- Matthew Berry, Fantasy
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I approach fantasy football differently than you do. I have ever since 2006.
It's because of the pressure.
For the first 22 years I played fantasy sports, I went through a lot of emotions every season. Hope. Joy. Frustration. Anger. Glee. Disappointment. Whatever that emotion is where you smile slyly and sorta laugh because you feel like you got away with one, like when you know your team isn't better than the other guy but you somehow won anyway. What's that emotion? Embarrassed happiness?
Anyway, I've experienced them all. Except pressure. Until 2006, when I joined ESPN. And the pressure has been there ever since.
I played in seven fantasy football leagues this year, one of which, of course, is the famed "War Room League" that listeners to our podcast or viewers of "Fantasy Football Now" (Sundays, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN2) have heard us reference. It's a 16-team PPR league and it's comprised of many people you'd recognize -- Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, Trent Dilfer, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Schlereth, Trey Wingo, Ed Werder, Stephania Bell, Michael Smith -- along with the producers who run such shows as "Sunday NFL Countdown," "Monday Night Countdown," "Fantasy Football Now," "NFL Live" and "NFL Insiders."
My favorite story to tell about this league is that, three years ago, I was trying to trade with one of the former NFL players in the league. I offered him a wide receiver and he seemed pretty interested. But then, the next day, he turned it down. Why, I asked? "I talked to his quarterback. He doesn't like him." That happens in your league, right? Guy you're trying to trade with just texts a real-life NFL quarterback to ask about one of his players?
Everyone in the league has connections to the NFL and players, coaches and GMs they talk to every day; there are Super Bowl winners in the league; the knowledge and connections in the league are unmatched anywhere else; and then there's me, you know? The fantasy guy.
I actually won the War Room League last year, and while I was really, really happy about it, you know what else I felt? Relief. Thank goodness, I thought.
Because of the pressure.
I'm actually happy with how I did in the league this year, considering my draft. Had pick 3. Went Jamaal Charles at 3. Great. But then? David Wilson at 29, Roddy White at 36 and Rob Gronkowski at 61. Those were my first four picks. Gronk didn't show up until Week 7, and Roddy's been unusable until last week. Wilson ... ugh. In a league this deep it's important not to miss on any draft picks and I was without three of my first four guys for the first half of the league. So given those picks and the depth of the league (free agency is tough), I still finished 8-5. And I made the playoffs again.
Well, at least I thought I did. Until about halftime of the afternoon games in Week 13. Three different teams finished with 8-5 records for two remaining playoff spots, and total points was the tiebreaker. One of us had Eric Decker going, and it wasn't me. Decker single-handedly knocked me out of the playoffs, and I suspect I'm not alone.
I was going back and forth on Twitter with my friend Trey Wingo. Trey is among the better trash-talkers in the league, he's very funny and he pointed out that I did not make the playoffs this year. (I, of course, pointed out that while this is true, I have a ring in this league and Trey, to this point, does not). I mention this because of what someone, seeing our exchange, then tweeted (exactly as written):
@theFakeAlbert: .@MatthewBerryTMR didn't even make his fantasy leagues playoffs. What are they paying this guy for? To go on Howard? HIRE ME!
Not exactly how it works, Fake Albert, but point taken. The expectation is that I should win every league. At least make the playoffs. I am the Senior Fantasy Analyst for the largest sports media company in the world. I probably shouldn't even lose a game, right? At least, that's what some people think. I did make the playoffs in the six other leagues I'm in, but all I care about is the one I didn't.
Because the pressure weighs on me. You play for fun. I play for relief.
At least I did. I have to tell you, when Decker started going nuts, I just laughed. Seriously, I started laughing out loud. What are you gonna do? It happens. Guy had a career game. I had a very good week, but I didn't have a guy score 49 points (per our scoring system). It was 100 percent out of my control. No matter what lineup decisions I had made, without Decker (or Alshon Jeffery or Josh Gordon), there was just no way Week 13 was going the way I wanted.
I realize some of you reading this may have missed the playoffs. Maybe you feel like this guy, who tweeted at me:
@shae_washburn: I feel better about my 5-8 team since @MatthewBerryTMR didn't make the playoffs.
The truth is you can do everything right and still lose. You can also do everything wrong and still win. Not always; not even often. A lot more often than not it will work out the way it's supposed to. Six of out of seven leagues, for example. But it's a leather ball in a weird shape. Odd things are gonna happen. It happens to the best of us, so don't beat yourself up. And if that pep talk doesn't make you feel better, maybe this will: At least you're not in the Tattoo League.
