriend that didn't exist to plan my FAAB bids for the next day. #teo'd.

ESPN the Magazine's Sam Alipour checks in with this story:

Whenever I have a first or second date scheduled for a Sunday, Monday or Thursday, I tell my dad to call or text me with fantasy updates. Then, I preface Date Night with a warning to the girl: "By the way, my mom is having problems with my dad, so I'll have to check my phone, reply to any texts, answer any calls, etc. Just so you know." Works every time. Nobody questions family drama. Nobody. (Note: I'd never attempt such a thing after a second date. By Date No. 3, she deserves the truth: "Sorry, big fantasy day/night for me." Because, ya know, I'm an adult.)

Ah, romance. Knew that would show up sooner than later. The "battle of sexes," real or imagined, is always going to be a major theme in fantasy. I have to say, however, that for anyone who thinks these excuses are Y-chromosome-dependent need to think again. Fantasy lying is a two-way street.

Brandie Jensen Anderson: Told my husband during church that "I was cramping" and had better run home to get my Midol before it got worse. I really had to check to see if Giovani Bernard was active or not!!

Julie Turnage: I was on vacation with my hubby in a remote spot in the Ozarks on a week when we were playing each other in our fantasy league. I realized that I forgot to set my lineup and I was pretty sure he didn't either. I told him that I needed to go for a walk to clear my head ... alone. I ran to the top of a hill in an opening in the trees until I could get my iPhone to connect to ESPN and set my lineup. It worked. I won.

While all these excuses are great and there's a decent chance you'll need to use at least one of them during the long holiday weekend, you could just take the route @scttcv11 proudly travels.

@scttcv11: No excuses. I'm a degenerate and everyone knows it.

You say degenerate, I say honest and self-actualized.

Before we get down to business, I continue to be blown away by the responses to the past two weeks of columns about bullying. The tweets, texts and emails I have gotten are both wonderfully supportive and completely heartbreaking. I am still reading all of them, and they mean more to me than you will ever know. For those who left a correct way for me to respond (lots of email bounce-backs), I have responded to as many as I can and will continue to do so. I could do columns from here until the end of the season on this subject, but I promised light and fun this week, so light and fun is what you got. I did spare you the super-hacky "I'm thankful for Keenan Allen" type of column. So, you know, you can personally be thankful for that.

As always, this is not a "start/sit" column but rather a list of players I expect to do better or worse than general expectations. Please consult my rankings for specific answers on who I would start between two players of the same position. For your convenience, in case you didn't take my advice above and actually had to spend time with family, and are just reading this on Friday, I've put the guys I love and hate in Thursday's game in their own section. With a shout-out to Zach Rodgers of ESPN Stats & Information for the help, away we go...

Players I love for the Thanksgiving games

Rashad Jennings, Raiders: I know, I know, there are reports of a Darren McFadden sighting. If -- and it's always a big if with McFadden -- he's active, you temper expectations a little, but since Jennings took over for an injured McFadden in Week 9, the only running back in the NFL with more rushing yards is ... Adrian Peterson. Yep. The Cowboys are allowing the most fantasy points and yards per carry to opposing running backs this season, and in their first game without Sean Lee, Dallas allowed 6.7 yards per carry.

Green Bay Packers wide receivers: My guess is that it's Matt Flynn at quarterback, but whoever it is, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jarrett Boykin will be heavily targeted against a Lions team that gives up the second-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Giddyup.

Torrey Smith, Ravens: Did you see what Josh Gordon did to Ike Taylor last week? This might be a low-scoring game, but they are still going to take shots deep. The Steelers are getting a little healthier on defense, but they have still given up 875 yards and six scores to opposing wide receivers in just the last four weeks.

Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers Defenses: I do think this is a low-scoring game.

If you're desperate: I can see the aforementioned Matt Flynn putting up decent enough numbers for a two-QB league or in super-deep leagues. ... Rod Streater seems to be the apple of Matt McGloin's eye, and the matchup doesn't get juicier than the Cowboys' secondary. Get it? Apple? Juicy? Oh, whatever -- on Black Friday, everything's at a discount, including the jokes. ... Nate Burleson had 10 targets last week, and while I don't think that will continue -- no Darrelle Revis on Calvin Johnson, Megatron destroys the Packers every year -- there's going to be a lot of throwing in this game, and they can't all go to Johnson. Burleson's 79 percent catch percentage is the highest among qualified wide receivers, and Green Bay is top-eight in most touchdowns to opposing wideouts.