Based in Omaha, Neb., I found these guys and wrote about them in my book. We've featured them on "Sunday NFL Countdown" as well. It's a 10-team league with one very simple but very real rule: last place in the league has to get a tattoo. You heard me. Not some lame henna tattoo that fades in a few weeks, either. We're talking a full-on, legit, for the rest of your life ... tattoo.
Chosen by the winner.
That's right. You don't get to choose the tat. The league winner does. A guy whose intention it is to permanently commemorate your humiliating defeat. They've done it for three years now. It started with a unicorn tattoo, two years ago it was a Care Bear "Tebowing," and last season the words "Fantasy Loser" were inked above a picture of Justin Bieber's face. Yep. With the words "#YOLO SWAG" underneath.
Hilarious. Imagine someone walking around today with a New Kids on the Block tattoo. That's gonna be Adam Palmer in a few decades. I used to think I had pressure on me. Not anymore. That's for the 10 guys in Omaha. Because after Week 16 of this year, one guy will be getting another tattoo. Designed by one of you.
Yes! There is no prize other than you might see your idea or design inked permanently on a man, but if you have a good idea for what the tattoo should be this year, email it to "firstname.lastname@example.org." Rules are simple: Can't be racist or offensive, needs to be about the size of a hand with all the fingers extended. Other than that, go to town, and who knows, your design could end up permanently inked on the body part of the loser's choosing! Don't worry, we'll let you know how it all turns out.
And for everyone else, remember it's the playoffs. Whether it's a two-week playoff because you're in an ESPN standard league, or it's a single-elimination bracket, the rules remain the same. Don't get cute. Play your studs. Yes, Ryan Fitzpatrick might get into a shootout and have a nice game at Denver, and Drew Brees is coming off a bad performance and has to face Carolina, but whatever. You're playing Brees. You really want your playoff fate in the hands of Ryan Fitzpatrick? It may very well work out. But unless I'm really banged up or a huge underdog, I want to go conservative. So I start my studs. If I'm gonna lose, I'd like to go down swinging with the best players I have.
I also want to play the guys I want to play. Not whom anyone else tells me to. I care about your team, but not nearly as much as you do. Read me, read everything else, look at the rankings and then make your own decision. Because ultimately it's your team, not mine, and I've got enough pressure.
Let's get to it. As always, consult the rankings over this article for specific questions on whom to start or sit, and I'm not going to talk about obvious players unless I want to share a fun stat. Speaking of which, a shout-out to Zach Rodgers and the gang at ESPN Stats & Information for their continuing excellent contributions.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 14
Nick Foles, Eagles: I thought he was an obvious name, but then I started getting questions about people worried about Detroit after the Thanksgiving game. Don't. Big difference between Matt Flynn and Foles, who now has four straight 20-plus-point fantasy games. You can throw on the Lions, who, before the Packers game, had allowed 16 passing touchdowns in their previous six games, and had giving up at least 17 fantasy points in six straight as well. Even after the Green Bay game, they are still 26th against the pass, and the secondary in Detroit continues to be super leaky. I have Foles ranked sixth this week and I'm not alone.
Robert Griffin III, Washington: I've heard the criticism: He's not himself. He shouldn't be playing. But … despite all that he's apparently "not" doing, he has at least 20 fantasy points in three of his past four games, at least 40 yards rushing in three of the past four, and you know KC will be able to score on Washington, so there will junk time here as well. Kansas City will do what the Giants did and try to take away Alfred Morris. Not sure they'll be as successful as New York, however. KC is 21st versus the run, they're banged up on D, and frankly, the Chiefs' defense isn't what it used to be. Over the last five weeks, only the Vikings have allowed more fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks than the Chiefs. Some of that is Peyton Manning twice in a month, but some of that isn't, you know? If you normally play Griffin, I believe he'll be fine here as well.
The eventual starter, Bears: Whoever starts for the Bears on Monday night, I'm playing against the Cowboys, no matter what the weather is. Unfortunately, unless you own both Jay Cutler and Josh McCown, you can't really risk it (unless you also have Romo) if we don't get clarity on the starter before Sunday, but I think we'll know sometime this weekend. The Bears' offense is operating at a high level, of course, and only one team allows more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks than the Dallas Cowboys.
Alex Smith, Chiefs: At least 21 points in four of five straight and now he gets Washington. Have him as a top-10 play this week.
If you're desperate: We know Joe Flacco likes to throw deep. He's attempted the fifth-most passes at least 15 yards downfield. And no team has allowed more touchdowns on those throws than the Vikings. ... At least 18 points in three straight, Carson Palmer put 17 up the last time he faced the Rams, so he should be OK at home to a banged-up St. Louis secondary. ... If you were truly desperate, EJ Manuel has back-to-back games of at least 17 points and faces a Tampa team that gives up the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks and might be without Darrelle Revis.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 14
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers: Getting Michael Crabtree back certainly helps, but what would make you feel confident about starting him this week? Averaging under 180 yards passing a game since Week 2 (second-fewest among qualified quarterbacks in that time range), and his rushing is off and on. In his two games against the Seahawks, Kaepernick has averaged 9.5 fantasy points per game. And did you see what the Seahawks did to the Saints on Monday night? See this as a low-scoring game with both teams running a lot and trying to play ball control.
Andrew Luck, Colts: Whether it's the offensive line struggles, the loss of Reggie Wayne, the issues with the run game, bad matchups or some combination of all of them, the fact remains that Andrew Luck has been closer to Andrew Suck. Heh heh. See what I did there? Not his fault; he's got Hall of Fame potential and is already an amazing NFL quarterback, but he's hard to trust in fantasy these days. In his past two road games, Luck has averaged 197.5 yards and 0.5 passing touchdowns per game. Prior to Reggie Wayne's injury, Luck averaged 18 points a game and was top-10. Since Wayne went down, he's averaging 15.6 fantasy points per game, tied for 14th among quarterbacks and trailing the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer. The Bengals are the fifth-best scoring defense in the NFL and haven't allowed more than one touchdown pass in any home game this year, landing Luck outside my top 10.
Tony Romo, Cowboys: They don't call it a Romo-coaster for nothing. And certainly, he's got the ability to go off in a big way. But other than the crazy 40-point game against Denver, Romo has just two 20-point games this season. It's a nice matchup with Chicago, but so were the matchups versus the Raiders and the Giants, and he had 15 points or less in both of them. I believe Dallas will run a lot (and with great success) here, so it's really about what they do at the goal line. Will they run like they did against Oakland or no? Romo could be great; he could be mediocre. How lucky do you feel?
Running backs I love in Week 14
DeMarco Murray, Cowboys: Part of the reason for the lowish Romo rank is what I expect Murray to do here. Can't expect three touchdowns again, but the man does lead all running backs with 4.9 yards per carry. Do you need a stat to tell you how bad the Bears' defense is? OK, fine. The Bears have allowed 5.0 yards per carry this season, most in the league. Want another? Sure, why not? They give up the third-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. And for funsies, I'll mention that only two teams have given up more rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs. Expect a nice dose of Murray here.
Andre Brown, Giants: Since returning from a broken leg in Week 10, Andre Brown is fourth in the league in rushing yards, third in carries and rushing yards after contact and tied for second in rushing touchdowns. He's getting the ball a ton, which makes sense. The other option is letting Eli Manning throw. The Bolts allow the fourth-most yards per rush to opposing running backs this season.
Eddie Lacy, Packers: Not worried about who's quarterbacking. Even after stinking it up against Detroit, Lacy is still the league leader in carries and yards after contact since Week 5. Lacy will get the ball a ton, and over the final five weeks no team has allowed more rushing touchdowns or fantasy points to opposing running backs than the Falcons.
Bobby Rainey, Buccaneers: What am I missing here? How am I the only guy to have him ranked in the top 20? At least 18 touches in three straight weeks. Yes, he has come down to earth since the crazy Atlanta game. But whatever. It was Detroit and Carolina. Many running backs struggle against those two teams. And he had 71 total yards against the Panthers in a game they were trailing almost the entire time. So you've got a guy who's going to get a ton of carries against Buffalo. As our player card notes, the Bills have allowed a combined 370 yards and five rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs in the past three games. Solid RB2 this week. Surprised I'm alone on this island.
If you're desperate: Two straight weeks, Steven Jackson has looked good, and Packers have allowed 448 rushing yards to opposing running backs the past two weeks. ... I'm not expecting another touchdown pass from him but, by hook or by crook, Maurice Jones-Drew keeps getting it done on an RB2 level. Scores in four straight, and a good shot to get No. 5 tonight. ... Podcast fans know I like the cut of Lamar Miller's jib. Now with the gig all to himself, he gets a "plus" matchup with Pittsburgh. The Steelers are tied for the fifth-most rushing touchdowns allowed this season. ... Since the start of Week 10, Chris Ivory is averaging 3.4 yards after contact per rush, most among qualified rushers. The Raiders have allowed 1.8 yards after contact per rush, third-most in the NFL. Oakland is actually decent against the run, but volume puts Ivory on the RB2 radar. Again, what are they gonna do, let Geno Smith throw?