Players I Hate for the Thanksgiving games

Ray Rice, Ravens: Other than a good game against a Bears team that could make you look like an actual NFL running back, what on earth makes you feel good about starting him? Rice had just 72 total yards the last time he faced the Steelers, and the blocking is atrocious. He's averaging just 1.0 yard after contact per rush this season, the worst rate among qualified running backs. And since the start of Week 6, the Steelers have allowed 1.1 yards after contact per rush, second-fewest in the league. Now, the Ravens commit to the run and he's the guy, if you're looking for positives, but in a low-scoring game on a short week with no teams on byes, I can't see Rice as a top-20 play until we see some consistency from him.

Le'Veon Bell, Steelers: Given the volume, he may be OK here, but you're basically hoping for a score. Under 100 yards in three straight weeks, and Pittsburgh ranks in the bottom three in rushing yards, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Ravens have not allowed a rushing touchdown since Week 4. Bell had 99 total yards against the Ravens in Week 7 and he's a good bet to get 20 touches, so like I said, I think he could be usable here, but don't see him as a top-15 play.

Quarterbacks I Love in Week 13

Cam Newton, Panthers: An obvious name, but only Peyton is higher for me this week, and I thought long and hard about putting Cam at No. 1. During the Panthers' current seven-game winning streak, Newton actually leads the NFL in fantasy points. He had a 27-point effort against the Bucs in Week 8 and has averaged 24.8 fantasy points per game against Tampa in his career. Meanwhile, the Bucs are playing better, but still. They're tied for the third-most passing touchdowns allowed this season, and Cam has at least 50 yards rushing or a rushing touchdown in four of the past five.

Josh McCown, Bears: You had me at "faces the Vikings." McCown is averaging almost 17 fantasy points per game in the three games he's started for Chicago this year, and it doesn't get friendlier than Minnesota. The Vikings give up the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, including at least 22 points in each of their past three home games. Between Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett, McCown has as much talent around him as any quarterback in the league and helms an offense that's made for him.

Alex Smith, Chiefs: Don't look now, but Alex Smith has three 20-point games in his past four, including 22 against Denver in Week 11. Given the issues Kansas City is suddenly have on defense, the Broncos will have no issue scoring, meaning the Chiefs will be playing much as they played last week against San Diego. Smith doesn't turn the ball over and has five touchdowns in his last two games, and Denver is 30th against the pass. You could do worse.

If you're desperate: Andy Dalton will drive you nuts, but if you have the stomach for it, he's coming off a bye and is playing in good weather, and only two teams give up more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks than the San Diego Super Chargers. ... The Eagles' defense has been playing better recently, but Carson Palmer has, too, and he's limiting the turnovers. While Philly's defense is better, it's not great. Palmer will have to throw to beat the Eagles, and the emergence of Michael Floyd is no joke. ... Ryan Fitzpatrick has two 20-points games in his past three, and the Colts are reeling, especially in the secondary.

Quarterbacks I Hate in Week 13:

Andrew Luck, Colts: In his first seven games this season (prior to Reggie Wayne's injury), Luck's average pass traveled 9.4 yards downfield, seventh in the league. Since the injury, Luck's average pass has traveled 7.2 yards downfield, 24th in the league. That's a stat to tell you something obvious; it's not good for a quarterback when you lose Reggie Wayne. Due to the struggles in the run game (and their defense) they've become one-dimensional, and that's no good when you can't protect the quarterback. Possibly the worst offensive line in the league. Just 232 passing yards and no passing touchdowns the last time he faced Tennessee; the Titans allow the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Not a top-10 play.

Matt Ryan, Falcons: Other than the obvious (averaging just 12 points a game on the road), he has one touchdown (or zero) in four of the last five games. If he's your quarterback, you probably aren't reading this because you were eliminated a while ago, but it's worth noting that the Bills' defense is actually ... decent. Not amazing, just better than you might think. The Bills are allowing just 15 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this year, and at home (game is being played in Toronto, but still) this season they give up just 12 per game. They've given up just two touchdown passes in their last three games total, so yeah, I'm looking elsewhere.

Colin Kaepernick, 49ers: Don't let Monday night fool you. Unlike Washington, the Rams care about the season and are trying. The defense is legit, and Colin hasn't thrown for more than 250 yards since Week 6. It's a run-first team, and a few snaps from Michael Crabtree this week won't change that. Kaepernick threw for just 167 yards the last time he faced the Rams, and St. Louis has held opposing QBs to 14 points or fewer in seven of the past eight, in which they've faced the likes of Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson.

Running Backs I Love in Week 13

Fred Jackson, Bills: Getting more touches than Spiller, and did you know that since 2009, Jackson has averaged 2.0 rushing yards after contact per carry, fourth-most among running backs during that span? Only one team has allowed more rushing yards after contact per carry than the Atlanta Falcons, who are 28th against the run. Off the bye, fresh, I say he scores in this game.

Andre Brown, Giants: Since his return from injury in Week 10, Brown ranks in the top three in the NFL in carries and rushing yards. And you thought Washington's Monday night performance was bad? Wait 'til you see how the Skins phone in Sunday night. No team has allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Redskins this season, and they'll add to that total in Sunday's nightcap.

Danny Woodhead, Chargers: I love my little Danny Woodhead. He leads all running backs in receptions and receiving touchdowns this season, which probably doesn't shock you. But this might: Woodhead has gotten at least one red zone carry in every single game since Week 4. Woodhead is matchup-proof because of his size and speed, but either way, it's a better matchup than you think: The Bengals are tied for the fourth-most receptions allowed to opposing running backs this season.

If you're desperate: It's the ultimate/risk reward play, but against Atlanta, C.J. Spiller is very much worth the risk. ... If I knew for sure that Chris Ivory was gonna play, he'd be a full-on love. And if knew for sure he'd be out, Bilal Powell would be. But whoever gets the start for the Jets is gonna get the rock a lot as they go conservative with Geno Smith against a Miami defense that gives up the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing runners. ... You can run on the Titans. Donald Brown proved that last time and I expect him to do it again. ... With Knowshon Moreno less than 100 percent (and possibly not playing), Montee Ball is the obvious beneficiary. Expect him to get double-digit touches if Moreno is active and if he's not, I bet you see a decent amount of C.J. Anderson as well.

Running Backs I Hate in Week 13:

Steven Jackson, Falcons: You don't need me to tell you he has been bad, but just because he ran well last week and you might think the Bills are a cushy matchup, it's worth pointing out that Buffalo has allowed only four rushing touchdowns this year, tied for third-fewest in the league.

Stevan Ridley, Patriots: If Bill Belichick doesn't trust him, how can you?

Bobby Rainey, Buccaneers: He'll get the work, but you saw what happened last week against a legit front seven. Carolina has allowed only one rushing touchdown to an opposing running back at home this year, and in a low-scoring game, I don't see No. 2. He's flex play at best.

Lamar Miller, Dolphins: I don't care that Daniel Thomas is done for the year. Not without an offensive line, not on the road at the Jets, not with green eggs and ham.

Wide Receivers I Love in Week 13:

Cardinals Wide Receivers: Not only does Larry Fitzgerald have his highest reception rate since 2009, his five red zone touchdowns are tied for sixth among wide receivers. Meanwhile, Michael Floyd has back-to-back 100 yard games, and I expect this game to be high-scoring. No team has allowed more fantasy points, receptions or yards to opposing wide receivers than the Eagles this season.

Kendall Wright, Titans: He's the guy getting the most targets from Ryan Fitzpatrick; the issue has been the scoring. And last week, Wright got into the end zone. And the Colts are getting brutalized in the secondary lately. Over the last five weeks, the Colts have allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers.

Alshon Jeffery, Bears: Over the past three weeks, only Calvin Johnson has more targets than Jeffery. And you know I love the matchup. See McCown, Josh in case you forgot.