Running backs I hate in Week 14
Frank Gore, 49ers: Can't imagine you have better options, so you're starting him, OK? Don't get cute. But I'm not using him in salary-cap formats and ranked him outside my top 15 for a few reasons: under 50 yards in three straight games, he has just one rushing touchdown since San Francisco's bye week. Held to just 16 yards rushing the last time he faced Seattle. The Seahawks haven't given up a rushing touchdown since Week 7. You like that the game is not in Seattle if you own Gore, but really you need him to score here, as he's unlikely to get to 100 total yards. And Seattle just isn't giving up rushing touchdowns this season.
Rashad Jennings, Raiders: Banged up, McFadden might be in the mix, and on the road at the Jets. Been a fun run; think it ends here. Not a top-20 play.
Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, Chargers: Woodhead has slowly and quietly been losing snaps, while Mathews has just one game in the past five (since their bye) with over 65 yards rushing or 100 total yards. Giants have only allowed one 100-yard rusher this season. Neither guy is a top-20 play this week.
Wide receivers I love in Week 14
Alshon Jeffery, Bears: Thought this was an obvious name until I noticed I was the only guy with the sixth-best fantasy wide receiver ranked inside his top five. I expect McCown to play, and it's clear he doesn't have googly eyes for Brandon Marshall the way Cutler does. Cowboys have given up 1,073 yards to opposing wide receivers the last five games, along with four scores.
DeSean Jackson, Eagles: See Foles, Nick. We know Jackson is a deep threat. He ranks third among wide receivers in yards (629) and is tied for third in touchdowns (5) on throws at least 15 yards downfield. In fact, no receiver has run more such routes this year than Jackson. And what do we always say? You can beat the Lions deep. Detroit has allowed the third-most fantasy points on such throws this season.
Torrey Smith, Ravens: Another deep threat going against a team that can't defend it. Only Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon have more targets on throws at least 15 yards downfield than Torrey Smith, and as we mentioned in discussing Joe Flacco, no team has allowed more touchdowns on throws at least 15 yards downfield than the Vikings this season.
Keenan Allen, Chargers: Over 100 yards in two straight and in three of the past five, dude has 22 targets the last two weeks. Twenty-two. Against the Chiefs and Bengals. Giants secondary scare you more than either of those teams'? Exactly.
Michael Floyd, Cardinals: "Tied with Calvin Johnson" is a good way to start any sentence about a wideout, so it's worth mentioning that Floyd has nine receptions on passes traveling 15 or more yards downfield during the last four weeks, tied with Calvin Johnson for the most in the league in that time frame. Rams secondary is banged up and allow the fourth-highest completion percentage on such throws.
Kendall Wright, Titans: I continue to be semi-obsessed with Kendall Wright. A PPR machine, Wright has 62 receptions on passes traveling 10 or fewer yards downfield, second only to Pierre Garcon. You know he's getting the targets and that Tennessee will have to throw (and throw a lot) in this one, so it comes down to the scoring, and the Broncos have given up an NFL-high 17 touchdowns on short passes.
If you're desperate: They'd be in the actual love section if not for the whole "Matt Ryan outdoors in bad weather thing," but Roddy White and Harry Douglas are both finally healthy in a great matchup in which Atlanta will be throwing. Not a defensive battle, this one. ... You know I'm not a huge Mike Wallace fan in general, but he's averaging over 17 yards a reception the past two weeks and what you're smelling right now is Ike Taylor getting burnt, again. Think Wallace is motivated against his former team? ... Happiness is facing Washington, so Dwayne Bowe should be usable again Sunday. ... Rod Streater and Matt McGloin have got it going on and should continue to hook up against a Jets secondary giving up the second-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 14
Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers: Weird stat, but Sanders has not scored at home this season. All four of his touchdowns have come on the road. He's averaging just 23 yards a game at home this year and faces a Dolphins team that has allowed just one touchdown to an opposing wide receiver this season. One.
Steve Smith, Panthers: Hasn't scored since Week 7; he's a solid bet for 6 to 8 points but not much more. And in the playoffs, you want a little more upside than that. Saints are money at home, having given up just four touchdowns to opposing wide receivers there this year. Not a top-20 play.
Danny Amendola, Patriots: Same caveat applies to Patriots receivers as any Bronco wideout, of course; one of them can go off at any time. But the concern here is that since Week 6, he has yet to see more than seven targets in a game. Hasn't been targeted in the red zone since Week 8. And he's whom I think Joe Haden is on this week. Just seems like Tom Brady trusts Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman more than him, especially in the red zone. Crazy upside, of course, but hard to trust.
T.Y. Hilton, Colts: Love love love his talent. And the cut of his jib. But you know I'm not crazy about Luck this week, and it's a bad matchup. Over the past five weeks, only the Seahawks have allowed fewer receptions to opposing wide receivers than the Bengals. Three straight games with under 50 yards, he's just not getting the big plays. His average target has been 10.6 yards downfield, 39th among qualified wide receivers since Week 8. Nor are they getting him into space for those great runs after catch, either. I have him as a WR3 this week, not a WR2.
Tight ends I love in Week 14
Greg Olsen, Panthers: I know, not a great matchup, but other than the big studs, has there been a hotter tight end? At least 80 yards or a score in five of his past six games; teams are taking away Steve Smith; and Olsen is the next guy Cam Newton looks for. For what it's worth, the Saints have allowed a touchdown to an opposing tight end in two of the past three.
Delanie Walker, Titans: Still recovering from a concussion, he obviously needs to be cleared by the NFL's concussion protocol. But assuming he is, he's getting a ton of targets in what figures to be a game in which the Titans will be throwing. Denver allows the second-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends, and you saw the stat on Kendall Wright. The Broncos give up scores on short throws, which also plays to Walker's game.
Jared Cook, Rams: You had me at "Cardinals." Shoutout to John Parolin for pointing this out: This year, Jimmy Graham is averaging 8.8 targets, 5.7 receptions, 82.3 yards and 1 touchdown a game, which is 13.8 fantasy points. Meanwhile, the tight end facing the Cardinals is averaging 10 targets, 6.7 receptions, 88.5 yards and 1.2 touchdowns a game. Or 14.9 fantasy points per game. Cook scored twice against them in Week 1, has two scores in his last four weeks and is obviously no sure thing. But if you don't have a stud (or are waiting to see whether Julius Thomas is active) and feel like rolling the dice, he's as good as there is, especially since he also has a late game start.
If you're desperate: I keep saying it: The Ladarius Green thing is real, kids. Lotta two-tight end sets these days in San Diego. ... Martellus Bennett has a nice matchup and it's his former team, so maybe that gives him a little extra motivation. ... Dolphins give up the fifth-most points to tight ends and, given the attention I expect Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders to receive, Heath Miller should be useful here. ... Bad matchup, and you'd have to be really desperate, but John Carlson does have at least 60 yards in three of the past four.
Tight ends I hate in Week 14
Antonio Gates, Chargers: Like I said, the Ladarius Green thing is real. Green has more yards than Gates each of the past three weeks, including touchdowns in the past two games. Over the past five weeks, the Giants rank in the top six in fewest receptions and yards allowed to opposing tight ends. Not a top-10 play for me.
Coby Fleener, Colts: I'm so down on the Colts this week, you know they are gonna just go off. You're welcome, Indianapolis. Under 60 yards in three of the last four, it's hard to see a huge game from Fleener here for all the reasons I discussed with Luck, plus this from our player cards: At home games this year, the Bengals have not allowed 50 yards or a single touchdown to an opposing tight end.
Defenses I love in Week 14
Arizona Cardinals: Still available in 50 percent of leagues, these guys have been awesome at home, with at least 14 points in their last three games and in four of the last five. Oh, and the Kellen Clemens show is coming to town!
Cincinnati Bengals: Yeah, I'm on the Bengals this week.
If you're desperate: Hello, Geno! It's obvious, but that doesn't make it any less true. Ideally you're not streaming this week, but if you are and the Cards are gone, the Oakland Raiders are the next go-to.
Defenses I hate in Week 14
Miami Dolphins: Last week's defense darling gets a tougher test this time as the Steelers should have Le'Veon Bell back and have been playing well recently. The last three defenses to face the Steelers have combined for minus-3 fantasy points.
New York Jets: They haven't scored more than six fantasy points in a game since Week 7. And believe it or not, since Matt McGloin took over as starting quarterback, the Raiders have allowed only 5.3 fantasy points to opposing defenses, tied for 15th during that span.
That's what we've got for Week 14. If you're playing this week, congrats, I always say, knowledge and hard work gets you to the playoffs, but you need some luck for the title. Here's hoping you don't run into whoever this week's Eric Decker turns out to be (grumble, grumble), and we'll see you back here next week.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is only a little bitter that his 8-5 team missed the War Room playoffs, while a 6-7 team in the weaker division is playing on. 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. You may also have heard: He's written a book.
As we head into the fantasy playoffs, Matthew Berry describes the pressure he feels to win the leagues he's in, and the event that finally made him let it go.