If you're desperate: Assuming Stevie Johnson is back to near-100 percent health, he'll be a target monster for EJ Manuel. The Falcons have given up seven touchdowns to wideouts the past six games and Johnson is the Bills' best bet to get into the end zone. ... I'm not sure Hakeem Nicks will play, but even if he does, you have to like Reuben Randle against Washington because, well, you like everyone against Washington. ... There's been a Dwayne Bowe sighting! Actually, another one. He's averaging over 10 targets a game his past three, you know I like Alex Smith, and the Broncos' secondary is banged-up. ... One of these days, Cordarrelle Patterson is gonna have a huge game. He led the team in targets last week, they are finding more ways to get him involved, and the Bears' defense is no longer the Bears' defense, ya dig? ... The natural impulse would be to bench Marques Colston on the road at Seattle, but with a depleted secondary and lots of attention on Jimmy Graham, I could see Colston being OK here. ... We've seen the guy who is not covered by Darrelle Revis do well, so Brandon LaFell should be useful in deeper leagues.

Wide Receivers I Hate in Week 13

Cecil Shorts, Jaguars: Insert wide receiver facing Joe Haden this week here. Shorts hasn't scored since Week 5.

Steve Smith, Panthers: He hasn't scored since Week 7. And now gets marooned on Revis Island.

Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, Patriots: There's only so many balls to go around, and the touchdowns we saw going to Edelman are unlikely to be repeated. One of them could have a nice game, but trying to figure that out, as with the Patriots' run game, is impossible week to week as long as both are healthy. Texans have allowed the fewest receptions and yards to opposing slot receivers this year.

Tight Ends I Love in Week 13:

Jordan Cameron, Browns: The only person in Cleveland who might be happy to see Brandon Weeden is Jordan Cameron. In the six games Weeden saw significant action, Cameron averaged 65 yards a game and had two scores. Not as good as when Brian Hoyer was in there, but better than with Jason Campbell. I am assuming Campbell does not play in this game -- if he does, I would downgrade Cameron -- but no matter who is throwing it, you love going against the Jags, who allow the second-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.

Martellus Bennett, Bears: See McCown, Josh. Vikings give up the fifth-most fantasy points and have allowed the second-most touchdowns to opposing tight ends.

Greg Olsen, Panthers: Scored in four of his last five, including the last time he faced Tampa Bay. With Revis on Steve Smith, Cam will be looking for his second option, which is Mr. Olsen.

Coby Fleener, Colts: As our player card points out, since Week 7, Fleener is top-five in tight end targets, and that includes a bye week for Fleener. Teams are focusing on taking T.Y. Hilton out of the mix, leaving Luck to look for Fleener quite a bit. Eight for 107 the last time he faced the Titans; he scored last week and remains a big part of what the Colts want to do in the pass game.

If you're desperate: Delanie Walker had 10 for 91 and a score the last time he faced the Colts, and it's less of a fluke than you might think. The targets are there, as is the talent, and he's Fitzpatrick's No. 2 option. ... Only six teams give up more fantasy points than the Jets, so Charles Clay could see some work, especially as they'll need to generate their offense through the air. ... Like all the tight ends outside the elite, it's all about the risk versus the reward, but there's no denying the talent of Ladarius Green. ... Anthony Fasano has scored in two straight, including the last time he faced Denver. The Broncos give up the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.

Tight Ends I Hate in Week 13:

Antonio Gates, Chargers: In his first eight games this season, Gates caught 72 percent of his targets. Since Week 10, Gates has caught only 50 percent, tied for the second-lowest rate among tight ends during that span. Along the way, Gates has lost targets to fellow tight end Ladarius Green, who has at least 80 yards in each of his past two games. So ... slowing down, splitting time and facing the Bengals, who give up the third-fewest yards to opposing tight ends, not a top-10 play.

Jared Cook, Rams: I know, he's scored in two of the past three. Whatevs, dude. Way too inconsistent for me, especially when you consider that the 49ers give up the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Just four-for-45 the last time he faced them, and one game does not mean he's a consistent part of the offense.

Defenses I Love in Week 13

Miami Dolphins: You had me at "Geno." 82 percent available.

If you're desperate: The Browns have occasionally been a solid defense this year and now the Jaguars are coming to town.

Defenses I Hate in Week 13

Kansas City Chiefs: Banged-up, four points or fewer in three of the past four, and an angry Peyton Manning coming to town? No thanks.

That's all I have. Have a great and safe holiday. Here's hoping the entire family plays fantasy, so you don't need to use a lie.